The 9 Best Shoulder Exercises For Building Muscle

The 9 Best Shoulder Exercises For Building Muscle

10 min read


01 Jun 2024

Hack Beast Mode

  1. The golden rules to building bigger shoulders and a solid upper body
  2. The best exercises for building bigger shoulder muscles
  3. Take your shoulder strength training up a gear

It feels like broad backs and colossal chests tend to hog all the upper-body limelight. Not to mention those bulging biceps and terrific triceps.

(We’ll stop with the alliteration now. It’s rhyme time instead…)

But what about boulder shoulders?

They’re just as important to train as any other muscle group in your body. So why don’t they get the same hype and attention?

They absolutely should—so we’re going to give them their moment in the sun.

We’re going to show you why your shoulders are more than just a shelf for the barbell during squats. We’ll also run through our nine favorite exercises for beefing up your shoulders to round out that shredded upper-body physique.

Just like Atlas, you’ll be able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders by the end of this guide. But without, you know, the burden of carrying the actual world on your shoulders. It’ll be much more fun than that.

Before we get into all the shoulder exercises, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of your shoulders. Because knowing how they operate will allow you to train them much more effectively and really make huge gains in that area.

The main parts of your shoulder muscles are the deltoids (or delts). There are three distinct parts to your delts:

  • Anterior deltoid (the front delt head)
  • Lateral deltoid (the middle delt head)
  • Posterior deltoid (the rear delt head)

Each of these heads is responsible for different types of shoulder movement.

As you’d expect, the anterior deltoids are located at the front of your shoulders and are involved in shoulder flexion: Moving your arms forwards.

The lateral deltoids are situated on the sides of your shoulders where they can help with shoulder abduction—moving your arms to the side as well as up and down.

Finally, your posterior deltoids (or rear deltoids) sit at the back of your shoulders where they aid shoulder extension—moving your arms backwards.

You’ve also got your rotator cuff muscles to further stabilize the shoulder joints and enable rotational movements. You’ve also got the trapezius muscles (or traps), which span your upper back and neck, that contribute to shoulder stability and movement, particularly during movements involving the scapula (your shoulder blade).

It's crucial that you train all parts of the shoulder muscles equally to ensure balanced development and to reduce your risk of shoulder injuries.

Strong shoulders play a key role in your overall ability and capacity to lift weights, enhance your stability and balance, and lead to better posture and upper-body alignment and symmetry. So you really don’t want them going undertrained.

Similarly, strengthening the surrounding musculature, such as the upper back muscles and rotator cuff, is vital for maintaining good shoulder health and further promoting stability during your shoulder training sessions.

Now you know what you’re working with, let’s supersize those shoulders!

The golden rules to building bigger shoulders and a solid upper body


Building muscle on your shoulders is pretty much the same as building muscle anywhere else on your body. 

You just need to follow the basic underlying principles that contribute to muscle growth and perform exercises that target the right area.

Keep these golden rules of building muscle mass in mind as you put together your shoulder workout routine and you’ll go far:

  • It’s all about form: To avoid injury and optimize growth, you need to lift with the correct form. Swinging the weights because they’re too heavy, using extra momentum from other body parts, or only half-assing your reps are all big no-nos. Go through the full range of motion with an appropriate weight and control the tempo – that’s how you lift properly.

  • Keep progressing: Don’t just stick to the same weights, reps, and sets forevermore. You need to progressively overload your muscles and continuously challenge them. Big results occur when you’re able to keep lifting more over time. Up the weights, add more reps or sets, or increase the intensity by slowing down on the eccentric portion of a lift.

  • Do compound exercises: Big compound lifts that involve multiple muscle groups should form the basis of your workouts (things like squats, deadlifts, lunges, bench presses, and pull-ups). Then, you can round out your gym sessions with isolation exercises for the body parts you’re training that day.

  • Eat your protein: When you lift weights, you create micro-tears in your muscle tissue. These are then healed and repaired larger and stronger than before so they’re able to deal with the same heavy loads easier the next time. But they can only get bigger if they have enough protein to fuel that growth. So make sure to calculate the protein, calories, and macros split needed for your individual goals and physique.

  • Give it a rest: In addition to protein to repair the muscle-fiber tears, you also need to give your muscles the rest required for them to actually do their mending. Schedule in one or two rest days each week so that the healing can happen, and get plenty of sleep every night (around seven to nine hours) to boost the release of testosterone and human growth hormone and restore and replenish your physical and mental energy levels.
woman working out

Along with following these golden rules, another surefire way to enhance your results in the gym is to find supplements that complement what you’re trying to achieve in your shoulder workouts.

Whether you’re bulking, cutting, gaining strength, or just looking to enhance your all-around gym performance, there are supplement stacks to fuel your ambitions.

That’s the appetizers out of the way. Now let’s move on to the main course: the most effective exercises for bulking up your shoulders.

