Best Shoulder Exercises and Workouts for Building Muscle

Lifting a weight that’s too heavy for you is a mistake regardless of the part of the body you’re working, but it can be truly disastrous when performing shoulder exercises. The shoulders are delicate and complicated joints that are not especially easy to target, and if yoau do put them under too much pressure before they’re ready you can end up with injuries that put you out of action for months.

It is also, however, absolutely essential to schedule some shoulder-specific exercises into your workouts, because without strong Noddy Holders, you’re going to come up short when attempting all sorts of other lifts, especially when training your chest and back.

The shoulder is made up of three heads – the anterior (front delt), medial (side delt) and posterior (rear delt) – and you need to work all three of them, along with the trapezius muscle in the upper back, for a truly satisfying shoulder session.

If that sounds like a lot of planning, we have some good news – we have a workout that works all those muscles right here!

The workout below is broken down into a pair of tri-sets, making six exercises in total, all of which do a sterling job of working all three heads of the shoulder and the trapezius muscle. To get the most out of it make sure you stick to the sets, reps, tempo and rest detailed, and don’t go too heavy with the weight to start with. If you start to find any of the rep counts too easy, add a little weight. Do this workout twice a week for a month and watch your shoulders turn into boulders.

You’ll need a barbell, dumbbells and a weights bench for these workouts. If you can’t get to a gym and don’t have the weights at home then we also have shoulder workouts that can be done without equipment, or using cheap bits of home kit like resistance bands. Jump to more shoulder workouts.

Overhead Shoulder Press

Muscles Targeted: Deltoid (anterior, medial, and posterior) and trapezius
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

This exercise can be done standing or seated. With a dumbbell in each hand and holding the weights at the shoulders with an overhand grip, start with your feet hip-distance apart, keeping the back straight. Press up and bring the dumbbells together over your head, then slowly lower back to starting position.

“Avoid arching your back by keeping the abdomen braced, glutes contracted during the press, and tipping the pelvis inward slightly,” says Gretchen. “Lower the weights only to your shoulders.”

Once your shoulders are fit and used to weight, you can add on the pounds and make this a low-rep, high-return muscle builder, but start lighter to stay safe.

Front Delt Raise

Muscles Targeted: Anterior deltoid, medial/middle deltoid, and trapezius
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

With light weights, begin this exercise by standing with your feet about hip distance apart. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing back — horizontal to the thighs — slowly raise your arms out in front of you until they are parallel to the floor, maintaining a small bend in the elbow. Hold, then lower slowly with control. Repeat.

“Avoid using momentum, and take your time on the way up and down,” recommends Gretchen. ” [Your] wrists should remain neutral, not bent.”

Lateral Delt Raise

Muscles Targeted: Medial/middle deltoid, rotator cuff, and trapezius
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

Again, use light weights for this exercise. Begin standing with your feet about hip distance apart and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in toward the body alongside the thighs with a slight bend in the elbow. Begin lifting the weights up and out to your sides. Once the arms are parallel to the floor (about even with your shoulder), bring the weight back down slowly with control. Repeat.

A note on form: Remember to brace the core, keep feet hip-distance apart, and pull your shoulders back and down. “If you rotate your hands, raising your pinkies slightly higher than your thumbs, you’ll feel more activation in the lateral deltoid muscle,” says Gretchen.

Bent-Over Reverse Fly

Muscles Targeted: Posterior deltoid, trapezius, and rhomboids
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

The reverse fly is actually as much a back exercise as a shoulder exercise, but it can strengthen the lower muscles of the shoulder group and help support and protect your entire shoulder while also helping you build up that coveted V-shape. So bang ’em out.

Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hinge forward at the hips to a 45-degree angle, keeping a slight bend in the knees. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in. Lift the weights out to the sides of your body, squeezing the shoulder blades together and keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Bring the weights back down gently.

“Look down and maintain alignment through the neck and spine so you are not straining your neck,” says Gretchen. “Avoid swinging/jerking the weights to bring them up. Keep it slow, steady, and smooth.”

Arnold Press

Muscles Targeted: Anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, and rotator cuff
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

This exercise hits all three muscles in the deltoid and works on rotational movement through the press portion of the lift. It helps increase shoulder stability, hitting the inside shoulder muscles at the bottom of the lift. Feel free to pick up some of the heavier weights you have lying around your home gym for this one.

Start with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-distance apart, keeping your back straight and core activated. Hold the weights at the shoulders with your palms facing the body. Start by taking the elbows out wider, rotating the wrists so the palms face forward as you bring the weights straight up overhead, and then move back down through it.

Upright Row

Muscles Targeted: Anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, and trapezius
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

This exercise can be done standing or seated and with heavier weights. Start by holding the weights in front of your thighs, palms facing the body. The feet should be hip- to shoulder-width apart, and you want to keep the weights close to your body as you pull them up toward your chest, letting the elbows flare out at about shoulder height. Bring the weights back down and repeat.

Circle Press

Muscles Targeted: Trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, levator scapulae, anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, rotator cuff, and teres major
Equipment Needed: Cap Barbell Dumbbells
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

In a standing position with the feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, start with a pair of low-weight dumbbells. Hold them against the thighs with the palms facing forward, away from the body. Bring the dumbbells out to the side of the body and up overhead, and then reverse the movement back down. Repeat.

Barbell shrug

Sets 3

Reps 12

Tempo 1111 Rest 90sec

Lower the bar to thigh level then, keeping your arms straight, shrug the bar up so that your shoulders reach your ears. Hold this top position for a second, then lower it back to the start.

Seated Arnold press

Sets 3

Reps 12 Tempo 2111

Rest 10sec

Sit holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing you. Press them up overhead, rotating your wrists as you go, so you end with straight arms and palms facing away.

Seated lateral raise

Sets 3

Reps 12

Tempo 2111 Rest 10sec

Switch to lighter dumbbells then, leaning forward slightly, raise them to shoulder height, leading with your elbows. Pause at the top, then lower back under control.

Bent-over reverse flye

Sets 3

Reps 12

Tempo 2111 Rest 90sec

Stand up and, using the same weights as 2B, bend forwards from your hips. Lead with your elbows to raise the weights to shoulder height. Pause, then lower back under control.

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