Strong shoulders are critical in providing the strength and support your arms need to push harder, throw harder, and build big biceps and triceps — all while avoiding injury. If you enjoy watching sports, you know the effects of a shoulder injury are devastating. One shoulder injury will put a swift end to lifting, playing ball, skiing, climbing, and more. What’s worse, even common daily tasks like carrying groceries will be painful and potentially even damage your shoulder further. The only thing you can do about a shoulder injury is to wait for it to heal, which can take weeks or even months.
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 strengthen the muscles of your shoulders.
“When you build stability, mobility, and flexibility in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint it keeps you injury-free,” says Gretchen Raddatz, Master Coach with Row House.
To help you get those large, rounded shoulders that will protect you from injury while also giving you the appearance of bigger arms and a smaller waist, we asked Raddatz, from national rowing-based fitness brand Row House, to compile this step-by-step guide to the seven best shoulder exercises. These targeted exercises can be added to HIIT workouts for a complete full-body exercise routine, or done on their own. Pull out your at-home workout gear and let’s get to work.
Before we get into the exercises, it’s important to understand how these movements work to target the muscles in and around your shoulders, which are separated into two groups: Extrinsic and intrinsic shoulder muscles. The extrinsic muscles include the trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and levator scapulae. The intrinsic muscles are the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid, rotator cuff, and teres major. The following exercises are designed to hit all of these muscles for a well-rounded (pun intended) shoulder workout.
Overhead Shoulder Press
Muscles targeted: Deltoid muscles (anterior, medial, and posterior) and trapezius
This exercise can be done standing or seated. With a dumbbell in each hand, holding the weights at the shoulders with an overhand grip, start with your feet hip-distance apart, keeping the back straight. Press up and bring the dumbbells together over your head then slowly lower back to starting position.
“Avoid arching your back by keeping the abdomen braced, glutes contracted during the press, and tipping the pelvis inward slightly,” says Gretchen. “Lower the weights only to your shoulders.”
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.
Front Delt Raise
Muscles targeted: Anterior deltoid, medial/middle deltoid, and trapezius.
With light weights, begin this exercise standing with your feet about hip-distance apart. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing back horizontal to the thighs, slowly raise your arms out in front of you until they are parallel to the floor, maintaining a small bend in the elbow. Hold, then lower slowly with control. Repeat.
“Avoid using momentum, and take your time on the way up and down,” recommends Gretchen. ” [Your] wrists should remain neutral, not bent.”
Lateral Delt Raise
Muscles targeted: Medial/middle deltoid, rotator cuff, and trapezius.
Again, use light weights for this exercise. Begin standing with your feet about hip-distance apart and a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in towards the body alongside the thighs with a slight bend in the elbow. Begin lifting the weights up and out to your sides. Once the arms are parallel to the floor (about even with your shoulder), bring the weight back down slowly with control. Repeat.
A note on form: Remember to brace the core, keep feet hip-distance apart and pull your shoulders back and down. “If you rotate your hands raising your pinkies slightly higher than your thumbs, you’ll feel more activation in the lateral deltoid muscle,” says Gretchen.
Bent-Over Reverse Fly
Muscles targeted: Posterior deltoid, trapezius, and rhomboids.
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 apart, hinge forward at the hips to a 45-degree angle, keeping a slight bend in the knees. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in. Lift the weights out to the sides of your body, squeezing the shoulder blades together, and keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Bring the weights back down gently.
“Look down and maintain alignment through the neck and spine so you are not straining your neck,” says Gretchen. “Avoid swinging/jerking the weights to bring them up. Keep it slow, steady, and smooth.”
Muscles targeted: Anterior, medial and posterior deltoid, and rotator cuff.
This exercise hits all three muscles in the deltoid and works on rotational movement through the press portion of the lift. It helps increase shoulder stability, hitting the inside shoulder muscles at the bottom of the lift. Feel free to pick up some of the heavier weights you have lying around your home gym for this one.
Start with a dumbbell in each hand, feet hip-distance apart, keeping your back straight and core activated. Hold the weights at the shoulders with your palms facing the body. Start by taking the elbows out wider, rotating the wrists so the palms face forward as you bring the weights straight up overhead, and then moving back down through it.
Muscles targeted: Anterior, medial and posterior deltoid, and trapezius.
This exercise can be done standing or seated, and with heavier weights. Start by holding the weights in front of your thighs, palms facing the body. The feet should be hip to shoulder-width apart, and you want to keep the weights close to your body as you pull them up towards your chest, letting the elbows will flare out at about shoulder height. Bring the weights back down and repeat.
Muscles targeted: Trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, levator scapulae, anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid, rotator cuff, and teres major.
In a standing position with the feet hip to shoulder-width apart, start with a pair of low weight dumbbells. Hold them against the thighs with the palms facing forward, away from the body. Bring the dumbbells out to the side of the body and up overhead, and then reverse the movement back down. Repeat.
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