5 of the best shoulder exercises for a strong and toned upper body

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Strong shoulders are healthy shoulders. Juanmonino/Getty Images Your shoulders are some of the most important muscles in your body. They’re involved in every upper body movement, whether you realize it or not. Every pushing and pulling movement you make with your arms uses your shoulder muscles in one way or […]

close up of a woman's strong shoulder muscles in low lighting gettyimages-154888824

Strong shoulders are healthy shoulders.


Juanmonino/Getty Images

Your shoulders are some of the most important muscles in your body. They’re involved in every upper body movement, whether you realize it or not. Every pushing and pulling movement you make with your arms uses your shoulder muscles in one way or another. That’s why it’s so important to keep them healthy and strong, which you can do with these five shoulder exercises. 

Read more: How to get a bigger butt

Best exercises to build bigger shoulders

The best way to build stronger and healthier shoulders is to incorporate a variety of exercises that target your shoulders from different angles and via different movement patterns. You’ll find that the best shoulder exercises mainly involve pushing in some variation of an up-and-down movement, but other great shoulder exercises involve pulling or rotational motions. 

These five exercises are some of the greatest for building and strengthening your shoulders.

Barbell overhead press

Also called the military press, standing press or simply the shoulder press, this exercise is a challenging upper body movement that is much more nuanced than it looks. The form can be tricky for beginners to learn, but once it’s nailed down, it’s easily one of the best exercises for the shoulders. In addition to targeting your shoulders, the overhead press also works your core and back muscles

Try this: Start with an empty barbell to get the hang of the movement. The two most important things to remember? Don’t arch your back and make sure to extend your elbows fully. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps, adding weight each time until the last two reps of each set feel challenging. 

Z press

The Z press is a shoulder press variation that removes the load from your lower back and requires more recruitment from the shoulders. You’ll also find that your core works very hard during this exercise. You can do the Z press with dumbbells or a barbell; dumbbells are recommended for beginners.

Try this: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Hold two dumbbells or a barbell in the front-rack position (hands at shoulders; elbows pointing forward). Brace your core and press upward, fully extending your arms without leaning back. Try to keep your heels on the ground. 

Arnold press

Yes, that Arnold. Schwarzenegger’s take on the dumbbell overhead press involves rotating your arms as you press up and down, effectively targeting your shoulders from multiple angles during the same movement. Consider it the all-in-one shoulder exercise. It also works your upper back quite intensely, especially when the weight gets heavy. 

Try this: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your body. In one fluid motion, press up into the overhead position, rotating your arms as you ascend. At the halfway point, your palms should face each other, and at the end, they should face forward. 

Dumbbell shoulder series: Front raise, lateral raise, reverse fly

This is a combination of three exercises in one, and it’s a great series for shoulder strength and mass. The front raise portion targets your anterior shoulder (front of shoulders), while the lateral raise targets the sides of your shoulders, and the reverse fly (also called a rear delt raise) targets the posterior shoulder, or the backs of your shoulders. 

Try this: Do five reps of each exercise without resting in between exercises. After the fifth rep of the reverse fly, rest for 30 to 60 seconds before repeating. 

Barbell upright row

What’s a row doing on a list of shoulder exercises, you ask? That’s a valid question, considering most rowing exercises target the back muscles. However, as mentioned before, building your shoulders means targeting them from all angles, including the back. If you only work the front of your shoulders, you’ll wind up with muscle imbalances and poor posture. That’s where the upright row comes in. 

Try this: Grab the barbell with a neutral grip — for most people, this is the same grip you use for barbell overhead presses. Without arching your back, pull the barbell up as high as you can, bending at the elbows. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower the barbell back to the starting position. Do three to four sets of eight reps with a moderately heavy weight.

Read more: How to get a great workout with a kettlebell

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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