Skip to main content

The 7 Best Shoulder Exercises For Building Boulder Shoulders

A pair of built, sizeable shoulders sitting on top of a guy’s torso is a telltale sign of someone who is not only aesthetic but functional as well. Strong and healthy shoulders are incredibly crucial for all of life’s tasks, especially as we age and begin to lose muscle density. Shoulder injuries are disastrous, making even common daily tasks like carrying groceries, painful. So, one of the best things that you can do is to stop neglecting your shoulders and make sure you bulletproof them.

Luckily for you, we were able to sit down and get some advice and exercises from Row House Master Coach, Gretchen Raddatz. “When you build stability, mobility, and flexibility in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, it keeps you injury-free,” said Gretchen.

Shirless guy poses, showing off his deltoid muscles.

To help you get those large, rounded shoulders that will protect you from injury, we asked Raddatz to compile this step-by-step guide to the best shoulder exercises. These exercises can be incorporated into HIIT workouts for a full-body burn, or they can function as a stand-alone routine. To help you get the most out of your shoulder training, it’s important to understand some of the basic anatomy surrounding the shoulder joint, first.

These muscles are divided 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 deltoids, rotator cuff, and teres major. The exercises below are designed to hit all of these muscles for an intense yet well-rounded shoulder workout.

Overhead Shoulder Press

Man performing an Overhead Shoulder Press with a dumbbell on each hand.

Muscles Targeted: Deltoid (anterior, medial, and posterior) and trapezius
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

This exercise can be done standing or seated. With a dumbbell in each hand and 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

Man holding a dumbbell in each hand raising his arms out in front of him until they are parallel to the floor.

Muscles Targeted: Anterior deltoid, medial/middle deltoid, and trapezius
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

With light weights, begin this exercise by 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

Guy in a gym performs a dumbbell lateral raise.

Muscles Targeted: Medial/middle deltoid, rotator cuff, and trapezius
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

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 toward 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

Man trying out a Bent-Over Reverse Fly with a dumbbell in each hand.

Muscles Targeted: Posterior deltoid, trapezius, and rhomboids
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

The reverse fly is 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.”

Arnold Press

Man holding a dumbbell while sitting on a bench press.

Muscles Targeted: Anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, and rotator cuff
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

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 move back down through it.

Upright Row

Man holding the dumbbells on each hand in front of his thighs, with his palms facing his body.

Muscles Targeted: Anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, and trapezius
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

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 toward your chest, letting the elbows flare out at about shoulder height. Bring the weights back down and repeat.

Circle Press

Man raising the dumbbells on each hand above his head.

Muscles Targeted: Trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, levator scapulae, anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, rotator cuff, and teres major
Reps: 12 to 15
Sets: 2 to 3

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Jeff Turbett
Jeff Turbett is a health and wellness coach with over three years of experience transforming clients lives and physical…
The 23 best quad exercises and workouts for leg day
What you need to know about quad workouts
strong quad muscles.

Nobody should skip leg day plain and simple. You don't have to have legs the size of Dwayne Johnson's either, but that wouldn't hurt. You also don’t have to be a hardcore cyclist, runner, or athlete of any sport to want strong quads. This major muscle group is important for functional strength for everything from getting out of a chair to climbing stairs. Strong quads allow you to jump high, run fast, generate power, and dominate all sorts of physical tasks, and there’s the undeniable allure of attaining chiseled definition in your legs.
Fortunately, the quads are one of the easiest muscle groups to strengthen as well as pack on considerable size if you have been slacking on leg days as of late. There are lots of great quad exercises and quad workouts that can be completed with everything from just your own body weight to dumbbells, weight machines, or other training tools. Quad exercises can be incorporated into HIIT workouts, plyometrics, and even low-impact cardio activities like cycling and rowing. Below, we share some of the best quad exercises you can try for effective sculpting and strengthening quad workouts.

What are the quad muscles?

Read more
The ultimate lat guide for building your strongest back ever
Building your strongest back ever is easy with this workout guide
A man with strong lats.

Many people are motivated to work out due to building strong, well-defined muscles. However, we often focus on the muscle groups we can readily see in the mirror, such as the quads, biceps, shoulders, pecs, and abs, and forget to give as much workout time and attention to the equally-important muscles on the backside of the body. This can create muscle imbalances that ultimately decrease your functional strength and can leave you susceptible to injury.
With that in mind, one of the key muscles in the back your workouts should target are the latissimus dorsi muscles, more commonly referred to as the lats.
The lats are the largest muscles in the back, and are recruited for many important movements involving the trunk, core, and upper body, such as pulling and rowing. In this article, we will provide a full rundown of the best exercises to strengthen your lats, ensuring that even if you can't easily check out these muscles, they are getting just as strong and shredded as your pecs and abs.

There are numerous exercises that target the lats, including bodyweight exercises, dumbbell and barbell options, and weight machines. Before we dive into those exercises, it's helpful to define what exactly the lats are. Then be sure to keep reading for some inspiration and guidance for your lat workouts to help ensure that even if you can’t see them, your lats are just as strong and defined as your pecs and abs.
What are the lats?
The lats refer to the latissimus dorsi muscles, which are a pair of large, triangular, or V-shaped muscles on either side of your spine. They span from the very inside of your upper arm by your shoulder down to the back of the pelvis at the waist, creating a dramatic taper spanning your entire back.
The primary function of the lats is to work together to stabilize the spine while supporting and providing strength to the arms and shoulders. They allow for side bending and keeping the spine straight while also helping extend, rotate, and move the shoulder. For example, the lats are involved in any pulling motion, whether pulling down something overhead or pulling back on something in front of you. They also help adduct the arms, which is the motion that occurs when your arms are up and out to the side like the letter “T” and then pulled back down to your sides. The lats are heavily involved in exercises like pull-ups and rowing but are even involved in running, walking, and breathing.

Read more
The 10 best back exercises you can do, according to a celebrity trainer
The 10 best muscle-building exercises for a bigger back
Man doing pullups in a gym.

Ask any fitness expert and they would almost unanimously agree on one thing - consistency reigns king. If you're not consistent, you'll never reach your goals. By being consistent with some of the best back workouts, you can develop a strong and defined back that gives additional depth and shape to your physique. Here's the best part, this can also make all the effort you put into your chest, abs, and arms really pop! Not only that, but a nice wide back can also give you the appearance of a slimmer waist, too. Simply put, your back plays an important function in almost every movement you make, whether it be in the gym or in everyday life. A well-developed back will definitely improve your posture and reduce neck and back pain, enabling you to run, jump, and play comfortably without having to worry about possible injuries.

Back exercises are one of the best workouts you can try at home or at the gym, but they are often overlooked. This can result in a weak back that's prone to slipped discs and nagging neck pain. Compound movements that are critical for building muscle via strength training simply cannot be executed without a strong back. It's the pillar for building a stronger body and having one that is functional, as well as aesthetic, can help stave off injuries later in life.
Meet Kupah James, the co-founder of Bodyweight BootKAMP
Kupah James

Read more