#1 Dumbbell overhead presses
This is a shoulder exercise that you can do with just two dumbbells. Yet, it’s extremely effective at targeting the anterior and lateral shoulder heads.
This exercise is very easy to set up and it can be done either standing or seated.
I recommend doing it seated so that your back is supported. This way you can use heavier weights to target your shoulders.
Take a seat with two heavy dumbbells planted on your knees. Then kick one dumbbell up at a time to bring them over your shoulders and rotate your arms out to get into the starting position.
Press straight up over your head until the dumbbells are almost touching.
Lower back down until the dumbbells are at your ears’ height or a little lower. Then repeat that pattern for reps.
#2 Barbell military press
Many people consider this an even better shoulder exercise than the previous one.
If you have a barbell, this exercise will allow you to load a much heavier weight since both arms are working together simultaneously.
Heavier weight loads tend to help bulk up the muscles that you’re targeting.
Just like the dumbbells, you can do these standing but I recommend doing them seated. This way your back is supported and that will once again allow you to lift heavier.
Take a seat and grip the bar about thumbs distance from where the knurling starts.
Lift the bar off the rack, and slowly lower down towards your chest. As you do this you will have to shift your head back to give the bar space to pass.
You also have the option of lowering it down to your chin before pressing it back up. But personally, I like getting a full range of motion on this exercise.
So I like to bring the bar all the way down to my chest before pressing back up and repeating for reps.
This is another great shoulder-pressing exercise that you should be doing.
Arnold presses allow you to go through an even greater range of motion. This gives you a stretch at the bottom that most other pressing exercises don’t provide.
They also target your lateral head better than most other pressing exercises.
Just like with regular dumbbell presses, start by sitting on a bench with the dumbbells on your knees.
Then bring them up to the starting position. It should look like you just completed a bicep curl.
Your palms should be facing towards you and your elbows should be directly under your hands.
Press up and rotate your hands inward. At the top of the press, your palms are now facing away from you.
Lower back down while turning your hands back outward and return to the starting position. The dumbbells should be curled against your shoulders. Then repeat for reps.
#4 Bent arm lateral raise
This is a shoulder exercise that you definitely want to be doing, even if you’re already doing regular lateral raises.
Since bending your arm creates a shorter lever length, you’re able to lift more weight with a bent arm.
Once again, this will further assist with shoulder development.
Grab two dumbbells and position them in front of your body. Then bend forward slightly to target your lateral deltoid better and prevent your body from getting in the way.
Raise the dumbbells to your sides trying to keep your elbows slightly higher than your hands the whole time.
As you raise, your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle. Your armpit should also create a 90-degree angle at the top of the movement.
Slowly lower back down and repeat for reps.
You can do this exercise seated or by sliding to the edge of the bench. In this case, pass the dumbbells under your thighs on every rep.
This is a shoulder exercise for the lateral head that I feel is a much better variation than regular lateral raises.
The leaning lateral raise allows you to get a greater range of motion at the top of the movement. This overloads that portion and makes it harder to complete. To perform leaning lateral raises you’ll need something sturdy to hold onto.
Either a racked barbell or a squat rack will work just fine. But anything sturdy that you can hold on to while leaning away will work.
In the demonstration, I’m grabbing the post of a squat rack and I’ll refer to it throughout. In your case, it may be literally anything sturdy enough.
Walk your feet closer to that post while straightening the arm that’s holding on to it. Basically, you’ll be leaning out to one side.
Simply raise the dumbbell up and out to your side while keeping your elbow bent.
Raise the dumbbell all the way up until your arm is parallel to the ground. Then lower back down and repeat.
It’s easy to target the front heads of your shoulders with compound exercises like most presses. So it’s not really essential to do isolation exercises like frontal raises.
It’s a little more challenging to target that middle head. And it’s most challenging to hit the back of your shoulders.
So, one of the best isolation exercises that you should definitely be doing to balance out your shoulder development is the reverse fly.
Grab two dumbbells and bend down until your chest is almost parallel to the ground. Simultaneously, make sure you keep the natural arch in your back rather than rounding forward.
