8 Best Shoulder Exercises for Women (Sculpt Your Deltoids)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: March 12, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Christiana Mikesch, CPT
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The shoulder muscles control several important motions, like maintaining proper posture, flowing through yoga poses, lifting light (or heavy), and more.

As a personal trainer, I have seen women with super strong arms like Brie Larson and Michelle Obama, who achieved and maintained them through classic shoulder workouts in their fitness routines.

In this article, I will detail the anatomy of the shoulder, the best shoulder exercises for women, and the benefits of training your shoulders.

Quick Summary

  • The 8 best shoulder exercises for women are lateral raises, rear delt flies, renegade rows, front raises, inverted push-ups, shoulder shrugs, standing shoulder press, and bent-arm lateral raises.
  • Weak shoulder muscles can lead to problems like poor posture, restricted range of motion, and a higher risk of shoulder injuries.
  • According to the Journal of Anatomy, the front deltoid originates from the superior surface and anterior edge of the lateral third of the clavicle.
  • In my opinion, incorporating dedicated shoulder workouts is essential for achieving well-rounded upper-body strength and aesthetics.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Women

Flexing shoulder muscles

Lateral Raise

You will require resistance bands to perform this shoulder workout. Another alternative is to swap the resistance band for a pair of dumbbells and perform dumbbell lateral raises.

How to perform:

  1. Stand with both knees slightly bent, your feet staggered, your right foot front and flat on the ground, your left leg back (heel high), and the center of a resistance band wrapped below the arch of your right foot, hands grabbing the ends, and arms at your sides.
  2. Raise your arms wide until they are parallel to the ground.
  3. Lower your arms slowly to return to the beginning position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Rear Delt Fly

"You can perform them with a pair of dumbbells, but I like cables or bands because they provide more consistent tension."

- Emma Storey Gordon, Certified Personal Trainer & Fat Loss Coach

How to perform:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in both hands.
  2. Stand with both feet hip-width apart, and bend at the hips so your body is about 45° to the floor. Keep your back straight and knees softly bent. This is where you'll start.
  3. Raise both arms to your sides to shoulder level, keeping your neck and head aligned with the back and with a slight bend at the elbow.
  4. Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Renegade Row

Woman doing renegade row

How to perform:

  1. Pick up a set of light kettlebells or dumbbells. Weights with a flat surface to rest on are most likely required; spherical dumbbells may roll beneath unskilled users.
  2. Start in a plank position, holding a pair of dumbbells.
  3. Brace your torso, then lift one of the dumbbells while supporting yourself with the other arm.
  4. Row the weight until your upper arm is over your body, then slowly drop it back to the ground.
  5. Perform the desired repetitions on one arm, then repeat on the other.

Front Raise

How to perform:

  1. Stand with a slight bend on the knees, feet staggered, your right foot front and flat on the ground, your left leg back (heel high), and the center of a resistance band wrapped below the arch of your right foot, hands grabbing the ends, and arms at your sides.
  2. Raise your arms straight up in front to shoulder height without bending your elbows.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Inverted Push-ups

Inverted push up indoors

How to perform:

  1. Begin in an upside-down "V" with your feet flat (narrow your stance if needed), palms pressed into the ground, and hips in the air.
  2. Bend your elbows to the sides, bringing your head to the ground.
  3. Press through the hands to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for reps.

Shoulder Shrugs

How to perform:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand. Maintain your hands at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Stand tall with your core taut and your shoulders rolled back.
  3. Raise the shoulders to the ears. Pause, then return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Also Read: How to Do Barbell Shrugs Properly

Bent-Arm Lateral Raises

Doing side lateral raises

How to perform:

  1. Hold two dumbbells in each hand. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands at your sides, palms facing in, and shoulders rolled back.
  2. Bend the elbows so your forearms and upper arms form a 90-degree angle, and your palms face each other. To support your back, slightly bend your knees.
  3. Exhale and elevate your arms to shoulder height while maintaining your elbows locked.
  4. Pause, inhale, and return your arms to their starting position.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Standing Shoulder Press

How to perform:

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells for this shoulder workout. Stand with both legs shoulder-width apart and your shoulders back.
  2. Raise your hands until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Your forearms should be at a 90-degree angle to your upper arms, palms front.
  3. Extend your hands and lift the dumbbells above your head.
  4. Return your arms straight to the beginning position after a brief pause.
  5. Repeat for reps.

