Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

Karen Frazier
Young woman with strong shoulders

Shoulder strengthening exercises are an important part of your regular exercise routine. Strengthening this major muscle group has positive benefits including improved posture and decreased back pain. If you're not incorporating shoulder strength training into your workout routine, here's why you should and how you can.

The Muscles of the Shoulder

Your shoulder muscles are actually a group of muscles that support your shoulder joint and allow for shoulder movement. There are many muscles that are part of this group. The main muscle of the shoulder is the deltoid, which is the large muscle that wraps around the top of the shoulder from front to back. Other shoulder muscles include the trapezius, which is the large diamond shaped muscle that runs along the surface of your back over the top of your rib cage and the subscapularis and infraspinatus muscles, which support the scapula and attach underneath the deltoids.

Benefits of Strengthening the Shoulders

Having strong shoulders can help to improve your posture, but that's not the only benefit. When you combine shoulder strengthening exercises with shoulder stretches, it also gives you the strength and flexibility to easily perform everyday tasks. Having strong shoulders can also help to prevent injuries to the rotator cuff.

Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

A well-designed shoulder strengthening routine will work all of the major muscles of the shoulders. There are several exercises that work the entire muscle groups, as well as exercises that can isolate a single muscle. For beginners, doing one exercise that strengthens the entire group will be adequate; however, as you advance you may want to also perform some of the isolation exercises listed below. If you add in the isolation exercises, be sure to balance your workouts so that you do isolation exercises for each part of the deltoids in order to keep your strength balanced. Unbalanced strength training where you work one muscle without working complementary muscles can lead to injury.

Overall Exercises

The following exercises work the entire shoulder. For all exercises, make sure that you move the weight slowly and deliberately, relying on the muscles to do the work rather than using momentum.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell shoulder presses can be performed either sitting or standing. Select weights that you can press above your head without having to arch your back or swing the weights.

To perform a dumbbell shoulder press:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing forward. Keep your head facing forward.
  2. Slowly press the weights up using your shoulder to lift and straightening your arms.
  3. When your elbows are almost fully extended, but not locked, lower the weight down to shoulder height in a controlled fashion without resting at the top.
  4. When the weights reach shoulder height, press them back up again without resting or allowing the weights to rest on your shoulders.
  5. Repeat for three sets of eight to ten repetitions, or to exhaustion.

Military Press

The military press is performed with a barbell. Perform the exercise from a sitting position, and select a weight that you can press above your head without having to arch your back or swing the weights.To perform a military press:

  1. Sit on the end of a weight bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Hold the barbell in front of your face at chest height, with your palms facing forward.
  2. Slowly extend your arms and use your shoulders to press the weight upward until your elbows are fully extended but not locked.
  3. Without resting, lower the weight in a controlled fashion to your starting position.
  4. When you reach the starting position, immediately press the weight upward again without resting.
  5. Repeat for three sets of eight to ten repetitions, or to exhaustion.

Isolation Exercises

The following exercises isolate certain muscle groups and allow you to work just a specific area of the shoulder.

Shoulder Shrugs

Shoulder shrugs work your trapezius and the top of the deltoid. To perform a shoulder shrug:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly apart and your knees slightly bent. Grasp a barbell or two dumbbells in your hands and hold it with your arms hanging in front of you and your palms facing your body.
  2. Shrug your shoulders and roll them to the back. Without resting, shrug your shoulders and roll them to the front. This is one repetition.
  3. Don't rest between shrugs. Repeat for three sets of eight to ten repetitions.

Front Shoulder Raises

This exercise works the front head of the deltoids. To perform:

  1. Stand with your arms hanging down at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your body.
  2. Slowly raise your arms in front of you (palms down) until the weight is parallel with your shoulder.
  3. Without resting, lower the weight in a controlled fashion and repeat for three sets of eight to ten repetitions.

Supine Shoulder Raises

This exercise works the rear head of the deltoids. To perform:

  1. Lie face down on a bench with your arms hanging towards the floor from the shoulders. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward.
  2. Slowly raise your arms out to the sides until the weight is parallel with your shoulders.
  3. Without resting, lower your arms in a controlled fashion. Repeat for three sets of eight to ten repetitions.

These are just a few of the many exercises you can perform to strengthen your shoulders. By performing these shoulder exercises and others like them, you'll be well on the way to strong, beautiful shoulders.

Shoulder Strengthening Exercises