What do strong and developed shoulders mean to you? They could mean a big bench press and clean & jerk, or maybe they mean an aesthetic appearance you’ve worked incredibly hard for. There’s no denying that strong shoulders have huge importance in lifting, daily life, and regular sports. The primary shoulder muscles are referred to as the deltoids, and they’re responsible for shoulder abduction, flexion, and extension. These are the muscles that sit atop of the shoulder and give our shoulders their ball-like appearance.
There are smaller muscles that support the shoulders, but this guide will focus mostly on the deltoids, as the smaller muscles will receive indirect training benefits with direct deltoid work. The deltoids are made up of three muscular heads, which include the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids.
These three deltoid heads will all play different roles throughout pressing movements and they all need to be strong to create a balanced upper body. For example, the posterior deltoids help initiate an overhead press, while the medial and anterior deltoids help drive and finish the press.
No matter your strength sport, lifting goal, or fitness level, developing strong shoulders is incredibly important.
If you’re a powerlifter, weightlifter, bodybuilder, or recreational lifter, building strong shoulder muscles can be beneficial to gym and sport performance, along with day-to-day life. Below, we’ve included four of our favorite shoulder exercises.
Our Top Shoulders Exercises
1. Barbell Overhead Press/Military Press
The first shoulder building exercise that makes our list is the overhead press. This movement is a staple in multiple workout programs, and that’s for good reason. For starters, the overhead press does an exceptional job at targeting the whole shoulder, as opposed to only one or two deltoid heads. In addition, it’s a movement that allows for ample loading, so there can be a higher stimulus placed on muscles with the press compared to some of the other isolated movements.
On top of the high demand this movement places on the deltoids, it also does a great job at building the shoulder’s supporting musculature. In order to remain stable through the press the smaller muscles in the upper body must be hard at work, along with the core.
Need more convincing to start pressing? Check out all of these overhead press benefits!
2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The dumbbell shoulder press is taking home the second spot for our favorite shoulder exercises. This exercise could be considered the little brother, and beginner friendly option to the barbell overhead press.
We like the dumbbell shoulder press for two major reasons. First, it’s beginner friendly, so it can be performed at any level of fitness. Second, it tends to be slightly easier to modify in standing and seated positions, so it’s a great option for someone with a limitation in the normal barbell overhead press.
Learn why the dumbbell shoulder press is great for every athlete with our dumbbell shoulder press guide!
3. Front, Rear, and Lateral Dumbbell Raises
The front, rear, and lateral dumbbell raise is a fantastic shoulder building movement. These movements are most popular in bodybuilding, but they should be a staple across all lifter’s programs. They help promote the shoulder’s size, strength, muscular endurance, and can even help strengthen some of the smaller muscles that surround the shoulder joint.
4. Push Press
The push press could be considered the older brother of the barbell overhead press. This movement is most often used by weightlifters working to strengthen their jerk and build strong shoulders, although, it can be useful for a wide variety of lifters. Since the push press involves a slight leg drive, lifters can often load the bar with more weight than they’d be handle during a strict barbell overhead press.
For this reason, the push press is useful for supramaximally loading the shoulders, working on overhead stability, and training body awareness. One thing to note when considering the push press as a main shoulder exercise is to ensure that overhead press form is dialed in. This movement is much more dynamic and requires careful focus on bar path to perform it safely.
Learn how to clean up your form with our push press guide!