Four Best Exercises for Strong Shoulders

Exercise Tips for Strong Shoulders

There are obvious aesthetic benefits that come with exercising your shoulders regularly. But, there are also a lot of functional benefits that accompany these exercises.

Strong shoulders are essential for reducing injury risk, especially when it comes to avoiding dislocations and rotator cuff injuries. Strong shoulders also improve your ability to perform pulling, pushing, and swinging exercises.

If you’re interested in improving your shoulder strength and building well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing shoulders, make sure you’re incorporating these four exercises into your routine.

Four Best Exercises for Strong Shoulders

#1. Barbell Standing Military Press

The barbell standing military press is a compound exercise, meaning it works multiple muscle groups at once.

When you do this exercise while standing, you activate muscles in the shoulders, biceps, triceps, chest, and core, which is required for stability.

To do the barbell standing military press properly, make sure you avoid totally locking out your elbows — this puts extra stress on your elbow joint.

When you lower the bar, bring it down so it hovers just above the upper chest. Keep a slight bend in the knees, too, and keep your hips in a neutral position to avoid straining your lower back when you’re pressing the weight up.

#2. Dumbbell Incline Row

Rows are typically considered to exclusively be a back exercise. While they do work the muscles in the upper back, they also target the rear and lateral deltoids — the middle and back part of your shoulder muscle.

In fact, one study found that rows were just as good as lateral raises for activating the lateral deltoid and better than other exercises for the rear deltoids, which can often be tricky to work.

When doing dumbbell incline rows, make sure you’re pulling the elbows back and shoulders together. Lean into the bench to isolate the back and rear delt muscles and avoid compensating with other muscles.

#3. Upright Row

Upright rows are another good exercise for the lateral deltoids. You can use dumbbells, cables, a Smith machine, or a barbell for upright rows. All are good options — it just depends on your comfort level and personal preference.

Avoid using a close grip when doing these rows. While it may allow a wide range of motion, it also forces you to internally rotate your shoulders.

A wider grip appears to result in better deltoid activation and helps you avoid letting your biceps take over. make sure your grip is wide enough that your upper arms go directly out to the side when bent.

#4. Front Raise

For many people, the anterior deltoids — the front part of the shoulder — get plenty of attention from chest exercises like push-ups and bench presses. But, if you’re having trouble sculpting balanced-looking shoulders, you may need to give them specific attention with an isolation exercise like a front raise.

Use dumbbells, cables, or a barbell for this exercise. Make sure you lower your arms slowly and with control to increase tension on the shoulders and maintain a slight bend to protect the elbow joints.

Safety Tips for Shoulder Exercises

As with any other exercise, when you’re working your shoulders, safety should always come first. Keep these tips in mind during your workout to avoid injury as you focus on developing your shoulders:

  • Do compound lifts like standing military presses first since they require you to use multiple muscle groups
  • Avoid bending your arm beyond 90 degrees in rows so you don’t overstress the muscles
  • If you have old shoulder injuries, wear adjustable sleeves for full range of motion that support and stabilize this critical joint during your workout
  • Avoid swinging your weights — pick a weight that you can lift comfortably and with control
  • Start with resistance bands if you’re brand new to strength training or are recovering from an injury

The Bottom Line

Incorporating these shoulder exercises (while staying safe and practicing good form, of course) into your routine will help you grow and define your shoulders.

For most people, it’s best to add them to your back or upper body training days. This approach allows you to increase the frequency with which you train your shoulders rather than training them just once a week, which will, in turn, help you see results faster.

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