The Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises to Build Stronger Shoulders

Although the barbell is an excellent tool for building muscle and getting stronger, that doesn't mean you should underestimate dumbbells – especially when it comes to training your shoulders! The shoulder muscle group is a delicate one because we use them for basically every movement in everyday life and at the gym. This can easily lead to unknowingly overworking the shoulders and a potential overuse injury. So, using dumbbells as opposed to barbells can be easier on your wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints.

The added benefit of using dumbbells is that you can get a diverse exercise selection because you can easily change your grip, increase your range of motion, and work one shoulder at a time! That said if you want to grow stronger shoulders add the following dumbbell shoulder exercises into your routine...

7 must-do shoulder dumbbell exercises

Your shoulder is compromised by the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize your shoulders and allow them to have a wide range of motion. The deltoid muscles are three muscles that surround your shoulder, they help you perform almost all of your arm movements.

You want to strengthen every muscle in the shoulders, so we've compiled a list of the best shoulder exercises that does just that!

Seated dumbbell shoulder press

The shoulder press is one of the best shoulder exercises there is, and best of all it can be easily done with a pair of dumbbells! This exercise works your anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, upper trapezius, and even the triceps.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells in each hand and sit on a bench. Hold both dumbbells at your sides at shoulder height and your palms facing forward.
  2. Begin by lifting the dumbbells up over your head, until your arms are fully extended and the weights almost touch above your head. Make sure not to lock your elbows during this movement.
  3. Hold for a moment, then lower the dumbbells to the starting position and repeat.

Dumbbell upright row

Like the shoulder press, upright rows are a must-do compound exercise that targets various muscles in your shoulders. It helps target the entire deltoid muscle group, along with your trap muscles, arms, and core.

How to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand with the weights placed in front of your thighs.
  2. Begin by rowing the dumbbells up in front of your shoulders so that your elbows begin to flare at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together throughout the movement. Your elbows should be up at your sides and slightly above shoulder level.
  3. Hold the position for a second, then lower the weights and repeat.

Dumbbell shrugs

Although dumbbell shrugs make for a great back exercise due to it targeting mainly your upper back, the trapezius to be exact, it also makes for a great shoulder-building exercise! It helps work your rhomboid (responsible for shoulder blade mobility and stability), and your forearms, and it helps to overall strengthen and stabilize your neck and shoulders.

How to do it:

  1. Stand upright with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart and grab a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Hold the dumbbells down at your sides.
  2. Begin by shrugging your shoulders straight up, without rolling them.
  3. Hold for a second, then lower your shoulders straight down to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Arnold press

The Arnold press is a great variation of the shoulder press that activates all three of the deltoid muscles in your shoulders. It also helps target the traps, triceps, and core.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with two dumbbells positioned in front of shoulders, palms facing body and elbows under wrists.
  2. Start the movement by bringing elbows out to the sides. Continue to raise elbows outward while pressing dumbbells overhead until arms are straight.
  3. Lower to the front of the shoulders in the opposite pattern and repeat.

Leaning lateral raises

Lateral raises are a classic shoulder isolation exercise everyone should do. It works the trap muscles and the front and lateral deltoids. However, this slight variation that involves isolating one shoulder at a time and slightly leaning sideways, helps the delts work even in the bottom position. This helps make the lift more challenging and better for sculpting round shoulders.

How to do it:

  1. Standing next to a squat rack, hold a dumbbell in your hand farthest away from the rack with your arm at your side, and your palm facing towards you.
  2. Grab the rack with your free hand for support. Raise the dumbbell up to the side at shoulder height.
  3. Pause, then lower the weight to return to the starting position.

Dumbbell front raises

This is a great isolation exercise that primarily targets the front deltoids.

How to do it:

  1. Start by grabbing two dumbbells in both hands, and place the dumbbells in front of your upper legs with your elbows slightly bent.
  2. Begin to lift the dumbbells upward in front you until your arms are above horizontal
  3. Hold for a moment, then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Seated bent-over lateral rear delt raises

This is another isolation exercise that targets primarily the posterior deltoids, also known as the rear delts.

How to do it:

  1. Sit in an upright position and then hinge forward from the hips.
  2. Allow the arms to hang straight down from the shoulders with a neutral grip and dumbbells behind your calves.
  3. Take a deep breath and pull the dumbbells towards the ceiling using the rear deltoids.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position under control.

Start building shoulders like boulders!

Use the exercises listed above to build an effective dumbbell shoulder workout, but remember the shoulders are a delicate muscle group, so take precautions when training them. Choose an appropriate weight for your fitness level, avoid full elbow extension, warm up properly, and implement a good training split that doesn't work your shoulders back-to-back! Oh and take a scoop of 373 Lab's Pre-Workout so your training performance is at its highest level 😉

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The Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises to Build Stronger Shoulders