The Best Shoulder Exercises – Proven With Science!

best shoulder exercise arnold

The Best Shoulder Workout, Backed With Science!

Before getting into the best shoulder exercises out there, you have to understand how the shoulder works itself. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult to understand! Shoulder exercises and movements do not happen with the shoulder alone, but with the help of your upper back (thoracic spine), shoulder blades (scapulae) and shoulders.

If you sit in a terrible posture it’s much harder to raise your arms up high, as compared to when you’re sitting up straight. Instead of looking at the shoulder along, you should focus on the following parts as a whole:

[column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]Thoracic Spine

(upper back)[/column]

[column size=”1-3″ last=”0″ style=”0″]Scapulae

(shoulder blades)[/column]

[column size=”1-3″ last=”1″ style=”0″]Glenohumeral Joint


When all three parts are functioning as one, you will really understand why the following exercises are considered the best shoulder exercises. On the other hand, if one of these systems is misaligned, then your whole shoulder movement will not feel fluid. You will probably feel discomfort or pain during or post-workout. It’s very important to keep your theoracic spine up straight, your scapulae in position, which will keep your shoulder aligned.
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The Best Shoulder Exercises

Here are the four things you need to build your shoulder workout:

  1. A compound shoulder exercise
  2. A reflexive rotator cuff exercise
  3. An isolated posterior deltoid exercise
  4. An exercise that ties together the rotator cuff and scapulae

Here are two sample workouts of what we would consider the best shoulder exercises.



[column size=”1-2″ last=”0″ style=”0″]

Sample Workout 1

Dumbbell Shoulder PressSide Lateral Raiseshoulder side lateral raiseFront Dumbbell Raise
shoulder front dumbbell raise Bent-Over Lateral Raiseshoulder rear lateral raise  [/column]

[column size=”1-2″ last=”1″ style=”0″]

Sample Workout 2

Military Press/Overhead Press best shoulder exercisesFront Dumbell Raise

shoulder front dumbbell raise
Behind The Neck Shoulder Press Behind The Neck Shoulder PressBent-Over Lateral Raise

best shoulder exercise [/column]


For compound lifts like dumbell press, military press, and overhead press, it’s recommended to stay in a lower rep range but higher sets. For example 4×6 (4 sets of 6 reps), or 5×5 (5 sets of 5 reps). Compound exercises help to really push blood into your muscles faster, and activate more muscle due to the heavier weight you’ll be lifting. To read more about strength training, you can click here.

For the other lifts, a better range would be 3×10-12 (3 sets of 12-12 reps).

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The Science Behind The Best Shoulder Exercises

To understand the science behind what makes up the best shoulder workout, you have to understand a bit about shoulder anatomy. We have already covered the joints involved; Thoracic Spine, Scapulae, and Glenohumeral. We also have to cover the muscular anatomy.

shoulder exercise diagram
Shoulder Muscle Anatomy

The deltoid is basically the most admired part of the shoulder, often called the “cannonball”. This is because the round cannonball appearance it takes once it is big enough. The deltoid muscle is made up of three parts. The anterior deltoid which allows you to lift your shoulder in front of your body. The posterior deltoids support the anterior deltoid in order to bring your arm back towards your body. They also assist in shoulder rotation. Inbetween these two are the middle deltoids, which allow your shoulder to move to the side of your body.

While the deltoids are the larger and better looking muscles, the smaller muscles are just as equally important. The rotator cuff is crucial in keeping our shoulder healthy, strong, and mobile. As you may know, many people injure their shoulders incorrectly doing shoulder exercises in which the main culprit is the rotator cuff. This can lead to many weeks out of the gym and great discomfort, so it’s best to keep it strong and mobile.

“In the rotator cuff, the supraspinatus runs along the top of your scapula and is responsible for the first 30 degrees of abduction of the shoulder. The infraspinatus and teres minor run along the backside of your shoulder blade and are responsible for external rotation of the shoulder. Last but not least, the subscapularis runs along the inside of your shoulder blade (adjacent to the rib cage), and is responsible for internal rotation at the shoulder.” Source:

Instead of focusing either the deltoid or the rotator cuff, you should work on integrating both factors. That’s why these are the best shoulder exercises and shoulder workouts. Think of the deltoids as the engine, and the rotator cuffs as the oil.

If you see positive results from these workouts, you can tweak and adjust the reps, sets, and even the exercises to your needs. Just remember to use the best shoulder exercises to target all parts of the shoulder.

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