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Best Dumbbell Shoulder Exercise Routine

Updated on October 6, 2013
Sculpting the Delts and Traps
Sculpting the Delts and Traps
Dumbbells Make Home Workouts Simple
Dumbbells Make Home Workouts Simple

Simplifying Your Life by Brining the Gym Home

Why do we see a large amount of people flood the gyms across the country in January/February? Those New Years resolutions that everybody makes saying they are proactively going to start going to the gym and prioritize fitness in their lives. And what is more often than not the outcome of these promises? One to two months of frantic binge working out followed by a huge decline in motivation and results. This is simply a fact for the general public not necessarily because we are lazy or unmotivated but because our lives consist of a multitude of distractions, stress and responsibilities that when coupled together lead the everyday gym goer to gradually diminish the emphasis they place on their fitness.

I am just as much at fault as anyone else I have referenced above. Every year I go through fazes of intense training followed by lethargy but this cycle led me to begin looking in to simplifying my fitness. My gym was twenty minutes from my house and not on my route home from work so after a long day of sitting in meetings I had nothing in me pushing my to throw on some sneakers and hit the weights. I invested in the P90X home workout system which began to change my mind on what was possible in terms of weightlifting from a home workout point of view. Granted the P90X system is a very intense workout plan that you must adhere to daily but once I was finished my mindset was forever changed.

Instead of spending more time driving to and from the gym than you do actually working out, why not bring the gym into your home? The time saved can lead to longer, more intense and strict workouts that will allow you to burn the fat you've sworn to get rid of or gain the muscle you want to look better. I have been affected positively by doing this and you might be also, all you need to do is invest in a cheaper pair of dumbbells that fits your current strength and bring a good attitude and you can change your body just as much or more than you ever could've at a gym.

Working Out the Deltoid and Trapezius

While these series of articles will focus on at home work outs this article will specifically detail a routine for the deltoid muscle group as well as the trapezius. The deltoid or shoulder muscle is broken down into anterior, medial and posterior deltoid or simply the front, middle and back part of the should muscle. Each part of the deltoid is stimulated in its own way and will require different movements to effectively stress the muscle. The trapezius, sometimes associated with back workouts, will be detailed here as well and is the muscle above the collar bones that stretches from the upper spine to the shoulder.

Building large shoulder muscles is imperative to total body fitness and the look of what some call cannonball shoulders is something many strive for. Consequently, the trapezius helps shape out the look so a large chest and shouldered person does not have a pencil thin neck that their head sits on and looks awkward. The routine I will detail below is meant to go as follows: There are five exercises that will each require two sets doing 10-15 reps on a weight that allows you to finish the amount but still challenges you. Once we run through this once we will double back and do the entire series a second time once the muscles have been awoken and are ready to be torn apart.

As with any exercising, allows start by warming up and getting the blood flowing. I always start my workouts by running a mile, treadmill or outside, just to get myself going and then stretch out the muscle group I will be working on. For shoulders you can stretch them out by extending your arms straight out to the side from your body and making them spin in small circles for approximately one minute. You may feel your shoulders start to burn a little but this is needed before the routine. Another stretch is to rotate your arms and shoulders around their joint both clockwise and counterclockwise to loosen up your range of motion. Once we are all warmed up and stretched out we are ready to begin this killer should routine:

Push Those Weights, Build Those Shoulders
Push Those Weights, Build Those Shoulders

Overhead Military Press (2 Sets / 10-15 Reps)

To start we will be taking dumbbells, the weight will vary by the participant but make sure to challenge yourself, and sitting down on a bench with a sturdy back to position your back and spine against. Hold the dumbbells on your upper thighs before you begin and make sure to control your breathing. When ready curl the dumbbells up and get them into position at shoulder level with your palms faced away from your body and begin the workout by pushing the weight up above your head to their highest point, be careful not to let them slam together as this can throw off your balance, bring the weight back down to their starting position before pushing back up. This exercise will specifically target the front deltoid while your are extending the weights upwards.

After the first set of 10-15 reps, grab slightly heavier dumbbells (5 to 10 lbs.) and get them back on your thighs as you take no more than thirty seconds to rest. When ready do the set again with the heavier weights and focus not on them being heavier but performing the movement exactly the same as you did with the lighter weights. If you cannot do as many that is okay but still strive to get somewhere in the 10-15 rep range, if you cannot then you may need to adjust your starting weight. When done, return the weights and get ready for your middle shoulder to be worked out.

Arms Straight Out
Arms Straight Out

Lateral Dumbbell Raises (2 Sets / 10-15 Reps)

Grab lighter weights as your middle deltoid will probably only be able to handle significantly less than you were able to perform with the Overhead Military Press. When ready, stand up and have your hands in front of you palms facing each other as you clench the weights. This movement requires you to take the weights from their prone position and extend them out sideways from your body, keeping your arms as straight as possible and letting your shoulders do the work. Extend your arms straight out until the are perpendicular to your height, going above shoulder level could result in injury, and then bringing them down slowly with letting your arms just fall back to prone. Continue doing this movement for the amount of reps or until your form starts to fail. Don't go up in weight this time for the second set, just continue to focus on your form. The middle deltoid doesn't require a whole lot of weight to grow and get that sculpted look.

