Shoulder muscles – building them & keeping them strong

Want to keep your shoulders strong and healthy for years to come? Learn how to build shoulder muscles in this guide!

If you are looking to keep your shoulders healthy over the long term, it is important to emphasize two main components: exercise and stretching. When seeking out information on shoulder muscle exercises, make sure to select those that work with several different muscle groups in conjunction with the shoulder joint. Furthermore, be sure to routinely stretch your shoulders after workouts. There are many good stretches that can help reduce tension on the shoulder joints and keep them flexible.

What Are the Shoulder Muscles?

Your shoulder muscles are one of the most intricate joints in your body. The ball-and-socket joint allows for 360-degree movement but is more fragile than other joints (thus the worries about training volume).

The deltoids, together with your rotator cuffs and other portions of the broader shoulder muscles system, are the muscles that most people think of as the main shoulder muscles. They are important for moving your arms and stabilizing the shoulder joints.

The delts are divided into three heads: anterior (front) delts, lateral (a.k.a. medial or side) delts, and posterior (rear) delts. Front delts aid in forward movement, lateral delts aid in side movement and up and down movement, and rear delts aid in backward movement.

Benefits of Shoulder Muscles Exercises

As previously said, standard strength training regimens are certainly giving you enough shoulder muscle work. However, focusing on the muscles directly with focused workouts can allow you to add strength and mass to your deltoids, which will improve your performance in these more general motions (such as the bench press) while also rounding out your physique. Certain portions of your shoulders, particularly your back delts, can be underdeveloped as a result of general exercise, so some targeted work can be extremely beneficial.

The Best Shoulder Muscles Exercises


The Bulletproof Shoulder Series

Here are the rare shoulder muscle exercises you can do every day, in large part because it’s less about strength and more about building stability in the joint. This, of course, will help you get more out of your shoulder muscle training while also keeping the joint safe.

Use a light band on these drills. Go too heavy, and your deltoid will take over. Your goal is to get your smaller rotator cuff muscles to drive the movement.


  • Anchor a light resistance band at hip height while kneeling. Squeeze your glutes and keep your core tight. Hold the resistance band at your hip, elbow bent.
  • Keeping your upper arm perpendicular to the ground, rotate your wrist away as far as is comfortable. Do 30 reps.
  • Turn around and do the same thing, this time rotating your wrist toward your chest. Do 30 reps.
  • Now face the band; grab an end in each hand. Keeping your arms straight, pull the bands back as far as you can, squeezing your mid-back on each rep. Do 30 reps.

Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Shoulder Mobility Exercises

These mobility movements can help to improve your range of motion before you train your shoulders with heavier weights. Whether you take on this whole series or split them up, it can be a great way to start an upper body session.


Thoracic Rotation:

  • Start on your hands and knees, then put one hand on the back of your head.
  • Rotate up and down towards the other hand, then up to the ceiling. Be sure to follow your elbow with your eyes and tuck your bottom rib under to ensure full rotation.
  • Do five to eight reps to loosen your mid-back rotation on each side.

Pec Stretch:

  • On your hands and knees, extend your right arm out to the side, lock the left hand into the ground, and then come down and turn your whole body to the left side.
  • That will create a stretch anteriorly through the pec, and also through your biceps.
  • Come back up, and then repeat back down.
  • Do five to eight reps on each side.

Lat Stretch:

  • Get into child’s pose with your arms extended out front, palms flat on the ground, and fully drop back into the position.
  • Pull one hand in towards the chest, then shift your other arm out to that side, extending it out in front of your body with your palm on the floor.
  • Do five to eight stretches on each side.

Posterior Capsule Stretch:

  • From a quadruped position, take the right hand and reach through the body, firmly planting the back of the palm on the ground.
  • Slightly lean your weight into your right side. This is where the rotator cuff muscles are running through.
  • Do five to eight of these on each side.

Mini Band External Rotation:

  • Wrap a mini band around your wrists. Make sure you always keep tension on the band.
  • Push your shoulder blades back, squeezing them, and keeping your elbows tight at your side as you move your hands apart.
  • Retract your shoulder blades and repeat five to eight times
Incline Dumbbell Press

Incline Bench Press

When you do a traditional bench press, the majority of the work is done by your pecs. When your torso is inclined upward at an angle, however, the work is shifted to the muscles in front of your shoulders, according to David Jack.


