Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

Our shoulders are the most extremely mobile part of our body, compared to our ball-and-socket joint areas such as our knees or elbows. This helps our shoulders move upwards, sideways, backward, or in any direction. 

Training shoulders usually mean the deltoids or simply “delts.” Our external shoulder also consists of three main parts or deltoid muscles namely, the anterior deltoids (front shoulder), the posterior deltoid head (back or rear deltoids), and the lateral deltoid head (side shoulder).

When doing a shoulder workout, it’s important to target these areas, along with isolation movements that focus on a specific muscle. Doing this can be useful for daily function and aesthetics.

Having well-developed shoulders allows you to build a muscular physique. They give you a full, dense look, and are essential for building a V-taper body. One of the best ways to achieve this or gain serious shoulder mass is by doing dumbbell shoulder exercises. 

In this article, we gathered the best shoulder exercises to help you gain shoulder mass. We also included some tips on how to execute these shoulder exercises into your training routine.

Without further ado, here is a list of dumbbell shoulder exercises:

Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

One of the best exercises when building shoulder strength and mass is the dumbbell shoulder press. Shoulder presses use multiple shoulder muscles at the same time, allowing you to lift a huge amount of weight. Mainly, the dumbbell shoulder press marks the triceps and the anterior deltoids.

This dumbbell shoulder workout can be done either standing or sitting. However, the sitting version is more suitable for building shoulder mass. By using the legs and swaying the lower back, this version will take out any supportive speed earned. 

To achieve muscle growth, the most common repetition range is from eight to 12 reps. When doing the dumbbell shoulder press, one common mistake that individuals make is using very heavyweights, which is not appropriate since the shoulder is a mobile joint. Instead, the shoulder requires you to work harder to stabilize the arm, increasing injury prevention.

How to do it:

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and choose a dumbbell with a suitable weight for your required number of repetitions. Raise each weight up. Let the dumbbells sit on your shoulders or above it with your palms facing forwards.

Push the weight up above the head, and touch the dumbbells together above your head. Then, lower down the weight back until the dumbbells sit back on your shoulders. 

Make sure you do full reps, all the way up and back down. More muscle fibers will be used when the range of motion is greater. This will give your shoulders more significant muscle growth. 

Repeat the steps for your chosen number of sets and reps. As much as possible, keep the weight the same throughout your whole exercise.

2. Dumbbell Front Raise

Another perfect exercise to build mass is the dumbbell front shoulder raise. This shoulder workout mainly targets the front shoulders or the anterior delts. 

The dumbbell front raise is an isolation exercise since it primarily works the front head of the shoulder. More pressure or load is placed on a certain body part, so isolation exercises might require lighter weights. Therefore, you can add more reps with the use of lighter weights, from 10 to 12 reps.

However, avoid momentum or swinging with this shoulder workout. To do the work, you must engage with your shoulder muscles and each rep must be controlled. 

How to do it:

To do the dumbbell front raise, stand tall while holding a set of dumbbells against your thighs with your palms facing you.

Raise one dumbbell in front of you at a time, so the dumbbell will come just above your shoulder line and parallel to the following.

Keep your arms straight, but the elbows soft and your palms facing toward the floor. Meanwhile, your opposite arm should be resting against the thigh.

Hold the dumbbell at the top for a second, then slowly lower back down. Then, raise the other arm and repeat the sequence.

Strive for 10 to 15 reps per arm.

3. Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

The dumbbell side lateral raise is a shoulder workout that functions the side of the shoulder. The lateral head is one of the shoulder muscles that give the exceptional appearance of shoulder width. This muscle is also formed through shoulder abduction, which is by moving the arm away from the body.

This shoulder exercise works well when used with medium to light weights for higher reps. Side lateral raises can be challenging with heavier weights, so you might want to concentrate on muscle growth instead of increasing the weight of your dumbbells.

The dumbbell lateral raise can be accomplished by standing or sitting. However, the sitting position is more beneficial since it diminishes the use of your lower back. This allows your shoulder to work harder.

How to do it:

Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Sit on a chair with your palms facing inwards, next to your thighs. 

Lift your arms to the side, so your knuckles are parallel with your shoulders. While you dumbbells in line to the floor. Keep this position at the top for a second, then gradually lower the weight back down to the starting position.

Concentrate on the shoulder head doing the work, since it is easy for the shoulder muscles to take some of the pressure. This halts the lateral head, declining the amount of muscle growth.

For the standing version of the shoulder workout, deem the same standing position as the front raises. Instead, with hands at the side.