Concentrate on your Form
Concentrate on your Form

Seated Bent-Over Lateral Raises (2 Sets / 10-12 Reps)

For the read deltoid you can go back up some in weight and bring the bench back into play. This exercise is another raise but while sitting and bent forward to isolate the rear deltoid. Sit with your knees at a 90 degree angle and hold the weights behind your ankles. When ready raise the weights and focus on an up-and-out movement where the weights are lifted but your shoulder squeezes in backward. This can be tricky to get down as it is hard to feel if your back or shoulder is doing the work but practice until you get the movement down and feel your shoulder tightening when you start to move the weights backward instead of just up.

Do two sets of this and do not worry just yet about going up in weight in between sets, like the middle deltoid just make sure your form is correct as form dictates all.

Get Those Elbows Up
Get Those Elbows Up

Kettlebell / Dumbbell Raises (2 Sets / 10 Reps)

By this point your entire should muscle has been ran through and should definitely be awake and maybe a little tired. For the next exercise, we will incorporate an exercise that can be done with either a kettlebell if it is available or a dumbbell and helps continue to workout all three parts of the shoulder. If you have a kettlebell hold the thing swinging in front of your body with both hands (Use two dumbbells if no kettlebell) and when ready pull the weight upwards to your chin. The primary point of this exercise is to have the weight pulled to your chin but while it is there your elbows should be well above the plane of the weight, this will stress your entire shoulder and is a great complimentary workout to the others. As soon as the weight is lifted and your elbows are close to your ears let the weight down but provide resistance instead of letting it fall. Continue this movement for the remainder of the reps and then go up one weight size when doing the second set to make it harder on yourself.

Squeeze Backwards at the Top
Squeeze Backwards at the Top

Shrugs (2 Sets / 10-12 Reps)

By now, I would hope your shoulder is feeling it and we are going to give the deltoids a break while we attack the trapezius muscle. Not many people decide the traps are a muscle group worth spending time on but this is inaccurate if you are trying to get a full fit look going. If you are a beginner to the traps do not worry about using a bunch of weight even though initially it appears to be an easy exercise. The way this exercise works is following a very strict form.

Grab the weights and hold them at your sides, palms facing inwards, when ready try to lift your shoulders as high as they can with your arms still straight at their sides and at the top squeeze your shoulder blades backwards. Many people think the traps are worked out by simply bouncing your shoulders up and down. Where the real workout is is that squeeze that forces the trapezius to contract back while holding the weights. You will feel a real burn if you do this correctly for the appropriate amount of reps. Do not worry about increasing weight for the second set if your form is not what you want it to be.

Do It All Again

Once we are through the first cycle, we will start back over and do it again. This time obviously the weights will be a bit more challenging because you will be feeling the first run through so pick your starting weight smartly, ideally even though we are a bit tired at this point we would like to go up in weight to really break down the muscles with heavier amounts while they are tired but listen to your body and don't do more than you can handle. Do the routine the exact same way through and trust me by the end you will not want to be lifting your arms upwards for days.

Even though they'll be burning, make sure to do a cool down with stretching afterwards to avoid injury and if possible go run another mile to finish it off, after all the more calories you burn the more those muscles you just built will show.

Hopefully this workout is something that will help anyone who is having trouble sticking to a gym plan or anyone who wants a greater shoulder workout. Please rank this workout below and make any comments that can help me or anyone else continue in our quest towards better fitness.

How Does This Rank Opposed to Other Shoulder Workouts?

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How Helpful Was This Routine?

3.5 out of 5 stars from 4 ratings of Dumbbell Shoulder Routine


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Looks like a solid and aggressive shoulder exercise.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks for the positive comeback- You have the essence of a good hub on this with a few alterations- I'll keep my eyes out for further information from yourselves. My background and expertise is in the area so if you ever want some honest feedback drop myself a mail. Liam

    • deealvar profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Indianapolis

      Cycling, very true, I had initially started this with the idea of doings more intense work out but as I got writing realized I needed to post beginner information. I do appreciate the comments however and will adjust the Hubs title as you are correct, stay tuned for further at home exercise routines

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Great explanation of exercises and images

      However I'm not sure it really does anything new that most shoulder exercisers will already be doing. What about supersets, split sets or negative reps to really challenge the muscles in other ways? What you seem to have put in place is a standard workout for shoulders which will start to become boring and lack the stimulation after around 5 workouts to really challenge the muscles to improve further. It might work initially for beginners to help them find their way but anyone of any experience will need to start to challenge their muscles in different ways.

      I'm sorry but this is in no way the 'Best' workout imaginable for said muscle groups


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