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10 Of The Best Exercises For Sculpting Your Shoulders

Feb 18, 2022  |  Published by Women's Health

The look of shapely shoulders are often a goal for women, or a fabulous by-product of quality strength training. In addition to the physique aesthetics, shoulder strength brings other benefits such as improved posture, strength and joint stability.  

The interesting thing about training shoulders as women, is that we generally don’t carry as much muscle mass in this area as men, so training can feel tough, particularly when you’re first starting out, fatigue can happen quite quickly.  

Don’t be discouraged by this with your strength training.  Start with light weights and focus on quality movement through every rep.  Progressive overload is important, but remember this can be done through increasing sets or slowing down the tempo of the moves.  Give yourself the time to gain strength and you will eventually see definition.  

Like the hip, the shoulder is a “ball and socket” joint, so is capable of a wide range of movement patterns.  The shoulder muscle, the deltoid, actually has three heads: the anterior, posterior & lateral.  Effective strength training works the shoulder in all of it’s directions, to maximise deltoid engagement, so make sure you select a range of exercises in your program.  

Try to do 4 or 5 shoulder specific exercises 2-3 times per week.  2-3 sets of 8-12 reps will support shape changes. If you are new to strength training, start with a rep range of 10-15. Let’s look at 8 hot exercises for sculpting shoulders! 

1. Standing barbell overhead press 

Hold a barbell at shoulder height with your palms facing forwards. Set your feet shoulder width apart, with soft knees.  Push the barbell up to straight above your head. Return to the starting position.

2. Dumbbell lateral raise

With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your arms by your sides, palms facing your body. With a strong core, lift the dumbbells out to your side with a slight bend at your elbows.  The weight should sit above the level of your forearms. Lift until your arms are parallel to the floor then lower to the start position.

3. Dumbbell Arnold press

Using dumbbells, set up by holding the dumbbells in front of your face with your elbows bent (as in the top of a bicep curl). Begin the move by opening up the arms laterally so the palms face forward and press up to above your head in one smooth move, before lowering your arms back to the starting position.

The Arnold press engages a lot of the deltoid through its unique movement.  Fun fact  – this move was coined by “the” Arnold.. Schwarzenegger, that is!  

4. Barbell Upright Row 

Hold your weight with straight arms directly in front of the body, hands at shoulder width.  Keep your hands roughly in line with your shoulders and pull back towards your chin.

Give this one a miss if you have any shoulder impingement or neck concerns. 

5. Rope Face Pull

Grab the rope attachment on a cable machine.  With a standing split stance, hold your arms straight out in front of you, palms facing down. Pull the rope towards your face with the elbows high. Slowly lower the rope back to the starting position.

6. Dumbbell clean and press

This movement has two phases.  Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip, with your palms facing the front of your body.  With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the knees and push your hips back into a partial squat. Drive up from this position, rotating your hands facing forwards as you move the dumbbells to sit just in front of your shoulders.  This is the “clean” movement.

From here, press the dumbbells up by straightening your arms. Move the weights back to your shoulders and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

If working with two dumbbells feels like a lot, this can be done one side at a time.   

7. Dumbbell front and side raise 

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of your body.  With a slight bend in your elbow, raise the dumbbells straight ahead of you to shoulder height.  Lower to the start position, and then move the dumbbell out to the side to shoulder height.  Return to the start, and this counts as one rep.  

8. Bent over reverse fly 

Stand with your feet apart, and bend forward at the hips around 80-90 degrees.  Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing each other, arms handing towards the ground with elbows slightly bent. Raise the dumbbells to your sides, tilting your hand forward.  Lower the dumbbells back down slowly.  Your body stays bent over through the whole set.  

What are the different muscles around your shoulder joint?

1. deltoids (the three muscles that cover the outside of your shoulder)

2. traps (the muscles that run from your neck and spine to your shoulder blade)

3. lats (the large muscles that run from your spine to your armpit)

4. rotator cuff (the muscles that help keep your arm bone in your shoulder socket)

How often should I train shoulders

Since most upper-body movements involve your shoulders in some way or another, you only need to do one exclusive shoulders workout per week. Your shoulder muscles are delicate, so consider it A-okay to start with light weights 1 -2kg and resistance bands.

Why should I train shoulders?

Strengthening your shoulder muscles helps keep the notoriously unstable shoulder joint more secure, which helps you stay injury-free while doing everything from lifting weights to flowing through yoga poses.

Women's Health

Women's Health

The Australian Institute of Fitness
At the Australian Institute of Fitness (AIF), we are no stranger to the competitive and evolving nature of the fitness industry. That’s why we remain the #1 fitness educator since 1979. We continuously raise the bar by providing the best education and resources through dynamic and hybrid training methods that mould to your lifestyle. We are strong believers in evidence over fads, so you can be assured your training with AIF will solidify your career for the long-term.

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