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by Will Grumke September 14, 2021 7 min read

Your shoulders are much more important than you think.

Whether you're wanting to look good in your new clothes, get stronger for your day-to-day tasks, or just want a bigger/stronger upper body...

If you haven’t been dedicating part of your workouts to improving your shoulders, it could be beneficial to start!

And in this article, we’ll talk a little bit about why this is ... and how these 6 simple exercises can help your shoulder workouts up a notch right away.

Shoulders – An Introduction

For starters, when it comes to our shoulder muscles, people are usually talking about one of two groups of muscles.

There are intrinsic shoulder muscles and there are extrinsic muscles. The intrinsic muscles start somewhere near your scapula (or clavicle) and run down your arm, attaching themselves to the humerus in your arm. Extrinsic muscles start in your torso and run up your back until they attach to your shoulder bone.

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Your intrinsic muscles include:

  • Your deltoids
  • Your teres major
  • Your rotator cuff

And your extrinsic muscles include:

  • Your trapezius
  • Your latissimus dorsi
  • Your levator scapulae
  • Your rhomboids

All of your shoulder muscles exist to help support your back, chest, and arm muscles in doing their jobs.

With that, well-developed shoulder muscles can also help create the V-shape that so many people are looking for as they start building muscle in general. If you’re just working on your back, chest, and arms, you’ll never quite earn the look you’re going for.

Needless to say, your shoulder muscles are important, and they deserve some attention while you’re working out ... as they can help you do more with your arms and they can help support other muscle groups as well.

What are some good shoulder workouts

So, what are some good shoulder workouts? What can you do to make sure you’re exercising both those intrinsic and extrinsic muscles, so that you can fully develop your shoulders, and look & feel the way you want?

Below we have a list of six different exercises. Each one of them can help you work out and develop your shoulder muscles differently. Therefore, you can incorporate these into your workouts to help build and strengthen your shoulders in a well-rounded manner.

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1) The Barbell Push Press

The barbell press is really a full-body exercise in that you use a lot more than just your shoulders to complete it. The upside to this is that you can stimulate more muscle groups while working your shoulder muscles.

The downside is that it’s hard to modify the barbell push press to isolate specific parts of your shoulder. Generally speaking, the more muscle groups an exercise uses, the less you can isolate one muscle group by modifying the exercise.

That’s just how it works.

So, let's break down the barbell push press.

First, you place the barbell on top of your upper chest. Then, you bend your knees slightly and lift the barbell and your body upward. Be sure to be standing on the balls of your feet. Keep that explosive movement going until the barbell is straight in the air and above your head. From there, slowly lower it down back into position on top of your upper chest.

2) The Chest-Supported Dumbbell Incline Row

Row exercises are generally known as great back workouts, but rows are for more than just your back. For instance, the dumbbell incline row is also great for your rear deltoids.

You get more isolation with dumbbell incline row than you do other exercises that involve more muscle groups.

To do this movement, all you do is lay face down on an incline bench. Allow your upper chest to rest at the upper end of the bench. Put a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms lay to your sides. Raise your hands up as straight as you can until they are parallel with the bench. Once you’ve lifted them high enough, pause and slowly lower them down to their original position.

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3) The Lateral Raise

The lateral raise is probably one of the most common shoulder exercises out there, and that’s not a bad thing. The lateral raise can help strengthen your entire shoulder, but it puts a specific emphasis on the sides of your deltoid muscles. Side note: your deltoid is split into three parts, front (anterior), side (lateral), and rear (posterior).

You do a lateral raise by standing with dumbbells in your hands. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart and your arms should be by your sides. From there you lift your arms upward and out to your sides slowly until your arms are parallel with the ground.

Once you’ve achieved the proper height, lower your arms slowly until they’re back to resting position by your side.

As a side note, the slower you do your lateral raises, the more the exercise will work different parts of your shoulder muscle. Think of it this way, the effort required to raise and lower the dumbbells passes through different parts of your shoulder muscles. So, performing this exercise slowly means you have to use each of those different parts for a longer period of time during each rep.

4) The Bent-over Reverse Fly

The bent-over reverse fly is a variation of the lateral raise. This exercise not only targets your shoulders, but it can also utilize your back muscles as well. It’s particularly effective at targeting that rear deltoid.

This is how it works. First, grab a pair of dumbbells. Then, bend at the hip with your knees slightly bent. Keep bending until your upper body is near parallel with the ground. The closer you can get, the better. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and let your arms fall naturally toward the ground. Make sure you keep your core tight, and your lower back in a good, flat position.

Your arms should be perpendicular to your upper body. With your feet shoulder-width apart, and your palms facing each other ... start raising your arms up toward your sides, but away from your body, until they are parallel with the ground.

You should look kind of like a bent-over airplane at this point.

After you get to this position, pause and slowly lower your arms back to their relaxed position.

Again, the slower and more controlled you do this movement, the better.

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5) The Upright Row

The upright row works your delts, but it can also do a great job of working your traps. This exercise uses a barbell or EZ bar, but you could use dumbbells if you'd rather do it that way. That being said, barbells are another great option.

To perform this movement, start off with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your arms hanging straight down slightly in front of your body, and your hands holding on to the barbell. Note: The barbell should be parallel with the ground.

Then, raise your elbows and arms up until the barbell is close to your upper chest. Your elbows should be raised above your shoulders at this point.

This is an exercise that you don't want to load up the weight and go for a max PR on. Instead, work on proper movement mechanics and recruiting the right muscles to be able to safely and effectively complete the rep. 

6) The Arnold Press

It helps make that V-shape we mentioned earlier. It does this by working all three heads of your deltoids.

You do this exercise by grabbing a pair of dumbbells and raising bent arms until your upper arms are nearly parallel with the ground and your palms are facing toward you.

The weights in your hands should be horizontal and parallel with the ground. From there you spread your arms out to the sides, keeping them bent, and then slowly push them up above your head until they are straight and your palms are facing away from you.

Afterward, you just reverse this motion until your arms are back in their original position.

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How long should I wait to work out my shoulders

So, you may be asking yourself, “How long should I wait to work out my shoulders?” or “How many times should I do shoulder workouts per week?”

The answer is going to depend on what your individual needs are, but a good starting point is to give your body two days to recover between workouts, or at least before hitting shoulders again.

Once you’ve been doing that regularly for a couple of months, you can then examine your progress and recovery time, and alter your workout routine based on what you’ve learned about your body.

Why Nutrition Matters

Nutrition matters because recovery matters. Most of the motions you make with your arms require your shoulders for support. A lot of back and chest motions also require help from your shoulder muscles.

Because of this, if your shoulders are sore and need more time to recover, a lot of your upper body workouts will suffer as a result ... and that’s not good.

That said, post-workout supplements and protein shakes, that consist of protein and glucose, can help support better recovery in these situations.

They can help give your body the raw materials they need to make a full recovery and they can also provide certain amino acids which can help further aid in the recovery process.

You simply cannot work out your shoulder muscles seriously and expect to get great results without taking recovery and nutrition into account.

It just won’t work.

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1st Phorm Can Help You Recover

You know you need to get a hold on your nutrition, so you can optimize your recovery. So how do you do that?

You can sign up for the Free or Premium version of the 1st Phorm App or you can contact us here at 1st Phorm and one of our NASM Certified Personal Trainers can help you out! Just send us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 Monday thru Friday from 6am CST to 10pm CST. 

If you have any questions at all, or need any help, we’ve got your back!

Will Grumke
Will Grumke

NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer