13 Best Barbell Shoulder Exercises (Upper-Body Workout Plan)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 27, 2024
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Shoulder exercises constitute a significant part of every well-rounded upper-body workout plan.

I do my shoulder workouts twice a week. And the majority of shoulder exercises are performed with a barbell.

That's why I compiled an extensive list of all barbell shoulder exercises I know to help you develop big and robust upper body musculature.

After reading the article, you will know the most important barbell shoulder exercises, how to implement them according to your goals, and more.

Quick Summary

  • Standing overhead press is the best barbell shoulder exercise because it targets all three deltoid muscles.
  • The best way to train for strength in your shoulders is to do a couple of heavy repetitions with plenty of rest between the sets.
  • According to a study on PubMed, strengthening your shoulder's posterior deltoid and external rotators is crucial for shoulder injury prevention.
  • Shoulder exercises reduce upper body injuries and keep your shoulder joint mobile.

13 Best Barbell Shoulder Exercises

A woman performing best barbell shoulder exercises

I performed all these barbell shoulder exercises below, which are safe for developing your muscles.

I hand-picked the best shoulder exercises with the most considerable muscle-building effects and strength benefits.

I also picked exercises that target all three shoulder heads.

This is important to avoid muscle imbalances and potential injuries.

1. Standing Overhead Press

Standing overhead press is a vertical push compound exercise.

It activates your lateral deltoid, trapezius, triceps, supraspinatus, and upper pectoral fibbers.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Load the barbell on the rack with the appropriate weight.
  2. Step up to the barbell and put your collarbone against it. Take a shoulder-width pronated grip with your hands.
  3. Step back while holding the barbell with your hands and on your upper chest.
  4. Push the barbell above your head vertically with both hands until your elbows are fully flexed.
  5. Hold for a second at the top position and reverse the motion with a controlled eccentric phase (slow lowering).

2. Upright Barbell Row

Performing upright barbell row

The upright barbell row is a traditional shoulder-building exercise first used by bodybuilders in the 20th century.

It will activate your anterior and lateral deltoid head and trapezius.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Place your feet shoulder width, grasp the barbell, and allow it to hang in front of you(arms straight)
  2. Your hands are in line with your thighs and palms facing your body.
  3. Brace your abdominal musculature, keep your back straight, and keep your eyes focused forward with your chest up.
  4. Slowly lift the barbell toward your chin as you exhale simultaneously. Keep the bar close and lead with your elbows.
  5. Hold the top position for a couple of seconds, and slowly lower the barbell as you exhale to the starting position.

3. Barbell Behind the Neck Press

Barbell behind the neck press is a variation of the overhead shoulder press.

It works such muscles as all three deltoid heads, trapezius, triceps brachii, and serratus anterior.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Load the barbell on your rack as you do when squatting.
  2. Step in below the barbell and place it on your upper back. Your elbows should be close to a 90-degree angle, and your hands should be in a pronated grip.
  3. Take a small step back with the barbell.
  4. Push the barbell vertically above your head with both hands simultaneously.
  5. When you reach the top position (elbows fully extended), hold for a second and reverse the movement so you come to the starting position.
  6. Before reaching the starting position, push the barbell without placing it on your back.

4. Barbell Overhead Carry

A man performing best barbell shoulder exercises

Barbell overhead carry challenges your shoulder muscles and requires a significant effort in your core musculature to keep you stable.

All your deltoid heads will work in an isometric regime to stabilize your shoulder joint while walking forward.

How to Perform a Barbell Overhead Carry:

  1. Load your barbell with slightly lighter weights than usual.
  2. Place your upper chest/collar bone just below the barbell and your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift the barbell while it remains on your upper chest and carry it to the spot where you have at least 6-7 meters free in front of you.
  4. Press the barbell over your head and fully extend your elbows while elevating your shoulders.
  5. Start walking in that position for a few steps forward, turn around and come to the starting position.

5. Barbell Bench Press

Barbell bench press belongs to the big three lifts and is considered one of the most effective pushing exercises for developing your shoulders and upper body musculature.

It activates your anterior deltoid, pectoral muscle, and triceps brachii.

How to Perform a Barbell Bench Press:

  1. Load the barbell with weights on the rack above your bench.
  2. Lie on the bench, and hold the barbell above you with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lift the barbell from the rack and bring it above your middle chest.
  4. Slowly start lowering the barbell until it reaches your middle-lower chest.
  5. Push the barbell upwards to reach the starting position before it touches your chest.