Half-Kneeling Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

The bottoms-up press, an exercise that pushes your shoulder stability in unique ways, takes the shoulder press to the next level. How? You’ve created a significant balance issue by turning the bell upside down. To keep the bell in the bottoms-up position, make sure your wrist is fully stacked directly below your elbow. When you finish the press, your wrist and elbow should be just below your shoulder. That will put greater strain on your shoulders’ supporting musculature; you’ll do less weight this way, but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of overall shoulder muscle activation.


  • Kneel forward with your left knee bent 90 degrees. In the bottoms-up rack posture, place a kettlebell just outside your shoulder. (The handle should face the floor, and the bell should face the ceiling.)
  • Squeeze the handle, then raise your arm until your arm is straight. Maintain your biceps close to your ear and your shoulder down.
  • After a little pause, reverse the movement.
Lateral Raise

Lateral Raise

One of the best ways to add depth to your outer shoulders and really pop out of your T-shirts: The classic lateral raise. This bodybuilding staple is a perfect second or third exercise in your shoulder workout. It has to be done, right though; do it wrong, and it opens the door for shoulder injuries.


  • Stand holding dumbbells at your hips, core tight and glutes squeezed, shoulder blades tight as well. Your elbows should have a slight bend in them.
  • Without rocking, raise the dumbbells until your wrists are just below your shoulders; keep the fronts of the dumbbells pointing upwards just slightly.
  • Lower with control.
Dumbbell Front Raise

Front Raise

After the lateral raise, the front raise should be a simple concept. By shifting your position, you’ll shift the focus to your front delts instead.

When you go about the exercise, make sure that you eliminate as much momentum as possible and lift within your strength capacity and range of motion. Two things to avoid at all costs: rocking and swinging.


  • Grab a pair of dumbbells that you can lift without compromising form. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your glutes, core, and shoulder blades engaged.
  • Before starting the lift, shift your palms so your thumbs are pointing to the ceiling so your shoulders are closer to an externally rotated position.
  • Squeeze your shoulders to lift the weight up, just until your arms are parallel to the ground.
  • Hold for a count, then lower under control
Poliquin Raise

Poliquin Raise

This advanced shoulder workout combines other rises to offer a significant eccentric challenge, resulting in even more shoulder growth. Given the form and concentration on the eccentric component, you will be able to work with larger weights here.


  • Begin in a standing position with your arms at a 90-degree angle and a set of dumbbells in a neutral position.
  • Raise your arms up, keeping your elbows bent. Stop at the same height as you would for a lateral lift (just below shoulder height).
  • Extend your elbows and keep your arms straight while gripping the weights.
  • Slowly and carefully lower the weight to your sides.
Javelin Press

Javelin Press

Javelin Presses Will Test Your Shoulders | Men’s Health Muscle
Javelin Presses Put Your Shoulders to the Test | Men’s Health Muscle by Men’s Health Play Video in the United StatesUNMUTE BY CLICKING HERE
This workout has a wicked name and a cool look—and it may be a better movement for your shoulders and core than you think. This is not just for show; the longer levers than usual instruments create a novel pushing difficulty.


  • Begin in a half-kneeling position, gripping a straight barbell or an EZ-curl bar in the same hand as your front foot.
  • Ensure that the bar is parallel to the ground; this will be your goal throughout the action.
  • To maintain the barbell balance, press up while fighting to stabilize your core. Move gently and deliberately.
  • Lower down slowly.


Shrugs are one of the most underutilized exercises in the gym. If you walk into any weight room, you are bound to witness some poor foolish muscle hawk rolling his shoulders in the mirror.

However, if you want to really bulk up your traps, you should lift rather than roll. You will want to revamp your form, from your head posture to your movement.


  • Begin by holding the weight in each hand, arms straight—you only want to move your shoulders, so keep your elbows completely extended. If you are using dumbbells or kettlebells, keep your palms neutral; if you are using a barbell, “break the bar” by rotating your shoulders into external rotation.
  • Maintain a neutral neck position and avoid looking down. Maintain gluteal and core engagement.
  • Straighten your shoulders, hold for a count, then drop the weight under control.
Resistance Band Face Pull

Resistance Band Face Pull

An all-around way to hit your rotator cuff musculature, the face pull is a key bulletproofing exercise for the long-term health of your shoulders, promoting both external rotation at the shoulder joint and mid-back strength. This is another of those rare exercises that you can train multiple times in a week because again, you’re building shoulder stability. You’re also doing more than targeting your delts, training your mid-back muscles too.


