The 8 Best Shoulder Exercises

By: Kaelyn Buzzo (ISSA Certified Personal Trainer)


With so many exercises spread across the internet and social media, it can be extremely confusing to figure out which exercises provide the best results without promoting injury.


My goal as a personal trainer is to share informative tips to guide beginners and veterans into a healthier and more productive lifestyle. If you are like me, you don’t want to work and sweat your butt off in the gym only to see zero progress. That’s so…disappointing.

I’ve caught myself thinking, “What’s the point of going if I’m not doing it right?”.


And that’s a gut puncher. Something is always better than nothing in terms of being active. There will be down days where you only have the energy, motivation, and discipline to work through 2-3 exercises instead of five---and that’s okay! You did something, and I applaud you for it. There’s also nothing wrong with rest days, and a lack of energy or motivation can pop into your workout routine due to a few factors that include a few rest days, being on your menstrual cycle, struggling with mental health, and more.


The 8 Best Shoulder Exercises


There’s no gatekeeping here. Spread the love---and the gainz!


Add these eight best shoulder exercises to your workout routine for an effective game-changer to shoulder strength and aesthetics.


Military Press

One of three weightlifting exercises included in the Olympics in 1928, the military press has been around for a hot minute---and for a good reason!


The military press works more than the shoulders. Though it’s a practical exercise that targets the shoulders, performing a military press requires stabilization of the torso, meaning you will need to engage your abdominals and other muscles to perform each repetition.


It takes coordination and balance to perform a military press. If these are two aspects you desire to work on, I recommend building up your military press to obtain these benefits by practicing this movement.


A dumbbell military press is a great starting point for beginners as you can choose lighter dumbbells and build up from there for progressive overload.


Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Anterior Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Triceps

  • Upper Chest

  • Trapezius (Traps)

How To Perform A Military Press:

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart.

  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, lifting them to shoulder height with palms facing away from you.

  3. Keep your wrists straight and arms vertical throughout the movement.

  4. Engage your core as you press the dumbbells up to extend the arms.

  5. Slowly return to the starting position.

  6. Repeat the desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Lateral Raises

Lateral raises are an effective accessory exercise for training the upper body and shoulders. Great for beginners, this shoulder exercise can use lighter weight, to begin with as you build up your upper body strength foundation.


If done correctly, lateral raises can encourage hypertrophy (muscle growth) while simultaneously enhancing shoulder mobility (range of motion).


There are a few variations of the lateral raise, including dumbbell, cable, and seated lateral raises. Each strives to target different parts of the shoulders for all-around improvement in hypertrophy, strength, and aesthetic of the shoulders.


Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Lateral Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Trapezius (Traps)

  • Supraspinatus (Rotator Cuff Muscle)

  • Serratus Anterior (Muscles Under Your Armpits Along Your Ribs)

How To Perform A Lateral Raise:

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart.

  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body, engage your core as you lift the weights to the side with a slight bend in your elbows.

  3. Reach parallel to the floor, then slowly return to the starting position.

  4. Repeat for desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Neutral Grip Shoulder Press

The neutral grip shoulder press targets the anterior head of the deltoids (or the front of the shoulders). It is a significant variation of the military press that uses a pronated grip (palms facing away from you). This variation focuses more on the front of the shoulders, though it does engage other parts of the shoulders.






Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Anterior Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Triceps

  • Pectoral Muscles (Pecs)

  • Trapezius Muscles (Traps)

How To Perform A Neutral Grip Shoulder Press:

  1. For a standing neutral grip shoulder press, begin in an upright position with feet hip distance apart.

  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other.

  3. Raise the dumbbells to your shoulders.

  4. Preventing any rocking motion while lifting the dumbbells, engage your core as you press the dumbbells up overhead.

  5. Slowly return to the starting position.

  6. Repeat for desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Neutral Grip Front Raise

An excellent shoulder exercise for both beginners and veterans, the neutral grip front raise targets the anterior deltoids (the front part of the shoulder). This muscle is used in movements that require moving your arm forward. For example, when you reach for an object on a shelf or the kitchen counter, you use your anterior deltoids to move your arm up, down, and to the side.






Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Anterior Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Pectoral Muscles (Pecs)

  • Trapezius Muscles (Traps)

  • Biceps

  • Triceps

How To Perform A Neutral Grip Front Raise:

  1. Begin in a standing position with feet hip distance apart for this shoulder exercise.

  2. Engage your core to maintain a still and straight position.

  3. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, palms in a neutral position, facing each other.

  4. Using your shoulders, lift the dumbbells in front of you.

  5. Pause when your arms are parallel to the floor.

  6. Slowly return to the starting position.

  7. Repeat for desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Cable Lateral Raise

A variation of the dumbbell lateral raise, the cable lateral raise is another effective shoulder exercise to add to your shoulder routine.


