Discover the best shoulder exercises for building bulging deltoids that’ll make everyone and their grandma jealous! On this page, I’ll show you the top 5 exercises for shoulder training.
As an overview, I’ll list out my top picks for the best shoulder exercises:
1. Overhead Press
2. Hang Clean and Press
3. Push Press
4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press
5. Dumbbell One-Arm Press
For the remainder of this article, I’ll be discussing the how-to and benefits of each of the above movements.
1. Barbell Overhead Press
Start by putting the barbell on a squat rack or power rack. Place the bar on the rack pins, so that it’s at about chest-height. Reach forward and grab the bar with slightly wider-than-shoulder width overhand grip.
Get close to the bar so that it’s barely touching your upper chest. Raise it off the pins and step back so that you have sufficient clearance.
Press up, lean your torso backward as the weight passes your head. Then sway your torso forward once the bar has passed your head. Keep extending your arms directly up, until your elbows are locked.
Lower the weight in a controlled fashion to your upper chest. Repeat.
The overhead press is the boss of all shoulder exercises. It is the best movement for overloading the shoulder muscles with the heaviest amount of weight possible.
My favorite thing about this shoulder exercise is it’s sheer simplicity: How much more basic can you get than lifting a heavy bar over your head?
The fact is that this compound exercise will make you strong and muscular very quickly. I recommend it for all lifters.
2. Hang Clean & Press
How to Perform the Hang Clean & Press:
Start with the loaded barbell on the ground. Using a normal, overhand grip, deadlift the bar up off the ground. This is the starting position.
Bend at your hips, knees, and ankles to allow the bar to slide down your thighs; just above your knees.
Propel the bar to your shoulders by initiating the “hang clean”: extend your hips, knees and ankles while simultaneously pulling the bar up in a straight line by contracting your trapezius muscles. Keep your arms straight until your hips, knees and ankles are fully extended (this is meant to be done so explosively that your heels come off the ground)….
…Then quickly swing your elbows under and around the bar, so that your elbows are pointing as high as possible when you can “catch” the bar on your collar bone/font delts.
After catching the bar, proceed to press it overhead until your elbows are locked.
Lower the weight to your upper chest and pause for a split second. Then complete the rep by returning the weight to your thighs. Repeat.
Note: This video demonstrates the “hang clean” phase of the movement better than the one embedded below. Check it out.
Hang Clean & Press Benefits:
The hang clean and press is a behemoth among shoulder exercises. It’s really a full body exercise that emphasizes the shoulders.
In fact, it works the shoulder muscles at two different points in the lift. Obviously you hit them when you press the weight overhead. But you also hit them during the hang clean, when you pull the bar up to your shoulders.
Having evolved from the Olympic lift known as the “clean and jerk,” this movement is meant to be executed explosively. And so, you can expect to become stronger and faster as you master this technique.
I’ll be honest – I had trouble deciding whether or not to rank the hang clean and press as the #1 best shoulder exercise (instead of the overhead press). But ultimately, I decided that the overhead press deserves the top spot because it’s technically a much simpler movement to master.
3. Push Press
Start in a squat or power rack, with the barbell on the pins at chest level. Grasp the bar in front of you with a normal overhand grip, using a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
Bring your body close to the bar, hoist it off the pins and step backward so you have enough room to lift.
Lower your body slightly by bending at the knees, hips and ankles – as if you’re doing a squat with only partial range of motion. Retract your head to avoid hitting yourself with the bar.
Powerfully extend your legs and use this momentum to begin the press. Your heels may come off the ground.
After the bar has cleared your head, “get under the bar” by leaning your torso slightly forward. Extend your arms straight up, until you lockout.
Lower the weight. Don’t bend your knees until the barbell is lowered to the upper chest and is in secure control. Repeat.
The push press is one of the best shoulder exercises because it is unmatched for developing raw power. By using leg drive to help with the initial liftoff, you are able to use more weight than you would be able to use in a standard overhead press. Plus, your legs get a decent workout.
Even though your legs give you some momentum on the way up, your deltoids do all of the work during the negative repetition. In this way, the push press conditions you to training with heavier weight; thus, you will get stronger a lot faster on other pressing exercises.
The push press is often implemented by trainees seeking to bust through plateaus on the overhead press. That said, it’s just as suitable as a main, general purpose shoulder exercise.
4. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Grab a pair of dumbbells using a normal, overhand grip and sit down on an upright weight bench (i.e. a bench with a vertical backrest).
Stand the dumbbells on your thighs, and slide your rear all the way to the backrest. Create a slight arch in your back, making sure that both your lower and upper back maintain contact with the backrest.
Kick your knees up one at a time, to launch the dumbbells off your thighs and up to your shoulders. Support the end of the dumbbell against your front deltoid as you prepare for lift off. Make sure your palms are facing forward.
With your elbows in line with your hips, press the dumbbells up. Bring the dumbbells closer together as you approach the top of the rep. Locking your elbows at the top is optional.
Proceed to lower the weight in a controlled fashion. Stop lowering the weight once your elbow joints form 90°, angles. Repeat.
This particular movement is among the best shoulder exercises because it carries the following benefits:
First, you must lift and control each dumbbell independently; thereby improving your control by stimulating more stabilizer muscles.
Second, dumbbells also make it more difficult to cheat because you can’t compensate for your weak side with your strong side.
Third and finally, you can target the outer deltoid head much more directly than you can with other barbell shoulder press movements.
And while it’s impossible to lift as much total weight as you can with the barbell presses, you can still press some pretty heavy-ass weights…
…In other words, this is still an effective for strength and muscle building exercise even though barbell movements let you lift heavier loads.
5. Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press
How to Do the One-Arm Shoulder Press:
Pick up one dumbbell and hoist it to shoulder-level, using a normal, overhand grip. Your elbow should be pointing out about 45° from the center-line of your body.
Assume a shoulder-width stance and bend your knees slightly.
Extend your legs and press the dumbbell up explosively, rotating your arm so that your palm is facing forward when your arm is fully extended and locked out.
In order to maintain balance while pressing, it is okay to lean your torso toward the opposite side.
Once the lifting portion of the repetition is complete, start lowering the dumbbell in the same path that you lifted it. Repeat and switch sides.
Dumbbell One-Arm Shoulder Press Benefits:
This is one shoulder exercise that you don’t see everyday. But that sure as heck doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Indeed, it’s one of the best shoulder exercises.
This is a unilateral exercise, which means that you train each side separately. By training one arm at a time, you can quickly even out strength and size differences between the shoulder and upper arm muscles on your right-hand and left-hand sides.
The other major benefit of the dumbbell one-arm shoulder press is that it improves your balance. As a matter of fact, it forces you to improve your balance, since you would simply topple over if you didn’t utilize your core and lower body muscles to stabilize yourself.
Here’s a surefire way to test if this movement is worthwhile for your routine: Try it. If it’s a lot more difficult to perform with one arm than with the other, then it’s right for you! Because it shows that you have significant strength imbalance.