10 of the Best Shoulder Exercises You Can Do at HomeFeb 10, 2022
Your shoulders are two of the most versatile joints in your body, with the greatest range of motion. “But that unparalleled mobility also makes them vulnerable to injury,” explains Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., and Openfit’s director of fitness and nutrition content. That’s why it’s so important to actively strengthen your shoulders by regularly doing shoulder exercises.
Miami-based physical therapist William P. Kelley, C.S.C.S., ACT, recommends doing targeted shoulder workouts twice a week, and spreading them out so your muscles have a chance to rest. You can work out your shoulders more than twice a week, but keep in mind that they’ll also be engaged during many chest, back, and arm exercises, and even HIIT or Pilates, Kelley says.
If you want to specifically increase shoulder size, you need to perform movements that use multiple angles to hit each part of the deltoids. “The best shoulder workouts will include a variety of moves to work your rotator cuff and deltoid muscles so you can build strength, stability, and mass.
To help you get started, we’ve pulled together some of the best moves — all you need is a pair of weights or a resistance band.
Build and strengthen your shoulders — along with every other part of your body — with live and on-demand resistance-training workouts on Openfit. Try the app here for free.
1. Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
Benefits: The bent-over row targets the rear head of your deltoids in concert with the muscles of your upper back.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
- Engaging your core, push your hips back and hinge forward at your waist until your torso is almost parallel with the floor. Let your arms hang straight down, with your palms facing each other.
- Keeping your back flat, and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the weights up to your sides.
- Pause, then lower the weights to the starting position. Repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
2. Plank Raise Tap Crunch
Benefits: “This bodyweight move is another good closed-chain exercise for shoulder stability,” Kelley says. The plank crunch part of the move is also great for working your core.
- Start in a straight arm plank position with your shoulders stacked above your hands and your feet hip-width apart.
- Extend your right arm forward, then place it back down into the plank.
- Extend your right arm to the side, then place it back down into the plank.
- Keep your body in a straight line as you reach your opposite (left) arm under your body, pull your right leg toward your core, and tap your right foot with your left hand.
- Return to the plank position.
- Do all of your reps, and then repeat on your opposite side.
3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Benefits: This move is an excellent way to target your middle deltoid, Kelley says.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your side, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Raise your arms to your sides until they’re level with your shoulders. Keep your palms facing downward.
- Slowly lower your arms, and repeat for reps.
4. Military Press
Benefits: This moves targets the entire deltoid muscle and is excellent for muscle growth, Kelley says. It also works your triceps, traps, and pectoral muscles.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Step one foot slightly forward in a staggered stance.
- Bring your weights to shoulder-level, with your palms facing forward.
- Extend your arms straight above your shoulders. Keep your back straight and engage your core.
- Slowly lower the weights back to shoulder level and repeat for reps.
5. Reverse Fly
Benefits: Although primarily an upper back exercise, this move also engages the posterior deltoid, Kelly says.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend forward at the hips until your chest is almost parallel with the ground. Allow the weights to hang straight down at arm’s length, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your back flat, raise your arms out to your sides until they’re in line with your body. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
- Return to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
6. Arnold Press
Benefits: This dumbbell exercise works both the middle and anterior parts of the deltoid, Kelley says. The rotational movement is also great for improving shoulder stability.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Engage your core. Keeping your back flat, bring your weights to shoulder level, with your forearms in front of your chest and your palms facing back. This is the starting position.
- Rotate the weights so that your palms face forward as you press the weights directly above your shoulders.
- Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
7. Front Deltoid Raise
Benefits: This move best isolates the anterior (frontal) head of the shoulder muscle.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
- Keeping your arms straight, slowly lift the weights up directly in front of you to shoulder height with your palms facing each other.
- Lower back down to the starting position and repeat for reps.
8. Deep Swimmer’s Press
Benefits: This move works the shoulder through an even greater range of motion than a conventional overhead press, placing emphasis on the deltoid’s frontal head.
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing forward.
- Keeping your elbows close to your sides, curl the dumbbells up until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. This is the starting position.
- Curl the weights up toward your shoulders, then press them overhead, rotating your hands so your palms face forward as you reach the top of the movement.
- Reverse the movement, lowering the weights as you rotate your palms back toward your body, and finishing in the half-curl, palms-up, starting position. Repeat for reps.
Benefits: This bodyweight exercise hits all three heads of the deltoid as you transition through it.
- Assume a bear stance with your arms straight, your hands below your shoulders, and your knees bent 90 degrees below your hips. (Only your hands and toes should touch the floor.)
- Keeping your back flat, core engaged, and right hand on the floor, lift your left arm and right leg, and open your body to the left, pivoting on your left foot as you thread your right leg beneath you and extend it straight on the floor.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side, lifting your right hand and left leg, and pivoting on your right foot.
- Continue alternating sides for reps.
10. Callahan Press
Benefits: The Callahan press — a variation on the traditional shoulder press — is a good way to challenge your rotator cuff musculature, Kelley says.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, assume a staggered stance and raise your arms out to your sides with your elbows bent 90 degrees. Your upper arms should be in line with your shoulders, and your hands should point toward the ceiling. This is the starting position.
- Bring your forearms together in front of you, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
- Press the weights directly above your shoulders, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Before you dive into a shoulder workout, it’s helpful to understand the different parts of the shoulder muscle. There are two layers of musculature to the shoulder: the rotator cuff and the deltoids. Both parts of the shoulder are important, but they serve different functions.
“The muscles that stabilize each joint are those of the rotator cuff — the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis,” Thieme explains. “But it’s the deltoids — the muscles on top of the rotator cuffs — that give shoulders their shape and drive most shoulder movements.” There are three parts of each deltoid — the anterior (front), lateral (middle), and posterior (back).