7 Fantastic Shoulder Exercises for Strength, Mass, and Power

Add variety to your shoulder training with these great muscle-building exercises.

The shoulder is one of the most mobile and complex areas to train on the body. For starters, the shoulders are composed of multiple joints, which means to properly train them there needs to be strategy and intent behind exercises.

Simply going into the gym and pumping away on shoulder presses will only get you so far, and without giving some focus and attention to supporting muscles and structures of the shoulders, then you could be leaving gains on the table. This is why performing a variety of shoulder exercises is so crucial for packing on mass, strength, and power all while improving stability at the same time.

In this article, we’re going to cover seven great shoulder exercises to not only build capped deltoids, but also improve shoulder health and function along the way.

  1. Barbell Overhead Press
  2. Dumbbell Overhead Press
  3. Landmine Press
  4. Arnold Press
  5. Push Press
  6. Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press
  7. Banded Delt Raise
  8. Shoulder Training FAQs

Best Shoulder Exercises

1. Overhead Press

Why It’s Great: All-in-one exercise for building strong shoulders.

The overhead press obviously had to make number one for this list. It’s one of the best compound exercises and many argue that the overhead press is one of the few movements that accurately conveys true strength. This exercise builds strong shoulders and increases stability throughout the body as a whole.

Benefits of the Overhead Press

1. Accurate Gauge of Full Body Strength

Since the overhead press requires a stable trunk and lower body, this movement is excellent for displaying full body strength. For example, the glutes need to be strong and engaged, along with the core requiring strength and stability to ensure overhead presses are executed correctly.

2. Excellent for Overloading the Delts

The deltoids are smaller muscles on top of the shoulders and can only produce so much force when utilized alone. The overhead press requires multiple muscles to work in tandem, which makes it a great exercise for truly testing and increasing deltoid strength.

3. Carryover to Other Strength Sports

If you compete in strength sports or other sports, then improving on the overhead press can have carryover to performance. In weightlifting and other sports, strong overhead strength and stability is crucial for success in the snatch, clean & jerk, and for overhead movements such as spiking a volleyball, shooting a basketball, and so forth. 

How To Overhead Press

1.
Set-Up

Start by taking a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip on the barbell, or position yourself with the wrists stacked over the elbows. Place the hands on the barbell so the lines of the palm flow with the barbell, as this will provide you with a better base for letting the barbell sit in the “meat of the hands”.

2.
The Walkout and Stance

Walkout the barbell with a two-three step approach and grip the floor with the feet. Stance width should be between hip and slightly wider than shoulder width. Play with different stances to find what works best for you. A wider stance is generally better for providing additional stability.

3.
Tuck the Chin and Brace

Before initiating the press, contract the lats, brace the torso, and tuck the chin. This position will allow you to generate more power because you’re pressing from a stable base. Think about making a shelf with the lats and taking a belly breath that fills the obliques with pressure.

4.
Head Through the Barbell

Press the through the barbell by keeping the barbell positioned in the meat of the hands and bringing it directly overhead. Once the barbell passes the head, you’ll think about contracting the shoulders and shrugging slightly through the bar with the head coming between the arms. Ideally, you the bar to be position overhead in alignment with the mid-foot and heel!

5.
Control the Eccentric and Set Again

Control the eccentric/lowering portion of the movement and tuck the chin, contract the lats, and begin the same process for consecutive reps. Remember to have the bar path remain consistent by keeping it close to the body and repeating the same movement patterns!

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Why It’s Great: Fantastic for training strength and working with greater ranges of motion.

If the barbell overhead press is the king of shoulder exercises, then consider the dumbbell shoulder press the queen. This variation is a more beginner-friendly variation and generally feels better on the shoulders for those that find their shoulder get aggravated from barbell presses.

Dumbbell Overhead Press
Photo By Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock

Benefits of the Dumbbell Shoulder Press

1. Great Alternative to Barbell Presses

When you’re traveling and there’s no barbell, or you simply need a break from the barbell, the dumbbell overhead press is a fantastic option to employ. This exercise can be loaded heavily and performed from a seated or standing position, which makes it accommodating in multiple settings.

2. Increased Range of Motion

The dumbbell press can be taken slightly lower on the eccentric portion of the exercise, so it’s a great option for ensuring full range of motion is achieved. 

3. Improved Stability

Barbell overhead presses require a lot of stability, and dumbbells are comparable when it comes to targeting smaller musculature of the upper body for all fitness populations. The supporting muscles required for pressing will be utilized in dumbbell overhead presses.

Related: Standing vs seated dumbbell shoulder presses and what’s best for your goals.

How To Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Below is a brief guide on how to perform the overhead press.

  • For Seated: Grip the dumbbells in the center of the knurling and place them on the end of the legs, then proceed to kick one up at a time to assume a starting position. 
  • Pack the lats, brace the torso, then press upwards keeping the elbows under the center of the dumbbells. Lockout with the dumbbell heads nearly touching, but not bumping one another, then proceed to lower them back to their starting positions.
  • For Standing: Grab a pair of dumbbells, then proceed to swing them up to their starting positions. For this variation, start slightly lifter as dumbbells that are too heavy can be impossible to get into a standing rack position for many.
  • Pack the lats, brace the torso, then press upwards keeping the elbows under the center of the dumbbells. Lockout with the dumbbell heads nearly touching, but not bumping one another, then proceed to lower them back to their starting positions.
  • Read the full dumbbell shoulder press guide!

