Looking for the top shoulder exercises for men? You’ve come to the right place.
Adding some shoulder exercises into your workouts will help to create a much broader figure and help fill out those t-shirts. Shoulder exercises and workouts can also help to increase overall upper body strength, as stronger shoulders will help you lift to greater weights.
So what are the best shoulder exercises you should be performing when in the gym? Allow us to run you through the essential shoulder workouts you need. But first, a quick biology lesson.
Looking for further workout inspiration? Check out our complete guide to workouts for men here.
In this shoulder exercises story…
- What Muscles Are In The Shoulders?
- Best Shoulder Exercises & Workouts
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Arnold Press
- Upright Row
- Dumbbell Front Raise
- Overhead Push Press
- Cable Face Pull
- Chest Supported Dumbbell Row
- Barbell Overhead Carry
- Single-Arm Cable Front Raise
- 3-Way Shoulder Raise
- Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
- Seated Barbell Press
- Waiter’s Walk
What Muscles Are In The Shoulders?
According to Healthline, the shoulder muscles maintain the widest range of motion of any muscle in the human body, which, while this makes them incredibly important, also makes them far more susceptible to injury. Some eight muscles make up the shoulder as a whole, with all of them attaching to the shoulder blade.
However, there are some 20 muscles that provide extra support to the shoulder, allowing it to go through its full range of motion.
The main muscles that make up the shoulder include the trapezius (traps) and deltoid (delts). Other muscles include the pectoralis major chest muscle, as it stretches from the collar bone down to the mid-chest area, and the rhomboid major, which sits below the trapezius on your upper back.
Because the shoulder muscles encompass muscles that connect to other areas of the upper body, it’s vital you perform a wide range of shoulder exercises for men to ensure they’re all as strong as possible.
Best Shoulder Exercises & Workouts
A vast majority of the best shoulder exercises you should be performing are likely ones you already know, although you may find you’re not performing them quite so perfectly. And after all, technique and form is far more beneficial than the amount of weight you lift.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The dumbbell lateral is a staple shoulder exercise and one of the best for anyone to do. It’s surprisingly difficult, so is best performed with a lightweight, at least to begin with.
How to perform this shoulder exercise: To perform a dumbbell lateral raise, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your feet shoulder width apart. Make sure you start off with lighter weights because as you get closer and closer to your last repetition, you’ll definitely feel the strain in your shoulder muscles. It’s also possible to sustain injury by performing the lateral raise with a weight that’s too heavy for you.
With the dumbbells in your hands, engage you core, and lock down your shoulders. Put a slight bend in the elbow and raise your arms out to your sides, but slightly in front of you, until your wrists are slightly below your shoulder.
A common mistake some people make with lateral raises, is to raise their arms too high, with the wrist going above the shoulder. By keeping the wrist below the shoulder, you put greater tension on the shoulder muscle, which is ultimately what you want.
Return your arms to their starting position, and that’s 1 rep of the lateral raise completed.
Sets: 3 to 5 sets with 8-10 reps per set
Tempo: 2 seconds up, 1 second back down.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Another classic shoulder workout that is frequently considered one of the best, is the dumbbell shoulder press. This shoulder exercise can be performed in conjunction with, or instead of, the barbell shoulder press, as they both produce similar results.
By using dumbbells, however, you introduce two independently moving weights, meaning you’ll need to call upon a greater amount of surrounding supporting muscle to help with the lift. Naturally, this provides a greater benefit over the barbell shoulder press, so is the one we’d recommend out of the two.
How to perform this shoulder exercise: The dumbbell shoulder press can be performed standing or sitting, but if you’re new to the movement, we’d recommend sitting as it provides extra support.
Take a dumbbell in each hand – again, keep the weight light, to begin with, as an inflamed ego will mean a one-way trip to injury-ville – and sit on a bench with the back section fully upright. Hold the dumbbells up over your shoulders so they are parallel to the floor, with your palms facing forward and your elbows out.
