To build strength, all you need is a pair of dumbbells. They are safe to use and great for progression. You can start with light dumbbells and gradually work up to heavier ones. Dumbbells are accessible and easy to use. Most gyms have them in many different weights for you to choose from. If you have dumbbells at home, then you already have what you need for the dumbbell shoulder workout below. They can even be taken on road trips for workouts away from home. Dumbbells are great for isolating various muscles in the body, including the shoulders.
Unless otherwise specified, perform the exercises discussed below in a standing position. Many of them can also be done seated, but doing them standing engages the core and activates the leg muscles more. Also, being in a standing position more closely resembles how the shoulder muscles are used in sports.
For example, shoulder strength is important when throwing a baseball and hitting a serve in tennis. The following dumbbell shoulder workout targets all three heads of the deltoids: the lateral delts, the front delts, and the rear delts.
Front raises and lateral raises are two of the most common dumbbell shoulder exercises. Don’t expect to use the same weight for them as you do for shoulder presses or bicep curls. If the weight is too heavy, you’ll use momentum and the shoulder muscles won’t be isolated.
In front and lateral raises, the dumbbells are raised to shoulder level and back down in a slow and controlled movement. The arms should stay fairly straight. Perform 12-15 reps for each set. If your arms swing during the last few reps, decrease the weight for the next set. These exercises can also be done by raising one arm up at a time.
Shoulder presses can be done with a barbell, but there are advantages to using dumbbells. It is easy to complete a full range of motion with dumbbells (arms are fully extended at the top position) and both sides work equally hard when dumbbells are used.
If one side is weaker, you won’t be able to compensate by having the other side do most of the work. Do this exercise in front of a mirror and notice the position of your arms at the bottom position. Your arms should form a 90-degree angle. If you bring the dumbbells too low, other muscles will be used to lift them up and the shoulders won’t be isolated.
A variation of the shoulder press is the Arnold press. Start in a finished bicep curl position with your palms facing toward you. Rotate the palms so they face away from you when pressing the dumbbells overhead, and rotate the palms so they face toward you on the way down.
The push-press is an explosive exercise. Start with the dumbbells resting on your shoulders with the palms facing in. Bend your legs to create momentum. and then drive up with the hips, extend your legs, and press the dumbbells overhead.
For the upright row, hold the dumbbells straight down in front of you with the palms facing down. When you raise them to chest level, keep the dumbbells close to your body and squeeze your traps at the top position. Like front and lateral raises, this exercise is difficult to perform with heavy weights. Starting with light dumbbells helps to develop proper form. If the weight is too heavy, a full range of motion will be difficult to achieve and you might lean back on the way up or lean forward on the way down. The shoulders aren’t worked as hard when there is a lean.
The dumbbell row is an exercise that strengthens the upper back and improves posture in addition to working the shoulders. In a bent-over position with the knees slightly bent and the back flat, hold the dumbbells with the palms facing in. Raise the dumbbells to the sides of the chest. Squeeze the shoulder blades and hold the top position for a second.
Dumbbells can also be used for the Superman row, which tones the shoulders and strengthens the lower back. Lie on your stomach, keep your legs straight and lift them slightly off the floor, and extend your arms in front. Stretch your arms back with the dumbbells slightly raised, and then extend them forward.
The renegade row is done in a high plank position. With a dumbbell in each hand and the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, raise one weight at a time to your chest. Make sure you don’t sway side to side, as you want to maintain proper high plank form to engage the core.
Swings, Shrugs, and Flys
Dumbbell skier swings are a great dynamic exercise. Bend your hips and extend the weights behind you, and then drive up with the hips and swing the dumbbells in front in you to shoulder level. The legs are straight at the top position. Swing the weights behind you on the way down, and repeat the movements in a fast motion. Keep the chest up and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes.
Use as much weight as you can while maintaining proper technique for dumbbell shrugs. With the dumbbells held at your sides and the palms facing in, squeeze your shoulders and bring them up and back before returning to the starting position. To prevent injury, it is important not to use momentum. Unlike other dumbbell exercises where typically 12-15 reps are performed per set, do 8-10 reps for each set of this exercise since heavier weights are used.
For bent-over reverse flys, the dumbbells are raised out to the sides to shoulder level. Your chest should be almost parallel to the floor in the starting position with the back flat. You should be almost completely bent over. Make sure not to arch your back at the top position. Then raise the dumbbells out to your sides and turn your arms clockwise. Your thumbs should point to the floor at the top position. Pause at the bottom position rather than coming to a complete stop to keep the tension tight throughout the exercise. Keep your core tight don’t hunch your shoulders up. This exercise is great for improving posture.