5 Best Shoulder Workout

This Best Shoulder Exercises article will explore the functions of the shoulders, the benefits that exercising this part of the anatomy can bring, and most importantly, give you the best shoulder exercises for numerous different scenarios.

When we think about the shoulders, more often than not we only consider the bony structure at the top of the arms (scapula). But there is much more to the shoulder than just being a support for clothing.

The shoulders contain numerous muscles that work in conjunction with the arm and chest to allow us to complete hundreds of different tasks throughout the day. Hence ensuring that they are in excellent condition will enhance our performance, make us look more appealing, and may prevent injury.

What Are the Shoulders?

Essentially, the shoulders are of two elements: bones and muscles.

Shoulder Bones

If I were to ask you to place your hands on your shoulders, you will most likely be touching two different bones. Towards the front is the clavicle (collarbone) and to the rear and sides, the scapula (shoulder blade). These bones, together with the humerus (upper arm), form the shoulder joint.

The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket, with the rounded head of the humerus sitting partly inside a cavity in the scapula. Unusual for a joint, the ball is much larger than the socket in which it resides.

This gives the shoulder joint two important characteristics:

  1. As the ball doesn't have a cavity, it allows for a much larger range of movement than most joints. The arms can move up, sideways, across the chest and in a circular motion. It is the shoulder joint has the largest range of movement of any joint in the body.
  2. Since the ball is not contained and therefore protected, it can be easily damaged or dislocated.

Shoulder Muscles

The shoulder muscles fall into two main groups: the deltoids and the rotator cuffs.


There are three deltoid muscles: anterior, lateral and posterior. These muscles are located on the side, front, and back of the shoulder, and are responsible for vertical and lateral arm movement and strength.

Bodybuilders concentrate on this group, as they provide a wide upper-body appearance when worked hard.

Rotator Cuff Muscles

The supraspinatus, teres minor, infraspinatus, and subscapularis muscles form this group. These are responsible for ensuring that the ball joint remains stable and does not easily get out of place.

If the rotator cuff muscles are exercised, it does not lead to visible physical improvements. However, the benefits of more stability should not be underestimated.

What Are the Benefits of Exercising the Shoulders?

As it is one of the most versatile parts of the human anatomy, exercising the shoulders can provide both aesthetic and practical benefits.

When we work the shoulders, it is not only the muscles that improve. Exercises which involve resistance can also provide increased density and strength to the bones.

best shoulder exercises: woman carrying baby near grassy field

Here are the main benefits of exercising the shoulders:

Improves Everyday Life

Every time that you move your arms during the day, you are using your shoulder muscles too. Whether gardening, carrying groceries, opening doors, or drinking coffee - all require the shoulder bones and muscles.

Doing the best shoulder exercises improves flexibility and strength, meaning that normal day-to-day routines can become less taxing.

Reduces Chance of Injury

Strong shoulder bones and muscles can prevent muscle overstretching, tears, and even fractures to the bone.

Whether your shoulders are worked hard through heavy iron weightlifting or just picking up your children, exercising reduces the chance of injury. Shoulder pain is one of the most common afflictions, with up to 26% of adults suffering from this problem. If severe enough, this can lead to absence from work and naturally affect finances.

Improves Posture

Studies have shown that exercising the shoulder muscles improves posture. In particular, strengthening the lateral and posterior deltoids has the effect of ‘pulling’ the shoulders back. This is particularly useful to combat ‘rounded’ shoulders.

Improved posture has the benefits of making you appear taller and more statuesque; it can also prevent issues with the spine later in life.

The Best Shoulder Exercises

The best shoulder exercises below should not be a complete workout to build muscle. However, there is no problem combining them for healthy muscles and bones.

Instead, we have put together some of the best shoulder exercises for achieving specific goals. If you’re looking for tone, mass, posture or flexibility, there’s an exercise to suit you.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Increased Flexibility - Door Frame Stretch

To allow the shoulder and arm to both be as flexible and have the largest range of motion as possible, the rotator cuff muscles need to exercise. Here is an easy and effective method of ensuring that this group is in top form.

This exercise is can be done on an inside doorway, where the width is narrower than an exterior door.

  1. Stand in an open doorway, feet slightly apart.
  2. Stretch out arms to either side of the door frame. The arms should be slightly lower than the height your shoulders.
  3. Grasp the outside of the door frame with your hands, palms facing forwards.
  4. Without moving your feet lean as far through the door into the next room as possible. When your arms are fully locked and you feel the ‘shoulder stretch’, stop.
  5. Hold for one minute.
  6. Return to the upright position.

Now the exercise is complete in the opposite direction:

  1. Stay in your current position.
  2. This time, grasp the inside of the door frame (i.e. the part in which is in the room in which you are facing)
  3. Your palms should be facing backward.
  4. Holding tight, lean back until arms are locked and you feel the ‘shoulder stretch’ again.
  5. Hold for one minute.
  6. Return to the upright position.

Complete 3 sets in both directions.

It is worth checking that the door frame is secure prior to completing this exercise, as often they are on hold by just a few panel pins. If it is not safely attached, you could endure an injury, or pull your house apart.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Improved Posture - Cat Crawl

An exercise which works by pushing resistance back into the muscles and bones. It strengthens lateral, posterior, and anterior deltoids.