Anatomy of the Shoulder

Showing shoulder muscles

To fully understand the impact of our exercises, let's delve into the shoulder's anatomy, focusing on the distinct roles of the deltoids' three heads - anterior, lateral, and posterior, something I've personally found fascinating.

Each head plays a unique role in shaping our shoulders and ensuring functional strength, making it crucial to target them through specific exercises for a well-rounded shoulder workout.

The deltoids are huge triangular-shaped muscles with three heads: front, lateral, and posterior. They start in the clavicle and scapula and insert into the humerus.

The deltoids are located above the shoulder joint, giving you the boulder shoulder appearance.

The three deltoid muscles originate in separate body parts, but all attach to the humerus deltoid tuberosity.

Front Deltoid

The superior surface and anterior edge of the lateral third of the clavicle give rise to the front deltoid, according to the Journal of Anatomy [1].

All shoulder flexion motions, such as front raises, and all vertical and horizontal pressing workouts (such as overhead, bench presses, and push-ups) engage the front deltoid muscle.

Posterior Deltoid

Posterior Deltoid muscle highlighted

The posterior deltoid arises from the crest of the scapular spine lateral third [2].

All shoulder extension and rotation exercises work the posterior or rear deltoid.

These moves include bent-over reverse flyes, bent-over row variants, chin-ups, pull-up variations, and lat pulldowns. The overhead lockout posture also works the posterior deltoids.

Lateral Deltoid

The lateral deltoid arises from the lateral edge and superior edge of the scapula's acromion, based on the study published in PubMed [3].

Above the first 15 degrees of movement, it takes part in the shoulder abduction of the arm.

Your side delts aid in exercises or activities that move your shoulder away from the midline, such as lateral lifts and overhead presses.

The Benefits of Shoulder Exercises

Showing shoulder muscles

Shoulder workout benefits both beginners and expert athletes. As a fitness trainer, I can attest to their importance.

While aesthetic goals are often a priority, it's equally important to consider the role of shoulder workouts in promoting overall shoulder health. A balanced routine not only enhances the appearance but also aids in preventing common injuries, and is vital for maintaining good posture, a necessity in our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

The greatest benefits of shoulder exercises are:

Improves Overhead Stability

Shoulder workouts, particularly targeting the rear delts, are key for improved posture and upper body stability.

I've seen how this stability isn't just helpful for everyday activities but is also essential in the gym, especially when performing exercises like bench presses and overhead lunges.

Enhances Shoulder Mobility

Showing shoulder mobility

Shoulder mobility and stability are required to preserve shoulder blades and joint health and assist you in reaching new personal ratings.

As a trainer, I emphasize the importance of paying close attention to the areas where your joints may need improvement.

If you can't do a shoulder workout through its entire range of motion, you'll know you need to work on it throughout your warm-ups and workouts.

Give the Body a Great Aesthetic

Shoulder exercises are essential for achieving a complete V-taper physique.

While pressing exercises are beneficial, I've seen that to achieve fullness on the sides and back (think boulder shoulders), direct shoulder workouts are indispensable.

They supercharge your progress in building upper-body muscle mass.

Read More: Exercises and Stretches for Shoulder Pain Relief

FAQs

How Do You Get Nice Feminine Shoulders?

You get nice feminine shoulders by performing workouts that target all the shoulder muscles, such as dumbbell lateral raise, overhead press, Arnold press, upright row, and dumbbell front raise.

Should a Girl Workout Her Shoulders?

Yes, a girl should work out her shoulders. Strong shoulder muscles aid in stabilizing the shoulder joint and enhance posture.

What Are the Benefits of Shoulder Exercises for Females?

The benefits of shoulder exercises for women are: it trains many upper body muscles, prevents shoulder pain and injury, and aids in achieving toned arms.

Supplementing Your Shoulder Workouts

Exercise your shoulder muscles properly by following the above-mentioned exercises to promote muscular hypertrophy.

While working on the shoulders, ensure you're getting the energy and pump you need between sets by taking the best pre-workout supplements for women.

These pre-workouts contain nootropics, which have been shown to promote energy, focus, and blood circulation to the muscle groups for the recovery, energy, and pump needed to complete sets and repetitions.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042752/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24947920/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23784480/
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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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.
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