3. Landmine Press

Why It’s Great: Awesome exercise for working around easily aggravated shoulders.

The landmine press is an underutilized pressing variation that is great for those who experience shoulder aggravation with traditional presses. The slightly leaned forward mechanics of the landmine press take some of the direct stress off the shoulder, which makes this a versatile option for all athletes.

Top of the landmine press
Landmine Press Side

Benefits of the Landmine Press

1. Great for Overhead Athletes

Overhead athletes that want to limit additional stress and loading directly on the shoulder may find that using landmine presses provides a solid stimulus without overly fatiguing the shoulders.

2. Easy to Use

The landmine press doesn’t need a lot of equipment to use and can be performed standing or kneeling, which makes it a good option in multiple settings. For example, if you have a home gym and low roof, then the landmine is a solid option for limiting the height of a press.

How to Landmine Press

  • Setup a landmine in either a landmine base or corner with padding to ensure floor isn’t damaged.
  • For Kneeling: Kneel on a pad so the knee is directly under the hip and bring the other leg to a 90 degree angle. Grab the end of the barbell, bring it to a starting position, and slightly lean forward.
  • For Standing: Stand with the feet parallel or staggered and grab the end of the barbell, bring it to a starting position, and slightly lean forward.
  • For both kneeling and standing, brace slightly and press through the barbell driving upwards and thinking about keeping the biceps to the ear. Lower the barbell slowly to its starting position, then repeat.
  • Read the full landmine press guide!

4. Arnold Press

Why It’s Great: Trains all three heads of the delt and increases time under tension.

This shoulder press variation named after bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger is an absolute delt and upper back burner. This exercise requires mobility, stability, and strength to successfully complete.

Arnold Press
Photo by By Independence_Project / shutterstock

Benefits of the Arnold Press

1. Fantastic for Increasing Time Under Tension

The Arnold Press is great for increasing the time and stress you’re putting on the delts. Since there’s more to this movement than the traditional press, then the time to complete each rep is increased which makes it a solid option for hypertrophy.

2. All Three Delts In One

One of the major reasons this exercise grew so steadily in popularity was how it targeted all three delt heads at once. Since there’s an added rotation at the bottom of the press, all three delt heads will be targeted at various points throughout the full range of motion.

How To Arnold Press

  • In a seated position, kick dumbbells up to a traditional starting position that would be used for a dumbbell press. Press upwards and lockout the dumbbells as normal. 
  • Bring them down slowly until you reach a 90 degree arm angle, then rotate the elbow inwards maintaining this 90 degree position as if you’re closing a book.
  • Once the arms are both parallel and facing forward, reverse the rotation so they’re back in their starting positions and repeat this process.

5. Push Press

Why It’s Great: Carryover to weightlifting and sports, and can be trained with heavy.

The push press is an awesome shoulder press variation that has application for weightlifters and sport athletes. This movement is dynamic in nature and slightly more advanced, so it should be reserved for those who have an intent behind its use.

Push Press
Photo By Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

Benefits of the Push Press

1. Specificity for Weightlifting

For weightlifters that need overhead strength and stability in the clean & jerk, few exercises will compare to the push press when it comes to carryover from practice to performance. The push press is great for overloading the shoulders and upper body.

2. Improve Leg Drive

Another benefit is how the push press can help improve leg drive and rack position. The subtle dip before the press can help with the timing that is needed in the clean & jerk and it can also improve body awareness for those that need to connect the legs and upper body to produce vertical power.

How To Push Press

1.
Assume an Upright Front Rack Position

Start by assuming the same front rack positioning you would take in a jerk or front squat.

To do this, grab the barbell with a full grip (not fingertips) slightly wider than shoulder width. Squeeze the barbell and press the barbell close to your body as it sits on top of the shoulders. The chest, chin, and elbows should remain pressed upwards in front of the barbell to combat forward movement (rolling) of the barbell.

Coach’s Tip: Think about pushing you chest up through the bar to keep the weight of the barbell from collapsing your upright position.

2.
Smooth Dip

The dip phase of the push press is identical to that of the split, power, and push jerk. The lifter must assume a perfectly upright torso position (think about keeping the body up against a wall as you dip) as dip downwards 4-6 inches. The dip should be balanced throughout the foot with the knees and hips bending together, so that the glutes stay directly above the heels.

The dip does not need to be extremely fast, however it should be smooth and fluid to allow the lifter to remain in control of the positioning during the deep and seamlessly change directions into the drive phase.

Coach’s Tip: You must remain in this locked and upright position throughout the dip – loading of the legs) phase. Any forward or backwards collapsing will negatively impact steps 3-4.

3.
Aggressive Drive

Once you have completed the dip, you should aggressively change directions by pushing you torso and chest upwards through the barbell and using the legs forcefully drive yourself upwards. The arms and elbows should stay locked in the original set up position until the barbell as been pushed off the shoulders (by using the power and strength of the legs and hips).