While keeping your elbows slightly bent, perform a reverse fly by bringing the dumbbells out to your sides and then towards the ceiling in an arch-like motion.
Bring dumbbells back down together and repeat for reps.
These can also be done seated with your upper body bent over your knees and passing the dumbbells under your legs.
Both of the variations just shown are isolation exercises. But luckily there is a compound exercise that works the back of the shoulder very effectively.
Since it’s so hard to hit the back of the shoulder, this is definitely one that you want to incorporate into your routine. I’m talking about high rows.
You can do these with a barbell or dumbbells.
Grab the weight and bend down until your upper body is once again almost parallel to the ground.
Row straight back with your elbows flared out and up high. Aiming to row the barbell or the dumbbells towards your chest rather than your belly button (like you would with regular rows).
Lower the weight back down while staying in that bent-over position, with your back maintaining its neutral arch. Repeat for reps.
This shoulder exercise can also be highly effective for the back of your shoulders.
Position two cables a little higher than shoulder height. You can use D-handle attachments to perform this exercise. But I like to grip the cables themselves behind the carabiner.
Face forward, towards the cable cross, and grab the left carabiner with your right hand. Then cross your left arm over your right arm and grab the right carabiner in your left hand.
Basically, the starting position is with your arms crossed. Now, open your arms and bring the cables back in that same arch-like path. Keep the elbows slightly bent the entire time.
After bringing both cables all the way back, squeeze your shoulder blades together for a second.
Then slowly returning the weights back to the starting position with your arms crossed over and repeat for reps.
This shoulder exercise is ideal for you if you’re stuck at home and don’t have access to any equipment.
You don’t have to do this if you do have the equipment to do the other exercises on this list.
But if you don’t, pike push-ups are great at developing your shoulders utilizing only your bodyweight.
Most people do these on the ground. If you’re a beginner, you definitely should start on the ground to get a feel of how to do this exercise properly.
However, once you become more comfortable on the ground, I recommend trying to elevate off the ground. You can use any stable platform. It will allow for a greater range of motion.
When you do these on the ground, your head prevents you from getting a good stretch to the shoulders.
Meanwhile, on platforms you can go a lot lower and challenge yourself a lot more.
Set up three platforms. Put both your feet on one of these. Then put one hand on each of the other platforms.
Raise your hips up in the air so that your body forms a triangle shape.
Lower yourself down for a push-up until you get a nice stretch in your shoulder and upper chest. Then press back up to the starting position and repeat for reps.
This final shoulder exercise helps strengthen shoulder elevation. But I will say it mostly targets the traps.
Shrugs make it into this list because your traps help complete and balance the look of your shoulders.
Plus, the secondary muscles worked during shrugs are actually the shoulders.
That’s why I would definitely include a shoulder elevation exercise like barbell or dumbbell shrugs in my routine.
Performing them is pretty straightforward.
Grab a heavily loaded barbell or dumbbells. Unrack the weight and shrug your shoulders straight up.
Squeeze at the top for a second before slowly lowering back down and repeating for reps.
There are two main mistakes that you want to avoid.
The first one is barely moving your shoulders because the weight is too heavy – mini shrugs are a no-no.
Second, don’t roll your shoulders. Instead, just go straight up and down.
# Recommendations, sets and reps
So those are really the only shoulder exercises you need for optimal growth and development.
You might have noticed that there are many posterior deltoid exercises and fewer anterior deltoid exercises.
That’s because the front part of your shoulder gets constant work, even during exercises like the bench press.
So usually, additional isolation exercises are not necessary.
Conversely, the middle and especially the back portions of your shoulders need extra focus to develop proportionately.
Now, as usual, I don’t recommend doing all of these exercises in one workout.
I would take half and combine them into a shoulder workout.
An example would be as follows.
- Start with military presses, for 3 sets of 6 to 10 reps.
- Then move on to bent-arm lateral raises, for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
- Followed by high rows, for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
- Then reverse cable flies, for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
- Finally, finish off with shrugs for 3 sets of 10 reps.
- You can save the other half of the exercises for your second arm training day of the week.
I really hope this article has helped you out. These are truly the only shoulder exercises you need.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t develop really nice cap-like shoulders with consistency.
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