5 Exercises That Will Give You Stronger, Sculpted Shoulders

Trying on clothes can be a rough experience. You might be thrilled to find a handful of great shirts on display, only to discover they look far better on the mannequin than you. But it’s not really a fair comparison. According to Men’s Fitness, width around your shoulders helps create the illusion of size without making you appear heavy. That’s a winning combination for looking stellar in any top.

Looks aside, working on shoulder strength is also important for day-to-day life as you use these muscles for any type of lifting or pulling. SparkPeople explained the joint’s huge range of motion makes it more susceptible to injury, so keeping your shoulder muscles strong is absolutely critical. These five exercises will help you build the strength you need and get the shape you want.

1. Dumbbell push press

muscular man lifting weights for his shoulders

Dumbbell push presses will sculpt and build your shoulders. | iStock.com

Some exercises are multitask lifts, and the dumbbell push press is pretty much a complete showoff. It’s a phenomenal shoulder exercise, but also incorporates a partial squat to help build explosive power in your legs at the same time. To perform this move correctly, begin in an athletic stance, feet about shoulder-width apart. You should hold a dumbbell in each hand, and position them so they’re just barely resting on top of your shoulders. Lower yourself into a partial squat, only about one-quarter of the way down, then drive out of the squat as you push the dumbbells straight into the air.

If you usually stick to seated shoulder exercises, this move is a great addition to your routine. Many seated moves allow you to brace your back against a rest, which enables you to lift more weight. The problem with this method is it greatly increases your likelihood of injury. Since the dumbbell push press incorporates your legs, it helps reduce the stress on your shoulders at the vulnerable moment when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.

2. Clean and press

man lifting weights

The clean and press is a classic for a reason. | iStock.com

Building great shoulders involves plenty of strengthening, but you’re not going to achieve the shape you want if you’re carrying around some extra weight. As it turns out, one of greatest shoulder lifts is also a stellar way to torch calories. Marc Perry, C.S.C.S. and founder of BuiltLean, says on the website the clean and press is one of the best moves for weight loss since it works so many different parts of your body. You’ll work your shoulders, abs, calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and triceps with this lift.

To perform the clean and press, stand with your feet spaced shoulder-width apart and the barbell on the ground directly in front of you. Bending at your hips, lower yourself into a squat until you can grasp the barbell with both hands. Hold the bar with your arms spaced a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, then extend through your hips and knees to lift the bar off the ground, keeping it close to your body. Once the bar comes above you knee, simultaneously jump and shrug to rapidly raise the bar, and catch it as it reaches your shoulders. Keeping your abs tight, and your legs firmly planted, push the bar directly overhead. To get back to the starting position, lower the bar to your shoulders, then move it the rest of the way down.

3. Seated dumbbell press

man doing seated dumbbell presses

Seated dumbbell presses are a great go-to. | iStock.com

While heavy weights can lead to massive gains in the gym, you may actually get better results with more repetitions. To build bigger shoulders, Marc Perry says on BuiltLean he looks to the seated dumbbell press with moderately heavy weights. Going with something lighter allows you to perform more repetitions and it will also ensure you keep proper form, which is the key to success in any training program.

Sit on a bench that provides back support, and brace yourself against it as you raise the dumbbells to just above your shoulders. You can use your legs to aid you, but remember not to go too heavy with your weights. Rotate your hands so your palms are facing forward, then press the dumbbells up as you extend your arms until the ends of the weights almost touch. Pause briefly, then carefully lower the weights back to the starting position. Check out Bodybuilding.com’s video for more detailed instructions.

4. Lateral dumbbell raise

strong man doing lateral raises

Lateral dumbbell raises are tough, but worth it. | iStock.com

No matter what body part you’re targeting, you should always remember that muscles work in groups. When working on shoulder strength, you’re largely focusing on your deltoids, which is composed of three different muscles. The American Council on Exercise says most people spend a disproportionate amount of time working their anterior, or front, deltoids while paying little attention to the posterior and medial muscles. Ignoring these other two can leave you with an unbalanced appearance, but it can also lead to a shoulder injury.

The dumbbell side lateral raise is one of the best ways to ensure you target your medial deltoid. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp a dumbbell in each hand, your palms facing inward. Raise your arms straight out to your sides in a controlled motion until the weights reach shoulder height. Pause briefly, then carefully lower the weights back to the starting position. You’ll get a lot more out of this move if you go slow and steady.

5. Shrugs

a man holding a barbell at the gym

Shoulder shrugs are simple and effective. | iStock.com

Sometimes, simple is best. Shrugs are a perfect exercise for newcomers as well as gym veterans, because you can easily increase intensity by adding more weight. Begin by holding a barbell in front of you, letting the weight hang. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. All you have to do is shrug your shoulders as far as you can, hold the position for a second or two, then lower back to the starting position. Muscle & Fitness recommends three to four sets of at least 20 repetitions.

Don’t let the simplicity of this move fool you, because it challenges a number of different muscles. AZCentral explains shrugs work your traps, deltoids, upper back, and rotator cuff. That last one is particularly important. Most guys don’t pay any attention to their rotator cuff, a group of four muscles that help stabilize the shoulder, but that’s a big mistake. Mayo Clinic explains this area is prone to tears from overuse as well as regular wear and tear over time. You could be a few shrugs away from keeping yourself injury-free down the road.