Shoulder Exercises for Strength and Flexibility

1
Lateral Raises - Bent Arm

Paige Waehner

The bent-arm lateral raise is an excellent move to work the shoulder muscles, specifically the middle part of the deltoid. It also involves the other parts of the shoulder (front and back deltoids) as well as the traps (upper part of the back). By sitting on an unstable surface, as shown in this version, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise. For even more intensity, you can do this exercise standing on one leg.

  1. Sit on a ball or chair holding weights in each hand, elbows bent at 90 degrees and abs contracted.
  2. Keep the elbows bent, lift the arms out to the sides to shoulder level.
  3. Lower back to start and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Tips

  • Keep the back straight and the abs contracted throughout the movement.
  • Keep the elbows at 90 degrees the entire time. At the top of the movement, think of pouring a pitcher of water and really contract the shoulders.

2
Lateral Raises

Paige Waehner

This version of the lateral raise is a bit more challenging than the bent-arm version shown previously because the arms are straight. Whenever you have a longer lever to work with, you increase the difficulty of the exercise, which means you may not be able to use as much weight as with the bent-arm version. The key to doing this move correctly is to keep a slight bend in the elbows but to keep them pointing towards the back of the room rather than towards the floor, which is a common mistake. Think of leading with the elbows rather than the hands or wrists.

  1. Sit or stand and hold light-medium weights at the sides.
  2. Keeping a slight bend in the elbow, lift the arms out to the sides, stopping at shoulder level.
  3. Lower back to start and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Tips

  • Keep the back straight and the abs contracted throughout the movement.
  • Keep the wrists straight and the elbows just slightly bent.

3
Overhead Barbell Press

The overhead press is often a standard move in most routines because it hits every part of the shoulder with an emphasis on the front and middle part of the deltoid. This is also a tough exercise because you're pressing a weight over your head, so you may not be able to lift as much weight for this move as you do for other exercises. If you're using a heavy weight, you might want to sit on a chair or bench that has back support.

  1. Using a medium-heavy barbell, hold bar with hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Start by bringing the bar up to forehead level, elbows bent.
  3. Slowly press the weight overhead without arching the back--keep the abs in tight and don't lock the elbows at the top of the movement.
  4. Exhale and lower back to start.
  5. Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of 12-16 repetitions, with a 20-30 second rest between sets.

Tip

You might see people doing this exercise by bringing the weight behind the neck. This version can strain the rotator cuff muscles as well as the neck. Keeping the weight in front of the head will target the shoulder muscles more effectively without strain.

4
Overhead Press

Paige Waehner

In this version of overhead presses, you use dumbbells which will challenge each arm independently. You'll really feel a difference with this move as compared to barbell presses.

  1. Begin standing or sitting with elbows bent and weights next to the ears.
  2. Press the weights up over the head.
  3. Lower the weights, bringing the hands next to the ears and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Tips

  • Keep the abs engaged and don't arch the back as you press the weights up.
  • Try to keep the hands just slightly forward as you press up, rather than going straight overhead, which can contribute to arching the back.
  • If you're using heavy weight, try this exercise while seated on a bench with back support.

5
Alternating Overhead Press

Paige Waehner

This variation on the traditional overhead press offers variety and a different kind of challenge. By alternating the arms instead of pressing both up at the same time, you add challenge - one arm has to hold its position while you press up with the other arm and that makes the move more difficult. In addition, your abs and back will work hard to keep your body steady during this exercise, so you get the added bonus of core work.

  1. Begin standing or sitting with elbows bent and weights next to the ears.
  2. Press the right arm up overhead while keeping the left arm in place. Engage the abs to keep the rest of the body stable.
  3. Lower the right arm and, keeping it in place, press the left arm up overhead.
  4. Continue alternating for 10-16 reps (on each side) for 1-3 sets.
  5. Be sure to keep the movement slow and controlled to avoid using momentum.

Tips

  • Keep the abs engaged and don't arch the back as you press the weights up.
  • You may need to use lighter weights than in a traditional overhead press to maintain control.
  • If you're using heavy weight, try this exercise while seated on a bench with back support.

