dumbbell shoulder exercises

15 Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises To Strengthen and Tone

Training your shoulder muscles is a crucial aspect of strength and conditioning, not only can it help you to build better-looking shoulder muscles, but it can also help you to improve your bench press, squats, and a whole host of exercises. As you can see there are many benefits of shoulder exercises.

In this article, we will be looking at 15 dumbbell shoulder exercises that you can add to your shoulder workout program today.

1. Seated dumbbell shoulder press

This is the most commonly performed dumbbell shoulder exercise, and with good cause. It’s an excellent upper body exercise to build big shoulders. Sit on an exercise bench that is set up so that your back is fully upright.

How to do it

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip with hands in line with your shoulders.
  • Take a deep breath and then drive the dumbbells up into the air in an arc so that they come together while directly over your head.
  • Pause, and then slowly return the dumbbells to shoulder height to complete the movement.

2. Dumbbell squat into a shoulder press

This is not only a great dumbbell shoulder exercise, but it is also an amazing fat-burning exercise and one that should fit nicely into any circuit workout. Perfect for conditioning.

How to do it

  • Start with a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight down by your sides.
  • Use a hammer curl to bring the weights up to shoulder height then squat down to at least parallel.
  • Drive-up explosively then as you reach fully upright, keep driving the dumbbells straight up into the air until your arms are almost fully extended.
  • Lower the weights back down to shoulder height, then squat down again to restart the movement.

3. Dumbbell shoulder shrug

Dumbbell shrugs are amazing for the trapezius muscles and are a great alternative to the barbell shoulder shrug. For this exercise, you will need to hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip. Stand fully upright with your chest pushed out and shoulder blades pulled back slightly.

How to do it

  • Keeping your arms straight and close to your sides, shrug your shoulders upwards until they are nearly touching your ears.
  • Hold the shrug momentarily, and then slowly lower them back down.
  • If you can’t shrug fully, then either the weights are too heavy or you’re too tired.

4. Dumbbell push press

This is a seriously good shoulder joint exercise and is similar to exercise #2 the dumbbell squat into a shoulder press. The big difference is that the push press is just a partial squat, and it is used to generate momentum allowing you to lift a heavier weight.

How to do it

  • Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold your dumbbells at shoulder height in a neutral grip. Bring your elbows that are pushed out in front of you.
  • Bend your knees slightly and then drive upwards, pushing the dumbbells up over your head as you do so.
  • Pause with both dumbbells directly above your head, then lower them back down to restart the movement.
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5. Single-arm dumbbell push press

This exercise is identical to exercise #4, except you only hold one dumbbell rather than a dumbbell in each hand. This allows you to lift a slightly heavier weight, and it also activates your core muscles more as you need to stay upright rather than leaning to the side.

6. Standing Dumbbell overhead press

The standing dumbbell overhead press is basically just an upright version of exercise #1. It is also similar to the push press but without the knee bends.

How to do it

  • Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand, and the dumbbells at shoulder height. Legs wide apart.
  • Your elbows can be flared outwards so that they are 45 degrees away from your sides.
  • Take a deep breath then drive the dumbbells upwards in an arc so that they finish directly above your head.
  • Breathe out while you do this.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the dumbbells back down to the original position.

7. Dumbbell neutral grip overhead press

The neutral grip overhead press is an excellent variation on the overhead press (exercise #6). This exercise is perfect for anyone with shoulder mobility issues who wants to increase their shoulder size. A great mass builder.

How to do it

  • Get into an upright standing position with a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip.
  • They should be in line with your shoulders and with your elbows pushed out in front of you.
  • Take a deep breath and then drive the dumbbells up into the air until your arms are almost fully extended.
  • Pause, and then lower them back down to the starting position.

8. Dumbbell forward raise

This is a great exercise for the front part of your deltoid and a classic gym staple. The main tip here is to avoid “bouncing” the weight. You need to be fully in control of the dumbbell throughout the movement. The exercise can be performed with both arms moving simultaneously, or with arms alternating. It doesn’t make any difference.

How to do it

  • Stand upright with chest pushed out and dumbbells in an overhand grip resting on your thighs.
  • Set your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a deep breath and then slowly raise the dumbbells to parallel, breathing out as you do so.
  • Pause when they are parallel, then lower them back down slowly.

9. Dumbbell lateral raises

This exercise targets the lateral deltoid muscles (also known as posterior deltoid), hence the name. As with the forward raise movement, you really want to be controlled and slow for each rep. Don’t bounce the weights.

