Best Shoulder Exercises To Boost Athletic Performance

Shoulder Exercises

The least stable joint in your body is certainly not the least important so don’t neglect your shoulders.

Our shoulders do so much to aid in our gym gains and everyday goals. Having strong, solid shoulders offer a host of benefits to your overall health 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 to your shoulders or back.

The shoulder joint is very delicate and without proper training, can become very unstable. With weak shoulder muscles, your mobility 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 and these best shoulder exercises are great for helping get you there to lift big weight with your workouts.

shoulder mobility

Benefits Of Solid Shoulders For Physique

The benefits of solid, strong, and stable shoulders go far beyond aesthetic and these best shoulder exercises below will help enhance physique. While building up your shoulders can definitely add definition to your overall shape and let that toned V shape physique pop, there is so much more they offer than just to look good with a big upper arm or large back.

Enhance Posture For Efficiency & Confidence

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 from these best shoulder exercises.

Shoulder Exercises

Greater Range Of Motion For Increased Flexibility

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 workouts or daily functioning. Moving freely allows for more intense workouts and provides that much needed boost for your performance and these best shoulder workouts can help get you there along with other strong muscles like a big back.

Prevents Injuries For A Healthier Lifestyle

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 workouts, weak shoulders can take a beating. Exercise can reduce pain (3) and keep you feeling healthy and lifting big. A resistance band can assist with this too to help with the shoulder joint and other muscles for optimal position.

6 Best Exercises For Building Boulder Shoulders

Shoulder Exercises To Boost Athletic Performance

Cable Reverse Fly

The cable reverse fly is a great shoulder exercise for muscle control and balance, similar to the shoulder press in the opposite direction. 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 for growth with your muscles.

How to: Attach the handles to the machine 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 chest and engage the rear delts with your palms facing up and a dumbbell in each hand. Your knees will be slightly bent. 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 to set yourself up again.

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 stabilize the muscles but will assist 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 for a new set.

Cable Front Raise

Cable front raises are great for muscle building but play a role in mobility as well, similar to the lateral raise. 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 in your shoulder muscles.

How to: With your feet shoulder width apart, slightly stagger your feet. A flat back is key to avoid added strain and your knees should be slightly bent. Your grip will be palms facing down. Raise the cable in front of you and go to about parallel with your shoulder. Return to the starting position and switch your hands for a new set. If it is difficult to get to parallel, lower 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 like the shoulder press or Arnold press (5). This engages a great deal of muscle to keep your performance at a high level while also boosting muscle-building hormones for large muscles as you push straight overhead with your feet planted on the ground.

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 with your arms straight. Gently lower the weight to your shoulders and then your hips to begin the next rep and get the full range as you slowly lower down.

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 as you continue to work with your training.

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 as you lift each dumbbell. Lower to the starting position and repeat for your desired number of reps.

Wrap It All 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 each deltoid strong and stable to lower your risk and avoid any unwanted injury and recover while resting as you take it slowly.

These best shoulder exercises can help get you there. 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 aid you and make your hard-earned physique pop, but the added benefits on athletic performance are too great to ignore.

Promoting stabilization and good posture, increasing mobility, 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.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

*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
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.