Shoulder dumbbell workout: add strength and posture

Arms get a lot of attention in strength training. But if you’re only focusing on your biceps and triceps, you’re missing an important part of your upper-body pump, your shoulders. A shoulder dumbbell workout will give you the opportunity to be creative in training.

Shoulder training enhances posture and can give you the appearance of a slimmer waist while adding definition to your overall physique.

Role of the shoulders

Shoulders are important for daily tasks, from putting the shopping away on the top shelf to picking up the kids. Whether you’re throwing, pulling, or pressing, having a pair of strong shoulders means better performance.

Virtually every upper-body exercise involves your shoulder muscles, so strengthening your shoulders enables you to lift heavier weights for chest exercises and back exercises.

The shoulder muscle is constructed with three main heads: the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid and the posterior deltoid, all of which can be worked with different dumbbell shoulder exercises.

Basic Functions:

  • Anterior deltoid lifts the arm to the front
  • Medial deltoid raises the arm to the side
  • Posterior deltoid lifts the arm to the rear

Research has shown that the use of different exercises will improve all areas of the shoulder.

Strength training your shoulders enhances posture and strengthens the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, creating more stability (the shoulder joint is one of the most delicate joints).

The most important shoulder muscles in the upper arm are the deltoid muscles and the four rotator cuff muscles: subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor muscles. 

Benefits of training your shoulders

Strength training your shoulders improves posture, improves muscle imbalances and improves stability through a variety of exercises.

Improves posture

Strength training improves posture by pulling the shoulder blades down and away from your ears and back towards your spine. This will take unnecessary stress off our shoulder joint, neck and low back.

Improves muscle imbalances

Dumbbell exercises allow you to work on differences from one side of the body to another and strengthen the muscles with single-arm isolation exercises.

Improves stability

Strength training the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff, which work together to compress and stabilize the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder, will greatly reduce risk of injury.

Some of the best dumbbell shoulder exercises

Shoulder strengthening routines will work all of the major muscles of the shoulders. There are several exercises that work the entire muscle groups, as well as exercises that can isolate a single muscle.

Move the weight slowly and deliberately, relying on the muscles to do the work rather than using momentum.

Overhead press (seated or standing)

shoulder dumbbell workout shoulder press
shoulder dumbbell workout shoulder presses
  • From a seated or standing position, hold a heavy dumbbell in each hand by your side.
  • Press the dumbbells straight overhead, keeping elbows narrow. At the top of the dumbbell press, rotate the dumbbells so your palms face out (away from you).
  • As you lower the dumbbells, elbows should go wide, arms bent at 90 degrees (like goal posts). Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders, rather than letting them drop down.
  • Repeat.

Arnold press

shoulder dumbbell workout arnold press
shoulder dumbbell workout arnold presses

An exercise from Schwarzenegger himself. The Arnold press reinforces shoulder stability and trains all three heads of the muscle group.

  • Set the back support of a gym bench in an upright position.
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit down. Position your back against the support and rest the weights on top of your thighs.
  • Hold both dumbbells with an underhand grip (palms facing you), elbows at shoulder height in front of your body and dumbbells at about eye level.
  • Press both dumbbells up as you simultaneously rotate your wrists out.
  • As you’re halfway up, spread your elbows to your sides and make sure your wrists are now facing forward.
  • Press up until your elbows are locked out
  • Reverse the motion, rotating your wrists inward (ending with palms facing you) as you lower down to the starting position. Aim to keep your elbows at shoulder height rather than letting them drop down.
  • Repeat

Dumbbell Lateral raises

  • Start in the standing position, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, your abs tight and your chest up.
  • Hold the dumbbells at either side, retaining a neutral grip.
  • Using just your shoulders and arms, raise the dumbbells out to your side until your arms are parallel to the ground.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position — with control.
  • Repeat.

Front raises

shoulder dumbbell workout front raise
  • Keep your hands at hip height as you hold the weight in front of you.
  • Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your core should be tight.
  • Lift the dumbbells straight out to the front, until your arms are parallel to the floor. Pause.
  • Slowly lower the weight to the starting position.

Upright row

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and position them in front of your thighs with your arms straight and palms facing back.
  • Row both dumbbells in a straight vertical line toward your chest.
  • Lift the weights as much as your strength and shoulder mobility allow and hold the top position for a moment.
  • Lower both weights to the starting position, exhaling on the way down.
  • Repeat

Bent over dumbbell side raises

shoulder dumbbell workout bent over lateral raises
shoulder dumbbell workout bent over lateral raise
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, bend at the waist so that your upper body is nearly parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight. 
  • Hold the dumbbells straight down below you.
  • Raise both dumbbells up and out to your sides, forming an arc, in a reverse fly motion, until your upper arms are even with your torso.
  • Take a brief pause at the top before lowering the dumbbells back into starting position.
  • Repeat.

Dumbbell shoulder workout

Two sets of dumbbells are all you need – a pair of heavier and a pair of lighter dumbbells.

For shoulder workouts, you will need lighter dumbbells for lateral raises, and heavier dumbbells for dumbbell shoulder presses where you push over your head.

A good shoulder workout with dumbbells at home will emphasize a different head on the shoulder muscle—anterior (front), medial (middle) and posterior (back).


For this workout, perform one exercise and immediately move into the next one with no rest. Only after you’ve completed one set of the two exercises should you take 60-90 seconds to rest.

The exercises below have been labeled “A” or “B”. Perform both “A” exercises back-to-back, take a break, then repeat the “A” exercises. Do this until you complete all of the sets and move on to the “B” exercises.

A: Dumbbell press: 3 sets of 12 -15 repetitions

A: Dumbbell bicep curls: 3 sets of 10–12 repetitions

B: Lateral raise: 4 sets of 10–12 repetitions

B: Tricep kickbacks: 3 sets of 10–12 repetitions

C: Single arm front raise: 3 sets of 15 repetitions per arm

C: Bent over reverse fly: 3 sets of 15 repetitions


Arnold press: 3 sets of 12 -15 repetitions

Lateral raise: 4 sets of 10 -12 repetitions per arm

Front raise/upright row combination: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Dumbbell press: 3 sets of 15 repetitions

Bent over lateral raise: 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions


dumbbell shoulder workout a
dumbbell shoulder workout b

What is the best dumbbell exercise to activate the shoulders? 

There is no single best exercise for activating your shoulders. Many exercises activate your shoulders well as long as you use the proper weights.

How often should I do a shoulder workout? 

Your training frequency should mainly depend on how much work you do inside each workout. But, in general, you should train your shoulders twice per week – for example, on Monday and Thursday.

Additional shoulder workouts

dumbbell shoulder press

Pair your shoulders with your triceps. A triceps and shoulder workout are perfect because they are pushing muscles which will strengthen your upper body.

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