WELCOME TO THE DELTOID DOZEN!
When it comes to building a big upper body, the delts almost always come in as most people’s 4th priority.
When training upper body, usually chest muscles get all the attention. Biceps and triceps after that. The shoulders finish second to last, just ahead of the highly neglected back.
This is a HUGE MISTAKE!
One that’s going to leave your upper body looking much smaller and less impressive.
No one can deny that a set of strong broad shoulders can do a lot to enhance the appearance of your upper body. Wider boulder shoulders are what create a larger more balanced look, so this is not a muscle group you want to neglect! Not to mention the importance of the shoulder joint and our shoulder health to so many of our daily activities.
To fix this common workout oversight, I’m going to show you my 12 best shoulder exercises. These will hit your shoulder muscles from every angle: front, middle and rear deltoids.
And no one gets to cop out on this one because there are shoulder-specific exercises below for all types of equipment: barbells, dumbbells, plates, bands and even your own bodyweight! That means you can get a great shoulder workout whether you’re at the gym or at home.
Most importantly, as a physical therapist I’ve made sure to choose exercises that are going to keep your shoulders healthy and decrease risk of injury!
12 best SHOULDER exercises
Here are my 12 favorite exercises for the entire shoulder region that you can include in your regular upper body workout routine.
These will hit deltoids, rotator cuff and traps.
Not only will I show you these exercises for shoulders, I’ll give you a brief indication of what function and portion of the shoulder they hit and why I chose them!
1.) RELAY RAISES
Rotational Front Deltoid Muscle/Core Powerhouse!
Exercise Notes: Using a cable pulley machine, start in standing position with feet shoulder width apart and slightly staggered, facing away from the machine. Hold the cable pully machine attachment with one hand, palms facing forward. Use the shoulder muscle to push forward and upward. Slowly lower the weight to return to the original position. This is one of the best pressing exercises with cable machines for the shoulders if you have access to a full gym.
2.) HIGH BOY ROWs
Posterior Deltoid/Upper Back Destroyer
Exercise Notes: Starting position for this advanced shoulder exercise is standing with feet shoulder width apart. Grab a barbell with an overhand grip. Bending forward slightly, use the power of the shoulder muscles, maintain a slight bend in the elbows and lift the barbell explosively to shoulder height. Control the weight on the way back down. This move is a shoulder mass builder for the rear delt that makes a great addition to your gym workouts if you have access to weights.
3.) OBB LANDMINE PRESS
Scapular Plane Pressing Power!
Exercise Notes: This exercise uses a landmine set up to hit arms and shoulders taking your shoulder training to new levels. Start in standing position with feet shoulder width apart, facing forward with the tail end of a barbell in one hand at shoulder level. Push the weight out and away from you explosively bringing the elbow to shoulder level. Make sure to maintain core strength and stability during the entire movement.
4.) SEATED LONG LEG DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESSES
Exercise Notes: This seated dumbbell overhead shoulder press movement should be performed on an adjustable bench with the knees kept straight instead of bent. This decreases the amount of force you can derive from the feet into the ground and demands that the shoulders do even more work to get the weight overhead. It also requires significantly higher core stability as a result of shifting this responsibility from the legs up the kinetic chain. Starting position is seated on the bench with a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. Arm position is with the dumbbells just above shoulder level and push the dumbbells overhead in a slow and controlled manner. Use a range of motion that maintains the elbows slightly bent without arms straight at the top of the seated overhead presses. This is my favorite challenging variation on this popular dumbbell shoulder exercise. If you have an adjustable weight set, this can easily be done at home.
5.) OBB TWISTING THRUSTER
Athletic Power Builder
Exercise Notes: This move will help you build strong shoulders once again using the landmine setup with a barbell. Starting position is with feet shoulder width apart, holding the end of the barbell at approximately chest height, the other end of the barbell anchored on the floor. Push the end of the barbell up and away from you, then lower the weight, then twist the end of the barbell down and to one side and return to the start. Maintain the core tight the entire time. Do all reps toward one side before moving on to the other side.
