11 Best Shoulder Exercises for Building Boulder Shoulders

best shoulder exercises

Here are the 11 best exercises to build the most monstrous shoulders! 

Keeping your shoulders healthy and strong is vital to achieving your fitness goals and improving your overall quality of life, as you use your shoulder to do a lot of functional tasks. Whether you’re aiming for new personal bests in weightlifting, throwing more powerful punches, or looking good on the bodybuilding stage, having a solid shoulder workout plan is essential. So let’s explore the best shoulder exercises to help you reach those goals and teach you how to do them and the benefits of each movement. Keep reading to learn the 11 best shoulder exercises you should add to your routine!

Best Shoulder Exercises 

  • Military Press
  • Arnold Dumbbell Press 
  • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Alternating Kettlebell Press
  • Front Cable Raise
  • Cable Upright Row 
  • Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly
  • Face Pulls 
  • Seated Lateral Raise
  • Front Incline Dumbbell Raise
  • Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise

Military Press 

First on the list of the best shoulder exercises is the barbell military press. This barbell military press is a must have movement in an effective shoulder regimen. The barbell military press is an excellent exercise that destroys your deltoids. The military press strengthens your upper body muscles and abs and builds stability. In addition, regular repetition of military presses will ensure increased muscle mass and a broader frame and will help you explode past PRs on other pressing movements like bench press.

Benefits 

  • This exercise is a compound movement for the shoulders.
  • It allows you to use heavy loads to increase your shoulder strength significantly. 

How to Do

  1. To perform this exercise better, you should start from a standing position with a bar resting in the front rack position just above your shoulders.
  2. Keep your back straight before forcefully pushing the barbell above your head until your arms are fully extended
  3. Then return to starting position. 

Dumbbell Arnold Press 

The dumbbell Arnold Press is a great way to build strength and stability in your shoulders. It targets all three deltoid heads, allowing for an increased range of motion and building round shoulders that’ll pop. This exercise strengthens the anterior and medial portions of the shoulder girdle and is a key component of any well-rounded upper-body workout.

Benefits 

  • It targets all three deltoid heads.
  • It’s a compound dumbbell exercise that works on shoulder stability. 

How to Do

  1. Begin with a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing forward.
  2. Raise your arms while simultaneously externally rotating your arms and pressing up. 
  3. Press the dumbbells together at the top (without letting them touch) to contract your full shoulder girdle. 
  4. Then, internally rotate your arms back down as you lower the weight to return to the starting position. 

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is incredibly effective for targeting the shoulder muscles and building overall strength. Sitting dumbbell shoulder presses are an excellent way to build your shoulders, improve posture and stability, reduce injury risk, and develop power in overhead movements. 

Benefits

  • This unilateral (single-limb) compound shoulder exercise allows for better mind-muscle connection.
  • It will target your anterior and lateral delts. 

How to Do

  1. Sit with your back against a bench and press the weight directly above your shoulders in a controlled manner until your elbows reach full extension.
  2. Keep your torso stationary throughout the exercise and focus on using your shoulder muscles to lift the weight. 

Alternating Kettlebell Press 

The alternating kettlebell press is another one of the best shoulder exercises that challenges your stability. It involves alternating your arms while holding a single kettlebell overhead and pressing against gravity. This exercise activates muscle fibers in a variety of muscle groups, including the chest, triceps, deltoids, and core and it also increases muscular development and endurance. 

Benefits

  • It improves shoulder stability. 
  • This exercise is an excellent movement for improving your core stability. 

How to Do

  1. Start with your feet firmly planted on the ground, keeping the weight close to your body and palms facing each other (neutral grip) while grasping two kettlebells.
  2. Press up, alternating one arm until it’s fully locked out.
  3. Bring that arm down and simultaneously press the other side until that arm is locked out.
  4. That’s one rep. Repeat. 

Front Cable Raise

The front cable raise is excellent for building shoulder and arm strength. This exercise engages your front deltoid and helps improve posture. Use a neutral grip to take some pressure off your shoulders if you’re experiencing shoulder pain. 

Benefits

  • This exercise will keep the tension consistent throughout its full range of motion since it’s performed on a cable machine. 
  • It isolates your anterior deltoid. 

How to Do

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and hold a cable in front of you at thigh level. 
  2. Raise your arm while keeping your arms straight until your arms are parallel to the ground. 
  3. Lower the cable down while keeping your arms stable. 

Cable Upright Row 

The cable upright row effectively increases upper body strength, including the shoulders and trapezius. This exercise should be performed on a cable machine. When done correctly, the cable upright row is an efficient movement that simultaneously strengthens various overlapping muscle groups (traps and anterior deltoids).

Benefits

  • This exercise targets your trapezius and anterior deltoid. 
  • It keeps tension on your muscles through the full range of motion. 

How to Do

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip the cable attachment (straight or curved bar) from the cable machine with both hands. 
  2. Exhale as you pull straight up towards your chin, curling your elbows up and backward until your hands are beneath your chin.
  3. Pause briefly at the top of the rep before returning to your starting position.

*Note: Be wary of shoulder pain on this one. If it feels uncomfortable, omit this movement.

Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly 

The dumbbell rear delt fly is an effective shoulder exercise that helps build strength and improve posture, and a staple of the best shoulder exercises. It targets your rear deltoid muscles, which can generally be hard to target with other movements. It’ll help rehab you from shoulder injuries and strengthen your shoulders since this muscle is often neglected. 

Benefits

  • It helps strengthen the less targeted shoulder muscle—the rear deltoid.
  • It will improve your posture. 
  • This exercise is beneficial for shoulder rehab.