Push the dumbbells up and bring them toward each other as you get to a point where your arms are fully extended, just be sure to not let the dumbbells touch.
Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Sets: 3 to 5 sets with 8 to 10 reps per set
Tempo: 3 seconds up, 2 seconds back down
The Arnold Press is legitimately named after the father of bodybuilding himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a variation of the military press – which itself is a variation of the barbell overhead press, but just sees your feet being brought together instead of standing shoulder width apart.
The Arnold press however, is a shoulder workout you really should be including in your routine, because it serves to work all three portions of the deltoid muscle in one fell swoop, meaning boulder shoulders are certainly achievable.
How to perform this shoulder exercise: Start with a dumbbell in each hand, shoulder blades together, and your arms starting in a position akin to how you would finish a bicep curl, i.e. arms bent and palms facing you. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. This is another shoulder exercise where it pays to start off with a light weight so that you can get the technique nailed.
Next, rotate your elbows outwards, push your arms up straight, and twist your palms at the same time as you push up, so that your palms face forwards. Return to the starting position by performing the reverse of the movement you just completed.
Sets: 3 to 4 sets with 8 – 10 reps per set
Tempo: 3 seconds up, 3 seconds down
The upright row is a simple-looking shoulder exercise that targets the deltoids and the traps, along with other areas of the upper back and even the biceps. However, you’ll only effectively target these muscles if you perform it correctly, which means you’ll want to start with a light weight to help avoid injury.
The upright row can be performed using a barbell, an EZ bar or even a pair of dumbbells – taking a dumbbell in each hand. If you’re new to the movement, it’s best to use an EZ bar, as it alleviates some pressure from your wrists.
How to perform this shoulder exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and take hold of the EZ bar. Have it hanging down in front of you with your elbows slightly bent. Prepare for the movement by bringing your shoulder blades together and locking them down.
Breathe in and embrace your core. As you breathe out, lift the barbell straight up towards your chin, flaring your elbows out and keeping the bar close to your body. End the movement when your hands are roughly in line with your shoulders. Pause at the top before returning your arms to their starting position.
Sets: 3 to 4 sets with 10-12 reps per set
Tempo: 2 seconds up, pause for a second, slowly lower back down
Dumbbell Front Raise
As we mentioned earlier, the shoulder is predominantly made up of the three heads of the deltoid muscle. The shoulder exercises already mentioned help to target the middle and rear sides of the deltoid, but to really finish them off and get the front head popping, you need to be performing the front raise.
The front raise can be performed using any kind of free weight, such as weight plate, or a resistance band, but your best weapon is a pair of dumbbells. As with the other shoulder exercises, start off with a light weight, as you’ll slowly but surely feel more and more fatigued as you work your way through the repetitions.
With the front raise, you have the option of raising both dumbbells at the same time, or alternating arms.
How to perform this shoulder exercise: Start with a dumbbell each in hand, feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and your arms straight down in front of your thighs. Raise your arms up in front of you, keeping them straight (if you’re alternating arms, naturally, lift one arm at a time).
Raise your arms until your hands are in line with your shoulders – if you raise them higher, you won’t be putting as much tension on the front head of the deltoid – and slowly lower your arms back down to their starting position.
If you find you’re struggling to complete the last few repetitions, you can use some bounce from your knees to help give you an extra bit of momentum. But ultimately, it is best avoided in order to place as much tension as possible on the shoulders.
Sets: 4 sets with 10-12 reps per set (10 – 12 each side if alternating)
Tempo: 2 seconds up, 2 seconds down
Overhead Push Press
Another of the best shoulder exercises for men is the overhead press. This shoulder exercise will ultimately help you to build much bigger shoulders. However, as we all know, the key to really seeing an increase in size is to lift heavier weights, but with a standalone overhead press, this can be tricky (and best avoided).