  • Take hold of a rope connected to a high pulley cable station or the ends of a resistance band placed high. Back up a few steps and stretch your arms in front of you.
  • Pull the rope toward your face, separating it as you go. Pull so that your elbows are in line with your shoulders and, at the very end, try to twist your hands back.

 “Think there is a pencil in between your scapulae,” he says. “You want to squeeze and break that pencil when you pull your left and right scapulae in.”

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Military Press

The gold standard of shoulder exercises slams the front delts and builds all-around shoulder size, too. It can be done from a variety of postures, including standing, tall kneeling, or seated variations.


  • Stand holding two dumbbells at your shoulders. Tighten your core and glutes. Your elbows should be slightly in front of you.
  • Press the dumbbells upward, straightening your elbows and shoulders.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders with control.

Arnold Press

The Arnold Press is a variation of the military press, but one that more effectively hits all three heads (the front, lateral, and rear) of your deltoids. It’s not an easy motion to learn, though, so take your time mastering it. Be cautious of how often you do Arnolds, too; think about doing them once a week, max. This move will develop shoulder size and strength, but it’s not a move that should be abused.


  • The Arnold can be done from standing, seated, and kneeling postures, although our favorite posture is the kneeling setup. To do this you’ll knee, tighten your core and glutes, and hold dumbbells at your shoulders, palms facing your chest.
  • Press the dumbbells up, and as you do this, rotate your palms so they turn away from your chest; stop rotating before they turn fully away.
  • Reverse the movement back to the start.
Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Windmill

Half-Kneeling Kettlebell Windmill

Sure, this exercise is typically sold as a core-crusher—but you’ll have to press and hold a kettlebell overhead for the duration of the movement, creating a formidable test of shoulder stability.


  • Get into a half-kneeling stance, with your legs positioned wide so you’ll have room to work.
  • Clean the kettlebell up to the rack position, then press it overhead. Avoid arching your back; squeeze your abs to keep your ribcage tight. Keep your gaze trained on the bell for the rest of the movement.
  • Push your butt back and lower your non-working elbow down to the ground, rotating your torso forward and keeping your arm in position overhead. Squeeze your shoulder blades as you lower.
  • After a beat, reverse the movement.
Seated Barbell Shoulder Press

Push Press

We love this exercise. The reason: It’s explosive. That means you target your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are the ones with the most potential for growth.

“Because the push press focuses on multiple muscle groups; it is a great exercise to stimulate blood flow, and heart rate as well as build core stability/strength, overall strength, and muscular endurance,” Shannon says.

What’s more, the move can be versatile. “This exercise can be performed both unilaterally and bilaterally,” he continues. “If shoulder and thoracic spine mobility is an issue; I suggest you start unilaterally (single arm) since anatomically we have a greater range of motion when reaching overhead with one arm.”


  • Stand holding a barbell (or pair of dumbbells or kettlebells) just outside of your shoulders with your arms bent and palms facing each other. Set your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly bent.
  • Dip your knees, then explosively push up with your legs as you press the weights straight over your shoulders.
  • Lower the weight back to the start and repeat.
Incline Rear Delt Fly

Incline Rear Delt Fly

This exercise shores up the commonly weak areas of your shoulders—like your rear deltoids and rotator cuff—so you’ll dodge shoulder pain and boost gains in every upper-body lift.


  • Set an incline bench to a low angle. Sit on the bench holding a pair of dumbbells and lean down so that your chest rests on the back pad, facing toward the ground. Plant your feet on the ground and squeeze your glutes and abs.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades to lift the weights out in a wide arch, keeping a slight bend in your elbows rather than fully straightening your arms.
  • Pause for a beat at the top, emphasizing the squeeze to your shoulder blades.
  • Lower back down to the starting position with control.
  • Perform 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.


what are the 3 shoulder muscles?

The deltoid muscles have three parts, or heads:
Anterior deltoids: The front delts that help move your arm forward. They connect to your clavicle. …
Lateral deltoids: Side delts that help move your arm out to the side, as well as up and down. …
Posterior deltoids: Rear delts that help move your arm backward.

What shoulder muscles should I work out?

In order to achieve well-rounded shoulders, you’ll want to work them from the front, sides, and back. This means spending time developing your deltoids, which are formed by three distinct sets of muscles: the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids. These allow the shoulder to flex, rotate, extend, and more.

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