How to Do

  1. To do the dumbbell rear delt fly, start by holding dumbbells while sitting on a bench.
  2. Then hinge at your hips and bend over — about 45 degrees.
  3. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, raise your arms as far back as your range of motion will allow. 
  4. Hold your arms in this position for a few seconds and then slowly lower back to the starting position (underneath your thighs). 

Face Pulls 

The face pull is a fantastic exercise for strengthening the shoulders and upper back. It can be easily incorporated into any strength training routine to provide benefits such as better posture, increased stability in the shoulder joint, improved range of motion and flexibility, and more effective weightlifting ability in the shoulders. This movement is overall great for your shoulder health.

Benefits

  • This shoulder exercise is excellent for your shoulder health by reducing your chance of injury and strengthing your shoulders. 
  • It increases your shoulder mobility. 

How to Do 

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to do a face pull and grab a resistance band or cable at face level or above.
  2. Keep your elbows high and pull the band outward from your face while keeping your elbows parallel to the floor — pause to contract your deltoids before returning to starting position. 

Seated Lateral Raise

The seated lateral raise is a crucial single-joint shoulder exercise that strengthens the shoulder muscles, increases shoulder stability and mobility, and directly targets the middle deltoids, and it easily makes our list of the best shoulder exercises. The seated position forces your shoulder to do more of the workload rather than relying on momentum, your core, and stabilizers as standing lateral raises would. 

Benefits

  • Since you’re seated, this exercise will isolate more of your shoulders and less of your core. 
  • It targets your lateral deltoids. 

How to Do

  1. To perform seated lateral raises, you’ll need dumbbells and a bench. Start seated with your feet on the floor and back against a bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Next, lift your arms to the sides at a 45-degree angle until it reaches parallel to your shoulders.
  3. Lastly, slowly lower your arms back down for one complete repetition. 

Front Incline Dumbbell Raise 

The front incline dumbbell raise is a great exercise to add to your workout routine. It targets the front deltoids while allowing you to hit your shoulders from a different angle. As the name implies, this exercise will help you build solid front deltoids and activate the front core muscles, making it an excellent workout option for those looking to have well-balanced muscle development.

Benefits

  • It isolates your anterior deltoids.
  • The angle of the bench will give you a greater range of motion. 

How to Do

  1. Begin by holding a pair of dumbbells in each hand in a neutral grip.
  2. While keeping your body upright, draw your arms while keeping your arms straight throughout the raising motion (you can have a slight bend in elbows to protect your shoulders). 
  3. Once your arms are about head level, slowly lower them down again and repeat. 

Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise

The side lateral dumbbell raise is excellent for targeting the lateral deltoid muscles and stabilizing shoulder muscles. Regularly incorporating side lateral dumbbell raises into your workout routine has multiple benefits; it helps build sculpted shoulders, improve posture and shoulder stability, and protect you from shoulder injuries.

Benefits

  • It targets your lateral deltoids.
  • It makes your physique broader, improving your shoulder-to-waist ratio. 

How to Do

  1. Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand held at arm’s length.
  2. Then, with palms facing towards your side, slowly lift the weights straight out to the side until they are parallel with the floor, then lower them back down to starting position.
  3. Repeat.

About Your Shoulders

The deltoids are the shoulder’s anterior, lateral, and rear muscles that provide stability and enable you to lift and rotate your arms. The deltoid muscle is a rounded triangular muscle that originates at the clavicle and scapula, then inserts into the humerus (1). 

Its primary function is allowing you to raise your arm from your sides and rotate it internally or externally while remaining stable. Since your shoulder joint is mobile, it’s easily injured, so you must train cautiously. Not only is deltoid movement important for everyday activities, but it’s also important in sports, such as throwing a ball or swimming.

Thus, consistently training your shoulders is critical for athletes since deltoid strength is essential in many sports. In addition, it plays a big part in pressing movements, such as the barbell bench press. So if you strengthen your shoulders, you’ll improve your bench press. 

How to Train Your Shoulders 

We recommend using heavier weights and performing lower reps with compound movements such as the military press and dumbbell Arnold press to train your shoulders. And we suggest using lighter weights and doing more reps for accessory exercises such as seated lateral raises. 

If you’re a beginner, we recommend two sets for all movements. Intermediate lifters can perform three sets of compound movements and two sets of isolation exercises. Advanced weightlifters can increase the volume to 3-4 sets for all activities. 

Rules to Follow

Warm Up

Your shoulder joint is very mobile. And the more mobile your joint is, the more likely it will be injured. And the shoulder is especially at risk for overhead athletes, e.g., in tennis and baseball (2). So we recommend a thorough warm-up before lifting heavy weights on a shoulder exercise. In addition, include some dynamic strengthing—movement stretching — such as arm circles before your lift. 

Start With Compound Movements

Before performing isolation exercises such as front cable raise, it’s better to start with the movements that allow you to engage all of your deltoids with heavier weights, such as the military press. 

Target All Deltoids

Since your shoulder is made of three deltoids, you must include a mix of exercises that engages them. For example, face pulls for your rear deltoid, side lateral raises for your lateral deltoid, and front incline raise for your anterior deltoid. 

Best Shoulder Exercises Wrap Up 

So there you have it, our list of the best shoulder exercises you can do. But it’s always a good idea to mix up your workouts to add variety. Do you agree with our list of the best shoulder exercises?

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References 

  1. Miniato MA, Anand P, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Shoulder. [Updated 2022 Jul 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536933/
  2. Cools, A. M., Johansson, F. R., Borms, D., & Maenhout, A. (2015). Prevention of shoulder injuries in overhead athletes: a science-based approach. Brazilian journal of physical therapy, 19(5), 331–339. https://doi.org/10.1590/bjpt-rbf.2014.0109
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.