6
Arnold Press

Paige Waehner

Yet another variation of the traditional overhead press is the Arnold Press, which involves rotating the arms as you press them over the head. It seems like a small change, but it adds challenge to the exercise and is a great way to change your shoulder workouts. This move targets the front and side heads of the deltoid and also involve the triceps.

  1. Begin standing or sitting with elbows bent in front of the body, weights facing the chest.
  2. Rotate the hands out as you press the arms over the head.
  3. At the top of the movement, the palms should face out.
  4. Lower back down, rotating the hands back to starting position and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Tips

  • Keep the abs engaged and don't arch the back as you press the weights up.
  • If you're using heavy weight, try this exercise while seated on a bench with back support.

7
One Arm Overhead Press

Overhead Press - One Arm. Paige Waehner

Yet another variation of the traditional overhead press is one arm press, which adds a balance challenge and also involves the abs and back to help stabilize the body. This exercise is another way to change your shoulder workouts and to work both sides of the body independent of each other.

  1. Begin standing or sitting and hold a light-medium weight in the right hand.
  2. Begin the movement by bending the elbow and bringing the weight up so that it's just next to the right ear.
  3. Keep the abs engaged to stabilize the body as you press the weight over the head.
  4. Lower back down and repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps. Repeat the exercise with the left arm.

Tips

  • Keep the abs engaged and don't arch the back as you press the weight up.

8
External Rotation with Bands

Paige Waehner

Aside from working the deltoid muscles, you also want to include the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff. These small, internal muscles act as stabilizers and also help rotate the shoulders in an out. That rotation is a common action in many daily activities as well as during strength training exercises, such as the Arnold Press shown above. Keeping the rotators strong will help you remain injury free. If you have any shoulder problems, please check with your doctor before trying this exercise.

The rotators can be prone to injury, particularly if they're tight, so pay attention to that if you're doing this exercise. This move specifically targets the teres minor and infraspinatus.

  1. Loop a light resistance band around a sturdy object, threading one handle through the other and pulling it tight.
  2. Stand with left side facing the band, holding handle in right hand.
  3. Starting position is with elbow bent to 90 degrees, palm and forearm directly in front of the belly.
  4. Keeping the elbow bent, rotate the shoulder, bringing the forearm out to side. Work within your range of motion - you may not be able to take the arm all the way out.
  5. Rotate the forearm back in and repeat for 12-16 reps

Tips

  • Keep the elbow in a fixed position and the movement slow and controlled.
  • Avoid swinging the arm out too far - only go as far as your flexibility allows.
  • This is a small, subtle movement. Take your time and really feel what you're doing.

9
One-Arm Rear Delt Raises

Paige Waehner

This exercise targets the back part of the shoulder as well as the upper back. By doing this one arm at a time, you also challenge your core and balance. This variation also includes a side to side lunge, which adds more movement (and more muscles) to the exercise. For this move, you'll want to start with light weights to get your form down.

  1. Begin in a wide stance with weight in right hand and the left knee resting on the left upper thigh.
  2. Tip from the hips and bend torso forward, keeping the back flat and the abs in, weight hanging down towards the floor.
  3. Lunge to the right and, at the same time, bring the arm up to shoulder level, keeping the elbow slightly bent. Don't swing the weight, but use control to lift it.
  4. Lower the arm while lunging to the other side.
  5. Continue for 10-16 reps before switching sides.

Tips

  • Don't twist at the hips when bringing the weight up.
  • Bring the weight only to shoulder level, squeezing the upper back and rear shoulder.
  • Keep the movement slow and controlled and try not to use momentum.

10
Front Raise

Front Raise
Paige Waehner

Because the shoulder has three heads (the front, middle and rear deltoids), you want to choose exercises that target all three. The front raise targets the front deltoid although it does involve the other shoulder areas as well. For this move, you'll probably need lighter weights - your arms are straight, making this a long lever move and, therefore, more challenging.

  1. Hold light-medium weights with arms straight down, palms face the thighs.
  2. Slowly lift arms up to shoulder level keeping elbows slightly bent.
  3. Exhale and lower back down.
  4. This exercise can also be done with a light barbell or, if you're using heavier dumbbells, you can alternate arms.
  5. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 12-16 repetitions, with a 20-30 second rest between sets.

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