The Best Shoulder Exercises

One of the more complicated muscles in the body the shoulders can work wonders for your physique and help you fill out that size L t-shirt. Big shoulders are also crucial to giving your body the “V” shape and will keep you injury free as you age. Being such a complicated group of muscles neglected shoulders can eventually lead to some serious problems. One common issue with the shoulder joint is called subluxation. This is where the head of your upper arm bones slides easily in and out of the socket this could lead to a complete dislocation. This is especially a concern if you do, or have ever, over emphasized too many chest and/or lat exercises. See How Many Exercises per Muscle Group for a good example of what to avoid.

Having strong shoulders doesn’t just mean ripping out shoulder presses. Presses really only target one portion of the shoulder called the deltoid muscle. It’s important you train the entire joint capsule using different rotational exercises at different angles as well flys and raises. This will ensure well-rounded shoulders not just in shape but performance as well.

Any of the exercises below can be great additions to your workout routine. Especially the external rotation exercises.

When first starting out it’s important to ensure your shoulders develop properly to help you perform more difficult overhead exercises. If you’ve been lifting for awhile try exercising your shoulders at different angles and you’re guaranteed to see improvements elsewhere in your workout. Especially with the Bench Press and Rowing exercises.

Shoulder Exercises:

Shoulder Press

Front Raise

Lateral Raise

Seated Dumbbell External Rotation

Cable External Rotation


Shoulder Press

Target muscles: Middle and front deltoid and triceps. To some extent your upper traps, rotator cuff, and serratus anterior.

How to perform the Barbell Shoulder Press:

Standing up, hold a barbell with an overhand grip and your hands just outside shoulder-width. The bar should be even with your shoulders and your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and stand tall.

Press the bar straight up overhead leaning back slightly. Once your arms are straight, pause, then return the bar back down to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Make sure your core is tight and you aren’t leaning back to far. Don’t cheat and do this one too fast. Take your time and go down in weight if you can’t go all the way up. Avoid using a backrest. You will be able to lift more weight, but it can be too much stress for the shoulder joint which can lead to injury. If you can’t do the weight while standing then your need to decrease the amount of weight. All the exercises below can be performed with either a barbell or dumbbell unless otherwise specified.

Modifications:

  • Push Press: Start in the same position. Bend the knees slightly and then drive the hips forward explosively as you move the bar or dumbbell straight overhead. Great for lifting heavier weights.
  • Seated Shoulder Press: Seated on a bench without a back rest
  • Seated Stability Ball Shoulder Press: Seated on a stability ball
  • Alternating Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Alternate arms to work the core more.
  • Dumbbell Alternating Shoulder Press and Twist: Rotate as you press one dumbbell up at a time. If you press the left arm up rotate to the right.

Do it at home:

To do this exercise and all the modifications at home you will need:

Back to list


Front Raise

Target muscles: Front deltoids and to some extent your biceps.

How to perform the Front Raise:

Standing up, hold a pair of dumbbells at your side at arms length with your palms facing in. Brace your core and maintain good posture.

Raise your arms straight out in front of you. Your arms should be parallel to the floor at the top of the movement. Pause briefly and then return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Keep your thumbs facing forwards for this movement. Keep a slight bend in your elbows and hold it for the entire movement.

Modifications:

  • Weight Plate Front Raise: Hold a weight plate in front of you as opposed to dumbbells
  • Cable Front Raise: Attach a rope to a low pulley. using one arm at a time and with your back to the weight stack pull from one end of the rope creating the same motion depicted above.

Do it at home:

To do this one at home you’ll need:

Back to list


Lateral Raise

Target muscles: Middle deltoid

How to perform the Lateral Raise:

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells at your side with palms facing forward. Brace your core and maintain good posture.

Raise the dumbbells out to your side till your arms are parallel to the floor.

At the top of the movement pause briefly and then slowly return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Stand up tall through the entire movement and take your time. Do not bring the dumbbells in front of your body or face your palms to each other. This can cause an injury known as shoulder impingement.

Modifications:

  • Alternating Lateral Raise with Static Hold: Hold both arms out to the side and alternate lowering them to your side.
  • Bent-Arm Lateral Raise and External Rotation: Bend arms at a 90-degree angle. at the top of the movement rotate your forearms back as far as they will go so they are pointing up.

Do it at home:

To do this one and all the modifications at home you’ll need:

Back to list


Seated Dumbbell External Rotation

Target muscles: Rotator cuff muscles. Particularly the infraspinatus and the teres minor.

How to perform the Seated Dumbbell External Rotation:

Sit on a bench with your left foot the bench as well. Your left leg should bend to about a 90-degree angle and your right foot should rest on the floor.

Place your left elbow on top of your left knee with your hand hold a dumbbell angled down towards the floor. your elbow should be at 90-degree angle.

Keeping your elbow bent raise the dumbbell till your forearm is pointing up towards the ceiling. Pause briefly and then return to the starting position. Once you’ve completed the set number of reps repeat for the other side.

Pro Tip:

These are excellent exercises to help fix poor posture. They will help you rotate your shoulders back which keeps you from slouching.

Modifications:

  • Lying External Rotation: Lying on your side on a bench with your arm to your side. Maintain the 90 degree bend in your elbow and rotate your arm as far as you can. Try to get your forearms verticle.

Do it at home:

To do this one and all the modifications you’ll need:

Back to list


Cable External Rotation

Target muscles: Rotator cuff muscles. Particularly the infraspinatus and the teres minor.

How to perform the Cable External Rotation:

Standing at a cable machine with a pulley adjusted just above your elbows use a single grip handle attachment. With your left side facing the weight stack grab the handle with your right hand and hold your elbow at a 90 degree angle. You right forearm should cross in front of your body

Brace your core and rotate your forearm out to the side without changing the angle of your elbow. Try to get your arm to rotate all the way till it’s even with your torso.

Pause briefly when you’ve gone as far as you can and then return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

When in the starting position your arm should be touching your torso. At the top of the movement your hand should be facing out. Try for the full range of motion with every repetition.

Modifications:

  • 45 Degree Cable External Rotation: Keep your upper arm up at a 45-degree angle with your body. Use a low pulley cable and rotate the arm upward at a 45 degree angle.
  • 90 Degree Cable External Rotation: Same as above but keep your upper arm up at a 90 degree angle with your body. Rotate your arm up towards the ceiling.
Do it at home:

For this exercise and it’s modifications you’ll only need a Cable Crossover Machine and a single grip attachment.

Back to list


This is one part of the fitprofree.com’s The Best Exercise Series. To check out the other exercises in the series go to The Best Exercises main page.


Did you enjoy this article?

Sign up for my weekly newsletter and get a new tip to your inbox every week.

Subscribe today!

* indicates required



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.