To help push heavier weight above your head, you can perform a push press, which sees your knees bent, and using your legs to literally help push the weight up. The overhead push press also helps to strengthen your rotator cuff – a group of muscles and tendons that surround and support the shoulder joint – which will help you to lift heavier and heavier weights in the future.
Put simply, it’s one of the best shoulder exercises for men.
How to perform this shoulder exercise: You can perform the overhead push press using either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells. The former will be slightly easier because the weight is spread equally between your shoulders, whereas dumbbells introduce an added requirement for stability, as you’re using free weights.
If using a barbell, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and hold the barbell in your fingers with your elbows facing forwards, similar to if you were going to perform a front squat. Then, you will want to squat down slightly with your knees bent and push back up through your heels.
As you push up, launch the barbell up above your head so that your arms are straight. Bring the bar back to your chest and repeat in fluid motion.
If you choose to use dumbbells, take a dumbbell in each hand, start with them over your shoulders with a natural grip – palms facing in – and perform the move in the same way. Squat, push, return.
Sets: 3 to 4 sets with 8 to 10 reps per set
Tempo: Slow and controlled, but ensuring the entire movement is kept fluid.
Cable Face Pull
The cable face pull is one of the most underrated, yet one of the best shoulder exercises for men to include in their program. Why? Because it targets your trap muscles and other areas of the upper back, adding all round strength and stability to your upper body.
It also makes a refreshing change from all those shoulder exercises that rely on presses and raises, and because you engage your core, back and it’s performed from a standing position, you’ll likely find you can pull a greater weight than you’d first assume.
How to perform: Head on over to the cable machine, attach the double rope attachment and set the pulley to be roughly in line with your head – any higher and you won’t engage the rear delts as much as you’d want to.
Start with the weight set light so that you can get the technique right. Grasp the rope with palms facing down and your arms straight. Adopt a split stance (one foot in front of the other) if you don’t have amazing balance, but ideally, you’ll want to be standing with your feet in line with one another. Next pull the rope towards your face, bending the elbows out wide and ensuring the rope remains at eye level throughout the duration of the movement.
Some people may pull the rope so that their hands pretty much meet the ears. However, it’s often claimed a more beneficial way to perform the cable face pull is to rotate your forearms so that they are at right angles at the end of the movement, with your upper arms parallel with the floor.
Pull the rope back far, so that your hands go behind your head, in line with your ears, making sure you don’t lean your head forward. Keep an upright upper body throughout to maximise the amount of tension you place on your shoulder muscles.
Return the rope slowly back to the starting position, with your arms straight, and repeat.
Sets: 3 to 5 sets with 10-12 reps per set
Tempo: Incredibly slow and controlled for the entire movement.
Chest Supported Dumbbell Row
Unlike the upright row, the chest supported dumbbell row could be seen as more of an upper back exercise.
While it’s certainly true that it does target the upper back, it deserves a spot on this list of best shoulder exercises because as its name suggests, it works the rear deltoid muscles, which are found on the back of the shoulders.
You can perform the chest supported dumbbell row without the use of an incline bench, although this would be more of a bent over row instead. The addition of the incline bench allows you to better isolate the target muscles because you’re employing the use of your chest or core to stabilise yourself.
How to perform: Start with an incline bench set between a 45 and 60-degree angle. Take a dumbbell in each hand – the aim here is to row a heavier weight than what you would use in an overhead press, but it’s always best to start light to understand the exercise – and lie with your front on the bench and arms hanging down.
Lockdown your shoulder blades and row – or pull – the dumbbells up. Rather than pull them so that you’re essentially shrugging your shoulders, you want to instead aim to draw the dumbbells towards your hips. Make sure you keep your elbows as close to your body as possible throughout the movement, and when the dumbbells reach your hips, and your elbows are extended past your back, squeeze and hold for a second or two.
Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position to complete one rep.
