10 Best Barbell Shoulder Exercises for Muscle & Strength

The shoulder is a group of three muscles, front, lateral, and rear delt, and they coordinate with other upper body muscles to perform various activities, such as pushing, pulling, throwing, and reaching.

You’ll have to hit each delt specifically to build sturdy and flexible shoulders.

You can use various pieces of equipment to target the entire shoulders from different angles, such as dumbbells, cables, and barbells.

The dumbbells effectively isolate the long, lateral, and medial head; machines allow you to lift the weight more safely, while barbells enable you to lift more weight and generate higher muscle activation.

I’ve already shared the machine and dumbbell exercises in my previous articles. And today, I’ll share the best barbell shoulder exercises to help you develop firm and rounded delts.

The barbell allows you to lift heavier loads and promotes hypertrophy over time. It is excellent equipment for progressive overload as well.1 Progression of volume load and muscular adaptation during resistance exercise – European Journal of Applied Physiology

10 Best Barbell Shoulder Exercises to Sculpt Your Delts

Here is a quick list of the best shoulder exercises you can do with barbells.

  1. Front Barbell Overhead Press
  2. Behind The Neck Overhead Press
  3. Barbell Front Raises
  4. Single-Arm Kneeling Landmine Press
  5. Landmine Lateral Raises
  6. Leaning Over Barbell Lateral Raises
  7. Barbell Upright Row
  8. Barbell Rear Delt Row
  9. Chest Supported Row
  10. Barbell Shrug

These barbell exercises isolate the anterior, lateral, and rear delt from different angles and help you forge strong, broad, and sculpted shoulders.

Okay, let’s see how to do each exercise with the step-by-step guide.

1. Front Barbell Overhead Press

Barbell Workout for Shoulder
Overhead Shoulder Press

The front overhead press is a basic but effective exercise that targets the entire shoulder muscles, primarily the front deltoid.

It also increases pushing strength, enhances balance and coordination, and improves overall performance.2 Weightlifting Overhead Pressing Derivatives: A Review of the Literature – Sports Medicine (Auckland, NZ)

Steps to do an overhead press:

  1. Insert the desired weight into the bar and grab it with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Stand straight with your back straight and feet hip-width apart.
  3. Hold the bar on the front of your shoulder with your elbows pointing down and your palms facing up. That’s the starting point.
  4. Brace your core, inhale, and press the bar overhead until your arms are straight upward.
  5. Exhale, pause for a moment at the top, then return the weight to the start in a controlled manner.
  6. Do not let your wrist arc; keep them firm to perform each rep safely and effectively.

Reps x Sets: If you’re a beginner, do two sets of 10 reps each. And perform four sets of 8-10 reps each if you’re an intermediate.

2. Behind The Neck Barbell Press

The behind-the-neck overhead press activates the shoulder muscles from a different angle. Unlike the front overhead press, It engages more medial and posterior delt and partly anterior delt. Pairing it with the military press can help you achieve healthy shoulders.3 Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. Front vs Back and Barbell vs Machine Overhead Press: An Electromyographic Analysis and Implications For Resistance Training. Front Physiol. 2022;13:825880. Published 2022 Jul 22. doi:10.3389/fphys.2022.825880

Setsp to do a back overhead press:

  1. Grab a loaded bar and place it on the back of your shoulder.
  2. Stand upright in the hip-width stance with your hands just outside the shoulders and elbows pointing down.
  3. Brace your core and press the bar overhead until your arms are straight.
  4. Pause for a brief moment, then return to the start.

Reps x Sets: Perform three sets of 8 to 12 reps. This exercise is only for intermediates

3. Barbell Front Raise

The barbell front raise is an isolation exercise that primarily targets the anterior delt and helps build solid shoulders.4 Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. An Electromyographic Analysis of Lateral Raise Variations and Frontal Raise in Competitive Bodybuilders. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(17):6015. Published 2020 Aug 19. doi:10.3390/ijerph17176015

Steps to do a barbell front raises:

  1. Holding a barbell with an overhand and hip-width grip, stand in the shoulder-width stance.
  2. Keep your arms straight in front of your thighs with your palms facing in.
  3. Raise your arms in front of you until the bar is at or above your chest height.
  4. Slowly return the weight to the initial position. That’s your first rep; perform 6 to 10 reps.

Reps x Sets: Beginners – two sets of 10 to 12 reps, Intermediate and advanced – three to fours of 6 to 12 reps.

4. Single-arm Landmine Press

The single-arm landmine press is a unilateral exercise that helps build functional shoulders. It allows you to work more on the weaker side and helps correct strength and muscle imbalance.

You can do it interchangeably with front overhead press and lateral raises for balanced training.

Steps to do a landmine press:

  1. Place one end of the bar in the corner and put the desired weight into another.
  2. Grab the bar with your right hand, sit on your knee, and move one step back so you can lean forward. Keep your one foot flat on the floor so you can generate maximum strength.
  3. Hold the bar at your shoulder height and keep your back straight.
  4. Press the bar up until your arm is straight.
  5. Pause for a second at the top and then lower to the starting point. That’s one rep!

Reps x Sets: Aim for a couple of sets of ten to 12 reps each. Perfome more on the weaker delt.

5. Leaning Over Barbell Lateral Raises

The lateral raises stimulate the side delt muscles and increase the shoulder’s strength and stability. Having strong mid delts also improves muscle definition and minimizes the risk of rotator cuff injuries.

Steps to do a leaning barbell lateral raise:

  1. Grab an empty bar in your right hand and stand beside the rack with your feet together.
  2. Hold the rack with your left hand for support and lean against it until your arm is straight.
  3. Keep your working arm straight at your sides with your palm facing inward. That’s the start.
  4. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, raise the bar to the side until your arm is at your shoulder level.

