Strengthening shoulder muscles comes with more benefits than just upper body aesthetics. Stronger shoulders may help you to exercise better, be less susceptible to injuries, and lift and carry heavier objects. Whether you’re looking to strengthen your shoulders for looks or to be able to lift a few extra pounds, keep reading for plenty of tips on how to strengthen shoulders in no time.1
Exercises To Strengthen The Shoulders
Creating a sculpted shoulder look won’t happen overnight, but a little bit of dedication and tenacity can go a long way.
Here are some great strengthening exercises to get you started:
Note: These exercises can be done with (or without) a lightweight resistance band or small, handheld weight as you see fit.
- Internal rotation: This exercise is great for strengthening your rotator cuff and may even help improve poor posture. Grab a “spacer” (a rolled towel, shirt, etc.) and place it between your ribs and elbow. If you’re using a resistance band or weight, grip your equipment while moving your arm towards your body (keep the spacer in place). Make sure your thumb is pointed to the ceiling and don’t move your shoulder as you move your arm.
- External rotation: This exercise may help improve your posture and strengthen rotator cuff muscles. Assume the same posture and position as the internal rotation exercise. Instead of moving your arm toward your body, your arm will move outward.
- Lateral raises: Lateral raises are perfect for strengthening the muscles if you do, or are looking to start doing, a lot of overhead motion, like lifting weights or strength training. Engage your back and pinch your shoulder blades together. Start with your hands right at your hips and move your arms toward the sky, making a “T” shape at about shoulder level (the motion will mimic flying).
- Anterior shoulder raises: This exercise helps open up the shoulders and back while simultaneously strengthening your range of motion. Sit with your chest up. Grip your equipment and move your arms toward the sky. Your hands should be as high as they can comfortably go while keeping your shoulder blades together.
- Standing laterals: Laterals are great for supporting shoulder strength and good posture. Start with your arms outstretched, pinkies touching and thumbs pointed outward. Move your arms into a “T” shape while still keeping your elbows locked in. Be careful not to hike your shoulders up – it will only make this exercise harder.
- Shoulder taps: Not only might this exercise help strengthen your shoulders, but your abs will thank you, too. Assume a high plank position, and then alternate shoulder taps (you’ll use your opposite hand to tap the opposite shoulder). It may sound easy in theory, but you’ll need a good amount of core and arm strength to master this exercise.2,3
Repeat these exercises for three sets of 10 reps. Once you feel you’ve mastered these techniques, a little bit of sculpting is in order.
Exercises That Safely Sculpt Shoulders
Now that you’ve strengthened those shoulders, it’s time to sculpt. You’ll most likely need a solid set of heavy weights for these exercises to get the ultimate sculpted shoulders.
Try these out the next time you hit the gym for a shoulder workout:
- Shoulder press: This exercise focuses specifically on your anterior and lateral deltoids. For your starting position, position the weights a little above shoulder height. With your wrists facing outward, press your arms to the ceiling and then slowly bring them back down.
- Lateral raises: This one’s strictly for your lateral deltoid muscles. Stand forward slightly with dumbbells in hand (be sure not to round your shoulders for proper form). Raise your arms out to the side of your body, bringing them to shoulder height, and then return to your sides. Repeat as many times as you’d like.
- Anterior raises: These are similar to lateral raises, but with more emphasis shown to the anterior deltoids, rather than the entire shoulder. You may want to pick a set of weights that’s lighter for this challenging exercise. Standing up straight with shoulders back and chest up, bring your arms to the front of your body (wrists facing toward you). Slowly bring your arms up to a little above shoulder height, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Lower and repeat.4
Exercises To Help Prevent Common Shoulder Injuries
You don’t necessarily need a physical therapist for these shoulder exercises. Keep these in your arsenal to help prevent a nasty shoulder girdle, shoulder joint, or general shoulder injury:
- Doorway stretch: Perfect for opening up those rotator cuff muscles, simply find any open doorway for this stretch. Grip the sides of the doorway with each hand and walk forward until you feel a slight stretch. Lean and shift your weight on your toes to really open up the front of both your right and left shoulder.5
- Pendulum: This exercise works the deltoids, and it doesn’t require any equipment. Simply find a countertop and place one hand on it for support (let’s say you’re right shoulder/right hand). Your other arm will hang at your side. Lean forward and gently swing your free arm forward and back, side to side, and in a circular motion. Switch over to the left shoulder and repeat.
- Crossover stretch: You’re most likely familiar with this simple stretch, but it’s still helpful nonetheless. Hook your right elbow in your left (right around your upper arm bone) and stretch your arm across your chest, holding for 30 seconds. Rest for another 30 seconds and then repeat with the left elbow.6
How To Incorporate Good Nutrition
One of the easiest things you can do to help protect and nourish your muscles including your shoulder muscles, is ensure that your diet is packed full of protein, carbs, and plenty of other nutrients. Eggs, Greek yogurt, soy beans, lean turkey breast or beef, quinoa, and even beets are just some examples of the types of foods that may help protect and support muscle growth and reparation after a grueling gym session.7
Additionally, protein powders may also be another great source of nutrients, especially if you’re one who finds themselves not getting as much protein from your diet as you’d like. Blend some into a smoothie or shake for a pre or post workout snack to help fortify your shoulder muscles.8
Time To Flex
Strong, sculpted shoulders not only look great, but they can help you feel great, too. By investing in your upper arms and upper back muscles, you’re investing in a lifelong regimen of your health and well-being. No matter your reason for wanting stronger-looking shoulders, the benefits are tenfold. All it takes is a little tenacity and dedication to achieve the shoulders you’ve always desired.
Keep at your exercises and get ready to flex those muscles – all your hard work is bound to pay off.