Exercises to Strengthen Shoulder Muscles

by Matthew Schirm

About Matthew Schirm

Matthew Schirm has worked in the sports-performance field since 1998. He has professional experience as a college baseball coach and weight-training instructor. He earned a Master of Science in human movement from A.T. Still University in 2009.



Numerous muscles attach to your shoulder, but the most familiar are the deltoid -- the most visible of your shoulder muscles -- and the rotator cuff muscles -- the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These muscles contract to move your shoulder joint through various ranges of motion. To strengthen these muscles, perform resistance exercises, progressively increasing the amount of resistance as your shoulder gets stronger. There are a variety of exercises to choose from.

Shoulder Press

The shoulder press exercise strengthens the middle part of your deltoid muscles through shoulder abduction, or moving your upper arms vertically away from your body. Sit or stand upright and hold a barbell or dumbbells about an inch in front of your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Then abduct your shoulders and extend your elbows to push the bar straight upward. When your arms are fully extended, slowly lower the bar back down; repeat for your desired number of repetitions.

Front Raises

Front raises work the anterior, or front, part of your deltoids. Stand and hold dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing backward. Then repeatedly lift your arms forward to shoulder height and slowly lower them back down. Keep your arms as straight as possible throughout the movement.

Lateral Raises

Like shoulder presses, lateral raises build the middle deltoids, which contract to abduct your shoulder joints. Start in the same position as front raises but with your palms facing your body rather than backward. Then repeatedly raise your arms sideways away from your body to shoulder height and slowly lower them back down. Keep your arms as straight as possible.

Reverse Raises

Reverse raises work both the middle and posterior, or back, parts of the deltoid muscles through horizontal abduction. Stand upright and then bend forward until your torso is nearly parallel to the ground. Hold dumbbells with your arms extended below your chest. Without moving your trunk, arc the weights away from each other and upward to shoulder height and then slowly reverse, moving back to the starting position. Repeat for your desired number of reps. Keep your arms as straight as possible throughout the exercise.

External Rotation

External rotation occurs when the humerus bone of your upper arm turns away from your body. To strengthen the muscles that cause this motion -- the supraspinatus and teres minor -- first lie on a bench on your left side and hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your right forearm crossing your waistline. Then, while keeping your elbow fixed against your ribs, repeatedly lift the weight upward as high as possible and slowly let it back down. Perform the exercise on the opposite side as well.

Internal Rotation

The infraspinatus and subscapularis muscles contract to move your shoulder joint through internal rotation -- the opposite of external rotation. Prepare for the internal rotation exercise just like external rotation, but hold the dumbbell in your left hand with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and forearm directed forward, away from your body. Then lift the weight across your waistline and slowly lower it back down. Repeat for your desired number of reps and then switch sides.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.