4 Best Exercises To Strengthen Shoulder Muscles With Dumbbells

What Are The Best Exercises To Strengthen You Shoulder Muscles With Dumbbells?

Watch the video to learn 4 dumbbell exercises to strengthen your shoulders

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Anatomy Of Your Shoulder Joint

Your shoulders are really complex joints.

Your shoulder complex isn't just the ball and socket joint that everyone thinks about. It's actually made up of four different joints:

Sternoclavicular joint - between your collarbone and your sternum

Acromioclavicular joint - your collarbone and your shoulder blade

Glenohumeral joint - the actual shoulder joint itself

Scapulothoracic "joint" - a pseudo-joint of your shoulder blades moving on your rib cage.

So, to effectively strengthen your shoulders, you have to think about moving all of those joints in coordination, not just the ball and socket joint.

Deltoids: The Gymgoer's Shoulder Muscles

Now the muscles that people commonly think of as their shoulders are called your deltoids.

Deltoid means "triangular-shaped". Think like a river delta or the Delta Airlines logo - they're all triangular.

3 Heads Of The Deltoids

Your deltoid muscle is actually made up of three different heads.

These heads are the:

  1. anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder)
  2. lateral deltoid (side of shoulder)
  3. posterior deltoid (back of shoulder)

3 heads of the deltoid

The anterior deltoid is at the front of the shoulder.  Its function is to raise the arm up and forward. The lateral deltoid is on the side, and its function is to raise the arm up and out to the side. The posterior deltoid is in the back of the shoulder.  Its function is to extend the arm backward. If you're in a bent over position, it helps raise the arm out to the side.

You don't just move at the shoulder joint, anytime you move your arm upwards your shoulder blades also rotate upwards at the same time and you need to take into account the muscles that move your shoulder blades upward when you're strengthening your shoulder muscles.

Largely these consists of your:

  1. Serratus Anterior
  2. Upper Trapezius
  3. Lower Trapezius

Muscles that move your shoulder blade when doing exercises to strengthen shoulders

These 3 muscles work together to rotate the shoulder blade upward as you raise your arm.  See the video below.

Movement of the shoulder blade and arm during shoulder lateral raise exercise

Together those three muscles work to rotate your shoulders upwards so anytime you're doing a shoulder strengthening exercise you want to do exercises that allow your shoulder blades to rotate upwards while you're raising your arms

Dumbbell Exercises To Strengthen Shoulder Muscles

Exercise To Strengthen Your Anterior Deltoids

How do you strengthen your anterior deltoid?

As I mentioned that the anterior deltoids raise the arms upward and forward.

Therefore, to strengthen them you would use front shoulder raises or front deltoid raises. You can do that with dumbbells.

Start with dumbbells at your sides, raise them out in front of you up to shoulder level and then come back down.

Raising the dumbbells up and down isn't purely an arm movement.

You do have to allow your shoulder blades to tilt backwards some, especially if you're getting up slightly past shoulder level.

Exercise To Strengthen Your Lateral Deltoids

To strengthen your lateral deltoids you raise the dumbbell in an arc coming upward from the side.

Again, if you just move the arms 45 degrees is about as far as you can move comfortably without starting to get pinching in your shoulder.

Therefore, so you do need to allow your shoulder blades to rotate upwards as illustrated in the GIF further up on this page.

If you're going to be raising your arms higher than 90 degrees (above shoulder level), it's important to have your thumbs facing upwards.

That puts some external rotation in yours shoulders so that you don't pinch your rotator cuff tendons.

If you're just going up to shoulder level you can usually get away with a palms down movement, and that does target your lateral deltoid a little bit better.

Exercise To Strengthen Your Posterior Deltoids (Rear Deltoids)

What about your rear deltoids?

The deltoids in the back of your shoulder, or the posterior deltoids, extend your arms or move them behind your.

You can do backward arm extensions, but that's not a really functional exercise.

Additionally if you extend backward too far or allow your shoulder blade to tilt forward when you're doing that it can push the ball of your shoudler forward in the socket.

The better and safer way to strengthen your rear deltoids is to bend over or lean over an incline bench and raise your arms out to the side.

That way you're using your rear deltoids or posterior deltoids to raise the dumbbells out to the side.

Dumbbell Shoulder Presses: The BEST Exercise To Strengthen Your Shoulder Muscles

The final exercise is dumbbell shoulder presses.

It think these are the best exercise to strengthen your shoulder muscles because it simulates how you use your shoulders in everyday life to lift things over your head.

It's smart to keep some external rotation in your shoulders. Keep the dumbbells behind your elbows.

Again, that help prevent you from pinching your rotator cuff tendons as you raise your arms over head.

You don't want to allow your wrists to come forward, but you can bring your elbows forward a little bit.

Your elbow's don't have to be exactly out to your side when doing dumbbell shoulder presses.

The can come forward at a 30-45 degree angle.  That keeps your arms more in line with the angle of your shoulder blades anyway.

Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

Now one thing that I haven't mentioned yet in this post is your rotator cuff muscles.

Your rotator cuff muscles are really important for preventing shoulder injuries because they help keep the ball of your shoulder centered in the socket as you move your arm.

That's not typically what people going to the gym think of as shoulder strengthening exercises, but they are really important.

Your rotator cuff muscles are so important in fact, that they deserve a whole post to themselves.

For more information on that topic read my post 8 Exercises For Rotator Cuff Strengthening Plus Common Errors To Avoid.

So hopefully you've found this post helpful to learn how to strengthen your shoulder muscles using only dumbbells.

If you need more help to strengthen your shoulder muscles, or to stop shoulder pain tap the button below to request a free consultation with one of our specialists to learn how we can help.


Like this post? Read some of our other posts about shoulder pain:

Can I Exercise With A Rotator Cuff Injury?

Have A Knot In Your Shoulder Blade That Won't Go Away?

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