16 Shoulder Exercises

Salivating over a pair of defined, striated, cannonball shoulders? Stay hungry. We’ve got an arsenal of powerful tools to destroy your delts and carve out stunning definition — a whopping 16 exercises deep.

Whether it’s reverberating battle ropes, explosive dumbbells snatches, or an old-school staple like the military press, shoulder training boasts a plethora of KILLER options to burn out the deltoids and keep the intensity soaring. Like, HIIT-level intense.

Because most shoulder exercises tend to be multi-jointed and rely on explosive movement, they’re prime candidates to tear through ripe muscle flesh, manufacture sweat, and ignite body fat. And given that the weight is almost always loaded overhead, your abs are automatically compressed from the onset and constantly under pressure.

Translated: You’ll blast your shoulders, abs, and body fat all at once. The triceps benefit, too. Ain’t bad? And that’s why shoulder training is my #1. Done right, it has the power to efficiently reconstruct an entire physique from top-to-bottom. The rewards are lavish.anatomy-shoulder

Half of the reason why the shoulders pack so much aesthetic potential is based on the complexity of the musculature. They’re technically split into 3 separate muscles—the front (anterior), middle (lateral), and rear (posterior) deltoid—with the upper part of the traps anchoring either side of the neck. Each head has individual insertion points across the arms, pecs, and back, which makes them pop with sharp separation and delineation whenever the shoulders gain a little bit of mass.

The second half is perception. Well-developed delts accentuate just about every other part of the body, including the abs, arms, back, and chest. Ripped front & lateral deltoids are a prerequisite for undulating, exquisite arms. Broad shoulders add a V-taper to the back, augment proportions, and create the illusion of a tiny waist. Strong rear deltoids create definition across the back-side and lengthen the triceps. High traps make the chest look bigger.

So yeah, shoulders are very important. Plus, you’ll actually be able to lift miscellaneous objects overhead. Let’s roll. We’ve compiled a stacked list of the 16 best shoulder exercises to absolute destroy your delts (all heads), carve out definition, and slap on a little mass above the chest.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder PressHeavy Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Sit upright on a bench with your back firmly against the pad. Keep your core tight and feet anchored to the floor.
  • Bring the dumbbells up to shoulder height, raise them out to the side, and powerfully press overhead. Keep the dumbbells separate at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower until your triceps are slightly below parallel. Hold for .5s at the bottom and repeat. Make sure to keep your shoulders back at all times.

Tip: Do it standing to jack up the difficulty and increase core engagement.

Dumbbell SnatchDumbbell Snatch

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Place a dumbbell in between your feet and stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width. This is starting position.
  • Tighten your core, explode upwards, and powerfully pull the weight up and overhead. Keep your back flat and maintain strong posture.
  • Hold 1s at the top and slowly return down to start. Immediately repeat.

Tip: Pause at the bottom for 1s to avoid using momentum.

Dumbbell Push Press

db push-pressPrimary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Stand tall with two dumbbells over your shoulders. Hold them with a neutral grip (palms facing in).
  • Dip down slightly, explode up, and powerfully press the dumbbells directly overhead.
  • Hold for 1s at the top and lower the weights back down to your shoulders. Keep your core tight throughout.

Tip: Do it on one leg or a BOSU ball to increase core stability.

Battle Ropes

battling-ropePrimary Muscle(s): Front Deltoids

  • Grab two ropes with a firm grip and squat down slightly. Sit back into your hips and keep your abs tight.
  • Vigorously pull the rope up with either arm and then throw it down. Continue to alternate up-and-down and build up speed as your arms get into a rhythm — the ropes should look like two waves.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds or until your arms give out.

Tip: You can also do battle ropes in sync and raise/lower both arms at the same time. It sort of looks like a Hulk-smash.

Barbell Clean & Press


Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Stand tall with a loaded barbell on your thighs. Tighten your core, dip down slightly, and powerfully pull the barbell up on top of your collarbone.
  • Explosively press the barbell overhead.
  • Hold for 1s, slowly lower the bar back to your collarbone, and then drop it down to your thighs. Complete each clean & press in one fluid motion. Repeat for a full set.

Tip: Do a calf raise when the bar is at the top of the movement.

Barbell Military Press


Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Sit upright in a squat rack so that the barbell is positioned overhead. Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Pull the weight off the rack and lower it down in front of your face. It should be slightly above your collarbone.
  • Powerfully press the bar overhead. Keep your core tight and resist any tendency to arch your back.
  • Hold for 1s at the top and slowly lower it back down until your triceps are slightly below parallel. Repeat for a full set.

