What are the Best Exercises for Strengthening Shoulder Muscles?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Building and maintaining strong shoulder muscles provides more than a powerful body and an attractive physique. The best exercises for strengthening shoulder muscles mimic activities such as pouring that rely on controlled form and heavy repetition for results, rather than the use of heavy weights. These exercises do not require specialized equipment and can easily be performed while watching television.

The shoulder’s range of motion is unmatched by any part of the body. Without strong shoulder muscles to provide stability, the risk of injury increases. Weak shoulders encourage poor posture and might contribute to an aching back. Exercises targeting the shoulder muscles are often used to recover from injury or to help minimize these problems. Different exercises are required to work the different shoulder muscles, improving strength for the entire range of motion.

One of the best exercises for shoulder muscles simulates the act of pouring with the arm raised. Standing straight with feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell is held in each hand. Begin with the arms by the sides and the thumbs pointing down. Keep the elbows straight, and raise the arms to about a 45-degree angle, turning the arms forward so that the thumbs are facing behind. After holding this position briefly, return to the starting position in a slow, controlled motion, and repeat the exercise until the arms are tired.


A number of variations on this exercise are popular. In some, the arms are lifted alternately rather than together. Some call for the arms to be lifted until they are horizontal. The arms might be turned to face differently in the starting position, with the thumbs pointing toward the body.

Another exercise draws the arm across the body. Again standing with the feet shoulder-width apart, one arm crosses the body, holding a dumbbell against the opposite thigh. Keeping the arm straight, draw it across the body and hold it out to the side, so that the hand is raised slightly higher than the shoulder in a motion that resembles a sword being drawn and held aloft. Hold it there before returning to the start, and repeat until the arm is tired. Repeat with the other arm.

Recommended weights also vary with the intended result. Weightlifters looking for large, powerful shoulder muscles will want to work with larger dumbbells. Exercisers who are recovering from injury or who want to build up strength without adding bulk are better off with smaller weights. If dumbbells are not available, soup cans or similar objects can be substituted.

Exercise is vital for building up weak shoulder muscles, but it is important for exercisers to avoid the urge to overwork the muscles for fast results — a strategy that is likely to result in injury. Instead, one should proceed slowly, focusing on maintaining proper form. These exercises should not cause pain, and any pain that might be experienced is a signal to stop.


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