Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises (Strength & Mass)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: March 11, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
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Achieving well-defined and toned shoulders is a top priority. Incorporating dumbbell exercises into your routine is among the best ways to accomplish this goal.

Dumbbells provide a wide range of exercise options, allowing you to easily modify your grip, increase your range of motion, and focus on individual shoulders.

As a personal trainer, I have compiled a list of the most effective dumbbell shoulder workouts to help you take your shoulder development to the next level.

Quick Summary

  • The best dumbbell shoulder exercises included the seated dumbbell shoulder press, the dumbbell upright row, the dumbbell lateral raise, the front raise, and the shoulder shrug.
  • Dumbbell shoulder workouts can help you improve your strength, muscle imbalance, joint health, and muscle mass.
  • Research conducted by the National Library of Medicine indicates that training with dumbbells and other free weights, as opposed to using machines, results in elevated levels of free testosterone, thereby enhancing muscle development.
  • In my opinion, dumbbell exercises for shoulders are highly effective due to their versatility and the ability to target muscles from various angles.

Top Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

A person doing best dumbbell shoulder exercises

Your shoulder muscles consist of the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles, which are essential in stabilizing your shoulder joint and helping move your arm in multiple directions.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a rotator cuff is a group of four muscles (subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor, and supraspinatus) that work together to allow a full range of motion, provide stability, and facilitate abduction, medial rotation, and lateral rotation [1].

On the other hand, the deltoid muscles are three muscles (anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, and rear delts) that surround your shoulder. According to the NIH, they help you perform arm extension and external rotation [2].

It's important to strengthen all these shoulder muscles, so we have compiled a list of multiple dumbbell shoulder exercises targeting each muscle group to help you achieve a well-rounded shoulder workout.

1. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

How to do a dumbbell overhead press:

  1. Select two dumbbells with a suitable weight based on your fitness level.
  2. Assume a seated position on a bench and grasp a dumbbell in each hand, holding them at shoulder height with your palms oriented forward.
  3. Extend your arms to press the weight up and over your head. Maintain proper posture by refraining from arching your back or leaning forward while lifting the weights.
  4. Pause for three seconds before lowering the weight to your shoulder level.
  5. Repeat the steps above for the desired number of reps.

“Locking your elbows when you reach the top of your lift will transfer tension from your deltoids to your triceps, which aren't the target. To keep the contraction in your shoulder muscles and increase the efficacy of the exercise, avoid completely locking out your arms.”

- Paul Rogers, Personal Trainer

2. Dumbbell Upright Row

A person doing Dumbbell Upright Row workouts in the gym

How to perform this exercise:

  1. Secure a dumbbell in each hand using an overhand grip, and position yourself with your feet spaced apart at shoulder-width.
  2. Position the weights in front of your thighs, ensuring that your palms are facing downward.
  3. Exhale as you raise the weights straight to your chest level, keeping them close to your body. Keep your shoulders relaxed to help target the lateral deltoids and avoid overloading the traps.
  4. Pause for three seconds, then inhale as you lower the weight, returning it to the starting position.
  5. Repeat until you finish three sets of twelve reps using a slow and controlled motion.

Related: How to Do Dumbbell Upright Rows: Sculpt Strong Shoulders

3. Dumbbell Lateral Raises

How to perform this exercise:

  1. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand, making sure your palms facing inwards and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift the dumbbells to your sides, keeping your arms straight and elbows slightly bent. Don’t lift too high, as it can strain the shoulder joint.
  3. Lower the weight back in a slow, controlled manner to work the muscles throughout the entire range of motion and prevent injury.
  4. Repeat until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

4. DB Shoulder Shrugs

A person doing dumbbell shoulder shrugs

How to perform this shoulder exercise:

  • Grip a dumbbell in each hand, ensuring that your palms are oriented toward your thighs.
  • Raise the dumbbells as high as possible towards your ears while maintaining straight arms and relaxed shoulders.
  • Take a brief pause for a second before returning to the starting position, ensuring that your shoulders are kept back and straight throughout this movement.
  • Repeat this exercise until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

5. Dumbbell Front Raise

How to perform this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while grasping a dumbbell in each with your palms facing inwards towards your thighs.
  2. Lift the weights in front of you until it reaches your shoulder line, keeping your arms and elbows slightly bent.
  3. Maintain the lifted position at the top for a duration of three seconds, then gradually lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat until you complete three sets of fifteen reps.

“Once you start swinging the dumbbells up and down, it can be tempting to use momentum to help you lift the weight. However, this takes away from the effectiveness of the exercise and can also lead to injury.”

