14 of the Best Shoulder Exercises for All Levels

Are shoulder workouts a part of your gym routine? If not, it is time to stop neglecting your shoulders and ensure they are getting healthier.

When it comes to having a complete and balanced physique, well-developed shoulders can make all the difference. But it takes more than a few stretches to keep your shoulders healthy. Performing shoulder exercises could help you build strength and mobility in your shoulder muscles and joints. We have collected twelve shoulder exercises for all levels to help you achieve your desired results.

Quick note: It is recommended that you consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. If your goal is to increase shoulder size, it is better to perform movements that use multiple angles so you can hit each part of the deltoids (the primary muscle in the shoulder complex, which consists of front (anterior), side (lateral), and rear (posterior) heads). Also, do not forget about that needed time to warm up! Get ready for the workout with a few low-intensity exercises that target the shoulder area (e.g. arm circles, shoulder rolls, YTW, band pull-apart, banded lateral raise, scapular slide).

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1. Barbell Overhead Press

A barbell overhead shoulder press (also known as a barbell standing shoulder press) is a great exercise that works most of your body, not just your shoulders. It is an excellent core strengthener and mass builder. It is recommended to do this exercise standing, not sitting, so the press will help you develop your core and point out imbalances in your back. When sitting and having your upper back supported by a bench, there is room for imbalances to be masked.

Benefits of the Overhead Press

Strengthens the core muscles (obliques, transverse abdominal muscles, lower back, and spinal stabilizers).

Strengthens all three heads of the deltoid — the front (anterior), middle (lateral), and rear (posterior) and maintains proper muscular balance.

Improves shoulder health and protects against injuries when done correctly.

How to Do the Overhead Press

1. For the standing barbell press, put your feet at shoulder-width and hold a barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing forward. Your grip is either too narrow or too wide if your elbows are pointing out or in.

2. Next, brace your abs, engage your glutes by squeezing your butt, shift your head back, and drive the bar up toward the ceiling. Return your head to neutral once the bar has passed your forehead, and fully straighten your arms overhead. Your abs and glutes should be engaged, and you should not bend your lower back at the top of the press.

3. Lower the bar to your shoulders slowly to the starting position and repeat.

2. Arnold Press

An Arnold press (named after Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an exercise performed with dumbbells. It adds rotation to the shoulder press and can be more friendly to your shoulder joints. The Arnold press also increases the time spent under tension, resulting in more hypertrophy. The Arnold press is a more advanced form of the shoulder press and is a killer exercise for your upper body. If you are experiencing shoulder pain, consult your doctor or a certified personal trainer before returning to this exercise.

Benefits of the Arnold Press

Hits all three parts of your shoulders (posterior, lateral, and anterior deltoids).

More shoulder-friendly than palms-forward presses.

Great for adding mass to the shoulders.


How to Do the Arnold Press

1. In a seated position, with arms next to your torso, hold two dumbbells in front of you at about upper chest level with your palms facing your body. Your elbows should be bent.

2. Raise the dumbbells as you rotate the palms of your hands until they are facing forward.

3. Push the dumbbells vertically until your arms are extended above you in a straight arm position and your biceps are by or behind your ears.

4. Pause at the top, then begin lowering the dumbbells to their original position by rotating your palms towards you.

3. Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

The bottoms-up kettlebell press is one of the exercises that you can do to help beat shoulder pain. It strengthens your rotator cuff (the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint) and improves your mobility. This exercise teaches you the irradiation principle. With repetition, your pressing technique will improve.

Benefits of the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

Increases your shoulder stability demands, helping strengthen your rotator cuff.

Teaches you full body tension with lighter loads due to muscle irradiation.

Relieves achy elbows and shoulders, as with the weight upside down, you feel the pressure in your palm. This tends to keep the elbows in a good position.


How to Do the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

1. Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp the kettlebell’s handle, positioning the kettlebell upside down, so the bell is pointing toward the ceiling.

2. Keep your wrist straight and the kettlebell steady. Press your arm straight up, extending your elbow.

3. Lower slowly so you are balancing the kettlebell with the bottom directly facing up.

4. Barbell Overhead Carry

Carrying a barbell overhead will put your whole body under tension (including your three deltoid heads) due to the overhead place and its dynamic nature. It can also help you develop strength, stability, and mobility.

Benefits of the Barbell Overhead Carry

Helps build shoulder strength and stability.

Places more stress on your core to stabilize your entire body in order to walk forward.

Improves your balance.


How to Do the Barbell Overhead Carry

1. Place your hands on the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width and press the barbell overhead.

2. Lock out your elbows so there to avoid the bend in the joint. Your biceps should be even or behind your ears.

3. As you begin to walk forward, hold this position, and keep your core squeezed. Continue to walk for the prescribed amount of distance.

5. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The seated dumbbell shoulder press drives more action to your shoulder than if you would do it standing. This exercise targets and strengthens all the muscles around the shoulder complex. Performing the seated dumbbell overhead press with one arm at a time on occasion can engage more core stabilizer muscles and help you develop unilateral strength.


Benefits of the Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Trains all three heads of the deltoids.

Builds hypertrophy and increases muscular activation.

Helps to combat muscle and strength imbalances between sides since you are lifting the dumbbells unilaterally.


How to Do the Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

1. Sit upright on an incline bench and keep your shoulders away from your ears.

2. Grab your dumbbells and press both of them overhead until your elbows lock out.

3. Lower the dumbbells and repeat.


6. Front Raise

The dumbbell front raise stimulates the front or anterior deltoid. It is one of the most effective exercises to isolate the anterior deltoid to enhance the size and tone of your shoulders. If you are recovering from an injury and can’t lift overhead, the dumbbell front raise exercise will help you get in some shoulder training.

Benefits of the Front Raise

Targets primarily the shoulder muscles (deltoids) and works the upper chest (pectorals).

Increases your strength and stamina.

Helps strengthen your core, upper back, and neck muscles, ensuring good posture.

How to Do the Front Raise

1. Hold both dumbbells of equal weight in front of your thighs with palms facing your body.

2. Push your chest out and pull your shoulders backward. Your back should be straight, your neck neutral, and your core engaged.

3. Slowly lift the dumbbells away from your body until your hands align with your shoulders. Pause, slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat.

7. Reverse Cable Crossover

The reverse cable crossover (also known as the rear cable delt fly) improves deltoid muscle definition and strength and helps with good posture. It will also give your shoulders the shape you desire. 

Benefits of the Reverse Cable Crossover

Helps work muscle areas that directly affect your posture. Helps gain shoulder stability and balance. The cables provide smooth and consistent resistance.


How to Do the Reverse Cable Crossover

1. Set the cable pulley at chest height. Grip both handles (palm facing down) and stand in the middle, facing inwards.

2. Bend your knees slightly and extend your arms to hold the cable ends directly in front of your chest.

3. Pull the cable ends outwards and backwards until your hands meet or cross.

4. Gently draw the cable ends forwards and inwards to return to the starting position.

5. Repeat the motion until you achieve the desired sets of reps.


8. Standing Barbell Shrugs

The barbell shrug is an important exercise for developing the upper back muscles. Also, if you want to strengthen your neck musculature, the barbell shrugs could be included in your plan. A strong neck helps you prevent potential injuries, increase your range of motion and reduce neck and back pain.

Benefits of the Standing Barbell Shrugs

Develops strength in the trapezius muscles, which helps reduce back pain.

Helps with maintaining proper posture.

Improves forearm strength.


How to Do Standing Barbell Shrugs

1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in front of you with palms facing the thighs. Make sure your hands are a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale and tighten your abs.

2. Deadlift the bar up and raise your shoulders slightly back at the same time. Hold for a second at the top of your range.

3. Lower the bar to the starting position, exhale and repeat.

9. Military Press

The military press (also known as the strict press) is an exercise perfect for building shoulder muscle. It builds the deltoid muscle (primarily), triceps, and core strength. In addition to that, the military press targets the core and legs and improves their stability.


Benefits of the Military Press

Develops core stability.

Increases shoulder mobility.

Involves shoulders, triceps, traps, upper chest, back, core, biceps, and forearms.


How to Do the Military Press

1. Place the barbell on a squat rack at shoulder level and load it with a suitable weight.  

2. Grab the barbell so that the palms are facing forward. Grip the bar wider than shoulder-width apart.

3. Take a deep breath, push the bar over your head by utilizing the majority of your upper body, lock your elbows and make sure the barbell is over the head.

4. To avoid hitting your chin and nose, slightly tilt your head backwards as you push the bar up in the straightest line possible.

5. Lower the bar down and repeat.


10. Medicine Ball Slam

The medicine ball slam is a full-body exercise. This exercise uses a variety of movements to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. By throwing and moving a ball around, you work most of your muscles and get a great cardio workout, which benefits your cardiovascular health.

Benefits of the Medicine Ball Slam

Improves coordination between the upper and lower body. Increases muscle density. Improves your cardiac system capabilities.


How to Do the Medicine Ball Slam

1. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, and slightly bend your knees and hips.

