On the laundry list of things Michelle Obama has taught us, one is the importance of strong arms and shoulders. But fitness pros agree that shoulder exercises for this area of the upper body are often neglected by mainstream exercisers. The focus is more on cardio and strength training more obvious areas, such as the major arm and leg muscles.
What’s more, those who do shoulder exercises tend to focus too much on the front deltoids. They often neglect the medial and rear deltoids. According to Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., Houston-based dietitian, nutritionist, and founder of Eat Right Fitness, this can cause the front to be overdeveloped or overtrained, which can lead to an imbalance in how the shoulders move. To make sure you’re working out all areas of your shoulders to the max, we asked top workout pros to share their go-to shoulder exercises.
Lateral Squats to Overhead Press
You know the importance of squatting to build leg muscle. But it may not be the first exercise that comes to mind when considering combos to benefit your shoulders. Perform the exercise in conjunction with an overhead press. Doing so will work the medial deltoids of your shoulders as well as your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. “Since it is a compound movement, it will elevate your heart rate and burn more calories throughout the duration of your workout,” says Brooke Taylor, fitness instructor and creator of TF IGNITE and Taylored Fitness.
To start, hold a dumbbell of your choice at the height of your shoulders with your legs in a wide lateral position and your toes facing out. “Inhale to soften your knees into a nice wide squat. As you exhale, drive your heels and extend your arms overhead to press,” Taylor explains. “Inhale to lower, exhale to push. Use the power of your legs to initiate the movement.”
Stability Row to Overhead Press
If you really want to burn out the posterior and medial head of the shoulders, Taylor suggests adding this super combo to your workout regimen. “Start prone (on your belly) with a stability ball placed directly underneath your rib cage running down to your pubic bone, holding weights with your arms extended long on the sides of your rib cage,” she describes. “As you exhale, row your arms in toward your rib cage, retracting and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Then flip the palm to face parallel to the floor and extend to overhead press in that position.” Last, you’ll slowly lower your arms down while extended. Then swing them back in alignment underneath your shoulders to repeat the action.
Standing Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises
One of the best shoulder exercises for developing the medial deltoid is standing dumbbell side lateral raises with a slow negative, according to Dr. Adams. “The side deltoid gives you the V-taper and width to your torso that is so desirable, for both men and women,” he says.
To execute, he recommends holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides and standing with your feet about shoulder-width (knees slightly bent) apart. “Using a medium speed, raise the dumbbells to your sides, no higher than your shoulders. And then lower them slowly,” he says. “This is the key to this movement and really torching your side deltoids.” To reap the full benefits of this move, he suggests taking three seconds or more to lower your arms. “Not only will this give you greater control, but it will really develop your side deltoids. And give you a sculpted look even quicker,” he adds.
Dumbbell Fly to Forward Punch
If you want to target all your upper-body muscles at once, Ben Boudro, C.S.C.S., owner of Xceleration Fitness in Auburn Hills, Mich., recommends this shoulder exercise. “This move allows you to work both the back part of your shoulder blades and your triceps,” he explains. “As an added bonus, your core will be on fire at the same time. So you’ll score tight abs and sculpted shoulders.” To perform this move, he suggests starting with your feet hip-width distance apart and knees softly bent. Holding a dumbbell in each hand at your chest with palms facing each other, push the weights up and out overhead to form a “Y” with your body before lowering them back down to your chest. Punch both arms straight out in front of you and reverse to start. “That’s only one rep—keep goin’!” he adds.
Half Kneeling Windmill Press
“This is a great shoulder movement that also involves shoulder and core stability as well as helps improve hip and thoracic mobility,” says Mike Deibler, founder and owner of San Diego Premier Training in Carlsbad, California. To perform this drill, he recommends starting with your right knee down and left knee up. Next, take a kettlebell (or dumbbell) in your left hand and press overhead, turning your right foot slightly inward. While balancing the weight overhead, push your hips to the left and lower your torso to the right until you can place your hand on the floor. Then push back up to the start position. Lower the weight down to your shoulder and press back up. Repeat.
This isn’t a specific shoulder exercise but swimming is one of the best low-impact activities for all ages. It’s a great cardiovascular workout that gets your heart pumping blood throughout your body. It also significantly strengthens your muscles. “Swimming offers something no other aerobic exercise does. The ability to work all the major muscle groups without harsh impact to your skeletal system,” explains Jimmy Minardi, personal trainer and yoga instructor. “Unlike jogging or cycling, water is 12 times as dense as air. So you’re physically propelling yourself through the water. Plus, every kick and arm stroke becomes a resistance exercise, which is the best way to increase our overall fitness, strength, flexibility, [and] muscular endurance while resculpting your body.”
Add these shoulder exercises (and some swimming!) into your weekly strength training routines. These moves can be done as a set or added individually to your pre-existing shoulder training plan.