Fitness & Exercise

Best shoulder workouts for men and women that you can do at home

Ready to strengthen your shoulder muscles? Read on for the best shoulder workouts.

Strengthening your shoulders can improve your posture and make everything from hefting a heavy suitcase to hauling a toddler easier. What’s the best way to work this muscle group? While many shoulder workouts claim to be designed for men or women, experts say that’s just marketing. “There is no such thing as a gender-specific workout,” says Justin Kompf, a strength coach at Clientel3 fitness studio in Boston. However, there are different shoulder workouts for varying goals, as well as flexibility and fitness levels. 

Here, we’ll dive into the best shoulder workouts—with and without gear—for everyone.

 

Shoulder muscles

The shoulder joint—where the upper arm bone fits into the shoulder socket—is the most mobile joint in your body, says Crunch personal trainer, Timothy A. Coyle. And while we traditionally think of the muscles that form the cap shape on the upper arm as the main players, it takes many other groups to help power and stabilize the shoulder. Strengthening all of these muscles can help boost your strength and prevent shoulder joint injuries as well.  

  • Deltoids: This trio of muscles (the anterior, lateral, and posterior), surround the shoulder joint. They help raise the arm and move it out to the side.
  • Triceps: This three-headed muscle runs along the back of the upper arm and extends the arm at the elbow. Its longest head connects to the shoulder blade and helps extend the arm from the shoulder joint.
  • Pectoralis major: This muscle stretches across the chest and works when you perform pushing and pressing movements. It helps move the arm from the shoulder and stabilize the shoulder when you’re not moving.
  • Pectoralis minor: This muscle connects the ribs to the shoulder blade. It not only helps the shoulder move, it stabilizes the joint as well.
  • Biceps brachii: The biceps brachii connects the front of the upper arm to the shoulder. It helps the shoulder flex, and also assists in moving the arm overhead.
  • Latissimus dorsi: This large muscle runs across the middle back and connects to the shoulder blade. It’s a main mover in pulling motions.
  • Serratus anterior: Running down the side of the torso—from the armpit to the middle ribs—this muscle helps the shoulder blade rotate so you can lift your arm overhead.
  • Subscapularis, teres major, teres minor, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus: Together these muscles make up the “rotator cuff.” In addition to stabilizing the shoulder joint, they help rotate and raise the arm.
     

Best shoulder workouts for men and women 

With so many muscles moving and stabilizing the shoulders, it should be no surprise that there are countless exercise options for strengthening this area. The workouts below will help you target the shoulders—along with the arms, chest, and back—to get you toned from every angle.  

 

1: Shoulder and back workout

These five moves strengthen your back while getting the deltoids (shoulder muscles) in on the action too. 

What you’ll need: A resistance band and a pair of dumbbells.
 

1. Arms-only birddog 

  • Get on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. 
  • Keep your torso still as you raise your right arm to shoulder height in front of you, palm facing left; pause for 1 count, then lower right arm to start position. 
  • Repeat on the opposite side to complete 1 rep. 
  • Do 2 sets of 8–10 reps.

2. Band pull-apart 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold a resistance band with both hands, shoulder-width apart, and raise arms to shoulder height in front of you; the band should be taut. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other as you simultaneously bring your right hand at a diagonal overhead and left hand at a diagonal down toward left hip. 
  • Return to starting position and repeat, this time raising left arm overhead as you lower right hand toward right hip. Return to starting position to complete 1 rep. 
  • Do 2 sets of 15 reps.

3. Bent-over row 

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with feet hip-width apart. 
  • Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips so your back is almost parallel to the floor. Extend your arms toward the floor with palms facing your legs. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other as you simultaneously rotate your palms toward each other and bend your elbows straight back, pulling the dumbbells toward the sides of your waist. 
  • Extend your arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 4 sets of 8–12 reps.