  1. Start with your body in the ‘all-fours’ position (technically, it should be ‘all-sixes’ as your palms, knees, and toes are all in contact with the floor at this point).
  2. Slightly raise both knees off the floor, only by about one or two inches.
  3. You should now be supported only by your palms and toes.
  4. Ensure that your back and buttocks are in a straight line.
  5. Focus your eyes on the floor a few inches in front of your hands.
  6. Begin to ‘crawl’ by moving opposite limbs: right-hand goes forward with left leg, then left hand with right leg.
  7. At all times, remember to keep back and buttocks straight and knees no more than a couple of inches from the ground.
  8. Take five steps forwards.
  9. Take five steps backward.
  10.  That completes one set. Repeat immediately twice more.

This exercise does involve a little bit of coordination, but with perseverance, this will come. If you have a lot of space available, you can increase the steps to 10 instead of five. However, always ensure you do the same number of forwarding steps as backward steps. Otherwise, you are giving your deltoids an unbalanced workout.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Shoulder Pain - Arm Stretch with Neck Release

If you have injured your shoulders through resistance training or just normal household chores when the pain does not subside it is always best to consult a professional healthcare practitioner.

However, if you are just suffering from annoying pain, say from leaning over your computer too much, the following exercise is a great way to exercise and stretch all the shoulder muscles, speed recovery and alleviate discomfort.

  1. From a standing position, arms by your sides, slowly lower your chin towards your chest.
  2. You should push slightly with the shoulder and neck muscles,
  3.  so you feel a ‘stretch’ in the back of your neck.
  4. Hold for this position for one minute.
  5. Raise your head until it is vertical.
  6. Lower your right ear towards your right shoulder, again until you feel the ‘stretch’.
  7. Hold for one minute.
  8. Raise your head vertically again and complete on the left side, again hold for one minute.
  9. Bring your head to the vertical position.
  10. Grasp your right elbow with your left hand, your left palm facing towards you.
  11. Pull the right arm across your chest with your left hand, culminating in a position with your right elbow as close to your left shoulder as possible.
  12. Hold in this position for one minute.
  13. Repeat with the opposite arm, and again hold for one minute.
  14. Once this is all completed, conduct the entire exercise one more time.

If you find that pain increases during this exercise, cease immediately and consider consulting your doctor if the discomfort continues.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Shoulder Mass - Overhead Press

This exercise requires weights and a barbell. If you are looking to achieve shoulder ‘cannonballs,’ this is one of the best exercises. In addition, it also works the arms.

  1. Start from a standing position with a barbell and weights on your thighs.
  2. Raise the barbell to your collarbone and rest.
  3. Ensure that your back is perfectly straight, your feet are apart for stability and your palms are facing away from you.
  4. Your hand grip should be wider than your shoulders.
  5. In one movement, raise the bar above your head until your arms are locked.
  6. This is the starting position.
  7. Slowly lower the bar down to your collarbone.
  8. Return in one smooth movement to the starting position.
  9. Complete repetitions as below.

For building large mass, the heavier the weights on the barbell, the better. However, there is little point starting at the extreme if you cannot complete this exercise adequately and safely. Depending on where you are on the fitness, experience, and strength spectrum will determine how much weight you need.

As a guide, first, start with no more than 10 kg on the bar, and ensure that you can complete the exercise properly and with confidence. Then, increase the weight until you can complete 12-14 repetitions until failure. Finally, for real mass gain, increase the loading until three to five reps result in complete fatigue.

This exercise can be completed sitting or standing. However, standing provides a better overall body workout as the core and legs are constantly under resistance, controlling stability.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Home Fitness - Feet Elevated Push-Up

This is a good exercise for working the deltoids and the rotator cuffs at home. All you need is enough space to complete a push-up and something to elevate your feet off the floor, such as a bench, sturdy box or firm chair seat. It will improve strength, flexibility and muscle tone.

  1. First, ensure the object that you are using for elevation is firmly planted and unlikely to move, as this could otherwise result in injury. It should be no more than three feet high.
  2. Sit on all-fours in with the object behind you. Hands should be palm down on the ground, arms locked.
  3. One foot at a time, place your toes onto the support. You should now be raised off the ground, held by only palms on the floor and toes on the object.
  4. Ensure your back, buttocks, and legs are in a straight line. You may have to move your arms slightly forward to achieve this posture.
  5. This is the starting position.
  6. Lower your head towards the floor by bending your arms. Once the arms reach 90-degrees, push back into the starting position again. At all times keep back, buttocks and legs straight.
  7. Complete 10-12 repetitions.

This exercise is a great all-rounder for the shoulders, with the added bonus of working pectoral and arms muscles too.

Best Shoulder Exercises Conclusion

The shoulder muscles are constantly pushed throughout the day, whether at work, the gym or at home. It is therefore essential that they are given the respect they deserve.

Completing shoulder exercises can help prevent injury, build muscle, relieve pain, and assist with the normal daily routine.

Select the best shoulder exercises for you, and the results will be worth all the effort.