Shoulder exercises should be an integral part of any gym routine, because building strength and improving mobility in your shoulders will help with a range of other exercises. And of course, if you’re physique training, wide shoulders are a key part of a V-shaped torso.
If you’re hoping to sculpt cannonball shoulders then check out these excellent exercises recommended by Jim Crossley, co-owner of F45 Kingston, and Keith McNiven, founder of personal training company Right Path Fitness. There are shoulder exercises suitable for all levels of gym-goer below, from beginner classics like the dumbbell overhead press up to advanced moves like the handstand press-up.
Beginner Shoulder Exercises
“This is a good exercise for increasing shoulder strength and stability,” says Crossley.
“Choose some light dumbbells to begin with. Hold them just above your shoulders with your palms facing forwards. Raise your arms straight above your head.
“When lifting the dumbbells don’t move your back and in particular don’t allow your lower back to arch. This move can be done standing or seated on a bench with a back for support.”
Alternating dumbbell front raise
“Stand with a slight bend in your knees, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing you,” says McNiven. “Lift the left dumbbell in front of you until your arm is slightly above parallel to the floor, keeping a slight bend in your elbow and the palm of the your hand facing down. Then lower the dumbbell under control back to the start. Repeat with the right dumbbell.”
“From a standard press-up position walk your feet towards your body, raising your hips and keeping your legs straight,” says Crossley. “Your body should be in an inverted V-shape. Then perform a press-up by bending your arms to move your head closer to the floor. “
“You can vary the difficulty and the load on your shoulders by moving your feet closer in or further out, and it can also be done with feet elevated on a box to increase the difficulty.
“This is a challenging bodyweight shoulder exercise in its own right, and a good way to build the strength required to do a handstand press-up.” (See the advanced exercise, if you dare.)
Barbell upright row
“Hold a barbell in front of your waist with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart,” says Crossley. “Lift the bar to chin height by raising your arms so your elbows finish above the bar.”
Intermediate Shoulder Exercises
“Adding dumbbells to your shadowboxing routine is brilliant for the shoulders,” says McNiven. “Choose relatively light weights as you’re going to be doing a lot of reps, and hold them vertically at shoulder height.
“Push one dumbbell forwards, extending your arm fully and twisting the dumbbell to a horizontal position. Bring it back as you push the other dumbbell forwards and start to build up speed. As your experience increases, you can add in different shadowboxing moves.”
Dumbbell lateral raise
“Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your waist with palms facing each other and a slight bend at the elbows,” say Crossley.
“Lean forward from your hips a little and bend your knees slightly. Raise your arms to the sides until your elbows reach shoulder height.”
“Hold two dumbbells in front of your shoulders, with your elbows bent at 90° and your palms facing your chest,” says Crossley.
“Move your elbows out to the side while raising the dumbbells and rotating your arms so that you finish with the dumbbells overhead with palms facing forwards.
“The Arnold press works both the front and side of your shoulders.”
“This is a classic shoulder-building exercise,” says Crossly.
“Start by holding a barbell in front of your neck with an overhand grip. Press the bar overhead until your arms are fully extended. Do not let your back arch when you press overhead.”
Battle rope slam
“Battle ropes work your shoulders as well as your pectorals and are great for mobility and conditioning,” says McNiven. “There are many exercises you can try. A couple of good intermediate battle ropes exercise are slams and uppercuts.
“For slams, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent, holding a battle rope in each hand. Raise the battle ropes simultaneously above your head and slam down as hard as you can. Do this exercise for 60 seconds, then move on to another exercise like battle rope uppercuts [see below].”
Battle rope uppercut
“As the name implies, you mimic an uppercut punch while holding the battle ropes. Use the same stance as with slams. Uppercut to one side and then the other. Build up speed throughout the 60 seconds of this exercise.”
If you need a few technique pointers, check out our guide to using your gym’s punching bag.
Advanced Shoulder Exercises
“Start by either kicking up into a wall handstand or walking your feet up the wall into a handstand with your face to the wall,” says Crossley. “Your body should be in a straight line and close to the wall with your feet pointed upwards and your arms shoulder width apart. Bend your arms to lower your body towards the floor, then press up to return to the starting position.”
“This is the same as the overhead press, but your starting position is with the barbell behind the neck, rather than in front, which makes it a more challenging exercise,” says Crossley.
“This is an isometric hold that will challenge your shoulders and arms,” says Crossley.
“Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms fully extended to the sides and your palms facing the floor. Hold the position for as long as possible.”