4. Rear-delt raise 

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with feet hip-width apart. 
  • Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips so your back is almost parallel to the floor. Extend your arms toward the floor with elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms to shoulder height out to your sides, then lower your arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

5. Y raise 

  • Lie facedown on the floor with your arms extended at 45-degree angles above your head, hands in fists with thumbs up. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep your torso pressed against the floor as you lift your arms. 
  • Pause, then lower your arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps. 
     

2: Arm and shoulder workout

Hone in on the muscles of your arms, while still strengthening your deltoids, with this dumbbell workout. Perform the first four exercises as pairs: Do one set of the “A” exercise followed by one set of the “B,” and complete all sets before moving on to the next pair of moves. 

What you’ll need: A pair of dumbbells.
 

1A. Arnold press 

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your shoulders with palms facing your body. 
  • Extend your arms overhead as you rotate your palms away from you.  
  • Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
  • Do 4 sets of 8–12 reps. 

1B. Bent-over dumbbell row 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. 
  • Bend knees and hinge forward from your hips so your back is almost parallel to the floor. Extend your arms toward the floor with palms facing your thighs. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows out to your sides, pulling the weights toward you. Extend arms to return to the starting position.
  • Do 4 sets of 8–12 reps.

2A. Seated triceps extension 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold an end of a dumbbell in each hand overhead.  
  • Keep your upper arms still as you bend your elbows, lowering the weight behind your head; extend arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

2B. Elevated biceps curl 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand.  
  • Raise arms to shoulder height out to sides so upper arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Bend elbows, curling the weights toward your shoulders. Extend your arms to return to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

3. Scaption raise 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended at your sides and palms facing your body.
  • Raise your arms in a V shape to shoulder height in front of you, then lower arms to starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

 

3: Chest and shoulder workout

Strengthen the muscles that help you push and pull with these targeted moves. 

What you’ll need: A pair of dumbbells.
 

1. Incline press 

  • Lie faceup on an incline bench (or lie on the floor with a couch cushion under your back), with knees bent and feet on the floor. 
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms over your chest, palms facing away from you. 
  • Bend elbows, lowering the weights to the sides of your chest; extend arms to starting position. 
  • Do 4 sets of 8–12 reps.

2. Fly 

  • Lie faceup on a bench or the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. 
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest, palms facing each other and elbows slightly bent. 
  • Slowly lower your arms out to the side; raise your arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 8–12 reps.

3. Squeeze press 

  • Lie faceup on a bench or the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. 
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms extended above your chest, palms facing each other. 
  • Bend elbows straight down to your sides, lowering the weights toward your torso; extend arms to return to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 8–12 reps.

4. Woodchop 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold an end of one dumbbell in each hand just outside the right hip. 
  • Bend knees, and keeping your arms extended, stand as you raise the weight at a diagonal over the left shoulder; reverse the motion to return to the starting position. 
  • Do 2 sets of 12–15 reps per side.
     

4: Cable shoulder workout

Cables are one of the most effective strength tools at the gym. At home, resistance bands perform a similar function, so that’s what you’ll use here. 

What you’ll need: A resistance band.
 

1. Band external rotation 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold the center of a resistance band with both hands, shoulder-width apart. 
  • Bend elbows and tuck them close to your sides, forearms parallel to the floor and palms face each other. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull your hands away from each other, moving your forearms out to your sides. Pause, then return to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

2. Pull-Apart

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold a resistance band with both hands, shoulder-width apart, and raise arms to shoulder height in front of you; the band should be taut. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other as you simultaneously bring your right hand at a diagonal overhead and left hand at a diagonal down toward left hip. 
  • Return to starting position and repeat, this time raising left arm overhead as you lower right hand toward right hip. Return to starting position to complete 1 rep. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

3. Band woodchop 

  • Stand with right foot on top of one end of a resistance band and hold the other end with both hands, outside left hip.  
  • Bend knees, then stand up as you raise your arms at a diagonal to the right. Reverse the motion to return to the starting position. 
  • Do 2 sets of 12–15 reps per side.

