The 10 Best Dumbbell Exercises For Shoulder

It doesn’t matter how hard you work on your biceps and triceps to build them bigger if you’ve underdeveloped shoulders, you may not look aesthetic. You can do various exercises with barbells and machines to build them up. However, if you don’t have access to that equipment, you can incorporate some of the best dumbbell shoulder exercises into your workout routine.

You can do as many as ten shoulder exercises with dumbbells at home with and without a workout bench. These dumbbell exercises work on each muscle of the shoulder, such as anterior, lateral, and rear deltoid as well as the upper trap and rotator cuff, and help you increase strength, mobility, and mass.

Benefits of Doing Shoulder Workout with Dumbbells

Shoulder Workout with Dumbbells
  1. Dumbbells allow a complete range of motion and help you specifically target the front, lateral, and rear deltoid, as well as rotator cuff and the upper trap muscles.
  2. Dumbbells are good for unilateral exercises. It means you can use one arm at a time to focus on the weak muscles individually. Moreover, you can use heavy dumbbells during single-dumbbell exercises.
  3. Dumbbells provide more exercise options and require less space, while machines and barbells require more space and give a few exercise options.

Okay! It’s time to learn a little about shoulder anatomy.

Muscles to Train For Building Defined Shoulder

Deltoid Muscles
Deltoid Muscles (Credit: ACE Fitness)

A little knowledge about the muscles you’re going to train can significantly impact the results. For example, it will help you target the right muscles with the right exercises that can help you achieve your desired result.

The shoulders have three deltoid muscles: anterior deltoid, lateral delt, and rear delt. Moreover, you’ll need to work on your rotator cuff and upper trap muscles for aesthetic shoulders.

  • Anterior delt: It is the front of your shoulder, and the primary function of this muscle is shoulder flexion. It means raising your arms in an upward direction, such as in front of you and over your head.
  • Lateral delt: It is the side muscles of the shoulder and responsible for shoulder abduction, meaning raising your arms out to the sides.
  • Posterior delt: It is the rear part of the shoulder muscle and is responsible for shoulder extension. It works when you pull your upper arms back at chest level to the mid-line of the body.
  • The rotator cuff: The rotator cuff has four muscles located within the shoulders. These muscles are as crucial as deltoids and provide flexibility. Strengthening the rotator cuff increases shoulder mobility and minimizes the risk of injuries.
  • The upper trap: It is a long muscle starting from the neck to the upper back and responsible for “V” shaped back and broader shoulder. Moreover, strengthening the upper trap muscles reduce the chances of low back injuries and enhance posture.

Now, let’s take a look at the list of shoulder dumbbell workouts that includes exercises for each of the above muscles.

List of shoulder dumbbell exercises

  1. Seated Dumbbell IYT Raises
    • Entire Shoulder
  2. Dumbbell Overhead Press
    • Front and Side Delt
  3. Arnold Press
    • Front and Side Delt
  4. Dumbbell Front Raises
    • Front Delt
  5. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
    • Side Delt
  6. Seated Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises
    • Posterior Delt
  7. Lying Dumbbell Reverse Fly
    • Rear Delt, Upper Trap and Rotator Cuff
  8. Dumbbell 45-Degree Incline Row
    • Lateral and Rear Delt, and Upper Trap
  9. Dumbbell Upright Row
    • Rear Delt, Upper Trap and Rotator Cuff
  10. Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs
    • Rear Delt, Upper Trap and Rotator Cuff

Let’s see how to do these exercises step-by-step.

1. Seated Dumbbell IYT Raises

The IYT raise is one of the best dumbbell workouts for shoulder muscles because it works on the entire shoulders and upper back. It is performed with lightweight dumbbells. It may be challenging for beginners, but you can give it a try.

Here are the simple steps you can follow to perform seated dumbbell IYT raises:

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip, sit on the edge of a flat bench with your feet firmly on the ground. Keep your core tight and back straight. That’s the start.
  2. Raise your arms in front of you all the way over your head so your arms are straight toward the ceiling. Hold for a moment at the top and then slowly return to the start.
  3. Now, raise your arms slightly out to the sides to form “Y” letter. That’s Y raises.
  4. And to do the last move, raise your arms outward so that they form a 90-degree angle. Hold for a couple of seconds and then slowly return the dumbbells to the start. That’s one complete one!
  5. Shoot for three sets of five to 8 reps with 60-90 seconds rest between sets.

