The present study examined the activity of primate shoulder and elbow muscles using a novel reaching task. We enforced similar patterns of center-out movement while the animals countered viscous loads at their shoulder, elbow, both joints, or neither joint. Accordingly, we could examine reach-related activity during the unloaded condition and torque-related activity by comparing activity across load conditions. During unloaded reaching the upper arm muscles exhibited a bimodal distribution of preferred hand direction. Maximal reach-related activity occurred with hand movements mostly toward or away from the body. Arm muscles also exhibited a bimodal distribution of their preferred torque direction. Maximal torque-related activity typically occurred with shoulder-extension/elbow-flexion torque or shoulder-flexion/elbow-extension torque. Similar biases in reach-related and torque-related activity could be reproduced by optimizing a global measure of muscle activity. These biases were also observed in the neural activity of primary motor cortex (M1). The parallels between M1 and muscular activity demonstrate another link between motor cortical processing and the motor periphery and may reflect an optimization process performed by the sensorimotor system.