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How to do it

  • Stand upright with chest pushed out.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, neutral grip, by your sides.
  • Take a deep breath and then raise your arms until they are parallel with the ground.
  • Pause, and then slowly lower the weights back down to your sides.

10. Single arm lateral raise

This is a fun variation of the two-handed lateral raise. You can perform it normally (upright and raising an arm to parallel), but it is a little better if you grab hold of a stable surface and then lean sideways. It increases the range of motion and works the lateral deltoid better.

How to do it

  • Hold on to a handle or bar with one hand, then lean sideways.
  • Hold a dumbbell in your other hand, then you are going to raise the dumbbell until your arm is parallel with the ground.
  • Pause, and then lower it back down to the starting position.

11. Standing Dumbbell rear deltoid raise

This exercise is great for the rear deltoids and is useful if you are in a busy gym and can’t perform the bench version (see exercise #12).

How to do it

  • Bend your knees and lean forward, pushing your chest out to create a nice and flat back.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip.
  • Start with both hands together and below your chest.
  • Bend your arms very slightly. Pull your arms apart like a pair of wings, stop when the back of your shoulders starts to strain.
  • Then pull your arms back to the starting position.
  • Try to keep your chest and head still while doing this.

12. Bench dumbbell rear delt raise

This exercise serves the same purpose as exercise #11, but the bench is great for allowing your chest to stay in position. If you have space and equipment to perform this instead of exercise #11, then do so.

How to do it

  • Set a bench to a 45-degree angle, then lie on it so that your upper chest is resting against the headrest.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip. Bend your arms slightly.
  • Start with the dumbbells together underneath the bench, then pull your arms apart like wings spreading.
  • Pause when you feel the strain in the back of your shoulders, then return your hands to the starting position.

13. Arnold press

This is a modified version of the seated overhead press and is a great alternative. You start in the same position but with your hands in an underhand grip so that your palms are facing your body.

via Gfycat

How to do it

  • As you raise the dumbbells above your head, you are going to produce some arm rotation so that when the dumbbells are above your head your palms are now facing out rather than in.
  • Pause, and then reverse the movement so that you finish off with your dumbbells facing your body again.
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14. Dumbbell upright row

An excellent trap exercise that is actually superior to the barbell version. This exercise should be part of any workout.

How to do it

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip, with both dumbbells touching and resting on your upper thighs.
  • Bend forward slightly. Pull the dumbbells up to your torso towards your collar bone, making sure that your elbows are always slightly higher than the dumbbells.
  • Once the dumbbells hit your collar bone, slowly lower them back down.
  • You may find that a lighter weight works best. 

15. Dumbbell Clean and Press

This exercise is similar to the push press and the squat into the shoulder press, but it is a little more dynamic. It will really work your delts and burn many calories if you want to use it as part of a circuit.

How to do it

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip.
  • Start upright with your arms by your sides.
  • Then get into a half squat position so that the dumbbells slide down the sides of your legs until they are around mid-calf.
  • Drive upwards explosively bringing the dumbbells up with you so that the dumbbells are now resting at shoulder height when you are upright.
  • Now you want to press the dumbbells straight up into the air using a neutral grip.

The Bottom Line

So, there you have it. 15 dumbbell exercises for shoulders that you can add to your training program immediately. Obviously, you don’t need to do all of them in one session.

Pick a pressing movement, pick an exercise for your traps (shoulder shrug, upright rows), and add in one or two rear delt exercises. Feel free to mix in barbell and cable variants if you prefer. Now you should have all you need for a superior shoulder workout.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get stronger shoulders?

Being consistent with your shoulder exercises is crucial for Atlas-level shoulders. You want to be training them at least twice per week. Focus on targeting the whole of the shoulders, not just the front delts. This will prevent injury and build overall strength.

What are the three best shoulder exercises?

Overhead press (any variation), rear delt fly, and the push press are all excellent shoulder exercises. You may also want to learn how to perform cable face pulls for your rotator cuff muscle and shoulder blade which are great for reducing the risk of shoulder injuries, particularly rotator cuff injuries.

What’s the best exercise for big shoulders?

Any form of overhead press is going to be amazing for bolder shoulders. This includes alternative shoulder exercises such as the military press, push press, or Arnold press.

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith is a Level 3 Personal Trainer with the Register of Exercise Professionals. He gained a BTEC National Diploma in Sports Science from London Metropolitan University. He has trained people both online and in-person for over 7 years and has written over 1,000 articles on fitness and nutrition subjects.

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