Shoulder exercises with dumbbells

11 Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises for Killer Shoulders

Dumbbell exercises are some of the most popular exercises you’ll come across, and for good reason, too. Dumbbells offer the most variety out of all gym equipment, allowing you to hit your upper body, lower body, and even core. 
If you’re looking to enhance your shoulders, dumbbell exercises can be an effective way to achieve this goal. We’ve come up with a guide on all you need to know to achieve dense and strong shoulders using dumbbells alone. This includes different movements to help warm up to avoid injury, shoulder exercises that directly target the shoulders, and questions you may have regarding training your shoulders and how dumbbells can help you achieve the shoulders you’re after.   

What Are The Three Muscles That Make Up The Shoulder?

The deltoid muscle is the main muscle of the shoulder. This is the primary muscle you  work when you do shoulder exercises. The deltoid extends from the ridge of the scapula or shoulder blade to the end of the clavicle or collarbone. It consists of 3 key components: the anterior deltoid (located at the font of the shoulder), the posterior deltoid (located at the back of the shoulder), and the lateral deltoid (exists between the anterior and posterior deltoid). The deltoid shoulder muscles help you move your upper arm while also stabilizing the shoulder joint. When training the shoulder muscles, you are training the rotator cuff, which stabilizes the shoulder, as well as the deltoid muscle, which surrounds the shoulder.

How do you hit all 3 heads of the shoulder?

There are two ways to ensure that you target all three heads of the shoulder when working out. The first is to create a workout routine that incorporates exercises that individually target the different heads of your shoulder. The second way is to combine exercises that target the lateral, anterior and posterior delts into a single compound movement. The former is the beginner-friendly option as it’s simpler to follow through with a few motions, especially when you’re carrying heavy weight and trying to perfect your form.

Not sure why you should choose adjustable dumbbells for your home workouts? Here are our top 6 benefits of adjustable dumbbells.

The Benefits Of Training Your Shoulders

Incorporating shoulder workouts into your routine has a variety of benefits. In addition to enhancing your overall physique, working out your shoulders improves your posture and strengthens the muscles that surround the shoulder joint. This enhances stability, which in turn results in an overall sturdier body structure. 

In addition, the shoulder joint is one of the most delicate joints as it’s one of the joints that allows for the greatest range in motion, meaning that if the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint become weak, the range of motion can be negatively impacted. Usually, this results in instability. For this reason, working it out and strengthening it is vital in reducing wear and tear as well as potential injury.

How To Properly Warm Up Your Shoulders Before A Workout

The purpose of warming up before beginning shoulder workouts is to improve your mobility. Because your shoulder allows for a wide range of motion, you may overextend your movement and accidentally pull a muscle if your shoulders aren’t properly warmed up. There are many warmups you can experiment with and each has its unique purpose. Below are three of the most common and useful warmups to help you get started:

1. Arm circles

The main purpose of arm circles is to initiate blood flow around your joints. Having proper blood around the joints will protect you from a rotator cuff injury, which is one of the most common injuries for active people.

To do arm circles, begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and lift both arms straight to your sides in the shape of a “T.” Start by rotating your arms in small circular motions, slowly enlarging the circles without stopping. Continue this motion for 10-15 seconds, then reverse the motion so that your arms are moving counterclockwise. Repeat this 3-4 times.

2.Banded over and backs

This warm up exercise not only helps to stimulate blood flow, it also establishes joint stability by activating both small and larger muscles of the shoulder joint. To complete a banded over and back, you’ll need a light to medium resistance band, depending on your mobility. 

First, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms down at your sides, slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold your band at either end, relaxed with palms facing down. Then, pull the band in opposite directions to create resistance and lift your arms up over your head. Once your arms are raised, pull the band as far back over your head as is comfortable. Hold the position for a moment, then rotate your straight arms back to your sides.

3.Banded pull aparts

Banded pull aparts help your body isolate the movement of your posterior shoulder. This will help you to activate the posterior shoulder specifically when working out. Overly relying on traps and shoulder blades exclusively is a common mistake that people make. It typically results in a significantly weaker posterior shoulder over time, in comparison with the front and side of the shoulder caps. Eventually, this leads to imbalances in your shoulders and bad posture. 

Much like the banded over and backs, completing a banded pull apart requires a resistance band. Begin by standing with your spine in a neutral position and with both of your arms straight in front of you. Hold one end of the resistance band in each hand, then pull the band apart in opposite directions, until you feel resistance. Ensure that your elbows remain extended and focus on activating your rear deltoid rather than your shoulder blade in order to pull the band towards your chest. 

Get killer shoulders at home without the need for an entire dumbbell rack. 

The 11 Best Shoulder Exercises With Dumbbells

If developing an aesthetic muscular physique is your goal, then working on your shoulders should be a top priority. With that said, even if your main goal is more in the vein of developing and maintaining physical health and wellness, as we explained, the strength of your shoulders is still highly important. The following are key shoulder exercises that you can incorporate into your upper body workouts with no more than a pair of dumbbells.

1 - Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press (anterior + lateral)

To complete a seated dumbbell shoulder press, sit on an upright bench, holding your dumbbells at shoulder height, with your palms facing the front. Keeping your core engaged, press the weights directly upwards until your arms are straight. With control, slowly lower the weights back to the start position, then begin the next rep.

2 - See Saw Presses (anterior + lateral)

To start, hold two dumbbells a little further back than your shoulders so that your elbows are at a 90 degree angle, and with your palms facing inward. Next, look up, tilt your body to the left, and extend one arm straight above you. Once the dumbbell is raised, hold it up for a moment and slowly lower it while returning your body back to center. Repeat on the other side in order to create a see saw motion. Once you’ve completed this, repeat on the other side to begin a new rep.

