Welcome to complete guide to shoulder exercises : here you will find out which ones are the best, which ones are not good and which ones should always be avoided.
At the bottom of the guide you can find all the shoulder exercises, with an in-depth article for each of them. But first, you need to understand the basics of training these muscles effectively.
Not all exercises are the same, just as not all people are the same. That’s why we recommend that you read carefully, so that you fully understand the best way to set up your training schedule.
The 3 best shoulder exercises
Let’s start with the three most complete and effective exercises. These three movements allow you to work across the entire shoulder and trapezes, something you should never take for granted.
Now maybe you are thinking: “What does it mean to work on the whole shoulder?”.
Here is a simple but important anatomy lesson . The shoulders mainly consists of two muscles:
- The high trapezes , which cover the neck and the base of the shoulders;
- The deltoid , which instead covers the actual shoulder.
The deltoid is a single muscle, but formed by three bundles : the front, the lateral and the posterior bundles. If you train them differently, you will end up giving your shoulders an asymmetrical and unattractive look . Very few exercises work on all three beams: this is why the three we are about to discover are the most important.
1. Slow forward
The slow forward is a fundamental exercise. You can do it standing or sitting, with dumbbells or with the barbell. However, the technique remains the same:
- Sit on the bench or stand with your legs shoulder-width apart;
- Bring the dumbbells or barbell up to the base of the neck;
- Push the dumbbells or barbell up until your arms are straight;
- Return to the starting position
If you use dumbbells , you will put more emphasis on the shoulder muscles. With the barbell , on the other hand, you will use your shoulders slightly less by activating your pecs more.
Likewise, sitting allows you to use higher loads and put more emphasis on the target muscles of this exercise. On your feet , on the other hand, you will find yourself using slightly lower loads but engaging the abdomen and buttocks to stabilize yourself; if you choose this variant, remember not to help you lift the weight by bending your legs.
2. Military press
The military press is another very important exercise, similar to the previous one. For several editions of the Olympics, this has been one of the lifts in weightlifting.
To do this exercise right :
- Hold a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart;
- Stand with your feet almost joined together;
- Bring the barbell to the base of the neck;
- Raise the bar until your arms are outstretched;
- Return to the starting position at the base of the neck.
There may seem to be no difference to slow standing forward with the barbell. In reality, the difference is that you have to keep your feet together . The name military press comes from the position of the soldiers at attention , in which the legs touch each other.
This position makes it more difficult to maintain balance, which makes you work harder with the stabilizing muscles (glutes and abdomen). Instead of just training your shoulders, you will be hitting several muscle groups at the same time.
3. Arnold press
The Arnold press is an exercise invented by the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger . The starting base is identical to that of the seated shoulder press with dumbbells. In this case, however, a second part of the movement is added to increase the overall time under exertion.
The correct execution is this:
- Sit on a bench, with or without a backrest
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and bring them to shoulder width and height
- Raise the dumbbells until your arms are straight
- Return the dumbbells to shoulder width and height
- Close your arms by bringing the dumbbells in front of your chest
- Raise the dumbbells above your forehead and repeat everything from the beginning
Since this exercise is a bit complicated, we recommend that you watch our video. If you want to see more videos like this, you can subscribe to our Youtube channel by clicking here .
The 3 best complementary exercises
The exercises we have seen now are the fundamental ones, that is, those that should never be missing in a good training schedule for the shoulders. Now we see as many complementary ones: they are still useful, but only at the bottom of the card and if you really have time to invest to make them.
These three exercises allow you to focus on a single deltoid bundle, to strengthen your shoulders where they are lacking.
1. Side lifts
With the lateral raises you can focus on the lateral deltoid bundle . Performing this exercise is very simple:
- With your legs shoulder-width apart, hold two dumbbells so your palms face each other
- Bring the dumbbells to your sides, keeping your arms relaxed
- Spread your arms by bringing them up to shoulder level
- Return to the starting position with your arms extended at your sides
This exercise also trains the trapezes very well. Remember not to keep your arms too stiff when you lift them and not to swing with your back.