You can also do more variations of IYT raises to train your shoulders. However, the seated one elicits higher muscle activation.

2. Dumbbell Overhead press

The dumbbell overhead press is a primary workout for shoulder muscles that you should never skip. It mainly works on the front deltoids1Dynamite Delts: ACE Research Identifies Top Shoulder Exercises and helps you improve other pressing movements, such as the bench press, push press, and clean and jerk.

Dumbbell Exercises For Shoulders

Let’s see how to perform step-by-step:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on the edge of a 90-degree incline bench with your back rested on it.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your shoulder height with your elbows bent.
  3. Keep your core tight and chest up. That’s the start.
  4. Raise the dumbbells overhead until your arms are straight.
  5. Hold for a moment and then slowly return to the start. That’s one rep!
  6. Aim for three sets of 8 to 12 reps.

You can also perform the standing overhead presses. It strengthens core muscles but puts a little stress on the lower back when you do it with heavy dumbbells.

3. Arnold Press

The Arnold press is an excellent workout to build defined shoulders as it works on entire shoulders, mainly the front and side delt. It is an intermediate-level workout and can be challenging for beginners.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of light dumbbells and sit on an incline bench with your back rested on it.
  2. Hold the dumbbell in front of your shoulders with your palms are facing in.
  3. Rotating your wrist, press the weight overhead until your arms are straight. Your palms will be facing forward at the top. Reverse the steps to complete your first rep!
  4. Perform each rep in a controlled manner. Aim for three sets of six to ten reps.

4. Dumbbell Front Raise

The dumbbell front raise is one of the best dumbbell exercises for shoulder. It strengthens the anterior delt and helps you develop solid shoulders.

Depending on your choice, you can do alternate front raises, or both arm front raises. However, It suggests you start with the alternate one.

Standing Dumbbell Exercises for Shoulder
Dumbbell Front Raises

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand upright with your arms are straight in front of you and palms facing in. Keep your back straight and chest up. That’s the start.
  2. Raise your right arm in front of you atleast till your shoulder height.
  3. Hold for a moment and then lower the dumbbell to the start. Repeat with your another arm to complete one rep!
  4. Do three sets of eight to 12 reps each.

5. Dumbbell lateral raises

The dumbbell lateral raise is an isolation movement and one of the crucial workouts for developing side muscles of your shoulders.2 Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, et al. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020;75:5-14. Published 2020 Oct 31. doi:10.2478/hukin-2020-0033 So, if you want to develop well-shaped shoulders, you shouldn’t skip this exercise.

dumbbell side delt raise
Dumbbell side delt raise

How to perform it:

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand, stand upright with your arms are straight at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Raise the dumbbells out to the sides until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold for a moment at the top and then slowly return to the start. That’s one rep!
  4. Perform three sets of eight to ten reps!

You can also perform seated lateral raises or bent arm lateral raises in the same way. However, it would be best to perform straight arm lateral raise on your A shoulder day and bent-arm lateral raise on your B shoulder day.

6. Seated Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises

The seated rear delt raises strengthen the posterior muscles of the shoulders. Moreover, it also engages the upper trap and helps you build a muscular upper body. You can alternate this move with reverse fly as they target similar muscles.

dumbbell shoulder exercises

How to do bent-over lateral raise:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and sit on the edge of a bench.
  2. Slightly bend your torso forward, face looking down and back straight.
  3. Keep your arms straight below your shoulders with the elbows slightly bent.
  4. Raise the dumbbells out to your sides until you feel the good contraction in shoulder muscles.
  5. Pause for a moment and then slowly return to the start. That’s one rep!
  6. Aim for three sets of eight to ten reps!

7. Lying Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The lying dumbbell reverse fly is an advanced dumbbell workout for the shoulder. It works on various muscles simultaneously, such as the rear deltoids and upper back. If you have a weight bench, you can try it out at your home. And when you do this exercise, you can skip the bent-over lateral raises.

Steps to perform bilateral lying reverse flyes:

  1. Lie down on a bench on your chest with your arms are straight below your shoulders.
  2. Grab one dumbbell each in hand and slightly bend your elbows. That’s the start.
  3. Raise the dumbbells out to the sides until you feel the contraction in your rear upper body.
  4. Pause there for a moment before you lower the dumbbells to the start.
  5. Do as many sets and reps as you like.

