Pikx by panther

12 Best Shoulder Exercises for Men

More than simply a fundamental component to a complete workout routine, the best shoulder exercises bring you one step closer to that desirable V-shape. For men,  strengthening your delts can give you the appearance of a slimmer waist while adding definition to your overall physique, but the benefits don’t stop there. Studies have shown that engaging in shoulder workouts can help relieve pain (1) and decrease the possibility of future dislocations. When all is said and done, you want a better body and that alone is enough reason to hop on board.

In this Shoulder Exercises article…

Encyclopedia britannica

Shoulder anatomy | Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

What are Your Shoulder Muscles?

Should shoulder exercises be new to your workout regiment, you’ll soon discover that these muscles develop rather quickly compared to other areas of your body. Don’t take that to mean shoulder exercises are easy, however. Plenty of gym junkies dread shoulder day at the gym, as the workout can get quite intense…presuming you’re doing it properly. To ensure as much, we’ll take you through the best shoulder exercises for men, but first, let’s figure out what shoulder muscles are.

Your shoulder muscles break down into two separate groups (2): extrinsic muscles and intrinsic muscles. The former starts at the torso and links to the shoulder bones, while the latter start above the upper torso (scapula, clavicle) and connect with the humerus. Within both of these respective groups, you have a range of specific muscles. They are as follows:

Extrinsic Shoulder Muscles

  • Trapezius – Shaped like a triangle (hence the name), these shoulder muscles run down the spine and across the shoulder blade, supporting your arm and shoulder when you raise it. You have a trapezius muscle on both your left and right side. (3)
  • Latissimus Dorsi -The name of this muscle translates to “broadest muscle in the back” and its physical structure duly abides. More commonly known as your “lat” muscle, it helps with the extension and internal rotation of each arm.
  • Levator Scapulae -As its name suggests, the levator scapulae muscle helps lift the scapula bone (shoulder bone), which connects the humerus (upper arm bone) and clavicle (collarbone). (4)
  • Rhomboids – These rhombus-shaped muscles are primarily responsible for the retraction of the scapula. They’re located in the middle of your shoulder blades on your upper back, and divided between left and right.

Intrinsic Shoulder Muscles

  • Deltoids – Named for the Greek letter delta, this triangle-shaped muscle is located atop the shoulder. It breaks down into three main muscle fibres: anterior, middle, and posterior, which are all connected by way of a thick tendon. The very fact that shoulder exercises are more or less synonymous with working out your “delts” just goes to show how important this muscle actually is. Accordingly, your delts provide a foundation for things like arm rotation and injury prevention. (5)
  • Teres Major – This small muscle runs from under the shoulder joint toward the back of the armpit. (6) Due to its association with the latissimus dorsi, teres major has earned the nickname “lat’s little helper.”
  • Rotator Cuff – If you’re wondering why your upper arm bone doesn’t pop out of your shoulder socket on a regular basis, you have this group of muscles and tendons to thank. Unsurprisingly, rotator cuff muscles surround the shoulder joint.

Best Shoulder Exercises

Now that we’ve gone all “Gray’s Anatomy” on your shoulder muscles, it’s time to put those same muscles to work. From dumbbell shoulder press workouts to reverse cable crossovers, you’ll find all the shoulder exercises you need below. One thing to be aware of: shoulder complaints are one of the most commons reasons for a trip to the physio. The shoulder is a complex joint and must be respected, so take care with your form, don’t lift unsafe amounts of weight, and check in with a health professional if you experience shoulder pain that doesn’t go away after a week or so of rest.

Another quick note: if you’re looking to do a shoulder workout for mass, you’ll want to start each routine with the most intense exercises. Without further ado, here are the best shoulder exercises for men.

1 barbell overhead shoulder press

Barbell overhead shoulder press | Image: Bodybuilding.com

1. Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press

A barbell overhead shoulder press (aka barbell standing shoulder press) works not just your shoulders, but most of your body. That makes it a terrific core strengthener and mass builder, among other things. To start,

  1. Put your feet at shoulder-width, and engage your core and glutes as you hold a barbell at your shoulders, palms facing forward.
  2. Next, push the bar upward and squeeze your shoulder blades together at the peak.
  3. Lower steadily and carefully.
  4. At no point should your lower back arch — keep your core engaged to stop this happening.
2 seated dumbbell shoulder press

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press | Image: Bodybuilding.com

2. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

A proper deltoid workout simply isn’t complete without the seated dumbbell shoulder press. In fact, some say these shoulder workouts with dumbbells are an entire deltoid regimen unto itself, targeting the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid muscles (with an emphasis on the middle delts). Meanwhile, lifting two separate dumbbells (as opposed to using a machine) prevents you from using one side of your body over the other, thereby retaining firmer balance and distribution. Naturally, a fair amount of coordination is required to pull this one off, especially when you increase the weights.

