2 Best Shoulder Workouts

Whether a bodybuilder or home-fitness enthusiast, the shoulder muscles are too often not seen as important. It is very easy to work on the more prominent muscle groups, such as the chest or arms. But this means the shoulder muscles are either forgotten about. Having the best shoulder workout plan can improve all-round body training, overall fitness and enhance appearance.

This article examines the shoulder muscles themselves and the benefits of completing an all-around shoulder regime. Also, it includes are the best workouts to ensure the muscles can be built safely and effectively. There are workouts for those who have access to weights and those who do not.

What Are the Shoulder Muscles?

The shoulder comprises seven main muscles:


The deltoids are typically the most prominent of all the shoulder muscles. When they are worked hard and bulked up, this group of muscles creates the bodybuilding ‘v-taper’ - wide shoulders leading down towards a narrow waist.

The deltoids are comprising three individual muscles: the posterior, lateral and anterior deltoid. They surround the upper shoulder - being on the front, middle and back.

Pushing this muscle group by the best shoulder workout creates what is known in bodybuilding circles as ‘cannonballs’. This effect gives the appearance of a large, rounded look on the side of the body.

Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid is on the front of the shoulder, eventually meeting up with the pectoral muscle. Its function allows the arms to be brought forward in front of the body and over the head.

Lateral Deltoid

Located on the side of the shoulder, working this muscle can give the appearance of broadening the shoulders. Imagine uniform epaulettes.

The lateral deltoid is responsible for shoulder abduction - the movement where arms are raised at the sides to create a ‘cross’ effect.

Posterior Deltoid

As the name suggests, the third deltoid is located on the back of the shoulder. Its function is to pull the shoulders backward (shoulder extension).

Rotator Cuff

The four rotator cuff muscles (teres minor, infraspinatus, subscapularis and supraspinatus) allow the shoulder to rotate the arms in a ‘windmill’ motion. Furthermore, they stabilize the shoulder joint to keep the arm securely located in its socket.

While working the rotator cuffs will not lead to obvious physique improvements, it will increase stability during bench pressing and reduce the likelihood of injury.

What Are the Benefits of Doing The Best Shoulder Workout?

A complete shoulder workout should address all the muscle groups above, whether using weights or without. Here are the benefits:

Improves Overall Body Training

When working the chest, biceps, and triceps, the shoulders are always involved to some degree. Often, they are exercised unintentionally as a secondary group.

Doing the best shoulder workout improves strength and stability which will carry through to other workouts.

Enhances Physique

If you are looking for an overall ‘ripped’ appearance, working the shoulders is essential. Otherwise, it can result in a ‘pigeon chest’ appearance: an enhanced torso meeting small and weak-looking shoulders.

A good workout can provide width to the upper body, making the body appear more proportioned.

Prevents Injury

As chest and arm exercises require the use of the shoulder muscles, an increase in intensity can place unwanted stress on the shoulders.

The shoulder is often to be the most unstable joint in the body (as the ball is larger than the socket). This means it can be easily damaged by training. A good shoulder workout strengthens the important shoulder muscles leading to less likelihood of injury.

What Is the Best Shoulder Workout Without Weights?

A shoulder-building workout does not necessarily imply constant access to weights and a constant visit to the gym. We have compiled the best shoulder workout below that will exercise all the shoulder muscles, without the need for weights.

Crab Walk

A good ‘warm-up’ shoulder exercise which works the deltoids. Ensure that you have enough space to do this exercise, as it requires additional room for movement.

  1. Start by sitting flat on the floor with legs outstretched in front of you.
  2. Plant your hands firmly on the ground, palms down, fingers pointing towards your feet with arms straight by your sides.
  3. Raise your buttocks off the floor and bend your knees at nearly 90-degrees. You should appear from the side to be a human ‘table.’
  4. This is the starting position.
  5. Slowly start walking forwards exercises your hands and feet.
  6. At all times, ensure that your torso down to your thighs is as horizontal as possible.
  7. Walk for thirty seconds.
  8. Rest for three minutes, then repeat.

Although a good exercise to start, it does require some balance and perseverance to discover the best walking technique.

Pike Press

Another great exercise which works the deltoids, with the added bonus of giving the triceps a workout.

  1. Start from a standard push-up position: lay face down on the floor. Support yourself off the ground with your hand's palms down beneath your shoulders. Arms lock with your legs outstretching behind you.
  2. ‘Walk’ your feet up towards your head. This has the effect of raising your buttocks into the air. From the side, you would appear as an inverted V-shape (the pike position).
  3. Ensure that your back is straight. Avoid the temptation to ‘round’ the spine.
  4. This is the starting position.
  5. Lower your head towards the floor by bending your arms. Back and legs should remain straight.
  6. When your head comes close to the floor, push up again into the starting position.
  7. Complete ten repetitions, rest for three minutes, then complete one more set.

It can be tempting to use momentum in this exercise to both drop and rise. This will not work the shoulders sufficiently. Instead, slow and controlled movements will ensure maximum benefit.

Single Arm Plank

Planking mostly works with the abdominal. While this exercise does ensure that, a small variation can push the shoulders too.