Sets: 3 sets with 10 – 12 reps per set
Tempo: 3 seconds up, 2 seconds down
Push-ups are one of the most efficient, effective and best shoulder exercises for men (and will target your chest muscles in the process, too). You can perform a standard push-up pretty much anywhere, but there are some variations that may require extra equipment.
How to perform this shoulder exercise:
To perform an effective push-up, get yourself into a position on the floor with your arms straight and you’re on your toes. Tuck in your pelvis so that your core is braced, keeping your back straight at the same time. If you can do these in front of a mirror to check your form, you’ll soon see the benefit.
Lower your chest to the ground, keeping your elbows close to your body. It’s ok if they flare out a little bit, but you don’t want to end up with them being at right angles to your upper body.
Inhale as you lower yourself, and exhale as you push up to your starting position when your arms are straight.
Sets: 3 to 4 sets with maximum reps to failure
Tempo: Slower is better, but ultimately you want to ensure your form is perfect.
Barbell Overhead Carry
The barbell overhead carry is a great exercise because it puts your body under a lot of tension and helps your shoulders develop and become stronger. What’s better is that the exercise doesn’t only improve your physical strength, but also your mental toughness.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Load the barbell with about 60-80% of the overhead press one-rep max. Then, put your hands a bit wider than shoulder-width. Continue by pressing the barbell overhead, and place your biceps behind your ears.
Next, unrack the barbell, turn around, and take very slow and deliberate steps. Walk for around 20-40 yards. Rack the barbell, take a break, and then repeat the movement.
Sets: 4 sets of 1 overhead carry
Tempo: 20-30 seconds per set, 30-second break
Single-Arm Cable Front Raise
If you want to make your shoulders significantly stronger, you should consider this cable exercise. In order to do it correctly and see results, you should take the right pose and make sure you do enough sets. You’ll have to take care of one arm at a time, so be ready to switch from one to another as you finish sets.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: While facing away from the pulley and having your D-handle in the right hand, keep your fist close to your body and down. Your left hand will sit on your left hip. Then, maintain a tight core and soft knees. Fully extend your right arm, and raise it until the fist is in line with your shoulder. Hold the pose for 1 second, and lower it afterward. This will count as one rep.
After completing the exercise for one arm, switch to the other and do the same movement.
Sets: 3-4 sets of 10 reps
Tempo: 1-second raise, 1-second return
3-Way Shoulder Raise
Sometimes, it’s best to push your shoulders even further, giving them a challenge. Doing this exercise can build your shoulder muscles and your strength, and you’ll notice an improvement very quickly if you do it regularly. You will need some dumbbells to perform it.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, then begin by lifting them laterally. Keep your arms straight, and make sure the dumbbells reach shoulder height.
At sides, take a brief pause, and then bring the dumbbells in front of you. Once again, your arms should be straight. Continue the movement until the dumbbells are close to meeting in the middle. Next, lift the dumbbells overhead while keeping the arms straight.
To come back down, reverse the sequence. Go from overhead to center and then out to sides, then back down.
Sets: 3 sets with 10 reps each
Tempo: 10 seconds per set
This exercise will look funny at first and it will almost seem like it won’t have any effect on your shoulders. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. If you add this exercise to your workouts, you’ll notice some improvements in your shoulder strength over time.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Get on all fours to begin the exercise. Put your hands beneath your shoulders and keep your knees on the ground. Take a deep inhale, and while pushing your shoulder blades and hips back, drop your chest. This will put you into a cow position.
Then, lift your chest and chin, and look forward. Continue by exhaling, then by drawing your belly button to the spine. Round your back toward your ceiling. It will transform you into a cat this time.
Sets: 4-5 sets of 10 reps
Tempo: 6-7 seconds per rep
For this exercise, you need to use dumbbells. What’s great about these dumbbell exercises is that they may look simple, but they can improve your shoulders. So, if you have a free spot in your workout schedule, fill it with the spellcaster exercise and you will see the results.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Take a dumbbell and hold one in each hand. Then, keep your legs wide while slightly bending your knees. While swinging both dumbbells to one side, lift both of them up. It should resemble the act of drawing a circle, only that it won’t be on paper, but in the air, from hip level to above your shoulder height.