2. Front raises
The front lifts allow you to work on the front bundle of the deltoid, which gives thickness to the “front” part of the shoulder.
The correct execution is this:
- Hold two dumbbells with your palms facing you
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart
- Raise the dumbbells with your arms stretched out in front of you, up to shoulder height
- Return the dumbbells to your hips and repeat
The exercise is very simple, there is only one common mistake you need to pay attention to. You do not have to swing with your back, otherwise you will lift the weights thanks to the momentum you give yourself and not thanks to your muscles.
3. Reverse crosses
This exercise can also be done with dumbbells, but it is even more effective when we do it with crossed cables . It places a lot of emphasis on the posterior bundle of the deltoid and on some minor muscles of the back, such as the infraspinatus and the rhomboid. To do it:
- Grab the right handle with your left hand and vice versa
- Start with your arms crossed in front of your chest
- Bring your arms back as far as you can
- Return to the starting position
If you want to do this exercise with dumbbells, however, you need to stand up and bend your torso 90 degrees. At this point you will start with your arms soft in front of your chest, then you will spread them by lifting them up to reach the shoulders.
Per chi and allena of the house
If you train at home you can still train your shoulders even without equipment, doing it in an effective way. You can do it both with free body, using push-ups, or with a TRX or with rubber bands.
1. Training the shoulders with bodyweight
If you don’t want to use any type of equipment, you can get great results by choosing to do shoulder pushups .
Since the shoulders are not a very strong muscle, you will be able to bodyweight them for a long time before it becomes limiting. Shoulder pushups include:
- Pike Push-Ups
- Push-ups with feet raised
- Vertical bends
If you want to discover these three variations of pushups, you can do so in our complete guide to shoulder pushups .
2. TRX Shoulder Exercises
The TRX is another effective tool for training the shoulders at home or in the gym, especially when we are starting out and do not have the strength to lift heavy loads with dumbbells or barbells.
In this case you can do many of the exercises we have seen in this guide, adapting them to the use of the TRX. You can do, for example:
- Pike push-ups with the TRX
- Push-ups with the feet raised with the TRX
- A special variant of the front lifts
- A special variant of the inverse crosses
Also in this case, if you want to discover all the exercises to know, we invite you to read our guide to exercises for the shoulders with the TRX .
3. With rubber bands
Finally, elastics and resistance bands can be equally useful for training the shoulders. You can do variations of slow forward, side lifts, front lifts, and more.
You can learn more about this in our guide to shoulder exercises with bands . Inside you will find a guide, with photos and explanations, of all the exercises you can do and combine them into a complete training schedule.
In the guide you will find the tutorial of:
- Shoulder press con elastici
- Lateral raises with rubber bands
- Front raises with rubber bands
- Reverse crosses with resistance bands
How to set up a shoulder training schedule
First, remember that the shoulders are a small muscle and that consequently they shouldn’t take up too much of your sheet.
Secondly, remember that if you are not a professional bodybuilder it is better to train in multi- frequency. Multi-frequency training means training many muscles in a single training session, training them all several times a week.
The tips for an effective card are these:
- Always give priority to fundamentals. The military press and the slow forward must both be done on two different days of the week. When you feel comfortable, you can introduce a third time a week where you will be doing arnold presses.
- The complementary exercises should be chosen based on your shortcomings: if in the mirror you notice that your shoulders are thick but not wide, do side raises at least once a week. On the contrary, if they are wide but not as thick, give space to the front risers and the inverse crosses.
- Focus on progressive overload , i.e. don’t hesitate to increase the weights you use in the exercises when you feel comfortable doing it.
An example could be this:
- Monday – 5 x 8 Military press
- Thursday – 6 x 8 Slow forward sitting with dumbbells
After a couple of weeks, you can move on to a schedule like this:
- Monday – 6 x 6 Military press
- Thursday – 5 x 8 Arnold press
- Saturday – 4 x 10 Slow standing forward with dumbbells
As always, in any case, the best thing to do is to be followed by a personal trainer who can help you find the ideal training schedule for you. If you’ve had shoulder injuries in the past, it’s also a good idea to ask your doctor what movements are not recommended for your condition.
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