  1. Start from the traditional plank position: lay flat on the floor legs outstretched behind you. Place your forearms on the floor pointing forwards. Raise your body to support your entire frame along with your forearms and toes.
  2. Ensure that your back is straight.
  3. Remove your right hand from the floor and place it lengthways against your side.
  4. You are now supported on toes and your left forearm.
  5. Hold for thirty seconds.
  6. Return your right arm to the floor.
  7. Complete the same exercise again but this time with your left arm.
  8. Complete ten repetitions.

For stability, the single arm on the floor may adjust from the normal plank position. Angling the arm slightly inwards can help, especially for beginners.

Standing Wall Angels

A perfect warm-down shoulder exercises to finish with. The standing wall angel works the rotator cuff muscles and is popular with physiotherapists for improving posture.

  1. Stand against a wall with your back touching it, feet slightly apart.
  2. Lift your arms so they are outstretching and straight, as in an ‘airplane’ position. The back and arms should be in contact with the wall at all times.
  3. Bend the arms at ninety degrees so your fingers are pointing upwards, palms outwards.
  4. This is the starting position.
  5. Press the arms back into the wall and raise your arms directly above your head. All the time the elbows and wrist should both remain in contact with the wall and pushing against it. The move completes when your arms are completely vertical.
  6. Lower the arms to the starting position.
  7. Complete twenty repetitions.

The more you push back into the wall with the arms, the more benefit received from this exercise.

That completes this workout. Try to complete at least twice a week with two days’ rest in between. Do not work out on consecutive days.

What Is the Best Shoulder Workout With Weights?

To achieve both the V-shaped look and ‘cannonball’ shoulders, weights are essential the best shoulder workout. The following exercises do involve some equipment and shows which one to use for each exercise.

Military Press

This exercise works the deltoids and rotator cuffs. It is a good warm-up to the workout since weights are not essential, but it does need a barbell (and optional weights).

  1. From a standing position, feet apart, raise the barbell onto your collarbone. Your palms should be facing forward and positioned further than shoulder width apart.
  2. Lift the barbell directly above your head until your arms are locked. This is the starting position.
  3. Slowly lower the barbell down to your collarbone and inhale.
  4. Raise the bar above your head again while exhaling.
  5. Complete ten repetitions. Rest for three minutes, then repeat.

This is a basic exercise but one that works all the shoulder muscles. If you have lower back issues, this can be done while sitting on a bench.

Front Dumbbell Raise

This exercise requires some technique and efficient breathing. It works all three deltoid muscles hard, especially the anterior and lateral. This exercise needs dumbbells.

  1. Start from a standing position, legs slightly apart, with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Position the dumbbells, so they are on the thighs, arms straight with your hands facing your legs.
  3. This is the starting position.
  4. Now, for the control. Without swinging or moving the torso, exhale and raise the barbells in front of you until they are at the same height as your head. Keep the arms fairly extended with a slight bend in the elbow.
  5. Keep hands facing downwards.
  6. Hold for one second.
  7. Lower the weights in a controlled manner back to your thighs while inhaling.
  8. Complete ten repetitions.

If you prefer, this exercise can be done with a barbell.

Rear Deltoid Fly

This section of the workout specifically targets the lateral deltoid muscles. It uses dumbbells and a bench.

  1. Sit on the side of a bench, legs together and feet flat on the floor.
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, lean forward so your chest is as close to your thighs as possible.
  3. Arms should be lying parallel to your legs, with the dumbbells touching the sides of your calf muscles.
  4. This is the starting position.
  5. Exhale and raise the dumbbells upwards and to the side until they are level with your shoulders. Arms should be slightly bent. Chest remains on your thighs.
  6. You should now be in the ‘airplane’ position.
  7. Hold for one second.
  8. Slowly lower to the starting position again as you inhale.
  9. Complete ten to twelve repetitions.

Dumbbell External Rotation

Warming down with the dumbbell external rotation exercises the rotator cuffs and provides a good conclusion to the best shoulder workout. This exercise requires dumbbells.

  1. Start from a standing position, feet apart, with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Move the arms into an ‘airplane’ position.
  3. Bend only the forearms upwards 90-degrees at the elbow, palms facing forward.
  4. This is the starting position.
  5. Keep both biceps horizontal and on the same plane as your shoulders throughout this exercise.
  6. Exhale. Lower the weights by rotating at the elbow and shoulder, biceps still horizontal.
  7. Inhale and raise the weights back to the starting position again.
  8. Complete ten repetitions.

This entire workout should be completed twice a week (not on consecutive days) and with three days in between workouts.

Do not immediately follow a shoulder workout with exercises that use these muscles such as bench pressing or curling. Furthermore, do not start a shoulder workout with a rotator cuff exercise.

Both of these scenarios can leave you weak and liable to injury if you follow up with heavyweight exercising.


Too often the shoulders become the forgotten muscles. However, doing the best shoulder workout improves all-over physical appearance, prevents injury and enhances other training exercises.

Here are some important things to remember:

  • Ensure your workouts address all the muscle groups in the shoulder
  • If using weights, start light and work upwards as the shoulders can easily be damaged
  • Always ensure that specific rotator cuff exercises are the last shoulder muscle you work

The two workouts above meet these requirements, whether you are seeking tone or large muscles mass. Looking after your shoulders means looking after yourself.