The best shoulder exercises and why they’re essential to your workout
You know you're supposed to work your back and chest... maybe you even put a heavy emphasis on building your biceps and triceps, but are you neglecting your shoulders?
If you are, it's time to make a change. The shoulder joint is the most flexible joint in the entire body — which is pretty amazing, actually, except that with its propensity for flexibility comes an increased instability and risk for injury.
And injury is pretty common — especially given that the shoulder is used, well, all the time. Want to grab something off a shelf? You're using your shoulder. Want to push yourself up out of bed? You're using your shoulder. Want to turn the steering wheel while driving? You're using your shoulder.
See? It's pretty important, which is precisely why you need to make a point of working it when you work out. The good news is compound exercises — including push-ups, planks and assisted pull-ups — already help get the many (many!) muscles of your shoulders warmed up. So, if you're already engaged in a full-body routine, you probably haven't completely neglected your shoulders.
That doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels. By specifically targeting your shoulders with the following exercises, you can increase strength and stability in your shoulder joint, helping reduce the likelihood of injury.
1. Dumbbell shoulder press
This compound, multijoint exercise engages all three deltoid muscle heads, as well as the back, chest, triceps and other stabilizing muscles, which is precisely why it should be performed first.
Stand, kneel or sit on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height with elbows bent, palms facing away from you. Press the dumbbells straight up over your head, stopping just before your elbows fully extend. Reverse the movement and return to start.
2. Lateral dumbbell raise
Isolate the middle, or lateral, deltoid with a lateral dumbbell raise. Stand or kneel, holding a dumbbell in each hand, your arms at your sides, palms facing toward your body. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, engage your shoulders and raise your arms straight up and out to your sides, stopping when they're extended out laterally at shoulder height. Reverse the movement and return to start.
3. Front dumbbell raise
Isolate the anterior, or front, deltoid with a front raise. Stand or kneel, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides — but this time, rotate your arms slightly forward, so your hands are in front of your thighs, your palms facing your body. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, engage your shoulders and raise your arms straight up in front of your body, stopping when they're extended forward at shoulder height. Reverse the movement and return to start.
4. Reverse fly
Isolate the posterior, or rear, delts with a reverse fly. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, your feet hip-distance apart, your knees slightly bent. Press your hips back and tip forward from the hips, lowering your chest toward the floor while keeping your back straight. Allow your arms to hang from your shoulders, but keep your muscles engaged, your elbows slightly bent and your palms facing one another. From this position, engage your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you as draw the dumbbells up and out laterally to each side. When your upper arms are roughly in line with your back, reverse the movement and return to start.
5. Upright row
Another compound exercise, the upright row engages all three heads of the deltoid muscle while also engaging the back and chest. Stand or kneel, holding a single dumbbell with both hands in front of your body, your arms fully extended, your palms facing you. Engage your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades up as you bend your elbows out laterally and draw the dumbbell up your body toward your chest. When the dumbbell is at chest height, and your elbows extend slightly above your shoulders, reverse the movement and return to start.
6. Resistance band scapular squeeze
To improve posture and help train you to keep your shoulders back, a simple scapular squeeze can help. Hold a resistance band in both hands, your elbows bent, upper arms affixed to your sides and palms facing one another. In a single movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together and rotate your arms out laterally to your sides, pulling against the resistance of the band. When you've rotated as far as you can, hold for a second and then return to start.