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The 7 Best Shoulder Exercises for Stability, Power, and Aesthetics

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

A set of strong, broad shoulders signal to the world that you lift (hey, a little vanity is ok). Stronger shoulders also mean you can bench press and overhead press more weight while also potentially staving off injuries. They’re a smaller muscle compared to your chest and back muscles, but you shouldn’t throw shoulder training on the back burner. Not at all.

Below, we’ve curated a list of the best shoulder exercises you can do — for more strength, more size, and more stability — and outlined the benefits of training your delts in more detail. 

Best Shoulder Exercises 

Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press strengthens all three heads of the deltoid — the front (anterior), middle (lateral), and rear (posterior). If you want bigger, stronger, and boulder shoulders, overhead pressing variations are necessary for size and strength because shoulder raise variations will only take you so far.

Benefits of the Overhead Press

  • All three deltoid muscles are involved.
  • This is a variation that you can load heavy, helping develop bigger shoulders.
  • A stronger overhead press will assist your bench press because both use the same muscles, just from different angles.

How to Do The Overhead Press

With the bar right in front of you, place your hands just outside your shoulders. Your elbows and forearms should be in a vertical position, stacked upon each other. If your elbows are pointing out or in, your grip is either too narrow or too wide. Please adjust accordingly.

Put the bar on the heel of your palm because this is where you’ll generate the most force from.  Press overhead until lockout and slowly lower down to the starting position and repeat.

Half-Kneeling Landmine Press

The half-kneeling unilateral landmine press is a mix between a vertical and horizontal movement, which makes this great for people who lack the shoulder mobility for overhead pressing. Plus, if you’re coming back from a shoulder injury, this is a great regression of the overhead press.

Benefits of the Landmine Press

  • The half-kneeling position combined with the press will improve your core stability, hip mobility, and anti-rotational strength.
  • Unilateral pressing will help reduce strength imbalances.
  •  Allows the lifter to get overhead if they have limited shoulder mobility

How to Do the Half-Kneeling Landmine Press

Get into a half-kneeling position in front of the barbell, knee underneath hip and ankle underneath the knee.

Hold the barbell at shoulder height in hand nearest your back leg and actively grip the barbell. Press up at about 45 degrees and reach towards the ceiling at the end of the lockout. Slowly lower down under control and repeat.

Arnold Press

The Arnold press, named after the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger, trains all three deltoid heads. Plus, due to the larger range of motion and its rotational nature, it increases time under tension, leading to more hypertrophy. When performed for higher reps, it is absolute deltoid and upper back burner. The Arnold Press requires mobility, stability, and strength to perform well. It is the shoulder exercise with the lot.

Benefits of the Arnold Press

  • Increased time under tension for all three heads of the deltoid, which leads to improved hypertrophy.
  • Arnold press involves moving in multiple planes of motion, which will target more deltoid muscle fibers.

How to Do the Arnold Press

In a seated position, kick dumbbells up to a traditional starting position and rotate your hands until your palms are facing towards you, like the top of a biceps curl. In one motion, press the dumbbells and rotate your palms to face forward. Continue lifting until your biceps are by or behind your ears.

Pause and reverse the move slowly and repeat.

Push Press

The push press uses a lower-body dip to push the barbell overhead. It uses the triple extension of the ankles, knees, and hips, which closely mimics what most overhead athletes do on the field. Plus, the lower body dip allows you to lift more weight overhead than the barbell overhead press. More weight=more muscle.

Benefits of the Push Press

  • Using triple extension to drive the weight overhead provides strength and muscle-building stimulus to your quadriceps and glutes.
  • Allows you to use more weight than the barbell overhead press.
  •  Has huge carryover to overhead athletes like Olympic lifters and throwing athletes.

How to Do the Push Press

Set up the same as you would for the barbell overhead press. Assume an upright torso and dip downward four to six inches, knees over toes. Then push your torso and chest upwards through the barbell, and using the legs, forcefully drive yourself and the barbell up.

Continue to push through the barbell until lockout. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

The bottoms-up kettlebell press is a great exercise for improving rotator cuff strength and improving shoulder stability. Not only is it a great shoulder exercise, but it will improve the pressing technique and grip strength. This gives you great intensity at a reduced weight.  

Benefits of the Bottoms Up Kettlebell Press

  • The unstable nature of the bottoms-up kettlebell increases your shoulder stability demands, helping strengthen your rotator cuff.
  • Following on from above, any hitches in your pressing technique will result in instant feedback.
  • Helping improve your formIncreased intensity at a reduced weight, helping to reduce joint stress.