As you stand up, think about pushing the chest and shoulders up through the barbell.

Coach’s Tip: The key to the drive up phase is to master the tempo and depth of the dip. The better you can assume an upright and stable position in the dip while adding on some downwards acceleration in the dip will allow you to use the stretch reflexes of the muscles and joints of the lower body to further enhance push press performance.

4.
Strong Lockout Position

Assuming you have stayed upright in steps 2 ad 3, this final press out phases should begin with the barbell just about face level. You need to push through the barbell with all of your upper body strength (without bending the knee) to assume a locked out overhead position.

Once overhead, the barbell should be placed slightly behind the head, over the back of the neck. This will allow you to use the bigger muscles of the bar (traps and upper back) to help support the load.

Coach’s Tip: To ensure the completion of the final lockout phase, all three previous steps must occur in sync. If you are having issues with the final lockout position, be sure to review steps 1-3 and/or address more triceps specific exercises (close grip bench, dips, etc).

6. Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press

Why It’s Great: Fantastic for strengthening the rotator cuff and improving shoulder stability.

The bottoms up kettlebell press is a legendary exercise for improving rotator cuff strength and improving shoulder stability. This exercise is not intended to be taken heavy and it doesn’t take much to feel a solid burn with this movement.

Benefits of the Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press

1. Improve Stability of the Shoulder

Shoulder stability is crucial as strength increases. Since this a very mobile joint, shoulder stability needs to trend upwards along with strength to ensure shoulder longevity in one’s sport and in the gym. This exercise is fantastic for strengthening the smaller musculature of the rotator cuff.

2. Great for Teaching Control

Need help improving movement mechanics for the press? The bottoms up kettlebell press can be a useful tool for teaching mechanics and awareness when pressing especially for beginners!

How To Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press

  • Grab a lighter kettlebell by the handle with the bottom of it directly upwards. Pack the lat and maintain a strong starting position for the press.
  • Press upwards and keep the kettlebell facing directly upwards and the elbow under the center of mass of the kettlebell. Lockout with the bell in this position and the biceps close to the ear.
  • Lower the dumbbell slowly and control the tempo to ensure you’re balancing the kettlebell with bottom directly upwards.

7. Banded/Cable Delt Raises

Why It’s Great: Limits stress on shoulders and applies constant resistance.

The banded delt raise is fantastic for increasing resistance on the delts through full range of motion. Contrary to the dumbbell lateral raise, this exercise can be more friendly on the shoulders and provide a comparable level of resistance.

Banded Delt Raise
Photo By Dirima / shutterstock

Benefits of Banded Delt Raises

1. Useful Alternative

If dumbbell delt raises normally cause aggravation to the shoulders, then opting for a ban is a great way to train the delts without overdoing it. This is great for lifters that want to focus on isolation and  be mindful of how their shoulders are feeling.

2. Easy to Train Anywhere

 Have a band? Then you can perform this exercise. Unlike it’s dumbbell counterpart, the banded delt raise can be performed pretty much anywhere since bands are easy to travel with.

How To Do Banded Delt Raise

  • Stand with in a relative neutral position and grip the cable or band with one hand.
  • Maintaining a neutral hand position, lead with the pinkie and bring the implement upwards until the arm is parallel to the ground (or slightly above). 
  • Contract at the top, then slowly lower the band/cable downwards and repeat for the following reps.
  • Read our full lateral delt raise guide!

Shoulder Training FAQs

What are the three deltoid muscles?

The main three heads of the deltoid include:

  • Anterior Deltoid
  • Lateral Deltoid
  • Posterior Deltoid

Every deltoid head plays a role in shoulder extension and abduction.

How often should I train the shoulders?

Generally speaking, smaller muscle groups like the deltoids can be trained with slightly higher frequency, as seen with the bench press responding best to higher frequency training sessions. As a good rule of thumb, it’s wise to start training the shoulders one to two days a week, then increasing frequency as fitness level, strength, and comprehension improve.

Is barbell press better than dumbbell?

Not necessarily. Both exercises can improve hypertrophy, strength, and power of the upper body, however, their main differences are loading and specificity. The barbell overhead press takes the edge for athletes trying to train as heavy as possible looking for carryover to sport, while the dumbbell overhead press takes the edge for beginners who want to simply improve strength and acclimate to pressing mechanics.

How often should I do delt raises?

That depends on what your training looks like as a whole. For example, if you’re pressing a lot in the horizontal plane (bench press and its variants), then likely the anterior deltoid is getting enough training exposure and isolating them could lead to excess fatigue. Conversely, if the upper body is not being trained often, then programming delt raises 2-3 times a week is a good starting point for many!

Can beginner barbell overhead press?

Yes, but form should take the focal point over loading. The best bet for beginners is to hire a coach or have a knowledgeable teach and watch their movement to ensure the press is performed safely.

Wrapping Up

Great shoulder exercises come in all shapes and sizes and every movement can hold benefit when programmed intuitively. Hopefully the list above provided you with multiple options to help add variety to your shoulder training!

Feature image from restyler/Shutterstock

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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