The cable lateral raises promote shapely shoulders by adjusting the point of tension on the muscle. Using the cable to add resistance, tension is created at the bottom portion of the movement.


In this study, the effectiveness of cable lateral raises is confirmed, to be more precise, in the ability of the movement to strengthen the subscapularis muscle in the rotator cuff.


Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Lateral Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Pectoral Muscles (Pecs)

  • Trapezius Muscles (Traps)

  • Biceps

How To Perform Cable Lateral Raises:

  1. Start with a lower weight and adjust if needed.

  2. Stand next to the cable machine, facing away from it so that the cable machine is at your side.

  3. Place your feet shoulder distance apart, maintaining good mechanics.

  4. Slightly incline your chest forward and bend at the knees.

  5. With your hand nearest to the cable machine, grab ahold of the cable machine to add a slight lean away from the cable machine to insert an increased range of motion during the exercise.

  6. Then, grab the handle of the cable machine with the hand farthest away.

  7. Add a slight bend at the elbow and extend your arm out and away from you to shoulder level.

  8. Slowly return to the starting position.

  9. Repeat for desired repetitions and sets for your goals, performing the same amount on each arm.


Y-Raises

An exercise I’ve been doing since the preseason of my freshman year of college volleyball in 2013, y-raises are a complimentary shoulder exercise that targets all three parts of the deltoids---the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids. It primarily hits the anterior deltoids, but it does engage the lateral and posterior deltoids as well.


Add this shoulder exercise to your workout routine for an effective shoulder workout!




Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Anterior Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Pectoral Muscles (Pecs)

  • Trapezius Muscles (Traps)

  • Biceps

How To Perform Y-Raises:

  1. Begin in a standing position with feet hip distance apart.

  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing away from you.

  3. Raise the dumbbells out to the side into a “Y” position, maintaining the same position of palms facing away the whole time.

  4. Slowly return to the starting position.

  5. Repeat for desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press is an optimal shoulder exercise for beginners to advanced gym goers. Improving overall strength in the shoulders, this exercise is a must-add to your exercise routine if you want to improve your upper body strength.


An effective shoulder exercise, the barbell overhead press mainly engages the anterior deltoids (front of your shoulder) and is assisted by other muscles like the triceps and medial deltoids (responsible for the rounded appearance of the shoulder).


Though the overhead press can be performed with other equipment like dumbbells or kettlebells, I recommend using a barbell for even distribution in weight and stability to ensure all the muscles are worked evenly. Unfortunately, the body always seems to find a way out of working and promotes muscular imbalances, so I encourage you to practice great form.


Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Anterior Deltoid

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Triceps

  • Pectoralis Major (Pecs)

  • Abdominals

  • Trapezius (Traps)

How To Perform A Standing Barbell Overhead Press:

  1. Stand with feet hip distance apart.

  2. Place your hands on the bar just outside your shoulders.

  3. Maintain straight wrists, keeping your forearms vertical.

  4. Engage your core, pressing your feet down into the floor as you press the bar over your head for a full extension of the arms.

  5. Slowly return to the starting position.

  6. Repeat the desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Arnold Press

Named after the bodybuilding legend Arnold Swarzenegger, the Arnold press is one of the most effective shoulder exercises you can add to your workout routine.


The Arnold press engages all aspects of the deltoids---the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids. Arnold Swarzenegger invented the Arnold press to engage the anterior deltoids during his overhead presses, and since then, the movement has spread across the fitness world with its understandable popularity.


Primary Muscle Targeted:

  • Anterior, Posterior, & Lateral Deltoids

Muscles Engaged:

  • Deltoids (Shoulders)

  • Triceps

  • Pectoralis Major (Pecs)

  • Trapezius (Traps)

How To Perform An Arnold Press:

  1. Sit on a bench with back support.

  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand.

  3. Start by holding the dumbbells in front of you with elbows bent and palms facing you (supinated grip).

  4. As you press the dumbbells overhead, rotate your palms to face away from your body (pronated grip).

  5. Slowly lower the weight, returning to the starting position with palms facing you.

  6. Repeat for desired sets and repetitions for your goals.


Conclusion

In this article, we’ve discussed the top eight practical shoulder exercises---and each has a variation you can use to challenge yourself in the gym.


Progress is only achieved through progressive overload (think challenging yourself with efficient programming that alters volume and intensity) and an optimal diet (Are you eating enough protein for your goals? Are you effectively maintaining or eating in a deficit or surplus for your goals?). And of course, don’t forget to rest! Rest is a must in terms of desiring progress, as without an opportunity for recovery, how will your hard work show if your body doesn’t have efficient time to recover? (Hint: It won’t).


Now that you know the most effective shoulder exercises, it’s time to pump some iron!


Did you find this article informative? Comment below to tell me what you think or if you have any questions. Don’t forget to share this informative article with friends, family, and fellow gym-goers---spread the pump!




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