7 Great Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises You Need To Know About in 2016

The shoulder is an incredible part of your body. It’s the most mobile joint that you have – just think of all the directions your arm can move in.

Shoulders are also a key to that sought-after athletic look. So if you are wondering how to build shoulder muscles, don’t worry. You don’t need a gym membership. There are many simple and effective exercises that you can do in the comfort of your own home. Just pick up a pair of dumbbells and you’re good to go!

Avoid injury and pain by keeping away from these exercise mistakes

dumbbell shoulder workout injury

Before you start working those shoulders, make sure to avoid newbie mistakes. This particular group of muscles is prone to injuries. Improper technique and workout plans can cause strains, inflammation, and a lot of pain. To avoid getting hurt, keep the following in mind:

  • The deltoid (shoulder) muscle is composed of three heads: anterior, posterior, and lateral. Make sure to develop all three evenly. This won’t only help prevent injuries but will also give your shoulders that even “cannonball” look.
  • The anterior deltoid gets a good amount of workout from non-shoulder exercises (like the bench press). For this reason, you often don’t need to work it as much as the more neglected lateral and posterior deltoids.
  • The shoulder joint is not just affected by the deltoid muscle. It is also surrounded by the muscles of your back, arm, and chest. Building up one group of these muscles over another can create a strain on your shoulder joint, leading to a number of problems. A sign that you’re ignoring some muscle groups? Not being able to get the weight in place without the help of a spotter.
  • In any kind of weight-lifting exercise, the objective is to control the weight. Don’t use your legs to push the weight up and don’t just let it just fall down with gravity. If you’re doing lateral exercises, don’t swing the weights. All of these are signs that you’re using weights that are too heavy. Handling weights that are too heavy also puts you under the risk of sprains and tendinitis.

The 7 exercises in this article will help you cover all three heads of the deltoid muscle, but don’t forget to work on your arms, chest, and back to make sure your building up your muscles evenly.

Some signs you’re in trouble

dumbbell shoulder exercise troubles

Obviously, if you’re in pain, you should probably stop exercising. But watch out for other symptoms like popping, clicking, or catching in the joint.  This could be a sign of a problem like a rotator cuff injury.

A rotator cuff injury can occur due to repetitive stress, such as in weight lifting. To reduce its risk, make sure you’re always in control of your weights. People who use improper technique often don’t exert themselves enough – so they end up doing more sets of exercises with heavier weights. This makes them more likely to end up with repetitive stress injuries.

An injury can also occur due to shoulder impingement: when the bone rubs against a tendon or bursa. This can cause inflammation and could even lead to a tendon tear in the long term! So if you’re having difficulty raising your arm over your head or feeling an aching pain in your shoulder, make sure to get it checked out.

If this is making your nervous – don’t worry. Proper form will help you avoid these problems. I included a video for each exercise that go over the proper form to help you avoid costly mistakes. So don’t just pick up a pair of dumbbells and start lifting! Make sure you know how to do it right first.

Why Dumbbells?                        

exercises with dumbbellSome people might think that machines at the gym are a better way of bulking up. Not true! Dumbbells are an excellent choice for your workout. Here are a few reasons:

  • Dumbbells use more of your stabilizer muscles than barbells. This means that you’ll be working your biceps while bench-pressing! This is also the reason you might have to lift a smaller weight with dumbbells as opposed to barbells.
  • You’ll notice an imbalance in your arms easier. Whereas your strong arm will cover for your weaker arm with a barbell, you will notice that one arm is weaker very quickly with a dumbbell.
  • Dumbbells don’t lock you into one plane of motion. You wouldn’t be able to do many of the exercises below with a barbell. In addition, you can slightly change the angle of your motion with dumbbells, thus focusing more on a particular set of muscles instead of others. Such variation is impossible with a barbell.
  • Dumbbells are not as a dangerous! If you can’t handle the weight, just drop them! Dropping a barbell is often not an option.

So, ready to get your workout on? Wondering where to start? Here are seven dumbbell shoulder exercises that will build muscle and won’t break the bank!

Let’s start with the basics. These next three exercises work one head of your deltoid each. These are you go-to exercises for when you need to exercise that particular head. Chances are you are already familiar with these. No problem! Scrolls further down for some advanced exercises that work multiple heads instead.

  1. Lateral Raises (lateral deltoid)

This is a common exercise that works your side delts, but a lot of people get the technique wrong. Scott Herman from MuscularStrength.com does a great job showing the right way of doing it in this brief video. Pay attention to his form to make sure you don’t hurt yourself!

Keep the weights to your sides, or on your thighs in front. Bend your knees slightly and make sure to pinch your shoulder blades. Then simply raise the dumbbells sideways until they reach shoulder height. Hold still briefly and then lower them carefully down to the starting position.

