5 of the Best Shoulder Exercises for Men to Build Strength and Avoid Injury

You know how a strong core is critical for strength throughout the rest of your body? How those core muscles help you run faster, jump higher, lift more weight, and avoid injury? When it comes to your arms, the same is true for the shoulders. Without strong shoulders, all the curls, dips, grip work, and so on won’t matter much if the chance of shoulder injury is always one bad throw, one too many reps, one box lifted at the wrong angle, or one slip and fall away. Once you injure your shoulder, there goes lifting, playing ball, skiing, climbing, and, depending on how severe the injury, even handling common daily tasks with ease as you wait days, weeks, or even months for your shoulder to heal.

A 2017 article released by the National Center for Biotechnology Information stated that: “The glenohumeral joint of the shoulder has the highest range of motion of the human body. It is also the most inherently unstable.” In other words, your shoulder can do some pretty amazing things, swinging around in just about every imaginable direction, but it’s also woefully accident-prone.

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Fortunately, the best way to avoid shoulder injuries and all their compounding complications is also the best way to work on your sculpted beach body and get gains: Exercise and stengthen the muscles of your shoulders with these best shoulder exercises for men.

1. Overhead Press – Barbell or Dumbbells

Arguably the best exercise for tacking mass onto those shoulders of yours, the overhead shoulder press is pretty on the nose: You are predominately using your shoulder muscles to lift weight directly above your shoulders.

Whether you use a barbell gripped in both hands or a dumbbell in each, make sure you keep your palms facing forward and don’t move the weight behind the center of your body (no barbell behind the neck, e.g.), as that can cause strain or shoulder injury, rather defeating the point. Once your shoulders are fit and used to weight, you can add on the pounds and make this a low-rep, high return muscle builder, but start lighter to stay safe.

Overhead Press with Barbell

Stand with feet shoulder width, grip the bar with hands just wider than your shoulders and with the bar at your neck, then press up with a smooth, steady motion until your arms lock, and then immediately lower the bar slowly.

Overhead Press with Dumbbells

Sit with your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the floor and grip both dumbbells palms out at just above shoulder height. Press up and bring the dumbbells together over your head then slowly lower back to starting position.

2. Front and Lateral Shoulder Raises

If you don’t (yet) work out with weights often, you’ll be amazed how quickly these exercises wipe you out even with very low weight. So start out with five pounds per hand if you’re wary here. These lifts target fewer muscles therefore present both better opportunity for added strength and for acute injury, so take it easy at first.

Front Shoulder Raise

Grip your weights beside your hips, palms facing back, and slowly raise your arms out in front of you until they are a few degrees past level with the ground. Hold for two or three seconds, lower, then repeat. Also perform this exercise with palms facing in toward each other.

Side Shoulder Raise

Grip the weights as above, and slowly but steadily raise your arms out to the sides, hold them just above level with the floor for a few beats, then lower. And feel the burn.

3. Incline Bench Press

If you want to build up your upper chest and the muscles on the front half of your shoulders at the same time, helping get that large, cut upper body that also makes your waist look trimmer, the incline bench is a great choice. You can do this exercise with dumbbells, but a barbell will help keep things more stable and allow for the addition of more weight. (And no shame in using a machine, either.)

Set your bench at just under a 45-degree angle, say 40 degrees off horizontal, and complete reps as you would with a standard bench press, holding the bar just outside chest width and roughly between neck and nipple. Heavy weight and low rep counts welcome.

4. Pull-Ups

While the pull-up is the favorite exercise of few people, it’s a great workout for the shoulders, arms, back, and core, and you can do pull-ups just about anywhere, so it’s a good idea to develop at least some comfort with them. And as you can always add weight, change grips, or use bands to lessen the challenge, they are also pretty versatile.

The best pull-up for shoulder development uses a grip on the wider side, so grab the bar with each hand outside shoulder width, but not so far out that you look like you’re doing a butterfly stroke. An inch or two will do it. Then just start getting that chin up over the bar then lowering down to just before your elbows lock. (The current world record is 4,321 pull-ups in a 24-hour period. Good luck.)

5. Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is actually as much a back exercise as a shoulder exercise, but it can strengthen the lower muscles of the shoulder group and help support and protect your entire shoulder while also helping you build up that coveted V-shape. So bang ’em out.

Standing with feet shoulder width, lean over until your chest is nearly parallel with the floor, maybe 10 degrees toward upright, and grip a pair of dumbbells with palms facing in. Now quickly but steadily raise them out to the sides until your arms are parallel with the ground, then slowly lower. You can also do one side at a time while resting the opposite leg on a bench that you grip with the free hand if you need added stability.

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