Best Shoulder Exercises & Workout – Barbell/Dumbbell Press, Lateral/Front Raises

Shoulder exercises are classified as vertical pushing movements. Why? Because they are all typically done by pushing, pressing or raising a weight up vertically in relation to your body.

Common examples of some of the best shoulder exercises include:

  • Overhead Barbell Press (seated or standing)
  • Overhead Dumbbell Press (seated or standing)
  • Arnold Press
  • Overhead Shoulder Press Machine
  • Lateral Raises
  • Front Raises

Figuring out which are the best shoulder exercises for your specific workout routine and incorporating them all properly isn’t quite as simple and easy as just randomly picking your favorites and doing them all on “shoulder day.”

There’s a lot more to the exercise selection and implementation process, and my articles about different types of weight lifting exercises, how to figure out which are truly the best exercises for your body and goal, my favorite workout plans, and my guide to workout routines will help you figure it all out.

Either way, no matter which you end up using in your workout routine, proper form MUST always be used. This is not only to avoid injury, but to ensure your shoulders are actually going through the full range of motion and doing most (if not all) of the work.

To help you understand the basics of proper form, here is a brief description of how some of the best (and most popular) shoulder exercises should be performed…

Seated Overhead Barbell Shoulder Press

There is no more common shoulder exercise than the basic overhead barbell press. As with any type of pressing movement, the triceps will always be trained secondarily in addition to the primary muscle group (which in this case is the shoulders).

The overhead press can be done seated or standing (often referred to as the military press), but here is how the seated version should be done…

  • Sit at a shoulder press rack/bench combo, or put a bench inside a power rack yourself. Basically, you need to be able to sit on a bench (that has at least a partial back to it) and put a barbell on a rack behind and above you.
  • Grab the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder width grip with your palms facing forward.
  • Lift the barbell off of the rack and press it straight up over your head.
  • Lower the barbell in front of your head towards the top of your chest.
  • Using your shoulders, press the barbell straight back up overhead.

The overhead barbell press can also be done by lowering the bar BEHIND your head. However, while many people can press this way just fine, I typically don’t recommend it as it adds a lot of unnecessary stress to your shoulders and increases the risk of injury. If you have any history of shoulder problems, then I’d definitely recommend NEVER pressing behind your head.

Speaking of lowering, how far down you lower the bar will also depend on certain things specific to your body. Some people touch their chest with the bar, some stop at or just below the point where their upper arms are parallel to the floor. I generally recommend lowering the bar to somewhere between those 2 points.

Seated Overhead Dumbbell Shoulder Press

And here’s the dumbbell press version of the barbell overhead press we just covered. Pretty much the only difference between them is the type of weight you’re pressing. Here’s what I mean…

  • Sit on a bench with an at least partial upright back pad and grab a dumbbell in each hand.
  • With your palms facing forward, lift both dumbbells into the air so that each dumbbell is about level with your chin.
  • Using your shoulders, press each dumbbell straight up overhead simultaneously until they almost touch each other and your elbows are almost locked.
  • Lower each dumbbell back to the starting position.

Just like with the barbell version, the dumbbell shoulder press can be done seated or standing, and will also recruit the triceps secondarily.

Lateral Raises

While an overhead press will generally target the entire shoulder to some degree (front/anterior, rear/posterior and lateral/medial), lateral raises will only train the lateral (aka side) portion of your shoulder. Pretty obvious from its name, right?

These can be done using dumbbells unilaterally or bilaterally (meaning one or both arms at a time), using cables, or using a lateral raise machine. They can also be done seated or standing. Here now is how the standing dumbbell lateral raise should be done…

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  • With your palms facing each other, let your arms hang in front of your thighs with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • With your elbows slightly bent, lift your arms out to the sides of your body until your arms are at shoulder height. When you reach the top position the arms and body should resemble the letter T.
  • Lower your arms back to the starting position.

For some reason, lateral raises are an exercise that people constantly try to use WAY more weight than they should on. In reality, this is an exercise where even the strongest people in the world won’t be using lots of weight. So, if you find yourself needing to swing or jerk the dumbbells or your body in order to get the weight where it needs to go, then you are using too much weight.

Front Raises

Whereas lateral raises isolate the lateral portion of the shoulders, front raises isolate the anterior portion (aka the front). Again, they did a good job naming this one.

Front raises can be done using dumbbells, a barbell, cables or a machine, and can also be done with both arms simultaneously or alternating with one arm at a time. Here is how the alternating dumbbell version should be done…

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, allow your arms to hang in front of you so that your palms are facing the front of your thighs.
  • With your elbow slightly bent, lift one arm straight out in front of you until your arm is at shoulder height.
  • Lower that arm back to the starting position.
  • With your other elbow slightly bent, lift the other arm straight out in front of you until your arm is at shoulder height.
  • Lower that arm back to the starting position.

And once again, if you find yourself having to use momentum and God-knows-what-else to raise the dumbbells, the weight is definitely too heavy. Reduce it.

Now Use Them Correctly

So, those are a few of the best shoulder exercises, and that’s a basic break down of how they should be performed. Like I mentioned before, the key now is to actually use them correctly in your workout routine. Those articles I mentioned earlier will show you exactly how to do that.

However, if you would rather just have it all put together for you in the way that is proven to work best for your exact goal, then I now offer the ultimate solution.

I call it The Ultimate Fat Loss & Muscle Building Guide, and in it I provide all of the answers, details and facts that make up the highly proven workout and diet system I’ve used to help countless men and women completely transform their bodies. Now it’s your turn. Learn more here.

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