Top Shoulder Exercises To Boost Athletic Performance

The least stable joint in your body is certainly not the least important.

Our shoulders do so much to aid in our gym gains and everyday goals. Having strong, solid shoulders offer a host of benefits to the overall health of your body and provides that sough-after definition around the arm. While having pumped up shoulders are a huge benefit to your aesthetic, it is important that they function to your needs both in the gym and out if it. Your ability to perform, either in athletics, the gym, or daily life, is the foundation to success. Weak shoulders can ruin what could have been a great workout and increase your risk for unwanted and unnecessary injury.

The shoulder joint is very delicate and without proper training, can become very unstable. With weak shoulder muscles, your range of motion becomes limited, instability creeps in, and injury may be just beyond the horizon. To avoid this from happening, strengthening muscles like the rotator cuff, which supports and stabilizes the shoulder, as well as the deltoid muscle, which is the visible muscle around the shoulder, can aid in growth and boost your athletic performance without the fear of injury.

Benefits Of Solid Shoulders

The benefits of solid, strong, and stable shoulders go far beyond aesthetic. While building up your shoulders can definitely add definition to your overall body shape and let that toned physique pop, there is so much more they offer than just to look good.

Enhances Posture

By strengthening the shoulders, you can enhance your posture creating a more stable frame. Increased posture will promote athletic performance by allowing you to create the perfect form to maximize efficiency and gains and stay free from injury. Better posture also boosts confidence and can build that self-esteem (1) to have great benefits for your overall mental and physical health.

Shoulder Exercises

Greater Range Of Motion

Strengthening the supporting muscles around the shoulder has great benefit for increasing your range of motion allowing for better flexibility and stabilization (2). With increased flexibility, you reduce stress around the joint which allows for better movement when it comes to exercise or daily functioning. Moving freely allows for more intense workouts and provides that much needed boost for your performance.

Prevents Injuries

Injuries are one thing we all try and avoid and by strengthening all the muscles around the shoulder, you lower your risk of putting you out of the gym. Reducing added stress and strain will give you the ability to work harder and lift bigger for those hard-earned gains. As a source of connection for all upper body workouts, even with a perfectly executed chest or back exercise, weak shoulders can take a beating. Exercise can reduce pain (3) and keep you feeling healthy and lifting big.

Exercises To Boost Athletic Performance

Cable Reverse Fly

The cable reverse fly is a great shoulder exercise for muscle control and balance. Focusing on the rear delts, which are often overlooked, this provides for good muscle balance with the front and middle delts. Adding in the cable as a tool for this exercise forces you to practice balance while also controlling your movements to not knock you off course.

How to: Attach the handles to the cable and stand in the center of the machine with one foot slightly in front of the other. With your arms elevated at shoulder level, pull each handle across the front of your body and engage the rear delts. One hand will be over the other. When you reach your level, reverse the same motion and bring your hands back to the starting position.

Shoulder Exercises

Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The bent-over dumbbell lateral raise is great for stabilization and the use of dumbbells require a more solid form. You can do this workout either standing or sitting and not only will this help stabilize the muscles but will help with your overall physique. Its enhanced muscle recruitment allows for more muscles to be worked for better results (4).

How to: Choose the desired dumbbell weight and gently bend over at the waist. With your chest up, tight core, and flat back, raise the dumbbells out to the side in an arcing motion. After a slight pause at the top, return to the starting position.

Cable Front Raise

Cable front raises are great for muscle building but play a role in range of motion as well. The cable provides for less distraction and allows you to experiment with the ability to challenge just how far you can go. Another cable exercise is great to add in because the tension provided can be very beneficial for growth and performance.

How to: In a shoulder-width stance, slightly stagger your feet. A flat back is key to avoid added strain and your knees should be slightly bent. Raise the cable in front of you and go to about parallel with your shoulder. Return to the starting position and switch your hands. If it is difficult to get to parallel, drop down in weight and maximize the benefits of this exercise.

Shoulder Exercises

Push Press

The push press is a great exercise to incorporate a whole-body movement and focus on power and explosiveness (5). This engages a great deal of muscle to keep your performance at a high level while also boosting muscle-building hormones.

How to: Your grip on the barbell should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Drop down into a quarter-squat keeping your head, spine, and pelvis in one line. Once you’ve dipped, extend your hips and drive through the ground, lifting the weight straight overhead. A tight core will ensure a stable spine as you lift overhead. Gently lower the bar to your shoulders and then your hips to begin the next rep.

Dumbbell Shrugs

Dumbbell shrugs are great for reducing strain in your shoulders and your neck with the added benefit of providing strength to your upper back as well. These can improve posture and can support athletic performance by working to rid your body of that unwanted stress and pain.

How to: Hold the dumbbells in your hand and stand straight. With a tight core, relax your shoulders. Raise your shoulders to your ears and pause for a second at the top. Lower to the starting position and repeat for your desired number of reps.

Wrap Up

Your shoulders are vital for not only gains in the gym but everyday movements in your life. As a fragile point of connection for so many movements, it is important to keep them strong and stable to avoid any unwanted injury. Your athletic performance hinges on the ability of all your joints and muscles to work as efficiently as possible. Many shoulder exercises can increase strength and help your hard-earned physique pop, but the added benefits on athletic performance are too great to ignore. Promoting stabilization and good posture, increasing range of motion, and enhancing power and explosiveness are all reasons to make sure your shoulders get worked out to maximize performance. Don’t take these joints for granted and keep up muscle maintenance for great results both in the gym and out of it.

Check out our Shoulders Exercise Guide for other great shoulder exercises and instructions.

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*Images courtesy of Envato


  1. Grabmeier, Jeff (2009). “Study: Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts”. (source)
  2. Moezy, Azar; Sepehrifar, Saeed; Dodaran, Masoud S. (2014). “The effects of scapular stabilization based exercise therapy on pain, posture, flexibility and shoulder mobility in patients with shoulder impingement syndrome: a controlled randomized clinical trial”. (source)
  3. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (2020). “Painful Shoulder: Exercise Can Reduce Pain and Improve Mobility and Function”. (source)
  4. Coratella, Giuseppe; Tornatore, Gianpaolo; Longo, Stefano; Esposito, Fabio; Ce, Emiliano (2020). “An Electromyographic Analysis of Lateral Rasise Variations and Frontal Raise in Competitive Bodybuilders”. (source)
  5. Lake, Jason P.; Mundy, Peter D.; Comfort, Paul (2014). “Power and Impulse Applied During Push Press Exercise”. (source)


Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.