The Best Exercises for Bigger, Better, Bolder Shoulders

Use these movements to build muscle and strength

There are many different ways to work your shoulders, and we’ve collected 11 of the greatest here. All to help you build your deltoids, traps, rotator cuffs, and all of the muscles in between. Keep reading for bigger, better, bolder shoulders.

Cable face pull

The bench press is one of our favourite exercises. Doing too many, however, can cause a strength imbalance, favouring your front over your back. Over time, you start to look more like a caveman than a strongman. But there are more ways to work your back than just rows. The face pull defines the muscles in your upper back, helping improve your posture and strength, says Gene Rychlak, a record setting powerlifter.
Do it: Attach a rope to the high pulley of a cable station and grab an end with each hand. Back a few steps away until your arms are extended in front of you. Pull the middle of the rope toward your face. Pause, and reverse the movement back to the starting position.

Related: Strengthen Your Core, Arms & Shoulders With The Seated Upper-Body Blitz Workout


Kettlebell single arm press

Why use a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell for this movement? The shape and weight distribution of the bell pulls your shoulder into a position that increases mobility and muscle recruitment, says Pavel Tsatsouline, author of Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.
Do it: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold a kettlebell in front of your shoulder with your palm in, elbow tucked, and the weight resting on the top of your forearm. Press it straight up, rotating your arm so your palm faces forward. Do equal reps on both arms.

Dumbbell push press

We love this exercise. The reason: You can load it up with a low risk of injury. What’s more, it’s explosive. That means you target your fast twitch muscle fibres, which are the ones with the most potential for growth.
Do it: Stand holding a pair of dumbbells just outside of your shoulders with your arms bent and palms facing each other. Set your feet shoulder width apart, your knees slightly bent. Dip your knees, then explosively push up with your legs as you press the weights straight over your shoulders. Lower the dumbbells back to the start and repeat.

Related: Beef Up Your Bench Press With These 19 Strength Exercises

Scaption and shrug

While the “scaption” portion of the exercise targets your front deltoids, rotator cuff, and serratus anterior, the “shrug” attacks your upper traps. This provides a complete exercise for making your shoulders strong and healthy.
Di it: Stand holding a pair of dumbbells with your feet shoulder width apart. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length next to your sides, your palms facing each other and your elbows slightly bent. Without changing the bend in your elbows, raise your arms at a 30-degree angle to your body until they’re at shoulder level. At the top of the movement, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.

Cable pulley reverse fly

This exercise shores up the commonly weak areas of your shoulders—like your rear deltoids and rotator cuff—so you’ll dodge shoulder pain and boost gains in every upper-body lift.
Do it: Stand in a cable station with the pulley on its lowest setting. Cross your arms in front of you, and grab a handle from each low pulley. Bend forward at the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your arms beneath your shoulders. Pull your shoulder blades back, and then raise your arms out to your sides until they’re parallel to the floor. Lower and repeat.


This exercise leaves no shoulder muscle untouched. “The three different motions hit the shoulder from the front, middle, and rear,” says Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 in the USA. “That strengthens the muscles and makes the entire joint more resilient to injury.”
Do it: Anchor a TRX so that the handles hang about waist height. Facing the TRX, place your feet under the anchor point and grab a handle in each hand with your palms facing away from you. Keeping your body straight, slowly lean back until the straps are taut. Your arms should be straight and your hands should be at shoulder level. Maintaining an even tension on the TRX at all times, raise the handles overhead so that your body forms an “I” from hands to feet. Draw your shoulder blades down so you don’t shrug your shoulders. The angle of your body to the floor should decrease. (If this is too difficult, take a step back with one foot to boost your base of support.) Pause, and then lower.

Related: 13 Exercises That Kick Burpees Butt When It Comes To Fat Loss

Repeat, but raise your arms so they’re at a 30-degree angle to your body (forming a Y) this time. Pause, and then lower.
Repeat again, but raise your arms so they’re at a 90-degree angle to your body (forming a T). Pause, and then lower.

Handstand hold

The handstand hold builds an extreme amount of upper body strength and stamina. (Plus, it makes you look like a complete badass once you master it.) The hold places a significant load on your shoulders and forces your muscles to stabilize for long lengths of time, says BJ Gaddour, fitness expert.
Do it: Place your hands on the floor about a foot away from a wall. Keeping your arms straight, kick your feet overhead until they touch the wall. Allow your heels to lightly rest against the wall so you can stay in the handstand position. Lock out your arms. Hold this position as long as possible.

Half kneeling bottoms up kettlebell press

“Pressing the kettlebell bottoms up makes the movement less stable, increasing the difficulty,” says Gaddour. That’s because the weight wants to tip from one side to the other. Keeping it steady enough to press it overhead takes immense grip strength and shoulder stability, he explains.
Do it: Kneel with your left knee forward and bent 90 degrees. Hold a kettlebell just outside your shoulder in the bottoms-up rack position at your shoulder. (The handle should point toward the floor and the bell should point toward the ceiling.) Squeeze the handle, and then press the bell overhead until your arm is straight. Keep your biceps next to your ear and your shoulder pulled down. Pause, and then reverse the movement.

Related: Fry Fat With This 5-Move Kettlebell Workout


Seated dumbbell external rotation 

If you love to bench, you need this exercise. It strengthens your rotator cuff muscles, the small stabilising muscles that play big roles during presses and pushups.
Do it: Grab a dumbbell in your left hand and sit on a bench. Place your left foot on the bench with your knee bent. Flex your left elbow 90 degrees and place it on top of your left knee. Don’t bend your wrist. Now rotate the dumbbell down so your forearm is parallel to the floor. Pause, then return to the starting position.

Inverted shoulder press

This move is actually a pushup variation—which means you perform it anywhere, anytime. But instead of your pecs doing most of the pushing, this position shifts the workload onto your shoulders.
Do it: Begin in a traditional pushup position, but move your feet forward and raise your hips so your body forms an inverted “V.” Keeping your hips elevated, bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor. Pause, and then reverse the movement. Bring your feet closer to your hands if you want to increase the difficulty for your shoulders.

Barbell overhead shrug 

Holding the weight above your head as you shrug works your upper traps. This position also reduces the emphasis on your levator scapulae, which are often overworked. For many guys, this can lead to better posture, since these muscles are often imbalanced.
Do it: Hold a barbell above your head with an underhand grip that’s about twice shoulder width. Your arms should be completely straight. Shrug your shoulders as high as you can. Pause, then reverse the movement back to the starting position.

Related: This Simple Trick Uses A Barbell To Work Your Core


Incline bench press

When you do a conventional bench press, the brunt of the work falls on your pecs. But when your torso is tilted upward on an angle, the work is redistributed to the muscles in the front of your shoulders, says David Jack, a Men’s Health fitness advisor.
Do it: Set an adjustable bench to a 25-to-30 degree incline. Lie faceup on the bench and hold the dumbbells above your shoulders with your arms straight. Lower the dumbbells to your chest. Pause, then press the weights back up to the starting position.

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