Defined shoulders are in high demand among athletes. You’re going to improve your muscle mass there over time without really focusing on it. Such is the magic of functional fitness. However, what if you want to hit the shoulders even harder? Keep scrolling for 14 dumbbell shoulder workouts that’ll have your muscles crying.

What Muscles Make Up the Shoulder?

Great question! When we refer to our “shoulder muscles,” there’s actually more going on there than some of us realize. The muscles of the shoulder include the:

  • Deltoids.
  • Rhomboids.
  • Trapezius.
  • Teres minor.
  • Infraspinatus.
  • Supraspinatus.
  • Subscapularis.
Anatomy of the shoulder muscles
Credit: LOR Physical Therapy

14 Dumbbell Shoulder Workouts for More Strength and Definition

That’s right — all you need is a set of dumbbells (and in some cases, even one dumbbell will do!). These dumbbell shoulder workouts target the various muscles and will challenge you in creative and unique ways.

1. Strict Press

We’re going to start with the most basic of all dumbbell shoulder workouts. We love the strict press because it’s simple to do and has endless variations. Be sure that at the top of the movement, your biceps are by your ears. Your spine, neck, and head should all be in alignment. And lastly, your palms can either face forward or inside (toward your ears).

2. Seated Press

Speaking of strict press variations, the seated press is a spicy one. You wouldn’t expect it but it’s actually slightly harder than a standing press. Plus, your core has to work a little harder to stabilize your upper body. Grab a bench or chair, take a load off your feet, and get to work.

3. Around-the-Worlds

Start light with this one, because it’s challenging. Squeeze your core more than you’re used to and think of keeping your spine in alignment. (Some athletes try to “cheat” this by leaning back. This takes the challenge away from your shoulders and also puts your spine in a vulnerable position!)

4. Standing Fly

Hinge at the hips just slightly and keep your elbows soft. Avoid kipping during the standing fly! Some athletes do this to use momentum to bring the dumbbells up, as opposed to their own strength. You can also do this on one side at a time, which will give your core an even bigger burn.

5. Bent-Over Fly

If you can do the previous standing version, then you can probably do the bent-over fly. We like this one because it engages the backs of the shoulders more. Remember to squeeze at the top of the movement for a second.

6. Front Raises

Engage the front delts with the front dumbbell raise. Don’t be surprised if you can only do five or 10 pounds for this one! If you want to switch it up, try turning your grip so that your palms are facing inside. (In other words, the dumbbells will be pointing up and down, not left and right.)

7. Arnold Press

The Arnold press builds not just strength but also stability. This press variation begins with your palms facing you and ends with your palms facing away. This is one of those dumbbell shoulder workouts that you can’t rush because your form will start to get sloppy.

8. Upright Row

Remember that this isn’t a swing. It’s a controlled pull. Depending on your shoulder mobility, your elbows might only hit around shoulder height — that’s okay! You’re still targeting the same muscles while keeping the joint safe.

9. Incline Seal Row

Here’s another dumbbell row variation for you. In this case, you’re laying on your stomach on an inclined bench. This is another great one for targeting your upper back.

10. See-Saw Press

We love a good unilateral dumbbell shoulder exercise! The dumbbell see-saw press is excellent for pinpointing any one-sided weaknesses. These are important to correct because they help you to avoid injury.

11. Shrugs

You can have the worst shoulder mobility in the world and still do dumbbell shrugs. These will work the muscles of your trapezius, AKA your traps or the aptly named “meat pillows.”

12. Renegade Row

It’s not just the arm doing the row that’s working. Your base arm — the one holding you up — also has a big job to do. If you’re lacking shoulder mobility, put this at the top of your list of dumbbell shoulder workouts.

13. Z Press

This is another type of seated press, but in the case of the Z press, you’re on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you. It’s an entirely different sensation and demands even more of your upper body to stabilize itself in this position.

14. I-Y-T

Grab something light and give I-Y-T raises a try. Take care not to swing the dumbbells around. That defeats the purpose!

A Few Final Tips for Better Results

Now that you know some of our top dumbbell shoulder workouts, we’d like to leave you with a few final tips.

  • Shoulder mobility is important for making gains and avoiding injury. In fact, mobility is a must. Learn more about how to improve shoulder mobility.
  • Be sure to warm up before doing any of these, which is necessary for both your strength and mobility. Personally, we love doing banded shoulder exercises. They’re low-impact but get the muscles ready to do some serious work.
  • Keep the weights moderate and the reps higher. This is how you achieve muscle hypertrophy (meaning growth!). Many of these dumbbell shoulder workouts can fall into the 8-12 rep range.
  • Discomfort is normal. Pain is not. If something hurts, stop and reassess. Learn more about why your shoulders might hurt.