You can also do this move using one arm at a time.

8. Dumbbell 45-Degree Incline Row

The 45-degree incline rowing is one of the best dumbbell workouts for developing solid shoulders – suggested by the American Council of Exercise. It primarily strengthens lateral and rear delt and works on the upper back to some extent.

How to do it:

  1. Holding one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip, lie prone on an incline bench with your chest resting on top of it.
  2. Keep your arms straight downward with your palms are facing behind. That’s the start.
  3. Pull the dumbbells up until you feel the good contraction in your rear shoulders.
  4. Hold there for a moment before you lower the dumbbells to the start.
  5. Do as many sets and reps as you like.

9. Dumbbell upright row

The upright row is a popular exercise in the shoulder training regimen. It works on the upper trap and deltoids and increases shoulder strength and mobility. It is usually performed as a finisher on shoulder day.

shoulder and back workouts with dumbbells
shoulder and back workouts with dumbbells

How to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and stand upright with your back straight.
  2. Hold your arms straight in front of your thighs with your palms are facing in.
  3. Pull the dumbbells up toward your neck as high as possible.
  4. Hold for a couple of seconds at the top and then slowly lower it back to the start.
  5. Aim for three sets of eight to 12 reps.

10. Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs

The dumbbell shrug works on neck muscles and adds definition to your shoulders. You can do it as the last exercise to finish your shoulder training.

back and shoulder workout with dumbbells
Dumbbell Shrug

How to do shrugs:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand upright with your arms are straight at your sides, palms facing your body.
  2. Raise the dumbbells by slowly raising your shoulders in a shrugging motion.
  3. Hold for a second then slowly return to the initial position. That’s one rep!

Dumbbell Shoulder Workout Routine

To strengthen your shoulder with dumbbell workouts, you can follow this workout routine.

Routine A

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
Seated Dumbbell IYT Raises/Overhead Press36-860-90 sec
Dumbbell Front Raises38-1245-90 sec
Dumbbell Lateral Raise38-1245-90 sec
Bent-Over/Seated Rear Delt Fly38-1245-90 sec
Dumbbell Upright Row38-1245-90 sec
dumbbell shoulder workout routine for day 1

Routine B

ExerciseSetsRepsRest
Dumbbell Overhead Press/Arnold Press38-1260-90 sec
Dumbbell Bent-arm Lateral Raises38-1245-90 sec
Dumbbell Incline Rowing38-1245-90 sec
Lying Dumbbell Reverse Fly38-1245-90 sec
Dumbbell Shrug38-1245-90 sec
dumbbell shoulder workout routine for day 2

You can also check out a complete 12-week dumbbell workout plan for muscle gain.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can You Build Your Shoulders with Dumbbells Only?

Yes, dumbbells allow you to perform various exercises and help you target each muscle specifically, such as front delt, rear delt, lateral delt, and upper trap. Moreover, you can incorporate barbell shoulder exercises to build up strength and hypertrophy.

How Often Should You Train Your Shoulders?

A good muscle-building dumbbell workout routine includes shoulder exercises once to twice a week. So, train your shoulder once if you work out three times a week and twice if you work out six times a week.

What Are the 3 Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises?

The three best dumbbell shoulder exercises are the overhead press, lateral raises, and seated rear delt fly. So if you’ve limited time, you can do these movements. However, if you want to do more exercises, you can perform dumbbell upright row and shrugs.

How Heavy Dumbbells Should You Use?

Use the dumbbells that are heavy enough for doing at least six reps and a maximum of twelve. But make sure you maintain the proper form and feel the good contraction during each rep.

What Muscles Can You Train With Shoulders?

You can train any muscle with your shoulders, such as the chest, back, arms, legs, and core. For example, you can do shoulder and back together, or shoulder and arms on the same day – depending on what suits you the most.

Where Can You Buy Good Quality Dumbbells?

You can buy the dumbbells from wherever you want, such as local and online stores. I’ve selected some best dumbbells from Amazon and other platforms for various exercises. With these dumbbells, you can train each muscle effectively.

Dumbbell Exercises For Other Muscles

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