6.) PLATE PRESS OUT/ PLATE 8 COMBO
Time Under Tension Inferno
Exercise Notes: Holding a weight plate, press it out away from your torso until arms are parallel to the floor, with hands and elbows at shoulder level. Use your shoulder strength to draw a figure 8 with the plate, then return to the start position.
7.) DB PUSH PRESS
Explosive Power From The Ground Up
Exercise Notes: For this dumbbell overhead shoulder press, start position is standing with feet shoulder width apart, holding dumbbells at shoulder height. Bend your knees and then explosively straighten to standing lifting the weights overhead. Slowly lower the weights and return to starting position.
8.) DB “W” RAISES
Rear Deltoid Muscles / Rotator Cuff Strength
Exercise Notes: For this rear delt and rotator cuff movement, use a set of lighter dumbbells and bend forward at the hips. Externally rotate the shoulders to lift the weights in a ‘W’ position with arms at an approximately 90-degree angle. Slowly lower the weight back to the start and repeat. This exercise uses external rotation to work posterior delts and rotator cuff muscle.
9.) cheat laterals
Shoulder Blades Have Stopped And Arms Keep Moving (Bad)
Exercise Notes: For these lateral raises start standing with feet shoulderwidth apart with a dumbbell in one hand. To begin the dumbbell raises, lift the dumbbell laterally out to the side with elbow at shoulder height and then lower the dumbbell in a slow and controlled manner. Maintain the elbow slightly bent throughout the dumbbell lateral raise movement. When your shoulder blades stop moving, your arms should stop moving as well! Don’t allow them to continue to move backward after the shoulder blades have stopped because you could injure your shoulder joints! Lateral dumbbell raises are a foundational shoulder exercise that you can perform with minimal equipment in your home gym.
10.) upper limit lateral RAISe
Shoulder Blades Have Stopped, Then Your Arms Should Stop As Well!
Exercise Notes: For this resistance band exercise you’ll be using lighter weight to hit your shoulders in a lateral manner. Stand on top of a resistance band and take one handle of the band in each hand. Pulse the arms up and out laterally. This exercise will show you that training shoulders with resistance bands is no joke!
11.) DB HIGH PULLS
Upright Rows Done Safely
Exercise Notes: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, perform upright rows up bringing dumbbells to shoulder level, keeping core tight throughout the exercise. Slowly lower the dumbbells to return to start.
12.) MULE KICK PUSHUPS
Exercise Notes: For this exercise start with palms flat on the floor and feet together close in to the body, knees bent and poised for jumping action. Donkey kick out and upward explosively and repeat.
Now you’ve got 12 new weapons to add to your deltoids building arsenal! As you noticed, I didn’t just show you the exercises, I told you why I feel each qualifies as one of the best twelve shoulder exercises you can do to add mass and definition to your upper body. Some of the exercises are athletic and functional, some allow for more muscle overload, and others are more explosive allowing you to lift more weight. Choose some of these to include in your shoulder workout for building muscle and building strength. I’ve given you plenty of options whether you’re training at the gym or doing a home workout routine.
It’s always tough to make a list of “best” exercises and anyone that has any of my programs would tell you, there are a LOT to choose from. If you’re looking for a complete exercise program that puts science back into strength and gives you not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ behind exercise selection, check out our physical therapist created ATHLEAN-X programs.
- The deltoids are one of the most neglected upper body muscle groups! They usually come in fourth place behind chest, biceps and triceps in terms of training priority.
- Not training shoulders often enough is a big mistake because not only are they important functional muscle group, their width has a huge influence on the overall size and appearance of your upper body.
- You can stop overlooking your shoulders right away by implementing some of the 12 safe and effective shoulder exercises I’ve shown you. They hit front deltoids, middle deltoids, rear delts and rotator cuffs and there are some that can be done with tools in the gym while others can be done at home with a band or dumbbells.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.