Reps x Sets: Shoot for four sets of eight to ten reps each.

6. Barbell Upright Row

Upright Row Shoulder Workout
Upright Row

The barbell upright row is a compound exercise that targets the upper back and shoulders simultaneously.5 Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright row– Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research It also engages the biceps and abdominal muscles and helps achieve a muscular torso.

Steps to do an upright row:

  1. Put the appropriate weight into the bar, and grab it firmly with an overhand grip.
  2. Stand upright with your back straight, chest up, and core tight.
  3. Keep the bar in front of your thighs with your arms straight and palms facing in. That’s the start.
  4. Pull the bar toward your neck as high as possible.
  5. Hold at the top for a couple of seconds, then slowly lower the bar. That is your first rep.

Reps x Sets: Aim for three to four sets of eight to ten reps each.

7. Barbell Rear Delt Row

Working on the posterior deltoids is crucial for developing well-shaped shoulders.

You can bolster the posterior delts with various exercises, including the barbell rear delt row.

The rear delt row works simultaneously on the back of your shoulders and upper trap and helps develop a firm and shredded upper body.

Steps to do a bent-over rear delt row:

  1. Insert the plates into the barbell and stand in front of it.
  2. Hold the bar with your hands two times wider than hip-width apart.
  3. Pushing your hips back, bring your torso forward until your chest is parallel to the floor. Your knees should be slightly bent.
  4. Keeping your core tight and back straight, pull the bar up close to your chest.
  5. Focusing on your shoulder blades, pause for a few seconds and lower your weight. There’s one rep!

Reps x Sets: Shoot for three to four sets of eight to 12 reps each.

8. Chest Supported Row

The chest-supported row, also known as the 45-degree inclined row, is an excellent exercise to hit the trapezius, lateral, and rear delt muscles, as shown in a study published by the American Council of Exercise (ACE).6 Dynamite Delts: ACE Research Identifies Top Shoulder Exercises by Samantha Sweeney, M.S., John P. Porcari, Ph.D., Clayton Camic, Ph.D., Attila Kovacs, Ph.D., and Carl Foster, Ph.D.

If you have a flexible bench at home, you can follow the below steps to perform the chest-supported row.

Steps to do an inclined row:

  1. Place a bar under the top of the bench.
  2. Set the bench at a 45-degree incline and lie on your chest with your face down.
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand and hip-width grip.
  4. Squeeze your shoulders together to row the weight up as close to your chest as possible.
  5. Hold there for a moment, then let the bar down until your arms are straight. There’s one rep

Reps x Sets: Aim for three sets of 6 to 10 reps each.

9. Front Barbell Shrug

The front barbell shrug is a great exercise to isolate the shoulder, neck, and upper trap. It also helps you fix lousy posture and reduces the risk of injuries by strengthening your shoulder and neck muscles.

Steps to do a shoulder shrug:

  1. Assume a shoulder-width stance with your back upright.
  2. Pick a loaded barbell and hold it with an overhand grip, hands wider than hip-width.
  3. Let your arms hang in front of your hips with your palms facing inward.
  4. Squeezing your shoulder muscles, raise your shoulder blades, and then drop them down.

Reps x Sets: Perform three sets of 8 to 12 reps each.

10. Back Barbell Shrug

The back barbell shrug targets the upper trap and delts from a different angle and gives your shoulder a more defined look.

Steps to do a behind-the-back shrug:

  1. Grab a loaded barbell and hold it behind your glutes with your arms straight.
  2. Keep your hands slightly wider than hip-width and maintain an upright posture.
  3. Shrug your shoulders as many times as possible.

Reps x Sets: Perform three sets of 8 to 12 reps each.

The Best Barbell Shoulder Workout Routine Example

Whether you’re a beginner or intermediate, male or female, you can do the shoulder workout with barbells to smoke your mass gain and achieve the best muscle definition.

Here are a couple of examples of 60-minute weekly shoulder workouts you can do with barbells only.

Rest time – 60 seconds to 3 minutes.

Example 1

ExerciseTarget MuscleSets x Reps
Back Overhead PressAll Delts3 x 10-12
Barbell Lateral RaisesMiddle Delt3 x 8-12
Rear Delt Barbell RowPosterior Delt3 x 8-12
Barbell Front RaisesAnterior Delt3 x 10-12
Front ShrugDelts & Traps3 x 8-12

Example 2

ExerciseTarget MuscleSets x Reps
Front Overhead PressShoulder3 x 10-12
Barbell Lateral RaisesMiddle Delt3 x 8-12
Rear Delt Barbell RowPosterior Delt3 x 8-12
Upright RowDelts & Traps3 x 10-12
Back ShrugDelts & Traps3 x 8-12

Related: The Ultimate Full Body Barbell Workout Routine

If you want more variations in your shoulder training, you can also combine bodyweight, dumbbell, and barbell exercises. And for that, you can save the following workouts.

Final Words

Shoulders coordinate with other upper body muscles to perform various activities, including pushing, pulling, throwing, and reaching. And to have a firm and muscular torso, you need to train your shoulders with other muscle groups.

You can train your shoulders with various equipment, such as dumbbells, cables, and barbells. However, if you’re looking for the best barbell exercises to target each deltoid muscle and build sturdy, broad, and sculpted shoulders, you can use the above exercises.

Barbell is a great piece of equipment that allows you to lift more weight, engage multiple muscles at once, and stimulate higher muscle activation.

However, you shouldn’t only rely on exercises when it comes to growing your strength and mass. You should equally focus on nutrition. Consuming high-protein foods, vegetables, and fruits and supplementing with whey protein and creatine will help you achieve the best results over time.

Related Barbell Exercises:

References

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Author
Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.
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