Woman with muscular shoulders exercising

Poor Atlas, the figure in Greek mythology doomed to carry the heavens on his shoulders for all eternity. Just for trying to overthrow the gods in an uprising.

For us mere mortals, some days can feel like we’ve got the weight of the world on our own shoulders, but there’s something we can do to lessen the load: Strength training.

We rely on our shoulders for just about everything we do in our daily lives. In fact, our shoulders have more range of motion than any other joint in our bodies. This means we can move our arms up, down, forward, and backward.

Without our shoulders, we wouldn’t be able to swim, play fetch with our dogs, or reach that jar on the top shelf. Our shoulder muscles give our shoulders support, shape, strength, and stability.

You can build, tone, and strengthen your shoulders with the five exercises in this article. And you can do them at home, either with or without weights.

A Quick Look at Shoulder Muscles

The most important muscles in your shoulders are the four rotator cuff muscles: The subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor. They hold your upper arms in place and do just what it sounds like they do: Help you rotate your arms.

Deltoid muscles (or your “delts,” for short) cover the tops of your shoulders. These have three parts or heads: 

  • The anterior (or front) deltoids help you move your arm forward
  • The lateral deltoids help you move your arms out to the side, as well as up and down
  • The posterior (or rear) deltoids help you move your arm backward

Exercising Your Shoulders After an Injury

We want to mention injury here because shoulder injuries — specifically, rotator cuff injuries — are common. People who perform repeated overhead motions, such as painters, carpenters, swimmers, and baseball pitchers, are especially prone to these injuries.

And considering how much we work our shoulders day to day, an injury to the area can be debilitating.

If you’re hurt, it’s best to rest the area until it begins to recover. If you’re recovering from an injury, your physical therapist may have given you exercises to do. In any case, we urge you to check with your doctor before doing any exercises if you’ve been injured, OK? You wouldn’t want to worsen an injury.

For everyone else, a proper warmup before a workout can go a long way toward protecting yourself from getting hurt.

“One of the most common mistakes people make when exercising their shoulders is not warming up accordingly prior to working out,” says Brendan Pereira, founder of Coach KOE HIIT bootcamps

Regularly stretching the pectoral (chest) muscles will allow shoulder exercises to actually target and strengthen the shoulders, Pereira adds.

“A great way to treat, and hopefully eliminate, shoulder pain is through regular stretching of the pecs and strengthening muscles in the posterior chain (back of the body), such as your lats and rhomboids,” he says.

“I personally would suggest light weights and high reps, as well as (warming up) for anyone who may be worried about the impact a shoulder workout may have on their overall shoulder health.”

Sitting All Day Affects Your Shoulders

Our lifestyle can impact our shoulder health, Pereira adds.

“Most of us spend prolonged time in a seated position, whether that’s because we’re working at a desk, watching TV, driving, or on our phones,” he explains. 

“Typically, this seated position causes internal rotation (our shoulders to turn inward). As a result of this, our bodies tend to have an overactive trapezius muscle and tight pectoral muscles, making it very difficult to execute everyday shoulder exercises without pain or discomfort.” 

If you feel pain or discomfort, you risk compromising proper form. And we know what that means: Greater risk of injury.

Exercises for a Shoulder Workout at Home

If you want to perform the following exercises with weights, you’ll need a pair of dumbbells. No dumbbells? Grab a pair of water bottles or a couple of cans of soup, beans, or other canned food. 

If you’re exercising without weights, clench your fists as you do the moves.

And when you’re done your workout, show your muscles some recovery love with a cooldown. Cooldowns are just as important as warmups to transition your body in and out of workouts.

Do this workout two or three times a week for best results. Do the higher reps if your goal is to tone.

Band pull-aparts

resistance band pull aparts

Muscles worked: Rotator cuffs, rear deltoids, plus the rhomboids and trapezius in your back

You’ll need a resistance band for this exercise. If you don’t have a band, you can use a bungee cord, an old pair of lycra leggings, or an old pair of nylons instead.