6. Barbell Incline Bench Press

Doing bench press using barbell

The barbell incline bench press is a well-known flat bench press variation that uses different bench angles to hit the upper fibers of your pectoral muscle.

The incline bench press will activate muscles such as the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Start by loading the barbell on the rack with weight plates and adjusting the bench on a desired incline angle.
  2. Lie on the bench, hold the barbell a little wider than shoulder-width apart, and lift the barbell over your head.
  3. Slowly lower the barbell towards your upper chest, and aim to control the movement, emphasizing muscle tension.
  4. When the barbell reaches just above chest level, reverse the movement and push the barbell vertically to the starting position.
  5. Hold the top position for 1 second and repeat the entire process.

7. Barbell Decline Bench Press

The Barbell decline bench press is another flat bench press variation primarily targeting lower pectoral fibers.

The decline bench press will work muscles, such as the lower fibers of your pectoral major, triceps brachii, and anterior deltoid.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Start by setting the bench in a decline position and loading the barbell on the rack.
  2. Lie on the bench and take a shoulder-width grip with your hands.
  3. Push the bar out of the rack and place it above your lower chest area with your elbows fully extended.
  4. Slowly lower the bar with a controlled motion to the chest level.
  5. When you reach just above your lower chest area, push the barbell in the opposite direction to reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

8. Barbell Row

Doing barbell rows for shoulder muscles

Barbell row follows the horizontal pull movement pattern and is excellent to combine with push exercises to build a balanced anterior-posterior musculature.

Barbell rows target muscles such as your lats, rear deltoids, trapezius, and biceps brachii.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Start by loading the barbell on the floor with the desired weight.
  2. Place your shins close to the bar, feet shoulder-width apart, and grip the barbell with your hands wider than the end-points of your shoulder, bend your torso forward, hips backward, and straighten your back.
  3. Inhale, brace your core and slowly row the barbell by pulling it toward your navel.
  4. When you reach close to the surface of your body, hold that position for a second or two.
  5. Reverse the motion by slowly extending your elbows and returning to the starting position with the barbell on the floor.

9. Landmine Lateral Raise

Landmine lateral raise is a variation of the dumbbell lateral raise shoulder exercise.

It activates muscles such as your lateral and posterior deltoids and your supraspinatus, a small muscle in the upper area of your scapula.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Start in a standing position where your spine is neutral, and your feet are in a regular squat stance.
  2. Hold the barbell using one hand in a pronated grip and in front of your body.
  3. Keep the elbow extended and raise your arm across the body until it reaches the top.
  4. Hold that position for 1 second and slowly lower the barbell to a starting position.

10. Standing Landmine Press

Performing standing land mine using barbell

The standing landmine press is a shoulder exercise used among athletes to increase punching and ball-throwing power.

It targets muscles such as your anterior and lateral deltoid, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps, core musculature, and triceps brachii.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Assume a standing split stance with your left leg slightly forward.
  2. Shift your body weight into the back (right) leg.
  3. Use your working arm to hold the barbell in front of your chest.
  4. Press the barbell in front and upwards, and shift your balance on the front leg.
  5. Hold the end position for a second or two and reverse the motion by flexing your elbow and extending your shoulder.

11. Seated Barbell Military Press

The seated barbell military press is a variation of the standing barbell overhead press that places less stress on your lower back.

This exercise is excellent for developing strong lateral and anterior deltoids while working your upper pectoral fibers and triceps brachii.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Assume a seated position where the barbell is loaded above and slightly in front of you on the rack.
  2. Grip the barbell shoulder-width apart, hands pronated.
  3. Lift the barbell off the rack and place it on your upper chest.
  4. Push the barbell above your head by extending your elbows and abducting your shoulder.
  5. Hold the top position for one second and reverse the motion by flexing your elbows and adducting your shoulders to return to the starting position.

12. Snatch-Grip High Pull

Snatch grip high pull barbell

The snatch-grip high pull is a pull variation that effectively targets your shoulder muscles.

It will activate your calves, hamstrings, quads, lats, erector spinae, deltoids, and traps.

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Assume the starting snatch position, meaning the barbell hangs in your hands a lot wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pull the bar towards your chain like in the regular high-pull exercise.
  3. After the bar touches your chin (shoulder height), lower it to the starting position and repeat the process.
  4. Avoid leaning backward with your torso because that includes compensation of other muscles we don't want to have in the movement.

13. Barbell Front Raise

The Barbell front raise is an effective substitution for the dumbbell front raise.

