As a firefighter and personal trainer, I know the importance of having strong shoulders. They’re an integral part of my training routine and help me prevent injuries during physically demanding work days.
These shoulder exercises all get cycled in and out of my personal training routine, as well as the routines of my clients.
There is some equipment required to do these exercises, but nothing that isn’t a staple in any home gym.
The following reps, sets, and tempos apply to all exercises based on your desired results. The tempo is broken down into the number of seconds to raise the weight: the number of seconds to pause at the top: the number of seconds to lower the weight: and a final pause at the bottom before repeating. For example, 3:1:3:1 is 3 seconds up, 1-second pause at the top, 3 seconds down, and 1-second pause at the bottom.
|Personal Goal||Total Sets||Total Reps||Exercise Tempo|
|Muscular Endurance||1-3 sets||15 or more reps||4:0:6:0|
|Hypertrophy||3-4 sets||6-12 reps||3:1:3:1|
|Maximum Strength||3-5 sets||1-6 reps||3:0:3:0|
|Power||3-5 sets||1-5 reps||Fastest controllable tempo|
Click below for details on each exercise:
Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Your lower body should feel comfortable yet stable.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and raise the dumbbells up to shoulder height. Your palms can face forward, or toward each other. Your elbows should be slightly bent.
Maintain an upright posture (not leaning forward). Inhale as you press both dumbbells up overhead while keeping them aligned.
Exhale as you lower them back down to complete one repetition. Check the table above for an ideal number of sets and reps.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The dumbbell lateral raise is one of the best exercises for building your shoulders and arms.
You can perform this exercise with a single dumbbell and do one arm at a time, or 2 dumbbells of the same weight and work both arms simultaneously. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as the dumbbells are light enough for you to do the movement with proper form.
Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the dumbbells in your hands at hip height with your palms facing each other. Keep your elbows slightly bent and raise the weights to the sides of your body up to shoulder height.
Pause at the top of the movement and return to the starting position without letting the dumbbells touch your body at the bottom position.
Do not lock out elbows at any point during execution. Instead, keep them bent throughout the movement so that there is constant tension on the side delts. Check the table above for an ideal number of sets and reps.
Dumbbell Front Raise
The dumbbell front raise will work the anterior deltoids on the front of your shoulder.
To do this exercise correctly, take a light dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your thighs. Raise both arms straight out in front of you to about 90 degrees, parallel with the floor or higher if possible. Do not bend at the elbow.
Hold at the top before lowering back down. Try to avoid rocking or swaying to use momentum to help you get the weights up. If you have to use momentum to raise the weight, it’s a clear indicator your dumbbells are too heavy. Start lighter and master the form before progressing to higher weights.
The Upright Row exercise is one of my favorite upper body exercises. It works the muscles in your back, shoulders, and arms. It’s a great exercise for building muscle mass and strength. Upright rows can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, or EZ Curl bar.
Stand tall with the feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the dumbbells in front of you at hip height with your palms facing your thighs. Your hands should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width.
Bend your knees slightly and keep your shoulders pinned back. Stand with your weight in the heels of your feet.
Use your shoulders to raise the dumbbells straight up while bending your arms up and moving your elbows out to the side. Keep the dumbbells close to your body and raise them until they are chest height. Pause at the top of the movement before slowly lowering to the start position. Check the table above for an ideal number of sets and reps.
Standing Rear-Delt Flys
This exercise is a variation of the cable rear-delt fly. It is one of my favorite exercises for targeting the rear deltoids. It’s also a great exercise for a small home gym because it requires only two dumbbells.
Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Bend slightly at the knees, and hold a weight in each hand with your palms facing inward.
Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back flat and your head up. Allow your arms to hang straight down in front of you.
Keeping your palms facing in, raise your arms out to the sides. Pause briefly and return to the starting position. Check the table above for an ideal number of sets and reps.
You should feel this movement mostly in your shoulders but it will also target your traps (upper back) and rhomboids (muscles between your shoulder blades).
Push-ups are a great bodyweight exercise that can help build strength in your shoulders. They also work on your pectoral muscles and triceps. You can do push-ups anywhere, with hundreds of variations for consistent growth.
The standard push-up involves starting in a high plank and lowering yourself until your chest is about an inch from the floor, then pushing back up. Start with your hands shoulder-width apart and your core, quads, and glutes tight.
Brace your core as you slowly bend your elbows to lower your chest to the ground, keeping your entire body rigid. Pause, then slowly press back up to the plank position.
Push-ups are one of the most popular upper-body exercises because they are versatile. They require zero equipment and little space to perform correctly. They also target multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
TRX Face Pulls
If you own TRX Suspension Trainers, then the TRX Face Pulls are simple but effective shoulder exercises you should add to your routine. Face pulls can alternatively be done with the rope attachment on a functional trainer if you happen to already own of those and not TRX Suspension Trainers.
Secure the TRX to an elevated point. Grab the handles of the TRX Suspension Trainer with your palms down and lean back at a slight angle with your arms fully extended in front of you. The angle will determine the difficulty. The more you lean back, the harder the exercise will be.
Keeping your back straight, bend at your elbows and pull your face towards the handles keeping your hands about face height throughout the movement.
This exercise works all three heads of your deltoid muscle—front (anterior), side (lateral), and rear/top (posterior). Do 15 reps and rest 30 seconds between sets. Repeat for 3 sets in total.
Tips for Success With Shoulder Exercises at Home
I am a huge advocate of home training. Sure the gym is great, but you can get a lot done at home with pretty minimal equipment. Here are a few tips to help make sure you get the best results with shoulder training at home.
Stretch Before and After Your Workout
You are putting your shoulders and arms into vulnerable positions when you do shoulder exercises. This can cause tightness in the chest, back, and arms, leading to injury. Stretching will help prevent this from happening.
Do dynamic or ballistic stretching before your workout as opposed to static stretching. Use momentum to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion by bouncing in and out of a stretched position. This type of stretching should start at low intensity and progress as the body warms up.
Static stretching is the preferred method after a workout to allow the involved joints to regain their full range of motion. Static stretching helps to lengthen a muscle by holding the lengthened position for up to 10-30 seconds.
Practice Good Form To Avoid Injury
You should always be aware of proper form when exercising. Poor form can lead to injury and bad results. Use the videos to see how the exercises are performed with proper form.
If possible watch yourself in a mirror, or film yourself doing the exercise to make sure your form doesn’t falter during the movement. Also, start with light weights to get a feel for the movement before progressing to heavier weights.
Mix It Up
Consider these shoulder exercises for your home gym to strengthen and build up your shoulders. Add 2-3 of these exercises to your upper body split day, and mix it up every couple of weeks to keep things fresh and help keep you motivated.