To perform a seated dumbbell shoulder press,

  1. Sit on a low-back bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level, palms facing forward.
  2. Keeping your head and spine perfectly straight, lift the dumbbells overhead toward one another, stopping just short of having them touch at the top.
  3. Hold the position for a few seconds and then carefully reverse course. Repeat.
  4. Again, it’s important to keep your core engaged during this movement — your lower back shouldn’t arch.
3 front raise je fit

Front Raise | Image: JE Fit

3. Front Raise

You can use either a weight plate or barbell for this shoulder workout, which targets the anterior delts. No matter what you decide to use, prepare for a seriously intense time with one of the best shoulder workouts for mass. Don’t max out on the weight, as it will quickly turn healthy pain into unhealthy injury.

To execute,

  1. Keep your hands at hip height as you hold the weight in front of you.
  2. Your feet should be even with your shoulders and your core should be tight.
  3. Next, retract your shoulder blades and keep your arms straight as you lift the weight to shoulder level.
  4. Breathe steadily and lower the weight carefully.
  5. Repeat.
4 reverse pec deck fly bodybuilding

Reverse Pec Deck Fly | Image: Bodybuilding.com

4. Reverse Pec Deck Fly

This shoulder exercise targets your posterior delts and requires a pec deck machine. It’s also the perfect chest, back and shoulder workout for building mass. To start;

  1. Face the machine, and position the seat so that the handles are at shoulder level on either side.
  2. Next, hold the handles with your palms facing inward.
  3. Tighten your torso and extend your arms out to the side, pushing through all the way.
  4. Responsibly return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat.
5 bent over dumbbell lateral raise koboxing forum

Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise | Image: Koboxing Forum

5. Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise

This wildly effective full shoulder workout targets your middle deltoids, though it also builds upon your overall physique. You can perform it in either a standing (bent-over) or seated position.

  1. Start with a dumbbell in each hand (not so heavy you can’t control the weight during the movement), keeping your chest up, your back flat, your knees slightly bent, and your eyes focussed toward a fixed point on the floor.
  2. Now, bend over until your core is basically parallel with the ground, and hang the dumbbells directly underneath you, all while keeping your elbows in a slightly bent position.
  3. Next, raise both dumbbells up and out to your sides, forming an arc until your upper arms are even with your torso.
  4. Take a brief pause at the top before lowering the dumbbells back into starting position.
  5. Repeat.
6 dumbbell lateral raise

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

6. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

If you prefer a more traditional lateral raise, look no further than this full shoulder workout. It likewise targets the middle deltoids and works wonders when executed properly.

  1. Start in the standing position, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, your abs tight, your chest up, your head straight, and your shoulders pinched. Hold the dumbbells at either side, retaining a neutral grip.
  2. Now, here comes the hard part. Using just your shoulders and arms, raise the dumbbells a notch above shoulder level.
  3. Hold for a moment.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position — with control. Don’t let them just drop to your sides.
  5. Repeat.

Your elbows and hands should be moving together in harmony the entire time, and you should be maintaining a neutral, balanced position. If you find that your core or neck is shifting as you perform each rep (i.e. you’re utilising your body’s momentum), lower the weight accordingly.

7 push up

Standard Push-Up variation

7. Push Up

Arguably the simplest shoulder exercise out there, push-ups remain one of the most effective to add to your arsenal. The fundamental move can be performed practically anywhere and requires no outside equipment. Importantly, there is more than one way to do a push-up and each variation has its specific benefits. Here are the best push-up variations for your shoulders:

  • Standard Push-Up – The standard push-up is an exercise you may have performed hundreds of times before, generally when attempting a chest exercise, but the movement has some major foundational benefits for your shoulders. To perform, simply get on all fours, extends your legs backwards and lower your upper body into a flat-back position. Using the joint of your elbow as a pivot point, slowly lower yourself to the ground before pressing your body in an upwards motion. For more information on how to do a perfect push-up, check out our full guide.
  • Diamond Push-Up – A step above the regular. A diamond push-up involves placing your close together in front of your face during the starting position, making a diamond shape. From here, the stress is more on your outer arm, working the lateral deltoid.
  • Wide Stance Push-Up – In this variation, you extend your hands wider apart, placing more emphasis on pectoral muscles and inner shoulder muscles.
  • Incline Push-Up – Using a bench, simply elevate your legs to create greater downforce. This variation will place more stress on your front deltoids.
  • Pike Push-Up – A favourite of the F45 gang, the Pike Push-up sees you elevate your legs and assume an inverted V-shape. This movement places intense stress on the front deltoids and pectoral muscles, creating a more overall workout of the shoulder region.
Push press

Push press

8. Push Press

A staple of heavy-compound workouts, this shoulder exercise is not for novices. However, even the experts usually start light (sometimes using nothing but the bar), adding weight as they go along. Should you master this one, prepare for it to show virtually everywhere on your body. The push press should be performed in the standing position.

