Keen to tone your arms? A PT’s pick of the 8 best shoulder workouts to boost both confidence and strength

Building a body for life.

Shoulder workouts: A woman lifting a weighted ball
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for a workout to boost your upper body strength? You're in the right place, as we've asked a top personal trainer to share their go-to shoulder workouts. But first, let's take a moment to appreciate the crucial role our shoulders play in day-to-day life, be it when we reach upwards to grab something from a cupboard to when we're lifting weights in the gym. 

While you've likely heard of "leg day" and learned the importance of core exercises, our shoulder workouts don't always get quite the same attention. That said, they should, according to AJ Mason, a personal trainer at Studio Sweat OnDemand. "It's extremely important to incorporate shoulder exercises into a workout routine because they strengthen the muscles connected to your shoulder joints and increase stability for posture," she explains.

This increased strength in the shoulders in turn allows for further stabilisation of muscles that connect to your neck and back, she explains. Stronger shoulder muscles equal overall improved posture, joint health, mobility and balance - especially when lifting, adds Mason. 

It's backed by science, too - a 2012 study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that one hour a week of shoulder-specific strength training (including exercises like front raises and lateral raises) was able to effectively reduce neck and shoulder pain in office workers. 

Eager to bookmark some workouts to try tonight? Keep scrolling - and do scroll our expert-led guide to shoulder exercises, while you're here. 

Your edit of the best shoulder workouts to try tonight

What is a shoulder workout?

"A shoulder workout is an exercise that improves overall balanced strength and stability development in the upper body," explains Mason. The main muscles used are the anterior, lateral and posterior deltoids in addition to the supporting muscles that make up the rotator cuff. 

Let's be clear here, too: the shoulder is such a complex joint, that there is not one "best" exercise for targeting this area of the body. A joint study by the American Council on Exercise and the University of Wisconsin—LaCrosse tried to determine which exercises were most effective for strengthening the shoulder muscles, but came to the conclusion that because of the joint's complexity, "it's impossible for one exercise to maximally activate all three heads of the deltoid muscle at one time." Not to mention, the best workout for you and your body might be totally different than your best friends - we're all unique, after all.

That said, Mason has shared her eight favourite shoulder workouts that can be done either at home or in the gym. Each exercise will take roughly five to 15 minutes depending on breaks, or how comfortable you are with weights. "Keep in mind that taking breaks between each set is super important," stresses Mason. "Remember rushing through an exercise can result in improper form, and it is always better to have proper form than get in extra reps."

8 best shoulder workouts to try tonight

1. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

What? This is a simple yet very effective workout to target your deltoids - the main muscle group of your shoulders. All you have to do is grab some dumbbells, stand tall, and begin raising your arms laterally. 

Why? "These are one of my favourite shoulder workouts because you can quite literally do them anywhere," explains Mason. If you have a dumbbell, great, but if not grab a water bottle or anything you can safely hold onto and begin raising your arms, she advises. 

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason recommends trying three sets of 10.

2. Dumbbell Front Raise

What? This is another simple yet very effective workout to target your shoulders. And just like with the dumbbell lateral raises you can always grab water bottles and get the same benefits. The only difference is you may want to grab a lighter weight than with a lateral raise, says Mason, because there can be an increased strain along the intercostal muscles along your ribs. 

Why? "Similar to the lateral raises this workout can be done anytime anywhere, and is a great addition to any arm circuit you might be doing," explains Mason.

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason recommends trying three sets of 10.

3. Pike Press

What? This is a slightly more difficult exercise, but Mason highly recommends trying it out. It's a great bodyweight exercise that targets your shoulders along with your triceps and upper body muscles. To start off, try elevating your hand by placing yoga blocks beneath them, advises Mason.

Why? "This exercise is the ultimate shoulder strengthener," says Mason. "You are definitely going to feel every rep but trust me, it'll be worth it."

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason recommends trying three sets of 10.

4. Kettlebell Overhead Press

What? No matter where you’re at in your fitness journey, the kettlebell overhead press is a great shoulder workout, says Mason. She advises starting with a weight that you are comfortable with, and when you’re ready, gradually increase your weight. If you’re just starting out, try this one sitting down to give your back a little extra support, she adds.

Why? If you are looking for overall strength and stability in your upper body, then the overhead press is the perfect workout, says Mason. "This exercise increases strength in your shoulder muscles which promotes better posture and balances our urge to slouch."

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks.  Depending on the weight of the kettlebell, Mason advises trying three sets of eight.

5. Kettlebell Halo

What? To do this workout grab a dumbbell or kettlebell and begin creating a circular motion above your head just like a halo. This is a perfect exercise to help build mobility and strengthen those shoulder muscles, says Mason. 

Why? Like so many of the exercises mentioned above, the benefits include increased mobility, strength, along with core and shoulder stability.

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason recommends trying three sets of 10 reps. To complete one rep, make sure to rotate the weight around in a halo on both sides.

6. Plank Shoulder Tap

What? Shoulder taps are a variation of a plank that require you to touch your hand to your opposite shoulder while still holding your body still in the plank position.

Why? "They’re a total-body functional exercise that targets multiple groups, such as your shoulders, obliques and your deep core muscles," says Mason. Plus, they help you practice keeping your hips and shoulders squared.

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason recommends 10 taps on each side for a total of 20. Rest and repeat for three sets.

7. Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs

What? This is a great shoulder exercise that primarily targets the trapezius muscles. "In a controlled manner you are going to raise or shrug those shoulders up and down," says Mason. "Remember to keep your posture straight throughout this exercise," she adds. 

Why? This exercise really helps strengthen stability in the neck and upper body which reduces any added strain on shoulder and neck muscles.

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason says three sets of 10 is a perfect amount to start with.

8. Rear Deltoid Flys

What? This is a simple yet very effective workout to target your shoulders, explains Mason. All you have to do is grab some dumbbells, sit on the end of a bench or chair with your legs out in front of you, lean forward, put your chest right over your thighs, and let the dumbbells touch each other. Fly it up, pause, and slowly bring it back down.

Why? "These are some of my favourite shoulder exercises because they help your posture and we all need a better posture," says Mason. "If you have a dumbbell, great, but if not, you can use bands, TRX or water bottles." 

How long? 5 to 15 minutes depending on breaks. Mason recommends trying three sets of 10.

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Amy Sedghi

Amy Sedghi is a freelance journalist, specialising in health and fitness, travel, beauty, sustainability and cycling.

Having started her career in The Guardian newsroom working with an award-winning team, Amy's proud to have reported on a variety of topics, speaking to a range of voices and travelling far and wide to do so. From interviews on ski lifts to writing up breaking stories outside courtrooms, Amy is used to reporting from a range of locations (she’s even been known to type up a story in a tent).

She also loves being active, spending time outdoors and travelling - with some of her favourite features she’s worked on combining all three. Cycling and eating her way round the Isle of Man, learning to sail on the Côte d'Azur and traversing the Caminito del Rey path in Spain are just some of her highlights.

Covering a diverse range of subjects appeals to Amy. One minute she may be writing about her online styling session with Katie Holmes’ stylist and the next she’s transporting readers to the basketball courts of Haringey where she joined a group trying to lower knife crime in the capital.

While at university, Amy was awarded The Media Society bursary. Following her stint at the Guardian, Amy worked at Google and as well as writing for Marie Claire, she regularly contributes interviews, features and articles to National Geographic Traveller, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, Stylist, Refinery29, Glorious Sport, Cycling Weekly and Rouleur.

When she’s not writing, Amy can be found trying to get through her towering stack of books-to-read, cycling down at Herne Hill Velodrome or looking for the next place to eat and drink with friends.