It will activate muscles such as your anterior and lateral shoulder, pectoral major, and triceps brachii (isometric regime).

Here's how you perform this exercise:

  1. Assume a standing position where the barbell hangs in your hands shoulder-width apart and elbows are fully extended.
  2. Inhale, brace your abdominal muscles and raise the barbell in front of you without bending the elbows.
  3. Hold the top position (shoulder height) for a second and slowly lower the barbell to the starting position without bending your elbows.

Benefits of Strengthening Shoulder Muscles

Showing shoulder muscles

Here are some benefits of regularly performing shoulder barbell exercises.

1. Decreased Chance of Injury

Shoulder barbell exercises that work all three heads of your shoulder will strengthen it and make it harder to get injured.

Doing barbell rows will significantly improve your shoulder's posterior deltoid and external rotators. According to a study in PubMed, these are crucial for shoulder injury prevention [1].

"When you build stability, mobility, and flexibility in the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, it keeps you injury-free."

- Gretchen Raddatz, Master Coach at Row House

2. Increased Mobility

Doing shoulder barbell exercises through the full range of motion will increase the mobility of your shoulder joint.

Mobility is vital for preventing injuries and achieving the full potential of your muscles [2].

The more mobile the joint, the healthier and more functional it is.

3. Increased Self-Confidence

Shoulders play a significant part in our posture, especially with men.

The bigger and wider the shoulders, the more confident we are [3].

This is due to our evolution when our predecessors with wide shoulders were usually higher in the social hierarchy than others.

Anatomy of the Deltoids

Muscle anatomy

There is only one deltoid muscle, but in gym jargon, we separate it into three to hit different parts.

The shoulder muscle consists of the front or anterior deltoid, side or lateral deltoid, and back or posterior deltoid.

These are all fibers located in different places but connected.

These fibers mostly work together to complete the same movement.

Deltoids are superficial muscles, meaning they are located on the surface of your skin.

The deltoid muscle is also connected to your collarbone, humerus, and scapula.

How to Program Shoulder Training

Back to shoulder muscle training

Here is how to program your shoulder training for hypertrophy, strength, endurance, and power.

1. Endurance

Aim to complete as many sets as possible for endurance 12 or more repetitions, and rest below 90 seconds between the sets.

Do as many reps and sets as possible in the shortest period to train effectively.

2. Hypertrophy

Do 61–2 repetitions for 2–4 sets for hypertrophy. Rest anywhere from 90–120 seconds between the sets.

The resistance required for muscle growth or hypertrophy ranges from 50–80% 1RM.

3. Strength

Struggling to lift a barbell

To build strength, do anywhere from 1–5 repetitions max and for 1–4 sets.

This number of repetitions and sets ensures the most significant growth in strength.

Rest as much as possible, usually at least 3-4 minutes before the sets to recover, and then complete the set with the same effort.

4. Power

Do as few repetitions as possible with the maximum effort and rest as much as you need to perform the set with maximum effort.

People rest up to 10 minutes between the sets to fully recover.

"The barbell allows you to lift heavier loads during the workout and promotes hypertrophy over time. It is excellent equipment for progressive overload and muscle growth."

- Murshid Akram, Certified Personal Trainer

How to Warm up Your Deltoids Before Training

Lifting barbell on shoulders

To properly warm up your shoulder before the training, do the following:

  1. Raise your temperature: You can run for 3 minutes, jump rope, slowly do battle ropes, or anything similar. The aim is to raise your body's temperature so your muscles become more flexible and slide more easily into your joint cartilage.
  2. Perform a dynamic warm-up: any crawling, quadrupedal movement, or similar can be done to prepare the shoulder for the training.
  3. Activate: The last part involves activating your external shoulder (upper arms) rotators. You can do banded external rotations and rows to activate your shoulder muscles.

The whole warming-up shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to complete.

After your shoulder workout, make sure you do some deltoid stretches to cool down your muscles and prevent stiffness.


What Shoulder Exercise Is Most Effective?

The most effective shoulder exercise is a standing barbell or dumbbell overhead press. These two exercises will strengthen and build muscle in all three deltoid heads (upper arms).

What Shoulder Exercises Work All 3 Heads?

Shoulder exercises that work all three heads include overhead press variations. Overhead press variations require more muscle activation than the rest of the shoulder exercises.

Should You Train Shoulders Light or Heavy?

You should train your shoulders, both light and heavy. Light weight is better for endurance and hypertrophy, while heavy is for developing strength and power.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18296967/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9145995/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609926/
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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