3 - Seated Arnold Press (anterior + lateral)

To complete this dumbbell shoulder workout, select your dumbbells and set an incline bench to 85 degrees. Hold two dumbbells with your palms facing your body straight in front of your chest. Sit on the bench and set your feet firmly on the floor, slightly further than shoulder width apart. Next, extend your elbows so that your dumbbells rise above your head, while rotating your wrists outward so that your palms face away from your body. Rotate your wrists again as you bring the dumbbells back to their starting position

4 - Upright row (anterior + lateral)

Position your feet shoulder width apart with a pair of dumbbells at arms length in front of your waist. Your arms should be straight with your palms facing towards you. Lift the dumbbells in front of your torso keeping them close to your body until your elbows reach shoulder height. Pause in this position, then slowly reverse the movement by lowering the weights back to the starting position.

5 - Dumbbell Shrugs (anterior + lateral)

In order to complete this dumbbell shoulder workout, hold your dumbbells by your side with your palms facing toward your body. Making sure your feet are shoulder width apart and your core is engaged. Then, raise your shoulder as high as possible and contract your traps in the process. Hold in this position for a moment, then lower the dumbbells down.  Aim for a set of 10 to 20 reps.

6 - Front raises (anterior)

For this dumbbell shoulder workout, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and let your arms hang in front of you, with dumbbells placed in front of your thighs. Lift the weights upward, extending your arms, with your palms facing down. Ensure there’re a slight bend in your elbows to reduce the stress being placed on your joints. Once your arms are perpendicular to the floor, pause briefly and lower the dumbbells slowly back down to a starting position. Aim for 8 to 16 reps per set.

7 - Lateral raises (lateral)

To complete a lateral raise, position your feet hip width apart. Holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides and palms facing toward your body. Raise your arms simultaneously a few inches up and pause to ensure that you’ve disengaged your traps and engaged your delts. Complete the movement upwards, keeping your arms straight until your arms reach shoulder height. Once in the “T” position, hold for a second and then lower the weights slowly, in a controlled manner to your sides. Aim for 15-20 reps for each set.

8 - Reverse fly (posterior)

Holding a pair of dumbbells, bend forward at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Place your feet shoulder width apart. The dumbbells should hang straight down from your shoulders and your palms should be facing each other, with your arms bent slightly. Hinge your hips toward the back of the room, ensuring that your back remains flat and your core is engaged. Then,  raise your arms straight out to your sides until they’re in line with your body. Hold this position for a moment, then lower your arms to the starting position. Repeat for reps.

9 - Y raises (posterior + traps)

Begin in a starting position with your feet shoulder width apart and your dumbbells in your hands, with palms facing inward. Hinge your hips back and lean forward slightly, while keeping your spine neutral. With your arms straight, rotate at the shoulders as you bring the weights and slightly outward rising above your head until you form a “Y” shape. Slowly lower your arms, bringing them back down to your sides.

10 - Farmer walks (all)

To complete a farmer’s walk, squat down and grab a dumbbell in each hand. While engaging your core, pull your shoulder blades down and back while simultaneously standing back up and returning to an upright position. Step forward and begin walking, keeping your head up and your shoulders back. Continue walking for your desired time and distance. 

11 - I-Y-T raises (posterior + rotator cuff + traps)

I-Y-T raises are a more intermediate form of Y raises, adding in two additional elements to burn those shoulders as a finisher. 
Begin with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in both hands, palms facing inward. Hinge your hips back and lean forward so your back is at a 45 degree angle to the floor with your core engaged and spine neutral. Raise both arms straight up to form the letter “I”. Hold for a second, then return your arms back down. Raise them again toward the ceiling, this time in a 45 degree angle to form the letter “Y”. Hold for a second, then return your arms back down. Finally, raise both arms straight out, so they’re perpendicular to the ground, forming the letter “T”. Hold for a second, then return your arms back down. 
Each set of I-Y-T is 1 rep. Try and complete as many reps as possible.

Can you build shoulders with just dumbbells?

The answer to whether you can build shoulders with only dumbbells is both yes and no. You can certainly build foundational strength with dumbbells alone. In fact, dumbbells are excellent for beginners because of how easy they are to use and the variety of weights you can choose from. As you develop into a more advanced lifter, however, it’ll become important for you to vary your training with barbells, cables, and machines in order to increase strength and engage your shoulders in a variety of ways to gain mass. 

How can I work my shoulders with dumbbells at home?

All of the exercises mentioned above can be completed at home if you have the weights that you need. In fact, if you are hoping to transition to home workouts or if you’d like to combine your gym workout with home workouts, then the exercises we’ve included are ideal as they do not require an ample amount of space to complete.

Adjustable Weight Dumbbells

Shape your shoulders with Montreal Weights

The most important piece of information to walk away with is how important shoulders are to your overall physical health and how impactful strong shoulders can be to other parts of your body. Another important tidbit is acknowledging the value and versatility of dumbbells. Using the warmups listed here along with the shoulder workouts will help you on your way to building the strength, stability, and mass you’re looking for.  

To start building your dream shoulders, Montreal Weights has you covered with adjustable dumbbells, so you don’t need to go out and buy a rack of dumbbells. Now you can work out anywhere and easily store your equipment away. 

Need dumbbells to add to your home gym? Try our adjustable dumbbells that will fit seamlessly into your exercise plan.

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Julien Méthot

Passionate about fitness from a young age, Julien co-founded Montreal Weights in 2020 with the vision of providing Canadians with all the necessary tools to workout & stay fit from home. 

Over the years, Julien has helped build a dynamic team that continuously strives to help create the best possible home gym setups for Montreal Weights customers across the nation. 

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