If you’re a fan of weight training, chances are building strong, muscular shoulders is one of your fitness goals.
Not only are strong shoulders necessary for athletic performance, they can also dramatically improve your body shape. They make you look wider, which in turn makes your waist look slimmer and gets you closer to that V-shape most guys are after.
In this post, we’ll go over a list of shoulder exercises to help you develop powerful shoulders.
A Brief Look At Shoulder Anatomy
For balanced shoulder muscle development, the primary targets are the three outer muscles of the shoulder called deltoids.
- The anterior deltoid which is located on the front of your shoulder.
- The lateral deltoid, located to the side of your shoulder.
- The posterior deltoid, located at, you guessed it, the back of your shoulder.
Beneath the deltoids there is a group of muscles and tendons called the rotator cuff. Due to the complexity of the rotator cuff, recovering from a shoulder injury can be a pain in the neck, so make sure to use conservative loads and focus on proper technique when training your shoulders.
Also keep in mind that it’s important to train all three deltoids in order to avoid muscular imbalances and, again, mimimize the chance of injury.
6 Shoulder Exercises For Muscle And Strength
Ok, time for the fun stuff.
There are A LOT of shoulder exercises to choose from. Here, I’ll give you 6 exercises to make your deltoids beg for mercy. Some of them are whole-body compound movements, while others will isolate your shoulders.
Exercise #1: Standing Overhead Press
The standing overhead press is an exercise that can be performed with barbells, dumbbells and even kettlebells.
The barbell variation allows you to lift heavier weights, but the dumbbell and kettlebell variations will help prevent muscular imbalances by unilaterally training both sides of your body.
Additionally, the kettlebell variation allows for maximum range of motion. It is often combined with the kettlebell clean to get the weight off the ground.
It may look like an isolation exercise at first glance, but don’t be fooled. The standing overhead press is actually a whole-body compound movement, as most of the muscles in your trunk, core, and legs work to ensure stability during the move.
As far as your shoulders are concerned, this press will challenge both the anterior and lateral deltoid muscles.
To perform the standing overhead press, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the barbell just above your upper chest. Then press straight overhead, and add a small shrug at the top of the movement.
Make sure that you don’t lean too far forward or backward, to avoid stressing your lower back.
Exercise #2: Barbell Push Press (Tutorial)
This exercise is basically an explosive version of the standing overhead press. It can also be performed with dumbbells.
Like the standing overhead press, the push press also works various muscle groups. However, you will be able to lift heavier weights with this move, as you utilize momentum.
To perform this exercise, put your feet shoulder width apart and hold the barbell on your chest with the palms facing outwards. Then, dip your knees slightly, and explode upwards while pushing the bar over your head at the same time. Lower the barbell until you return to the starting position and repeat.
The push press will work your anterior and lateral deltoids.
Exercise #3: Dumbbell Front Raise (Tutorial)
The dumbbell front raise is an isolation movement that mainly targets your anterior deltoids.
Pick up two dumbbells and stand with your feet close together and your arms at your sides. Then, lift your arms in front of you until the dumbbells come up to the height of your chin. Keep your arms relatively straight throughout the movement. Only allow for a very slight bend of the elbow. Slowly lower your arms back to your sides and repeat.
You can perform this exercise with both arms at the same time, or you can alternate between arms with each rep.
Exercise #4: Dumbbell Lateral Raise (Tutorial)
The dumbbell lateral raise is an isolation single joint exercise that’ll really make your lateral deltoids burn.
To perform the lateral raise, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and arms at your sides holding two dumbbells. Then, slowly lift your arms outward until they come up to the height of your shoulders. Keep your elbows slightly bent, and your wrist facing the ground at all times.
When lowering the dumbells, don’t let your arms go down until they rest at your sides. Lower the weights until your arms are at a 30 degree angle from your body, and begin the next repetition from there. This will force your shoulders to work throughout the whole set.
One more thing.
Your deltoids as small muscles, and since this exercise puts most of the load on your lateral delt, you will not be able to go heavy without sacrificing good form. Remember, you REALLY don’t want to have to deal with a shoulder injury. Leave your ego at the door and keep those weights light.
Exercise #5: Barbell Rear Delt Row (Tutorial)
As the name implies, this exercise will primarily hit your rear (posterior) deltoid.
While your lower back and legs will get a bit of work as you maintain balance throughout the movement, this is mostly an isolation exercise.
Stand in front of a barbell with your legs shoulder width apart. Make sure the barbell is close to you to avoid stressing the lower back when you lift it. Bend your knees, move your hips back, lower your chest and grip the barbell. Make sure the grip is wide and your palms are facing towards you.
Now lift the barbell with your arms straight until your chest is parallel to the floor. From there, pull the barbell to your lower chest with your arms. Focus on the back of your shoulders throughout the movement.
Due to the compromising position of this exercise, you’ll want to avoid going heavy, even after you’ve mastered good technique.
Exercise #6: Seated Bent-over Dumbbell Raise (Tutorial)
This is another shoulder exercise for your posterior deltoids. The upper back will also get a bit of work here.
Sit on the seat of a bench with your feet together and two dumbbells on the floor at your sides. Bend over and pick the dumbbells off the floor.
Now, bend over until your torso and legs form a 45 degree angle. Keep your back straight. From there, lift your arms sideways until the dumbbells come close to the height of your shoulders. Make sure the elbows are slightly bent to avoid overstressing them.
When lifting the dumbbells, don’t let your arms move backwards, as this will shift emphasis from your posterior deltoids to your back. Lower the dumbbells back down and repeat.
How To Add These Shoulder Exercises To Your Workouts
You have your exercises, but we’re not done quite yet. You also want to make sure that you’re performing them in the right order.
What do I mean by that?
Many compound exercises use your deltoids, even if they’re not technically shoulder exercises.
The bench press, for instance, will really work your anterior deltoid. And if you try to perform it after you’ve wiped your anterior delts with dumbbell front raises, chances are it won’t end well.
Best case scenario, you won’t be able to bench heavy weights and your chest and triceps won’t get a challenging workout. Worst case scenario, loading the bar too much when your shoulder can’t keep up might result in an injury.
Fortunately, you can avoid all that by following a simple rule.
Always perform multi-joint compound exercises at the beginning of your workout.
I can’t stress this enough. Not only is it safer, it’s also better for athletic performance. The overhead press is more effective at building shoulder strength than the front raise. It is also much more demanding, which is why you should do it when you’re fresh.
It’s fine if you can only use low weights for your isolation exercises. They are not the main part of your workout, they’re simply there to fully exhaust your muscles and maximize growth..
Perform the shoulder exercises listed here once or twice a week and you’ll begin to see the results a few weeks down the road.
If muscle size is your primary goal, keep the reps at 15 or below per set and rest for 90 seconds or less between sets. For strength, keep reps at 6 or below and rest for 2 minutes or more (this tip DOES NOT concern isolation movements, always use relatively light weights for those).
Finally, make sure you watch the tutorials before you attempt the exercises.
As always, stay on the grind.