2. Hold a medicine ball in both hands at waist height.

3. Slightly squat down and quickly raise the ball up over your head while rising on your toes. Keep your arms straight, do not lean back and keep your core engaged.

4. Slam the medicine ball straight down between your feet. Squat down, pick up the ball and repeat.


11. Single-Arm Push Press

The single-arm push press helps you build strength and improve shoulder stability. This exercise has unique benefits, mainly because it is a unilateral exercise. By using dumbbells instead of a barbell, you make your core stabilize the unbalanced load.

Benefits of the Single-Arm Push Press

Increases shoulder strength, stability, and symmetry.

Helps improve your core strength.

Easier on joints compared to barbells.

How to Do the Single-Arm Push Press

1, Bring a dumbbell to shoulder height with your palm facing toward your chest. Your elbow should be bent.

2. Press it over your head until it is directly above you.

3. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position. Complete all reps on the right side and repeat on the left side.

12. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The Dumbbell Lateral Raise exercise is a shoulder isolation exercise that helps with increasing deltoid muscle hypertrophy. These raises can also be performed using cables or lateral raise machines. It is always a good practice to choose weights that complement your fitness level. This will also help you get a pair of boulder-looking shoulders.


Benefits of the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Leading to muscle growth and improving joint stability.

Improves compound movements.

Works side shoulders for a V-taper look.


How to Do the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

1. Stand tall, grasp dumbbells by your sides, with palms facing outer legs. Keep your neutral head and neck.

2. Roll your shoulders back, retract the shoulder blades and raise the dumbbells until your arms are parallel to the floor.

3. Pause and slowly lower your arms back to the starting position. Repeat. Do not shrug or raise your shoulders during the reps.


Suppose you are ready for a challenge that would give your delts new life, try to perform classic movements with a little twist. These advanced shoulder exercises will take your shoulder training to the next level!


13. Handstand Push-up

By performing the handstand push-up, you strengthen muscles in your upper body - delts, shoulders, traps, triceps, pecs, and you also engage your core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. It is a compound workout that strengthens you all over and leads to an increase in metabolism. It also encourages blood flow back to the heart, which tends to slow down as we get older. This is a high-level movement and may not be appropriate for everyone. Before trying the handstand push-up, you should be good with the handstand against the wall position. It would be best if you felt comfortable being upside down and keeping a stable position. Consider squeezing your buttocks and gut tight to maintain a firm midline in order to achieve an excellent stable handstand push-up position.


How to Do the Handstand Push-Up

1. Face the wall, place hands 6 to 12 inches away from the wall, a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.

2. Kick up into a handstand, so your heels can touch the wall. Establish a strong position; your body should make a straight line.

3. Start lowering yourself, bending your elbows at a 45-degree angle until the top of your head touches the ground. Press up and straighten your arms so that the elbows reach full extension.

13. Rear Delt Fly

By performing the rear delt fly exercise, you work on the rear shoulders and major muscles of your upper back. Many people struggle with performing this exercise correctly as they put some of the load on their lower back by flapping their arms around or slacking on the posture. Instead, you want that perfect form where you target your rear delts by spreading your arms apart, away from your body's midline, maintaining the horizontal position. An adjustable bench could help you with the correct posture, as by leaning your chest against the bench's pad, a lot of stress to your lower back will be offloaded. You may even focus on doing this exercise at less weight for better results.


How to do the Rear Delt Fly

1. Adjust an incline bench to a low angle, and sit on the bench, holding dumbbells. Lean forward until your chest rests on the back pad.

2. Keep your feet on the ground and squeeze your glutes and core muscles. Squeeze your shoulder blades and lift the weights to your sides until they're in line with your shoulders. Keep in mind that your arms should not be entirely straight; instead, keep a slight bend in your elbows.

3. Lower the dumbbells.

4. Repeat.


14. Sled Drag

The sled drag is a simple but very effective exercise that can help you increase your strength, power, and endurance. By performing the sled drag exercise, you are training your lower and upper body at the same time, improving aerobic and anaerobic threshold, speed, or recovery. The overall injury risk of performing this exercise is low and minimal technique is involved.


How to Do Sled Drags

1.Before starting this exercise, warm up with some good cardiovascular work (e.g. lunges, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, high knee march, squats).

2. Add the desired amount of weight plates onto the sled and position yourself to face the sled's handles. Note that for lower body exercises, if you cannot take at least 60 steps without stopping on the way, you probably added too much weight, and for the upper body, plan for 15-30 reps per set.

3. Grip the handles. To align yourself with the sled, ensure your core is tightened and your back is straightened.

4. Step forward with the back leg while keeping your arm straight. Keep walking forward for the desired distance, then turn the sled around and start over.