How to Do the Bottoms-Up Kettlebell Press

Grab a lighter kettlebell bottoms up, have the horn directly above your wrist, grip tight and engage your lat.  Press up keeping the KB facing directly upwards and your elbow underneath the center of mass of the kettlebell. Lockout with the bell in this position and the biceps close to the ear.

Lower slowly to ensure you’re balancing the kettlebell with the bottom directly facing up.

Wide-Grip Seated Row

You all know the seated row is a great exercise for the lats and upper back. But when you take a wider grip, your posterior deltoid gets more involved in shoulder extension. Although the posterior deltoid gets trains isometrically stabilizing the weight overhead, you need to train it concentrically and eccentrically too.

 Benefits of the Wide-Grip Row

  • Helps stabilize the upper body so the chest muscles don’t overpower the upper back.
  • The wide grip helps develop thicker posterior delts and upper back muscles. 
  • Adds variety to your back training.

How to Do the Wide-Grip Row

 Set up like you would for your regular seated row but use a straight bar attachment. Take an overhand wide grip until your upper arms are about 45 degrees to your torso. Keeping an upright torso, row the bar to your sternum until you feel a strong contraction in your upper back. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Leaning Lateral Raise 

Performing lateral raises while leaning increases the distance that your arm needs to travel to lift the weight — and a longer range of motion means more tension, leading to more gains. The leaning lateral raise places greater overload at the top of the rep than the standing version.

Benefits of the Leaning Lateral Raise

  • Able to use more weight than the regular standing version because of the increased stability of holding on to something.
  • The increased range of motion and strong contraction at the top of the movement gives you more muscle-building potential.
  • Helps decrease strength imbalances between sides.

How to Do the Leaning Lateral Raise

Hold a power rack or a pole and bring your feet close to or under your hands. With the dumbbell resting on your outer thigh, raise the dumbbell away from you until you feel a strong contraction in your shoulders and slowly lower down and repeat.

All About The Deltoids

The shoulders are involved in every upper body move and any leg exercise involving your grip. Here are all the movements the shoulder performs.

  • Shoulder abduction (lateral raises)
  • Shoulder adduction (Rowing variations)
  • Shoulder horizontal abduction (Bent Over reverse fly)
  • Shoulder horizontal adduction (Bench press)
  • Internal and external rotation (Face pulls)
  • Circumduction (shoulder circles)

You’re only as strong as your weakest link. If your shoulders lack endurance, size, and strength it will hold your upper body training back. Building your deltoids size and strength will provide the shoulder stability you need to for all the movement they’re involved in — and that’s pretty much all upper-body exercise. Balanced shoulder training will strengthen and help prevent injuries as well as looking great when you flex. 

Anatomy Of The Deltoids

The deltoids are a large triangular-shaped muscle made up of three heads — the front, lateral and posterior deltoid. They insert on the humerus and originate from the clavicle and scapula.  The deltoids lie over the shoulder joint which gives the shoulder that boulder shoulder look.  

The Benefits of Training Your Deltoids

Here’s how shoulder training can positively impact everyone from strength athletes to bodybuilders, to the everyday gym-goer.

Man doing dumbbell press
Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock

General lifters

Besides the aesthetics of great-looking shoulders, shoulder training improves your posture (particularly if you spend a lot of time sitting down), strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, creating more stability, and possibly preventing injury.

Strength Athletes

All the shoulder mobility you have to squat, deadlift, bench, snatch, and clean and jerk need to be matched by stability too. Balanced shoulder training that focuses on all three delts will improve your stability, improve performance, and help prevent shoulder injuries.

Bodybuilders

Well-developed, defined, and strong shoulders will help balance out your physique, prevent shoulder injuries while training for a show, and could be the difference between winning and losing.

How to Warm-up Your Deltoids Before Training

Don’t be the guy who walks into the gym, slaps a plate or two onto the barbell, and starts bench-pressing. Your shoulder joints are sensitive and prone to injury. You need to take the time to warm it up with a few movements that rotate, raise, and abduct the shoulder. A few low-intensity exercises which target the shoulder area will get you ready for action. 

Try performing a few exercises such as I-Y-Ts, dead bugs, and slow and controlled shoulder circles. Then, be sure to perform whatever pressing exercise you’re training that day for a handful of light sets and reps.

More Deltoid Training Tips

It’s important that your shoulders not only look good but are strong and functional because they’re involved in almost everything you do in and out of the gym. Doing these seven-shoulder exercises will go a long way in building strong functional shoulders that look great in short sleeves.

Now that you have a handle on the best shoulder exercises to strengthen your deltoids, you can also check out these other helpful shoulder training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes. 

Featured image: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

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