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10 Shoulder Exercises to Build Great Strength and Conditioning

Strong shoulders are a great asset to your overall strength and physique.

Shoulder exercises are essential for CrossFitters and anyone working with weights or overhead movements.

Many gym enthusiasts have strong front deltoids from all the Bench Pressing they’ve done over the years. Although the Bench Press is a great exercise for overall front shoulder strength, it may at some point pull your upper body forwards if the body is not developed in balance, and any asymmetries are not addressed.

This article includes a variety of isolation, isometric, carries and unilateral shoulder exercises for you to add into your training. 

SHOULDER EXERCISES – WARM UP

Your shoulders are complex, multi directional joints, so make sure you warm up properly before you try any of these exercises. These mobility exercises are also useful to help you strengthen and protect your shoulders, ligaments and tendons:

Scapular Health: 4 Banded Mobility Exercises to Bulletproof Your Shoulders

You can add these exercises in as accessory exercises at the end of a session, or bring them together into more of a bodybuilding-style workout. Both are effective ways to incorporate them into your training.

amrap workouts

Use the following shoulder exercises to build stronger and more resistant shoulders. 

Shoulder Exercises

1. Carry and Press Complex

3 rounds 

  • 5 kb presses
  • 1 up, 1 in front rack. Walk 50 yards.
  • 5 kb presses
  • 1 up, 1 in front rack. Walk 50 yards.

Check out how to perform the kettlebell press properly.

2. Half Kneeling DB Press with Band Row

The combination of push and pull into a single exercise is a great way to challenge your brain’s motor control and your mastery of different movement patterns.

These are great for scapular stability and shoulder strengthening. Pair this lift with a core move of your choice to get a great upper body workout.

Single Arm Trap Raise with DB Isometric Row

The Trap 3 raise is an exercise we prescribe to clients and athletes in order to teach scapular depression and control. The lower trap (Trap 3) is one that helps to stabilize the shoulder blade for complex overhead movements.

When you are performing this it is essential to make sure the scapula on the arm doing the raise remains down and back the entire time. Don’t let the upper trap take over.

Shoulder Exercises – Lateral Raises

Dumbbell arm exercises

Do this exercise without any momentum. If you see that this is not possible for you while standing, take a seat.

The weight will start at your sides, not in front of your body, to prevent you from using your back to cheat the motion. Control the tempo as you raise the weight. Pause at the top and descend slowly. Imagine the Dumbbells are each a glass of water that you want to spill slowly.

Overhead Press

crossfit female athlete performs push pressSource: RX'd Photography

Overhead Press means any exercise where you put weight over your (surprise) head.

It includes Military Presses (another name for the same exercise) and Dumbbell Presses among others.

If you do this exercises standing, hold your core tight, tense your glutes so that your spine gets into a neutral position and press slowly upward. Start with the weight placed on your shoulders, elbows in front.

The Head bypasses the barbell, not the other way round. Press until the arms are fully extended to get the full ROM. If reached the end position lean a bit – just a bit – forward to full tension.

Shoulder Exercises – Rear Delt Flys

Rear Delt Flys tackle the ulterior Shoulder. The most commonly neglected area and therefore one of the most important ones.

As you have to lean forward it is important to maintain a neutral spine position. Control your position in a mirror or with a coach if possible. To reach a position with a straight back it is helpful to feel your hamstrings being on tension.

Do not keep your head up but watch at the bottom in front of you to keep the neutral spine. If you cannot hold the position try to do the exercise laying ventrally on a bench.

  1. Grab the dumbbells with your palms facing towards each other. Keep a neutral grip. This will be your starting position.
  2. Make sure that your arms are extended in front of you, perpendicular to the bench and your legs remain stationary throughout.
  3. Slightly bend your elbows, and move the dumbbells away from each other while you exhale. Keep the motion smooth and simultaneous throughout.
  4. For a tighter contraction, squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep on elevating the arms until they are parallel to the floor.
  5. While it’s pretty hard to hold the position, try to feel the contraction and gradually lower the weights without rumbling.

Butterfly Reverse

Again the rear delts? What about my front?  Don’t worry, your frontal shoulders are usually covered during chest day.

But aren’t my rear delts involved in my Back training? Indeed, if you do the correct exercises with the correct technique. And to elude that “if”, we have another rear delt exercise here, the butterfly reverse.

  1. Sit on the machine pad seat, facing the pad. Arrange the seat height so that the handles are level with your shoulders.
  2. Grasp the handles.
  3. Pull back, keeping your elbows level with your hands. Bring your shoulder blades together.
  4. Hold for 1-2 seconds, then release slowly back to the starting position.

By holding your hands higher than the elbows you can isolate your shoulders more from the back.

Dumbbell, Kettlebell or Barbell Shrugs

Shrugs are the mass building component for your neck.

Stand still, with your back tight and your shoulders slightly taken back. Now pull the shoulders up, hold, down, repeat.

Your body should stand still during the whole exercise, the most common mistake is the chicken neck, which means you put your head forward while exercising.

Shoulder Exercises – Front Raises

Front dumbbell raises are the best exercise to isolate the anterior deltoid head and a way to completely fatigue it.

Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing you. Stand upright with your back straight and your feet about hip-width apart. Look straight ahead.

Stabilize your torso by tightening your torso and pulling your shoulder blades down and together. Maintain this posture throughout the movement. Raise your elbows and shoulders at the same rate. Lead with your elbows.

Keep your body upright. Don’t lean backward to counterbalance for the sake of using a heavier dumbbell. As you lift the dumbbells, do not allow your wrists to bend. Maintain a neutral wrist position. Do not hold your breath; inhale as you lower the dumbbells and exhale as you lift the dumbbells.

Bar or Ring Dips

ring dips are great shoulder exercises for strength

TECHNIQUE

  • Grab the bars or rings and jump up. Balance yourself with locked elbows.
  • Lower your body by bending your arms. Lean your torso slightly forward.
  • Go down until your shoulders are below your elbows at the bottom.
  • Lift your body back up to the starting position by straightening your arms.
  • Balance yourself with your shoulders over your hands. Lock your elbows.

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