When you hit the weight room in pursuit of strong, toned arms, bicep curls and tricep extensions might be your go-to moves. But there’s an equally important muscle group to add to your workout rotation — and they’re often ignored, particularly among women. We’re talking about your shoulders.
“Shoulder strength and stability are integral to practically all arm movements, plus almost every chest and back movement,” says Cheri Paige Fogleman, a trainer on Daily Burn 365. “Having strong shoulders also ensures success when strengthening biceps, triceps, chest and back muscles.” Translation: Build sculpted shoulders and you’ll help strengthen your entire upper body as well.
Stronger deltoids will also make it easier to carry out daily tasks — from picking up your kids or groceries to reaching for a glass in the cabinet. But there’s a catch: You need to work your shoulders from multiple angles. While push-ups will do wonders for muscles in the front of the shoulder, Fogleman says, you shouldn’t stop there.
For your next ‘arm day’ workout, skip the standard push-up and add these five new shoulder exercises to your line-up. They work every section of your shoulders — backside included (which both women and men often miss) — so you get 360 degrees stronger.
Shoulder Exercises for Upper Body Strength
These bodyweight moves can easily incorporate dumbbells. Fogleman suggests doing higher reps if you’re skipping the weights. If you’re more advanced and going for increased resistance, she recommends starting with three-pound dumbbells for women. “The moves should be more challenging, but not suddenly impossible,” she says. Perform 10 to 12 reps of each, rest, then repeat this circuit once or twice for a full upper body burn.
1. Staggered Shoulder Press Exercise
By leaning forward in this move, you hit the tough-to-reach back of the shoulders, along with your core and back muscles. Just remember to avoid slouching and keep a neutral spine for best results.
How to: From a standing position, step one foot behind you so you’re in a high lunge. Front knee should be bent about 45 degrees (a). Lean forward at the hips, keeping your back straight. Bring your arms up to shoulder height, bent at the elbows and palms facing in (b). Extend your arms overhead until they’re completely straight (c). Bend them back to shoulder height and repeat. Switch your footing halfway through or on the next round.
2. Plank to Renegade Row
While shoulders are your main focus on this move, bonus points come from working your back and core, too. If you really want to fire up your midsection, keep your hips totally stable. Feeling unsteady? Stepping your legs wider apart or dropping to your knees will be your best bet.
How to: Start in a high plank position with hands a little closer than shoulder-width apart. Draw the navel in toward the spine to support your abs and firm the glutes to take some pressure off your elbows and hips (a). Pull one hand upward (palm facing toward your body) so your hand reaches chest level. Return it back to the ground (b). Perform the same row movement with your other arm. Return it back to the ground (c). Continue alternating.
3. Lateral Raise Balance Exercise
Squeeze your shoulder blades together as your lift your arm so you sculpt the back of the shoulder. You’ll also work the stabilizing muscles of the arm that’s holding you up, which gets even more intense when you lift your leg.
How to: Start on your hands and knees, with wrists directly under shoulders and knees in line with hips (a). Lift one arm directly out to the side and up to shoulder height, as you straighten and lift the opposite leg to hip height behind you (b). Lower your hand and foot back to the floor and repeat, then switch sides.
4. Side Plank T-Raise Exercise
Target both shoulders at once with this essential core-tightening workout move. Try not to sink down into the shoulder that’s holding you up and instead push the floor way with your elbow. Don’t let your hips drop, either.
How to: Start in forearm side plank position, feet stacked one on top of the other and your elbow directly in line with your shoulder. Your other hand should be lightly resting on the ground in front of you (a). Keep your top arm straight as you raise it up toward the ceiling, creating a T with your arms (b). Return it back to the floor and repeat, keeping your hips up and your body in a straight diagonal line the whole time (c). Repeat, then switch sides.
5. Inverted Push-Ups
Reach your booty up toward the ceiling for this next-level push-up. If you need to modify, place your hands on a chair, low coffee table or a bench. Either way, prepare to get those deltoids fired up!
How to: Start in a downward-facing dog (a). Bend your elbows so they point out to the sides as you lower the crown of your head (not your forehead) between your hands and as close to the floor as you can go (b). Exhale as you push yourself back up (c). Repeat.
For the best exercises to spice up your workout routine, try Daily Burn 365. You’ll get a new, exciting workout every day.
Originally published October 2016. Updated January 2018.