Shoulder Workouts for Building Mass & Strength – Top 10 Exercises
Shoulders frame your entire body!
Regardless of whether you're wearing a suit, tee-shirt, or going shirtless, toned shoulders give you a commanding presence.
Bold shoulders also give the look of a tapered torso, helping you look lean.
There are many effective ways to work out your shoulders.
Learn a few of our favorite shoulder workouts and try them at your next workout session!
Your delts, rotator cuffs, and traps will be bigger and better than ever.
The Best Shoulder Workouts in No Particular Order
The deltoid muscle is comprised of three different heads, the Anterior (front), Medial (lateral), and Posterior (rear). It is very important to work all three heads in a balanced way to prevent injury and properly frame the shoulders.
Fortunately, the best of the best shoulder workouts is a short list. Most of the work can be done with two simple lifts.
Barbell Military Press
The barbell military press is the best of all shoulder workouts.
If you’re only going to do one shoulder workout, definitely choose the seated barbell military press.
There is nothing better for working your deltoids and really adding shape and size to your shoulders.
Behind the Neck Military Press (not recommended for everyone)
If there is a shoulder workout that is better than the military press, it would have to be the behind the neck version of the exercise.
Even with the amount of research surrounding the effectiveness of the behind the neck military press, there are still a ton of injuries associated with this shoulder workout.
For the reason, we don’t recommend using it. Just stick to the standard and dumbbell versions of the military press.
Dumbbell Military Press
In addition to the barbell military press, the dumbbell military press is a staple of shoulder workouts. As with the barbell version, this exercise can be done seated or while standing.
However, while standing and lifting the weight, you’re forced to stabilize and maintain balance throughout the entire lift.
Alternate with all versions of the military press for maximum benefit.
Dedicate 50% of your shoulder workout to the military press.
Almost every shoulder workout will include some variation of the lateral raise. While this lift is great for working the lateral head, it should not be considered the end-all-be-all of shoulder workouts.
Just make sure to externally rotate the arms while you lift.
Another great shoulder workout to use for balancing the shoulders out are face pulls (cable pulls). At a cable station, secure a rope to the high pulley and hold at both ends. Step away until both of your arms are outstretched. Bring the rope to your face and repeat.
Guillotines (not recommended for everyone)
Shoulder workouts have the tendency to produce a lot of injuries. Rotator cuffs and the tendons can be easily overloaded with certain movements.
The guillotine, also called benchpress to the neck, is obviously dangerous because you’re not only working your shoulders, but you're holding the weight directly above your throat.
Due to the risk involved, this shoulder workout should be used sparingly and gauged by your own abilities. Nonetheless, it is still one of the best shoulder workouts available.
Mix in a few sets of reverse flyes to round out your shoulder workout and give attention to the rear deltoids. This one is also great for improving your posture.
To begin, lie on a bench with your stomach facing down with a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your body stationary and lift the dumbbells up and out, keeping a slight bend in your elbow.
Don't Forget to Work the Traps and Neck
The trap and neck muscles are an integral part of the shoulders. They're also fairly easy to work and respond very well to being stretched. Be sure to toss in a few sets of the following exercises to give you a complete shoulder workout.
Heavy Barbell Shrugs
Use a barbell with as much weight as you can safely handle and really focus on the letting trap muscles do the work.
The rack pull is another great way to stretch out your traps. Rack pulls are awesome because you can use a ton of weight and really feel the muscles work.
Also, use the prone trap raise, dumbbell shrugs, and pull-up shrugs to balance out the shoulders and develop that perfect frame.
Additional Exercises to Add to Your Shoulder Workout
As much as we love shoulder workouts for shaping and framing the body, they're also important for strength and injury prevention.
The following shoulder workouts will both tone you and ensure that your shoulders are well balanced!
The dumbbell shoulder press is a classic shoulder workout. With arms bent at the elbows, hold two dumbbells in either hand. With legs at shoulder distance apart, bend into a squat. Come up to standing with force. As you stand up, lift your weights above your shoulders. Lower into your starting position and start again.
High Pull Snatch
With a barbell, begin with your legs spread to shoulder width and your torso slightly forward. Pull the bar upward with your hands pointing down. Once you reach chest level, make sure your arms are parallel with the floor and puff your chest out. Lower the bar and repeat.
Hold a pair of dumbbells in either hand with your legs a shoulder-width apart. With your palms facing each other, raise both arms to shoulder height. Shrug your shoulders when the dumbbells reach their highest point. Lower your arms slowly and repeat.
Arm Press with Kettle Bells
With one kettlebell, stand with your legs a shoulder-width apart. Press the kettlebell to the ceiling with your palm facing up and the weight on the inside of your arm. Switch arms and repeat.
Lie on a low-incline bench with dumbbells in either arm. With your shoulder blades engaged, raise the dumbbells until your arms are parallel to the floor.
Band Raise Lateral
Step in the middle of two resistance bands so that they form an X when you hold the ends. With your feet a shoulder width apart, raise the bands so your arms are parallel to the floor.
Band Raise Front
Stand each foot in the middle of two resistance bands. With your arms in a fist, stretch the bands until your fists reach your shoulders.
Kneeling KettleBell Press
Knee on one knee and hold a kettlebell in your opposite arm. Position the kettlebell with the handle pointing towards the floor. Push the kettlebell toward the ceiling while remaining in a kneeling position. Complete reps and switch your kneeling leg and arm.
Dumbbell External Rotation
While seated on a bench, prop one leg up on the bench so that your elbow can rest on your knee. Hold a dumbbell in your hand and rotate your arm so your forearm is pointing to the floor and is parallel. Avoid bending your wrist.
Add these shoulder workouts to your weekly routine for a little variety and improved targeting. While targeting certain muscle groups can help you achieve your desired physique, it's important to train your body holistically.
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Your friend in health,
Dr. Anthony Balduzzi
Founder, The Fit Father Project
Brotherhood Nickname: “Mr. Results”
Bragging Rights: Has helped over 35,000 fathers lose fat, build muscle, & get healthy for their families
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Small note about research cited in this article:
*Always remember: weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual. Just because these studies cite certain data does not mean you will experience these results. Always consult with your doctor before making decisions about your health. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info.