 

5: Shoulder mobility workout

Try these home exercises to boost flexibility and range of motion in the shoulder joint. 

What you’ll need: You don’t need any gear!

1. Wall slide 

  • Stand facing a wall and place the pinky-sides of your hands against the wall, elbows bent.
  • Keeping your pinkies against the wall, extend your arms, raising your hands up the wall. Bend your elbows to return to the starting position.
  • Do 2 sets of 15–20 reps.

2. I raise 

  • Lie facedown on the floor with your arms extended overhead, hands in fists in a thumbs-up position.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms a few inches, then lower arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps. 

3. T raise 

  • Lie facedown on the floor with your arms extended at shoulder level at your sides, hands in fists in a thumbs-up position.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms a few inches, then lower arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.
     

Shoulder workouts for mass

To build muscle mass (size), do a combo of compound exercises to work all of the muscles that connect to the shoulders plus isolation exercises to zero in on the deltoids. “Perform lower reps with higher weights in lifts such as the overhead press, and use high volume for moves like raises that focus on smaller muscle groups,” Kompf says. At the end of a set, your muscles should feel like they can’t eke out even one more rep.

 

Dumbbell shoulder workout

Ready to build some shoulder size? Perform all sets of each exercise before moving on to the next. For moves 3A and 3B, do one set of the “A” exercise followed by one set of the “B,” and repeat for all sets.

What you’ll need: A pair of heavy and light dumbbells.

1. Seated shoulder press 

  • Sit with feet flat on the floor and hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand in front of your shoulders, elbows bent and palms facing away from you. 
  • Extend arms overhead, pressing the weights together. 
  • Bend elbows to return to the starting position. 
  • Do 4 sets of 6–8 reps. 

2. Rear-delt raise 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a light dumbbell in each hand. 
  • Hinge forward at your hips so your back is almost parallel to the floor and extend your arms, palms facing each other. 
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you raise your arms out to your sides; pause, then lower arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 4 sets of 8–12 reps.

3A. Front raise

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a light dumbbell in each hand with arms extended and palms against the front of your thighs.
  • Slowly raise your arms to shoulder height in front of you, then lower them to the starting position.  
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

3B. Lateral raise 

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold a light dumbbell in each hand with arms extended at your sides and palms facing your thighs.
  • Raise your arms to shoulder height out to your sides, then lower arms to the starting position. 
  • Do 3 sets of 12–15 reps.

4. Upright row

  • Stand with feet hips-width apart and hold a light dumbbell in each hand with arms extended in front of your thighs.
  • Bend your elbows out to your sides, pulling the weights up toward your collarbone. Extend arms to lower the weights to the starting position.
  • Do 3 sets of 8–12 reps.

 

The upshot: Shoulder workouts are for everyone

Strengthening your shoulders—and the muscles that support them—can help improve your posture, spinal health, and your entire body’s fitness and function. You can combine shoulder training with back, chest, arm, and mobility workouts, whether you are exercising in the gym or at home.

 

Shoulder workout FAQs

  • What should I do if an exercise makes my shoulders click or hurt? Stop doing it! Joint discomfort is a sign that a shoulder is in a position that’s risky or potentially damaging. 
  • Can I build shoulder mass and burn fat at the same time? Absolutely. All strength-training exercises burn calories, but to increase the torch factor include compound exercises (ones that target multiple muscle groups) in your workout.
  • How often should I train my shoulders? For overall shoulder health, do a shoulder workout at least once a week. If you’re trying to build mass, increase the frequency to up to five times a week.

 

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K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS, is a strength coach and fitness writer who contributes to publications including TIME, US News & World Report, SELF, and Women’s Health. She is also the author of Fitness Hacks for Over 50 and Give Yourself MORE: A Science-Backed, Six-Part Plan for Women to Hit Their Weight-Loss Goals by Defying Diet Culture.

 

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