10 Best Shoulder Building Exercises of All Time

Building broad shoulders will complete your physique & make you look strong. Learn which exercises are the top 10 all-time best for targeting your shoulders.

Having big arms is always in style and a strong bench press is cool but when it comes to the symbol of upper body power, the shoulders tell you the true story.

Having big and round delts not only shows the world you’re strong, they make the rest of the body look better too.

You can try to create your own unique movements to hit this particular head from the right angle but why bother? The most popular exercises are just that for a reason – they work.

There are already established movements that can help you bring up the rear delts, cap off the side heads, and develop the front of the shoulders.

But which of those movements are the best? Which shoulder exercise would be considered the “GOAT”?

The answer to that can vary depending on who you ask but we’re willing to bet that these 10 are in the conversation.

If you want to add any of these to your own plan, make sure you check out the M&S Exercise Video Database so you can become a master of the move.

10. Banded Y’s

Banded Y's might not be as popular of an exercise as others on this list but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

Related: Cannonball Delts - The Ultimate 12 Week Shoulder Building Program

Quite the contrary, this might very well be the best warm-up exercise you could do to start your shoulder workout. Since you’re using a band, you can work with resistance that keeps tension on the shoulder throughout the movement based on your level of strength.

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9. Smith Machine Upright Row

The upright row has a history of being a controversial movement. Bodybuilders, coaches, and strength athletes swear by them for a variety of reasons. Physical therapists and others in the medical community feel they do a lot of damage to the shoulders.

The Smith machine upright row allows you to isolate the delts and the fixed motion of the machine means you won’t have to worry as much about stabilization. As long as you don’t try to cheat on the movement, you’ll see results while minimizing risk of injury. So you get the benefits of delt gains without the ache of shoulder pains.

8. Single Arm Cable Lateral Raise (Crossbody)

If done right, the single arm cable lateral raise is very effective to rounding off those side heads of the delts. Unfortunately, it’s not always done right.

Some lifters want to build their egos by lowering the pin on the stack and using momentum to jerk the weight up. If you go lighter and think more about the execution, you’ll reap great muscle building benefits.

Single Arm Cable Lateral Raise

7. Alternate Bent-Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly

You’ve probably tried this one with both arms at the same time but have you ever focused on doing them one side at a time? You’ll establish a much better mind-muscle connection and will see greater overall shoulder improvement in the long-term when performing alternate bent-over dumbbell reverse flys.

Using dumbbells will also help you improve strength that can translate to other shoulder movements as well as some back exercises like high rows.

6. Alternate Standing Dumbbell Press

Standing exercises are great for improving overall strength and power. They also force you to stabilize everything. Doing alternaing standing dumbbell presses can help improve strength on each side as well as front delt development.

The key is taking your time and not letting momentum dominate the set. Raise, lower, pause, switch sides.

5. Cable Face Pull with a Rope

Doing cable face pulls with a rope attachment on a cable pulley are very effective on the rear delts. This is the most effective isolation movement for the rear delts you’ll ever find. You can keep tension on that area throughout the entire rep.

You don’t need much weight to make this effective either. Doing them slow with moderate resistance maximizes the benefits. Doing them with a rope allows you to separate the ends when you pull it in. That means you can pull the hands further back which allows you to get a greater contraction than if you stopped with a regular handle.

Cable Face Pull

4. Dumbbell 6-Ways (Raise)

Dumbbell 6-way raises have been made popular in recent months thanks to IFBB Pro Bodybuilder John Meadows but they’ve been around for a while.

Combination movements work very well because they do a lot of work in minimal time. So doing an exercise like this allows you to train all three areas of the shoulder while saving time on your workout. Doing more work in less time makes exercises like this a must on the list.

3. Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The lateral raise with dumbbells is the ultimate free weight exercise for targeting the lateral head of the delts. As long as you don’t try to generate momentum and swing the weight with every rep, you can see great gains.

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That’s why doing seated dumbbell lateral raises should be the preferred method. Doing these seated means you’ll have to focus more on lifting the weights up instead of swinging them up like many lifters do when standing. This means the muscles will work a little harder and you can decrease the risk of injury.

You will also have to keep the weights to your sides instead of allowing them to come to the front. This can help minimize the recruitment of the front delts.

2. Clean and Press

The clean and press is the best barbell exercise on the list and among the most famous overall exercises in the lifting game. CrossFit athletes perform them regularly in various workouts. Bodybuilders can use them to achieve overall shoulder growth. As a matter of fact, any strength athlete can see various benefits from doing this classic move.

Related: 5 Things You Can Learn From CrossFit

Beginners should learn how to do them immediately. They can see overall strength increases thanks to this. When it comes to development of the muscle, the rear and side delts are active in the clean. The front delts join the party when you press the weight up while the other heads are there for extra support. Of course, the rotator cuffs are active throughout the exercise.

And those are just the benefits for the shoulders. We haven’t even gotten into the benefits of leg and core stability as well as the improvement in power that can translate to other movements like the bench press.

Clean and Press

1. Arnold Press

Yes, this is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger because he’s the one credited for inventing it but that isn’t the reason that it is the top exercise on this list. The Arnold Press is a great exercise that targets all three heads of the deltoids as well as the rotator cuffs. It’s a great all-in-one movement that can help you work on development, function, and strength.

On the way up, the twisting motion affects the side delts. Of course, the press benefits the front head. When you come back down and twist, you not only get the side delts again but you also recruit the rear delts for extra stabilization. All of that and you get the benefit of improved shoulder function and working the rotator cuffs.

Furthermore, since you’re working with dumbbells, each shoulder has to do its own work. One can’t help out the other. Those reasons are why this exercise is #1 on the list.

What’s Your Favorite?

Do you feel that a different exercise should be at the top? Is there a lift you like that isn’t on the list at all?

Let us know by commenting your favorite shoulder exercise and why you feel it should be considered among the best ever.