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Grab each end of the resistance band with an underhand grip, about shoulder-width apart.

  2. Relax your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core to keep your upper body stable.

  3. Hold your arms straight out in front of you, with a slight bend in the elbows.

  4. Exhale as you pull the band apart with both hands, as far as you can, squeezing your shoulder blades together.

  5. Inhale as you bring the band back together to the starting position, and repeat.

Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.

 

The Arnold press

arnold press workout

Muscles worked: Anterior, medial, and posterior delts

This is Pereira’s favorite shoulder exercise, which is a traditional shoulder press (or overhead press) with a rotation.

“The Arnold press hits the anterior, medial, and posterior delts, with constant tension in a manner unlike any other exercise,” Pereira says.

  1. Stand with dumbbells in front of shoulders, palms facing body, elbows below wrists. Feet should be hip-width apart.

  2. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes.

  3. Exhale as you bring your elbows out to the sides. Press the weights up overhead until your arms are straight, but not locked.

  4. Inhale as you lower back to the front of your shoulders in the opposite direction and repeat.

Do 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.

 

The next two exercises are raises. Take care not to use a swinging motion to get the weights up. If this happens, decrease the amount of weight you’re using, because your shoulders should be doing all the work.

You can also do the raises one arm at a time. Complete a set with one arm, then repeat on the other side.

Lateral raises

lateral raises shoulder workout

Muscles worked: Rotator cuffs, anterior and lateral deltoids

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing towards you, at your sides.

  2. Exhale as you raise your arms up until they’re shoulder height, or parallel with the floor. Your body should form a “T” in this position. Your elbows and knees should be slightly bent.

  3. In a controlled motion and as you inhale, lower the dumbbells back to your sides.

Do 3 sets of 6-12 reps.

 

Front raises

shoulder front raise exercise

Muscles worked: Rotator cuffs, anterior deltoids

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of you with an underhand grip.

  2. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core.

  3. Keeping your arms straight, with a slight bend in the elbow. Exhale and slowly lift the weights up directly in front of you to shoulder level. Your palms should be facing each other.

  4. Inhale as you lower back down to the starting position and repeat.

Do 3 sets of 6-12 reps.

 

Upright row

upright row workout

Muscles worked: Deltoids, trapezius, triceps

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart, with a slight bend in the knees.

  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body, and with the weights touching your quads.

  3. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core.

  4. Exhale as you pull your elbows up and out to lift the dumbbells to chest level. You shouldn’t be shrugging as you perform this move — the move should be coming from your elbows.

  5. Inhale as you return to the starting position.

Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps.

 

How to Get the Most out of At-home Workouts

Pereira reveals the secrets to maximizing working out at home.

“The best way for people to get the most out of home workouts is to find something that works for them,” Pereira says. 

“Ultimately, consistency will trump any fancy equipment or gym. A person who finds a dance video that they enjoy doing three times a week for 30 minutes will get better results than a person who does an intense strength training workout once in a while.

“That being said, tracking your workouts, including number of reps, sets, resistance, having a designated workout time, and scheduling your workouts are all ways to guarantee successful workouts at home.”

Recover from Your Workout with Allo

allo protein

Strength training puts your muscles under stress, creating micro-tears your body then repairs to make your muscles stronger. A key ingredient to muscle repair and recovery is protein.

Protein is especially important if you’re healing from an injury, as well.

A quick and easy way to get your protein — as well as a post-workout boost — is with Allo protein powder for hot coffee.

Allo has 10 grams of hydrolyzed protein per serving and no sugar or gluten. Simply stir a packet into your hot coffee and watch it easily dissolve — no clumps! 

You can enjoy Allo natural, which maintains the taste of black coffee, or in flavors such as vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut. Or you can try the creamer versions in those same delicious flavors.

Browse the options at liveallo.com.

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