The best exercises for building bigger shoulder muscles

People are often told they have to shoulder some responsibility, shoulder the blame, or shoulder some sort of burden, but the only thing you’ll be shouldering is a massive sense of pride and satisfaction.

This is how to get shoulders big enough to carry the weight of your accomplishments.

Overhead barbell press

man doing barbell press

Also known as the military press, the barbell overhead press targets your entire shoulders, as well as hitting your chest, upper back, and triceps.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with a barbell laying across your upper chest and your hands gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Press the bar up overhead until your arms are fully extended and your elbows are locked out.
  • Briefly pause at the top of the movement before slowly lowering back down to the starting position.
  • BONUS TIP: An added tweak to this exercise is to turn it into a push press by slightly bending at the knees and driving up with your legs as you press the weight explosively upwards.

Dumbbell shoulder press

Like the overhead press, dumbbell presses hit the whole shoulder area, with particular emphasis on the front and side delts. You can train shoulders one at a time, or both simultaneously…the choice is yours.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, or sit on a bench with the backrest set at a 75 to 90° angle, with dumbbells at shoulder height.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are straight and elbows are locked.
  • Pause briefly at the top then lower slowly back to the starting position.

Arnold press

A slight rotational twist to the standard dumbbell press that can also be performed seated or standing. Another great way to work your front and side delts.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, or sit on a bench with the backrest set at a 75 to 90° angle, with dumbbells at shoulder height and your palms facing towards you.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead while rotating your palms to face forward until your arms are straight and elbows are locked.
  • Pause briefly at the top then lower and rotate slowly back to the starting position.

Lat raises

Time to really test those side delts now with some lateral raises. You can do these on the cable machines or with dumbbells—whichever way you prefer. 

Just make sure to start out at a lighter weight and maintain that slow and controlled form. Watch the video above for how to do cable raises, or follow the bullet points below if using light dumbbells.

  • Stand with dumbbells in your hands, arms hanging down by your sides.
  • Raise the weights up and out to the sides until they are parallel to the ground.
  • Slowly lower back down to their starting positions.

Upright rows

We’re sticking with your side delts, but you’ll also be getting your upper traps in on the action here.

  • Hold a barbell (or dumbbells) in front of you with an overhand grip (hanging in front of your thighs.
  • Raise the weight up towards your chin in front of your body (until the bar reaches chest height), keeping it close to your body.
  • Pause at the top as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Lower back down to the starting position.

Face pulls

By this point, your rear delts are probably feeling a bit left out, so let’s get them working, too.

You’ve got a few options here. You can stand, kneel, or sit at the cable machine and use the rope attachment, or you can just use a resistance band instead. Here’s how to do a standing cable face pull.

  • Set up a cable machine with a rope (or dual handles) attached to a high pulley.
  • Stand facing the cable machine and grab the handles with an overhand grip, palms facing each other.
  • Take a few steps back to create tension in the cable and assume a staggered stance for stability.
  • Keeping your elbows high and out to the sides, pull the handles towards your face, focusing on squeezing the muscles between your shoulder blades.
  • Hold the contraction for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position.

Front raises

These are similar to the cable or dumbbell lateral raise exercise mentioned earlier. But instead of your lateral delts you’ll be hitting your front delts as you raise the weights up in front of your body to really round out the look of your shoulder.

As before, the video above will show you how to do cable raises, and the bullet points below describe the form for using dumbbells.

  • Stand with dumbbells in your hands, arms hanging down by your sides.
  • Raise the weights up straight out in front of you until they are parallel to the ground.
  • Slowly lower back down to their starting positions.


Another shoulder exercise that can be performed with either dumbbells or a barbell. Shrugs really emphasize your upper traps, which help to further develop the size and shape of your shoulders.

  • Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold a barbell in front of your thighs.
  • Shrug your shoulders straight up towards your ears.
  • Hold for a second, then lower back down.

Reverse flyes

Once again, you’re spoilt for choice. You can use dumbbells, resistance bands, or the cable machine. Take your pick, as they all target your rear delts and upper back.

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lean forward with a slight bend in your knees.
  • Raise the weights up and out to the sides until they are parallel to the ground.
  • Slowly lower back to the starting position.

Take your shoulder strength training up a gear

Shoulder workout

There we go. That’s how effective shoulder workouts build more muscle and can help you further sculpt a strong and solid upper body.

Hopefully you’re now feeling inspired and are raring to go with a sensational shoulder session.

Just make sure to follow the golden rules above, and you’ll be, well, golden.

Likewise, finding your perfect supplement match will lead to even more epic muscle growth and supercharged shoulder strength.

And if you’re ever hungry for more quality workout tips and recovery routines, make sure to check out the CrazyBulk blog and YouTube channel.

We’ve got loads more in both places to help you boost your performance, enhance your results, and kick your gains up a notch or ten.

We’ll be there waiting, so don’t give us the cold shoulder, no matter how big they might now be. (Also, don’t hold that terrible joke against us…)

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