20 Great Exercises to Work Your Shoulders

These exercises target the shoulders—the front, middle, and rear deltoids as well as the rotator cuff muscles. Choose a variety of exercises to target each part of the shoulders for a well-rounded workout routine.

How to Set Up a Shoulder Routine

Use enough weight that you can only complete the desired number of reps.

  • Beginners: Choose 1 to 2 exercises. Do 1 to 2 sets of 12 to 16 reps.
  • More experienced exercisers: To hit all muscle groups, choose an exercise from each group: An overhead press, a rotation exercise, a lateral raise and a front raise. Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps, resting between sets.

Overhead Press With a Barbell

An overhead press, also called a military press, with a barbell is probably one of the hardest shoulder exercises you can do. When you lift anything overhead, it's tough, but using a barbell, you can really lift heavy. Keep your back straight. If you have to arch your back to get the weight up, it's too heavy.


Overhead Dumbbell Press

A Dumbbell overhead press

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The overhead dumbbell press allows you to work each arm individually. When you use a barbell, as in the previous exercise, your stronger arm may do more of the work. Having a weight in each hand forces each shoulder to work on its own.


Arnold Press

The Arnold press doesn't look like a big deal, but adding rotation involves the front deltoid a bit more than a regular overhead press. You start with the palms facing in and then, as you press the arms up, your rotate the hands so that they're facing out. It's tougher than it looks.


One-Arm Press

When you do one arm at a time, you not only challenge your shoulder, you challenge your core. Sit on an exercise ball and you add even more instability, which helps you work on balance, stability, core, and shoulder strength all at the same time.


Alternating Overhead Press

Another variation on the overhead press is to alternate arms. This adds some variety and you focus on keeping the core strong as you slowly alternate sides. This can really change how the exercise feels.


Band Overhead Press

Using the band for an overhead press means you get more time under tension. The band makes your muscles work on the way up and on the way down, unlike dumbbells. You'll want a light band for this, or just do one arm at a time.


Front Raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The front raise works the front of the deltoids. Because the arms are straight and coming up to the front of the body, you need to be sure you have the right size weights. You'll also feel your core work as you lift the weights up.


Incline Front Raise

Take the front raise up a notch in intensity by getting into an incline position on the ball. You'll really feel gravity working against you here, and you'll feel your lower body kick into gear. Be sure to lift only to shoulder level and don't swing the weights, but lift them slowly.


Lateral Raise

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Lateral raises are a classic shoulder exercise, targeting the front and mid deltoids. This long lever move has your arms almost straight (your elbows should be slightly bent) which means you typically stick with a lighter weight for this exercise.


Bent Arm Lateral Raise

This takes the typical lateral raise and shortens the lever with arms bent at 90 degrees. This allows you to lift a little heavier weight than you probably would with lateral raises. It's a variation that fires your muscle fibers in a different way.


One Arm Lateral Raise on the Ball

If you want to add intensity and a balance challenge, prop one side of the body on the ball at an angle and lift a lighter weight just to shoulder level. With gravity working against you, you'll really work your deltoids.


Reverse Fly

Now we move to the back of the shoulders—the rear delts as well as the upper back. For the reverse fly move, you want a slight bend in the elbows. Make sure you lead with the elbows. You want a lighter weight here so you don't have to heave to lift the weights up. They should only go to shoulder level.


One Arm Band Rear Fly

This move targets the rear deltoid as well as the upper back. Because you're on your hands and knees, you can really focus on the working arm. The idea is to keep your elbow slightly bend and to lead with that elbow when lifting the arm up.


Crossover Rear Delt Fly With Band

In this move, you're standing, which means you're involving the entire body. You're also using a band, which adds intensity. Stand on the band and bring the opposite arm across the body, focusing on the rear delt and the upper back.


Incline Rear Fly on the Ball

In this version of the rear fly, the ball gives you support while also adding a little instability. You're at the perfect angle to lift the weights up to torso level. The elbows are bent here, so you're squeezing the shoulder blades and working the shoulders as well as the upper back.


Band Rear Delt Squeeze

This exercise is a great warm-up for the arms and the upper back. You need to keep your hands the right distance apart to keep tension on the band when your arms come together and with you squeeze them apart. This, again, works the shoulders and the upper back.


External Shoulder Rotation With Band

Your rotators are the smallest muscles of the shoulder, but the most prone to injury. For this move, you want to keep the elbow next to the body as you open the arm up, taking it as far back as your flexibility allows.


Internal Shoulder Rotation With Bands

This move is the opposite move from the external rotation above. Now you're rotating the arm and shoulder inward, working the rotators in a different way. You'll probably need more tension on the band for this exercise.


Upright Rows

woman doing upright row

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Upright rows are another great move for the shoulders, but you want to make sure you do them right. Slowly pull the weights up, keeping them very close to your body, and take the elbows just a bit higher than the shoulders.


Shoulder Push-Up

If you really want a tough exercise, this is it. Also called a pike push-up or down-dog push-up, this move is like a push-up for your shoulders; you're in a pike position doing push-ups. Balancing on an exercise ball makes this move even harder.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Council on Exercise. Arm Exercises | Standing Shoulder Press.

  2. American Council on Exercise. Single Arm Overhead Press.

  3. American Council on Exercise. Shoulder Exercises | Front Raise.

  4. Keogh JWL, Aickin SE, Oldham ARH. Can common measures of core stability distinguish performance in a shoulder pressing task under stable and unstable conditions? J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(2):422-429. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c7c6b9

  5. Picha KJ, Almaddah MR, Barker J, Ciochetty T, Black WS, Uhl TL. Elastic resistance effectiveness on increasing strength of shoulders and hipsJ Strength Cond Res. 2019;33(4):931-943. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002216

  6. Yamamoto A, Takagishi K, Osawa T, et al. Prevalence and risk factors of a rotator cuff tear in the general populationJ Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2010;19(1):116-120. doi:10.1016/j.jse.2009.04.006

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."