Tip: Stand to up the difficulty and increase core engagement.

Landmine Press

Landmine Press

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Load one side of a barbell and stick the other end firmly against a wall. You can also stick it in the center of a weight plate.
  • Hold the top end of the barbell with your left hand and place it over your shoulder.
  • Powerfully dip down, explode up, and press the bar up overhead. Hold for 1s and lower back down. Squeeze your core and keep it braced the entire time.
  • Complete a full set and repeat for the opposite arm.

Tip: Crunch down into your core at the bottom of every rep. It burns.

Reverse Dumbbell Flies


Primary Muscle(s): Rear Deltoids

  • Grab two dumbbells and bend over so that your torso is at a 45º angle. Keep your back straight.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and powerfully raise both arms directly out to the side. They should stay in-line with your chest.
  • Hold the contraction for .5 seconds at the top and slowly return down to the bottom.

Tip: Hold the contraction at the top for 2-3 seconds to burn out your rear delts.

Dumbbell Shrugs


Primary Muscle(s): Traps

  • Stand tall with 2 dumbbells at your side.
  • Tighten your core, draw back your shoulders, and powerfully shrug up into your neck.
  • SQUEEZE the contraction for 2s and slowly lower all the way down.

Tip: Exaggerate the squeeze at the top of each rep and hold the final rep for as long as possible.

Lunging Shoulder Press

Lunging Shoulder Press

Primary Muscle(s): Shoulders (All)

  • Hold a dumbbell with your left arm and lunge forward with your right leg. This is your base position, stay balanced and anchored.
  • Maintain a tight core and powerfully shoot the dumbbell overhead.
  • Hold for .5s and slowly lower it back down to your shoulder. Do a full set and repeat for the opposite side. Press from the down position at all times.

Tip: This is designed as a stationary press. Make it more advanced and movement based by doing a full lunge and THEN a press for every rep.

Cable Face Pulls


Primary Muscle(s): Rear Deltoids

  • Stand at a cable station with a rope attachment. Adjust it as high as possible.
  • Tighten your core, raise your arms, draw your shoulders back, and pull the rope in towards your mouth. Flare it and pull your rear deltoids as far back as possible. Your elbows should stay high throughout.
  • SQUEEZE the contraction for 1s and slowly release it back to start.

Kettlebell Swings


Primary Muscle(s): Front Deltoids

  • Squat down slightly with a kettlebell on the ground in between your legs. Grab it with your right hand.
  • Dip down, contract your butt, pull your shoulder forward, and powerfully swing the kettlebell up to your face. Your legs should ascend with torso. SQUEEZE your core and keep your lower back flat.
  • Control the weight and slowly bring it back down to the bottom. Immediately repeat for a full set and then switch arms.

Tip: You can also do kettlebell swings with two arms and a heavier weight.

Upright Rows


Primary Muscle(s): Front Deltoids, Traps

  • Hold a barbell (an EZ bar works, too) with an overhand grip. Place your hands roughly 6″ apart.
  • Under control, slowly pull the bar up to the top of your chest — keep your elbows flared up so that they’re higher than your hands. Your core should be tight throughout.
  • Hold it for .5s at the top and slowly lower back down to the bottom.

Tip: Superset back-to-back with #14, Front Plate Raises.

Front Plate Raises


Primary Muscle(s): Front Deltoids

  • Stand tall and hold the sides of a weight plate at your waist.
  • Powerfully contract your delts and raise the plate up to your face. Keep your arms locked.
  • Hold it for 1s and slowly lower back down.

Tip: Raise the plate all the way overhead.

Front Dumbbell Raises


Primary Muscle(s): Front Deltoids

  • Stand tall with two dumbbells over your thighs.
  • Bend your arms slightly, contract your delts, and powerfully raise the dumbbells straight out in front of your face.
  • Hold for 1s and slowly lower back down to the bottom.

Tip: You can also alternate arms one after another to further isolate the individual shoulder caps.

Lateral Raises


Primary Muscle(s): Lateral Deltoids

  • Stand tall with two dumbbells.
  • Keep your arms straight and raise both dumbbells straight out sideways until they reach shoulder height. Your body should form a big T.
  • Hold for 1s at the top and slowly lower back down…

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