Make it a goal for two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

4. Dumbbell Bent-over Raise

One-shoulder exercise that targets the posterior delts or the back of the shoulder is the dumbbell bent-over raise. Most people will find it formless, unlike other shoulder parts. Regardless, this shoulder workout is accountable for giving you a large, rounded appearance.

To achieve more defined shoulders with large muscle mass, include your posterior delts. Like the side and front raise, this shoulder exercise can be accomplished by standing or sitting. This can also be done with lighter weights and higher reps. 

As mentioned, this exercise cannot be done with heavier weights at first since the posterior delts are underdeveloped.

How to do it:

For the standing version, maintain your lower back straight and fold your body over. This will keep your torso above in line with the floor. Put your head in a neutral position and refrain your neck from extending upwards.

Your arms should be down in front of you, your weights in hand, and palms meeting each other. Your elbows should be relaxed with a very slight bend.

Engage the rear delts. Pull your elbows up toward the ceiling in a reverse-fly motion. The dumbbells should end up close in line with the floor with your palms facing the floor.

Rely on momentum and avoid bouncing your torso. Keep the core engaged throughout the movement.

Strive for two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.

5. Dumbbell upright row

The dumbbell upright row is a shoulder exercise that targets your traps. This shoulder workout will depend on how narrow or wide you keep your elbows during the movement. The closer you keep your hands together, the more effective the exercise will work on your traps.

On the other hand, the broader you maintain them, the more it works on the side delts of your shoulders. This workout is compound, letting you use heavier weights.

How to do it:

Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Stand up straight with the dumbbells resting on the front of your thighs, outside your hips, and with your palms facing downwards.

Immerse your shoulders muscles on the side and lift the hands and elbows upwards. Keep the palms facing the floor.

The weights in your hands should be parallel with your shoulders facing forward. This should be done at the top of the movement and when your muscles are fully tightened. There should also be a 90-degree bend from the elbow to the shoulder.

Keep this position for a second, then gradually return to the starting position. To work the shoulders more, keep the dumbbells closer together inside your thighs. 

Aim for three sets of 8 to 12 reps.

6. Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs

The dumbbell shoulder shrug is one of the best shoulder workouts for those who want to develop their neck and traps. A shoulder shrug is moderately easy to perform, but it’s still essential to have form and technique.

One common error people make during this dumbbell shoulder workout is choosing a really heavyweight and disregarding a full range of motion, which is one of the most vital aspects of shoulder training.

How to do it:

Grab a dumbbell in each hand and carry the weights outside the hips, by the side of your thighs. 

Keep your arms extended with the elbows relaxed and not locked out. Raise the dumbbells up as high as you can with your traps by shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears.

Before lowering them back down to the starting position, hold them first for a second and gradually lower down.

Avoid pushing your head forwards, which is a common misstep done by people. This error can make it less effective and shorten the movement.

Engage with your core and repeat. Strive for two to three sets of 8 to 12 reps for optimal mass growth.

7. Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press

The barbell overhead shoulder press is also one of the best shoulder exercises to build shoulder mass and strength. 

In case you’re recovering from a shoulder injury or don’t own a barbell, using dumbbells is a great alternative. However, we don’t recommend you to do this as a seated dumbbell shoulder press.

One common misconception about this shoulder exercise is that you should take the legs out by sitting. As a result, you wind up driving more into your legs and knees to press your head back into the bench. This creates a counterforce and causes you to push the dumbbells up overhead.

In the end, this interferes with the normal scapular-humeral rhythm of your arm by pressing your shoulder blades into the bench. This also creates a “cheat” in the form of added stability from the use of the bench.

In simple terms, this exercise is more appropriately done in a standing position.

How to do it:

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grab two dumbbells at shoulder height with palms facing toward each other. Lift both weights, ending with arms extended overhead. Then, gradually return to the starting position.

This workout allows you to get your elbows out in front of your body into the scapular plane. This allows you to safely press overhead while preventing shoulder injury.

If ever you want to add more challenge to this exercise, switch to lighter weights than barbells. Another important thing to remember is to have a goal of progressive overload when using dumbbells. Otherwise, you won’t receive the same results with the use of a barbell.

Pump Up Your Shoulders with Dumbbell Exercises!

Our shoulders are the most extremely mobile part of our body, compared to our knees or elbows. However, doing shoulder exercises with dumbbells can help you build shoulder strength and mass.

Having well-developed shoulders allows you to build a muscular physique. They give you a full, dense look, and are essential for building a V-taper body. We gathered some of the best shoulder workouts to add to your routine and help you achieve your fitness goals. 

If you liked this article, you might want to read our other articles at ExpertFitness.org.

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Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.