As I noted earlier, make sure to not just let the weights swing down with gravity. Rather, control them on the way down. This helps you avoid injury and requires more effort. No pain, no gain!

  1. Front Raises (anterior deltoid)

This is a variation of the previous exercise for building your front delts. Personal trainer Joe Tong does a good job explaining the technique.

Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing down. Bend your elbows slightly to not engage the biceps. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height, hold briefly, and bring them down slowly.

Remember: you probably already work your anterior deltoids with other exercises. Use this exercise sparingly, unless you need more definition in that particular head of your deltoid.

  1. Bent-over Lateral Raises (posterior deltoid)

Feel the pain? If you’re like most people, this is the most undeveloped head of your deltoid muscle. If you need to start out with a lower weight, that’s OK. You probably won’t use your rear delts much in other exercises, so make sure to include this one in your workout plan. Scott Herman’s brief video above does a good job of going over the proper technique.

Your starting position should be bent over with your legs shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Keep a neutral spine with your head down and hold the dumbbells out in front of you. Scott recommends pinching your shoulder blades like in the lateral raises, but there’s some debate on that. Some of the trainers recommend relaxing your shoulder blades instead.

With your elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells until level with your back and bring them down slowly. Don’t use the momentum to swing down. Control the weight to avoid injury and add intensity to your workout.

Ok, so those were the basics to get your dumbbell shoulder workout started. The next dumbbell shoulder exercises take it to the next level!

  1. The Arnold Press (all heads)

As the Buff Dudes video above explains, the Arnold Press is great as a warm-up for your shoulder workout. The rotation works all heads of the deltoid, getting you ready for head-specific exercises. Buff Dudes also suggest using this exercise as a burn-out at the end of your workout.

Sitting down on a bench, start with holding the dumbbells at shoulder level with your palms facing you. As you push up, rotate the dumbbells so that you finish with your elbows locked and palms facing out. Rotate them back as you bring them down again.

  1. Clean and Press (mostly lateral deltoid)

A decent demo by Matt Chan from Rogue Fitness shows how to do this one. A great exercise for a warm up that’ll get your heart going after just a few reps! This is also a good move for bringing a heavy weight up for a press.

Start with your butt out and knees bent, holding your dumbbells. Straighten out, shrug your shoulders, come under the dumbbells, and then stand straight. From here, you can do a push press for a lateral deltoid exercise, or mix it up with something else like the Arnold press to work all heads.

  1. Front to Lateral Raise (all heads)

A total killer exercise from the linked segment of another Buff Dudes video. A combination of the front and lateral raises that works your whole deltoid. It’s a great way to finish off your workout for that extra burn!

Start out in the front raise position (that’s the #2 on this list) and raise the dumbbells until you reach shoulder height. Instead of bringing the weights back down, move the dumbbells sideways until they are in the lateral position. Bring them down slowly from here. Now, do the reverse. Start with a lateral raise (that’s the first exercise on this list), then push the weights in front of you, and lower them back down.

For a proper workout, do consider using a lighter weight so that you have full control of the dumbbell. The Buff Dudes clip may not be a perfect example of that in this case.

  1. Straight-arm Kickback (posterior deltoid)

http://www.coachmag.co.uk/exercises/shoulder-exercises/3192/3-straight-arm-dumb-bell-kick-back

That’s right! You might think of kickbacks as tricep exercises, but you can use them to work your shoulder as well. Keep your arm straight and you’ll feel it in the rear deltoid. I couldn’t find a good video, but this Coach article does a decent job of explaining this simple exercise.

Your starting position here is going to be similar to the bent over lateral raises (exercise #3 on this list). Bend your knees, keep a neutral spine, and let the dumbbells hang in front of you. But instead of keeping your elbows slightly bent, straighten them out. Then pull your arms back until your arms are parallel to your body.

Make sure to go all the way back and hold the weight there for a moment. Your rear deltoid engages especially at the end of this motion.

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exercises with dumbbells at homeAnd that’s it for my pick of the 7 dumbbell shoulder exercises! I hope that this helps you get your exercise on at home or at the gym. Make sure to check the videos for the correct form of each exercise and don’t forget to balance out your workout regimen.

Don’t overwork one head of the deltoid over the other to avoid unbalanced pressure on your shoulder joint, and make sure the supporting muscles of your back, arm, and chest are also getting their share.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical or athletic professional, so if you’re having pain or difficulty with these exercises, ask a pro!

About the Author Dumbbellsgeek

Hey! My name is Paul Sheldon. I live in Nashville, TN and I love all things related to sports. Naturally I love workking out and I do it every day. If you want to talk feel freee to hit me a message or if you happen to be in Nashville we can get a coffee, I know a great place. Peace!