  1. Start by resting the barbell atop your upper chest, with your palms up, your elbows pointed out, and your upper arms parallel to the floor.
  2. Lower your hips and bend your knees into a quarter squat and then rise upwards with ample thrust, fully extending your arms and elbows as you lift the bar over your head.
  3. Hold for a moment before returning to the starting position for the next rep.
  4. Keep your core and glutes engaged, especially at the top of the movement, to protect your lower back.
8 reverse cable crossover

Reverse Cable Crossover

9. Reverse Cable Crossover

You’ll need to attach D-handles to the upper pulley of two cable machines for this popular shoulder gym exercise.

  1. Grab the handle from the machine on your right using your left hand, and vice versa.
  2. Draw the cables in so that they form a cross on your chest, keeping your elbows fixed and your arms even with your shoulders.
  3. Slightly lean forward before lifting the weights on each respective machine in a cross-like fashion, stretching your arms as far as the cables go before bringing them in.
  4. If possible, increase the weight with each subsequent set.
9 one arm cable lateral raise bodybuilding

One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise | Image: Bodybuilding.com

10. One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise

Similar to the reverse cable crossover, this shoulder exercise targets the middle deltoid muscles and delivers ample tension. To start,

  1. Stand sideways to the cable machine, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart. Using the hand that’s opposite the pulley, grab the D-handle.
  2. With your abs tight and your shoulders back, raise the cable using just the motion of your arms and shoulders.
  3. Take your arm just past shoulder level and hold for a few seconds before slowly returning to the original position.
  4. Repeat as necessary and then switch sides. Your hand and elbow should move in conjunction with one another the entire time.
10 standing barbell shrugs bodybuilding

Standing Barbell Shrugs

11. Standing Barbell Shrugs

Save this neck and shoulder exercise for the end of your overall routine. This is an advanced exercise, so focus on the basics if you’re a beginner before working up to this movement.

  1. Keeping your feet even with your shoulders, bend your knees and pick up the barbell, bringing it to waist level.
  2. Next, lift your shoulders up and back (i.e. “shrug” or pinch them), squeezing for about five seconds before releasing them.
  3. Keep the movements restricted to your shoulders, meaning your arms should be relatively loose and the barbell should only raise and lower very slightly.
12 cable face pulls

Cable Face Pulls

12. Cable Face Pulls

Another shoulder exercise that requires the use of the cable muscle, Face Pulls are important in creating a well-developed back and rear deltoid physique. The movement, while simple, targets your posterior deltoids and trapezius, while also adding further stress to the main components of your shoulders. To complete Cable Face Pulls:

  1. Stand facing the cable machine
  2. Set the cable framework to around eye height
  3. Using the rope connection, clutch each end and raise your arms to shoulder height
  4. Bring your elbows in and pull the cable towards your face
  5. Hold and tense your back
  6. Release slowly
  7. Repeat

You’ll also like:
Pelvic Floor Workout: The Best Kegel Exercise for Men
10 Best Core Exercises for Men
Chris Hemsworth’s Thor Diet & Workout Plan
10 Best Chest Exercises for Men

General FAQ

What are the best exercises for shoulders?

Some of the best shoulder exercises for men are as follows: barbell overhead shoulder press, seated dumbbell shoulder press, front raise, reverse pec deck fly, bent-over dumbbell lateral raise, and others.

How can I increase my shoulder size?

To increase your shoulder size, focus on the deltoids but practice a full range of exercises. Take little rest between sets and be sure to include some of the following exercises: overhead shoulder press/push press, seated rear lateral raise, face pulls, barbell shrugs, dumbbell front raise, and others.

Last medically reviewed on 19 June 2022

Citations

  1. The effectiveness of therapeutic exercise for painful shoulder conditions: a meta-analysis”. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. September 5, 2011.
  2. Valenzuela M, Varacallo M. StatPearls (Internet). StatPearls Publishing; Treasure Island (FL): Sep 18, 2021. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Hand Lumbrical Muscles
  3. Rockwood, Charles A. (January 1, 2009). The Shoulder. ISBN 978-1416034278.
  4. Brand, R. A. (2008). “Origin and Comparative Anatomy of the Pectoral Limb“. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 466 (3): 531–42. doi:10.1007/s11999-007-0102-6. PMC 2505211. PMID 18264841.
  5. Cleveland Clinics (Internet). Deltoid Muscles: What Are They, Anatomy, Location & Function, Accessed 11/7/2022.
  6. Dave HD, Shook M, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Skeletal Muscle. (Updated 2020 Sep 22). In: StatPearls (Internet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 11/7/2022.
STAFF WRITER

Jacob Osborn

Jacob Osborn is an accomplished author and journalist with over 10 years of experience in the media industry. Jacob holds a Bachelor's degree in English and Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin--Madison and has previously written for Stacker alongside co-authoring a Young Adult novel through Simon & Schuster. Now based in Portland, Oregon, Jacob specialises in entertainment, technology and alcohol reporting. You might find him crate-digging at the nearest record store or sampling whisky at the nearest bar. He daydreams of travelling around the world, but for now, the world will have to come to him by way of lifestyle products, gear, gadgetry, and entertainment. Let's call it a happy compromise while he saves up for the next big trip.