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15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth (and How to Use Them)

Boost your shoulders.

Check out the 15 best shoulder exercises for muscle growth, as chosen by Jeremy Ethier.

15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth

“Do a quick google search of the best shoulder exercises and you’ll be met with an overwhelming number of exercises and workouts. But how many of you have tried everything in the book yet end up disappointed? What you need, and what I wish someone told me back in the day, is more structure behind your shoulder workout. So, today, I’ll show you how to get bigger, wider shoulders by breaking down the best shoulder exercises for each of the 3 regions of your shoulders, how to pick the right ones for your body and equipment availability, and then show you how to combine them all into a weekly routine to grow all 3 areas of your shoulders.”

Front Delts

“Let’s start with the front delts. The direction of its muscle fibers run almost 45-degrees to the side relative to your torso. To best activate this muscle, you’ll want to move your elbows into the scapular plane. Let’s apply this little “tweak” to 5 of the best overhead pressing options. The first exercise to consider adding to your shoulder workout is the standing overhead press. This exercise has been shown to activate the front delts very well, even higher than traditional front raises. Next, standing dumbbell overhead presses, shown to provide the highest activation across all 3 heads of the shoulder. The third exercise will be the seated dumbbell shoulder press, which provides a lot more stability for you to really isolate the shoulders. Then, we have the kneeling landmine press. It helps you work on any muscle imbalances you may have especially if you tend to only do barbell work. Lastly: the pike push ups, which help you target the front delts without any equipment.”

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Lateral Head

“Next, the lateral head – which helps with creating wider shoulders. First, we have the dumbbell lateral raise. The second exercise, the lean-away cable lateral raise will help ensure the delts are working throughout the whole range of motion. Third, we have the standing cable Y-raise. It will take your side delt all the way to its fully contracted position. Don’t have access to cables? Then a great option would be the chest supported Y-raise. Last but not least, upright rows – but the better kind that’s kinder to your shoulders.”

Rear Delts

“Finally, when it comes to how to get bigger shoulders, we cannot forget about the rear delts. To best target this muscle, you’ll want to use exercises where your elbows can pull in this 45-degree arm angle relative to the torso. The first exercise will be the rear delt swing. Next, using the exact same setup and pair of dumbbells, you can take the rear delts to complete failure by turning the swing into a row by bending your elbows.”

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“Now we’ll move onto the standing barbell rear delt row. The key here will be with your elbow angle and how high you pull the bar. The same concept can be applied to a cable machine by using a wider attachment and that 45 degree elbow angle, making this exercise the rear delt cable row. Last but not least, an exercise I got from Coach Paul Carter that trains the rear delts in its fully stretched position. It’s called the rear delt cable pull. You can also do these with resistance bands if you don’t have access to the cable machine.”

Workout Routine

“Here comes the most important part; putting all the shoulder exercises you’ve learned into a workout routine. Now, research shows that the front delts are already highly activated in many of the pressing movements you’re already doing. So, since your front delts are likely already well developed, you’re only going to pick 1 main front delt exercise to do throughout the week. You’ll want to emphasize the side and rear delts more by picking 2 exercises from each of those categories. You can do 3-4 sets of each exercise and throw those into your existing workouts throughout the week or do it all in one shoulder workout.”

Sample shoulder routine:


Standing Barbell Overhead Press


Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Chest-Supported Dumbbell Y-Raise


Rear Delt Swing → Rear Delt Row (dropset)

Rear Delt Cable Pull

“But once you’ve found the best shoulder exercises that work for you, stay consistent with those week after week. Only if your strength plateaus in any of those exercises or you simply get bored of them should you consider switching to another exercise from the list, which will typically happen every 4-8 weeks.”

Video – 15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth

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Muscles of the Shoulders

The muscles of the shoulders are important.

15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth – Trapezius muscle

The trapezius is a large triangular muscle that covers the back of the neck and extends to the lower spine. Acting primarily to move the scapula (shoulder blade) in all directions, it also helps to turn the head. The upper part of this muscle is innervated by C6, C7 and C8, while its lower portion is innervated by C5 and C6.

The trapezium acts as an arm extensor when you reach behind your back or forward over your head. If you rotate your arm outwardly while reaching up in front of or behind your body, this muscle will contract during those movements as well.

15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth – Latissimus dorsi muscle

The latissimus dorsi are a broad, flat muscle located on the posterior of the body. They cover almost all of your back and extend from your lower back to your armpits. The muscle is responsible for moving your arms up and down, as well as rotating them inward (adduction) and outward (abduction).

15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth – Rhomboid muscles

The rhomboids are located between the scapula and thoracic vertebrae. They are involved in shoulder movements and also help maintain posture.

The muscles of the shoulders are important.

The muscles of the shoulders are important for many movements, especially arm and shoulder motions. They also play an important role in maintaining healthy shoulders.

The following is a list of muscles that can be found in the shoulder region:

  • Deltoid (shoulder muscle)
  • Pectoralis major (chest muscle)
  • Latissimus dorsi (back muscle)

Conclusion – 15 Best Shoulder Exercises for Muscle Growth

The muscles of the shoulders are important for movement, support and stability. They can be injured by overuse, poor posture or improper lifting techniques. If you experience any pain in your shoulders, talk to your doctor about how to best manage it.

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