The Best Lifts for Shoulders

With the number of different options available for shoulder exercises, it can be hard to decide on a shoulder lift that works for you. It can be easy to end up with a long routine with many shoulder exercises that only target specific muscle groups in isolation. Save yourself confusion and time at the gym by sticking to basic exercises that target multiple muscle groups at once.

Military Press

The military press is a staple of most bodybuilding routines that helps you gain strength in your shoulders, according to Olympic weightlifting coach Jim Schmitz. Stand with your knees slightly bent and hold a barbell against your upper chest with your palms facing out. Push the barbell straight up. You will have to move it out slightly to get it around your head. Pause when your elbows are almost straight, with the barbell over your ears. Then carefully reverse the movement to bring the barbell back to your chest.

Lateral Raise

Try lateral raises with light weights as a safe lift for your shoulders, suggests Stew Smith from Stand with your knees slightly bent and dumbbells in front of your thighs. Spread and raise your arms in opposite directions while keeping your elbows straight. Pause when the dumbbells reach shoulder-height and then slowly bring your arms back down. You can target slightly different muscle groups with lateral raises by varying pointing your thumbs up or down while you execute them.

Arnold Press

Include Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature lift in your routine to work out your shoulders. Stand with your knees slightly bent. Hold dumbbells to your shoulders with your palms facing you. In a single motion, raise the dumbbells up and rotate your forearms so your palms face out at the top of the motion. Pause when your elbows are almost straight. Then lower the weights and rotate your forearms to end with the weights at your shoulders with your palms facing you.

Upright Barbell Row

The upright barbell row is a simple lift that works out your shoulders, biceps and core. Stand with an upright posture and hold the barbell against your thighs with your palms facing in. Lift the barbell directly up. Your should flare outward in opposite directions. Do not flick your wrists inward to lift the weight -- you should primarily lift the weight with your shoulders and biceps. Pause for a moment when the barbell is just above your nipples and then reverse the motion to return the barbell to your thighs.


The number of repetitions you should do for shoulder exercises depends on whether your goal is to gain strength or endurance. A 2002 study in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology" showed that doing doing four sets of three to five repetitions caused strength gains, whereas doing two sets of 20 to 28 repetitions increased endurance. If you do not have a clear goal in mind, follow the advice of Dr. Edward Laskowski from who suggests that a single set of 12 to 15 repetitions is enough for most people.