If you want to sculpt your shoulder and improve posture and definition of your upper body, you can do unilateral exercises. The unilateral workouts allow you to focus more on your weaker side and help correct strength and muscle imbalance. I’ve shared the five best dumbbell unilateral shoulder exercises to help you improve the strength, size, mobility, and appearance of your deltoids.
I personally use these exercises once or twice a month to target each muscle of my shoulder unilaterally and efficiently. And you can also use them to focus on each side of your anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid individually.
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Benefits of Doing Unilateral Shoulder Exercises with Dumbbells
Dumbbells are easy to use because they provide good resistance, a better range of motion, and a suitable grip, as well as allow you to perform various single-arm exercises efficiently and effectively.
You can perform the unilateral shoulder exercises in a way you want with dumbbells. For example, in the standing, seated, and lying positions.
Dumbbells are also helpful for people who exercise at home because they require less space.
Best Dumbbell Unilateral Shoulder Exercises to Improve Strength and Mobility
- Single-arm Front Raises
- One-arm Lateral Raises
- Leaning One-arm Lateral Raise
- One-arm Rear Delt Raise
- Single-arm Arnold Press
1. Single-arm Front Raises
Even though the anterior delt works during various push exercises, such as bench presses, parallel bar dips, and pushups but still, one side can dominate the other if both sides of your anterior delt don’t get proper training, which usually happens in most scenarios.
That’s why it becomes crucial to focus on each side of your anterior delt individually and work more on your more fragile side. And for that, you can perform single-arm front raises. The front raises work on your anterior delt and definition to your shoulders.
- Grab a dumbbell in your right hand with an overhand grip.
- Stand tall with your core tight and raise the dumbbell in front of you until your arm is parallel to the floor.
- Lower the weight at the starting point in a controlled fashion and repeat for the desired reps and sets. Do more reps on your weaker side.
Note: You can also use a neutral grip to perform unilateral front raises. The neutral grip front raises hit your anterior delt from a slightly different angle.
2. One-arm Dumbbell Lateral Raises
This is one of my favorite shoulder exercises because it helps me focus more on lateral delt. The lateral delt is often skipped during different push and pull exercises and left underdeveloped. But thanks to lateral raises as they allow you train your side delt effectively.1 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
The one-arm lateral raise help you target one side of your delt at a time, so you can focus more on your weaker side.
- Grab a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip. You can perform this exercise both in a seated and standing position.
- With your elbows slightly bent, raise your arm at your side (not directly out to your side but 10-15 degrees forward) until your upper arm is parallel to the floor.
- Lower the dumbbell in the starting position in a controlled manner.
- Perform the desired sets and reps equally on both sides.
3. Leaning One-arm Lateral Raise
The learning lateral raise is one of the best single arm shoulder exercises you can do to even out muscle imbalance and increase your shoulder mobility. It works on your side delt and helps build sturdy and rounded deltoids.
- Stand beside a tall object, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip.
- Grab the object with your left hand, lean away from the object and keep your right arm straight to your side.
- Raise the dumbbell out to your side until your arm is parallel to the floor.
- Pause, then return the dumbbell to the start in a slow and controlled fashion.
4. One-arm Rear Delt Raise
If you want to build defined and sturdy shoulders, you should never skip rear delt exercises, but unfortunately, most people often do, or they just don’t train properly.
The rear or posterior delt is a tiny muscle that helps rotate your shoulder, gives your shoulder good shape, and reduces the risk of injuries. The best exercise you can do to grow your posterior delt with dumbbells is rear delt raise.
The rear delt raise is one of the best exercises to activate posterior delt muscles, showed in a study published by the American Council of Exercise (ACE).2ACE 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.
- Grab a dumbbell in your left hand with a neutral grip and stand against the wall.
- Bent forward until your chest is parallel to the floor, keep your left arm straight beneath your shoulder and your right elbow on your right knee for support. Maintain a flat back. That’s the start.
- Raise your arm up and out until you feel the full contraction in your rear delt.
- Pause, and then lower the dumbbell in the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired sets and reps but do more on your weaker side.
Note: You can also perform the rear delt raise sitting or lying on the bench, depending on in which position you feel more contraction in your working muscle and how much comfort you feel.
5. Single-arm Arnold Press
The Arnold press is an excellent exercise for targeting front deltoid and is better than the traditional overhead press, shown in a EMG analysis published by the Indian Journal of Public Health Research and Development.3Raizada, Shiny & Bagchi, Amritashish. (2017). Comparison among the EMG Activity of the Anterior Deltoid and Medial Deltoid During Two Variations of Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise. Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development. 8. 653. 10.5958/0976-5506.2017.00411.9
It puts your muscles under constant tension and helps you develop solid delts and is worth including in your shoulder muscle imbalance exercises.
However, this is an intermediate level exercise, so I would not suggest this to beginners.
Let’s see how to person one-arm Arnold press:
- Grab a dumbbell in your right hand with an underhand and sit on the edge of a flat bench.
- Bend your arm so the elbow points toward the floor and hold the dumbbell in front of your shoulder, palm facing in.
- Keeping your back straight, raise the dumbbell up by twisting your hand from facing your body to facing forward at the top.
- Hold for a moment and return to the start by reversing step three.
The Takeaway Message
The unilateral exercises allow you to focus more on your fragile side and help correct strength and muscle imbalance.
There are many ways you can do unilateral exercises for the shoulder, but the above exercises are for those who train with dumbbells.
I’ve shared five exercises in this article that work on each delt, front, lateral, and rear, and help build sturdy shoulders.
You can do these exercises anytime you like, especially when you feel your one side is dominating the other or delts are not equal in shape.
Are unilateral exercises better than bilateral ones? NO, both kinds of exercises are good and help build strength and muscles. You can use them both depending on the situation.
Note: These exercises are not recommended for those who have shoulder injuries. So it’s best to consult with your doctor before you perform these movements.
I hope you like this article. You can always contact me for any query related to exercise and fitness. I’ll try to help you out as per my ability.
I’ve created a simple, easy-to-follow, and effective 72 days dumbbell workout plan for all fitness enthusiasts. You can give it try.
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- 1Campos 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
- 2ACE 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.
- 3Raizada, Shiny & Bagchi, Amritashish. (2017). Comparison among the EMG Activity of the Anterior Deltoid and Medial Deltoid During Two Variations of Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise. Indian Journal of Public Health Research & Development. 8. 653. 10.5958/0976-5506.2017.00411.9