Now, swing both weights to the other side, place them next to your hip, and raise them once again. Repeat this movement several times.
Sets: 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps each
Tempo: 4-5 seconds per rep
Hearing about this exercise for the first time may shock you. After all, an exercise with this name or with this movement doesn’t seem like it would do a lot, especially when you’re trying to grow your shoulder muscles. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t underestimate it. When done correctly, it will have the effect you desire.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Take a standing pose, with your legs straight. Then, put your hands on the floor while making sure your legs are straight. Walk your hands out and keep your legs as straight as you can in the meantime.
Moving on, you will walk your feet back to your hands with very short steps from your ankles. Repeat this motion several times, and in time, you will begin to feel its effect on your shoulders.
Sets: 4-5 sets of 10-15 reps
Tempo: 5-6 seconds per rep
Half-Kneeling Landmine Press
If you do not have enough mobility in your shoulders, the half-kneeling landmine press is here to save the day. This exercise combines horizontal and vertical movements to ensure you make your shoulders stronger. On top of that, if you’ve experienced any shoulder injury recently, this exercise can be used as a transformed overhead press.
Obviously, you’d need overhead lifting clearing by a doctor first, but if you’re cleared, you can do it safely.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Begin by getting into a half-kneeling position and make sure you have a barbell in front of you. Meanwhile, your knee should be underneath your hip, while your ankle should be underneath your knee.
Now, keep the barbell at shoulder height in the hand closest to your back leg. Grip the barbell actively, then press up at around 45 degrees. Try to reach toward the ceiling nearing the lockout’s end. Then, lower down slowly, and do it again.
Sets: 3-4 sets with 10 reps
Tempo: 4-5 seconds per rep, 2-3-second return
Seated Barbell Press
The seated barbell press is one of the most popular exercises that you can perform for your shoulders. Using the barbell, you can build very strong shoulders. However, if dumbbells are not for you and you prefer something else, you can always go for the barbell instead.
You can do different variations of the exercise for shoulder development. For instance, you can do a Smith machine shoulder press, seated military press, machine shoulder press, or Smith machine behind-the-neck press.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Sit on a bench and hold a barbell in front of your shoulders. Use an overhand grip for this. Then, press the weight of the barbell up above your head. Do it until your arms extend fully. In the end, return to the initial position slowly.
Sets: 3 sets of 10 reps
Tempo: 4-5 seconds per rep, 4-second return
This exercise is great for the shoulders, especially if you do it frequently. These workouts can be a bit challenging in the beginning, but they will get easier and easier with time. Make sure to mix this exercise with your other shoulder workouts to see the best results.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Make sure you have a TRX in front of you. Then, grab the handles with your hands, and lean backward. Your feet should ideally be in front of you from the right position. On top of that, there should be some tension felt in the straps as well.
Make sure to maintain a straight body and engage your core. Then, pull your chest forward and raise your arms simultaneously in a Y shape. End the exercise by going back to the start position. Repeat it several times.
Sets: 4-5 sets of 10 reps
Tempo: 5-6 seconds per rep, 2-second return
Are you ready for something a little bit different? While this exercise looks simple, it can help your shoulders tremendously. All you need is a kettlebell or a dumbbell to perform it. When used as part of a more complex workout, it can give your shoulders an extra push toward improvement.
How to Perform This Shoulder Exercise: Take your kettlebell or dumbbell and hold it in one hand. Then, keep it either with your elbow bent to get it near your face, or overhead. Make sure your shoulder blades pull down and back. At the same time, your wrist should be straight.
While walking 10 yards out and 10 yards back, fire your glutes. Then, switch your hands and repeat the movement.
Sets: 3-4 sets of 5 reps each
Tempo: 15 seconds per rep
There you have it, the best shoulder exercises for men.