- Luna Morin, Fitness Editor

Also Read: Dumbbell Front Raise: Proper Form & Variations

6. DB Bent-Over Reverse Fly

A person doing dumbbell bent over reverse fly workouts

How to perform this exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp a dumbbell in each hand, ensuring that your palms are facing inward.
  2. Hinge forward at your hips, keeping your chest parallel to the floor, back straight, and core engaged. This is the starting position.
  3. Elevate your arms out to the sides until they are parallel to your shoulders.
  4. Pause at the top of the movement before gradually lowering your hands to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this exercise until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

7. DB Rear Delt Fly

How to do this exercise:

  1. Select two dumbbells of an appropriate weight for your fitness level and place them on the ground next to the bench you will be using.
  2. Sit on the end of the bench with your feet planted on the ground.
  3. Bend forward so that your chest is resting on your thighs.
  4. Secure a dumbbell in each hand, ensuring that your palms are facing inward towards each other.
  5. Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the sides until they reach shoulder level.
  6. Pause briefly while squeezing your shoulder blades before lowering the weights to return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat this exercise until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

Related: 7 Best Rear Delt Exercises

8. DB Arnold Press

A person doing dumbbell arnold press workouts

How to do this exercise:

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Place the dumbbells at shoulder level with your palms facing your body.
  3. Fully extend your arms to push the weight above your head. As you press up, begin to rotate your arms so that they are facing away from your body at the top of the movement.
  4. Slowly lower the weights to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat this exercise until you complete three sets of twelve reps.

“Avoid rounding your lower back. This excessive arching can hurt your back and may indicate that the weights are too heavy. Keep your back straight and use a weight that allows for proper movement mechanics.”

- Adriana Albritton, Fitness Editor

What Are the Benefits of Doing Shoulder Workouts With Dumbbells?

A person checking his shoulder muscles

As a trainer, I often highlight the benefits of doing shoulder workouts with dumbbells, which include greater muscle recruitment, enhanced kinesthetic awareness, muscle growth, improved balance, joint safety, functional strength, and increased range of motion.

  • Increase muscle growth - A study from the National Library of Medicine has shown that dumbbells and other free weight training, compared to machine-based exercises, lead to higher free testosterone levels, which can increase muscle growth [3]. Additionally, dumbbells allow you to move the weight at different angles, which can target other areas of your shoulder muscles.
  • Greater muscle recruitment - Dumbbell exercises require balance and stability as opposed to machines, leading to greater recruitment of muscle fibers.
  • Better functionality - Dumbbell shoulder exercises offer better functionality, allowing movements that more closely resemble daily tasks.
  • Convenience - Dumbbells take up minimal space, making them convenient for those who exercise at home.
  • Greater kinesthetic awareness - Dumbbell exercises require more muscular control than barbell exercises, improving kinesthetic awareness.
  • Reduced muscular imbalance - When you work out your shoulders with dumbbells, you can't cheat by using your dominant side to make up for your weaker side.
  • Joint Safety - Dumbbell shoulder exercises are suitable for your joints because they allow for natural movement within the joint’s range of motion.
  • Greater variety - You can use dozens of dumbbell compound and isolation exercises to prevent plateaus and mental burnout.
  • Better Range of Motion (ROM) - Unlike machines, free weights don’t restrict movement, leading to better muscle fiber recruitment.

Related articles:

Dumbbell Exercises with Stretching

Integrating stretching routines with dumbbell exercises enhances shoulder flexibility and reduces injury risk.

  • Begin with dynamic stretches like arm circles and shoulder rolls to warm up the shoulder joints.
  • After dumbbell workouts, focus on static stretches to improve flexibility.
  • The cross-body shoulder stretch, where you pull one arm across your chest, targets the deltoids and trapezius muscles.
  • Incorporate the doorway stretch: stand in a doorway, place your arms on the frame, and gently lean forward to stretch the chest and front shoulder muscles.
  • The child's pose, a yoga position, effectively stretches the shoulders and back.
  • Additionally, the cow-face pose, where you reach one hand from above and one from below to touch behind your back, deeply stretches the rotator cuff and improves shoulder mobility.

Regularly practicing these stretches post-dumbbell workouts can significantly enhance shoulder flexibility, promote muscle recovery, and reduce the likelihood of strain or injury.


Are Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises Safe?

Yes, dumbbell shoulder exercises are safe when performed correctly with proper form and technique. It is important to warm up adequately before each training session and gradually increase the weight load from lighter to heavier dumbbell to prevent injury.

Can I Do Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises Every Day?

No, you can’t do dumbbell shoulder exercises every day. To prevent injury and promote adequate recovery, it is recommended to allow at least twenty-four hours of rest for the shoulders between workouts.

Are Shoulder Shrugs Effective?

Shoulder shrugs are effective for strengthening and building the upper trapezius muscles, enhancing shoulder stability and neck support, making them a valuable addition to upper body strength training routines.





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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.
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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. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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