Top 3 Shoulder Exercises

A well-developed set of shoulders is key to a good physique, they give the x-frame look when working in conjunction with the quads. Not only that, but they help set up the sought after v-taper of the upper body, which starts from the shoulders and works down to the waist. Turning away from the aesthetics side of things, let’s look at the role of the shoulders when it comes to strength. They are crucial for any type of upper body pressing movement, mainly involving the front (anterior) deltoids with some help from the side (lateral) deltoids when talking about the shoulders alone.

Having the importance of the shoulders now illustrated, I am sure you can see why I wanted to create a top 3 shoulder exercises article. A great muscle group to kick off the “Top Exercises” section of my website, let’s get started with exercise number one.


Number One Shoulder Exercise – Overhead Press:

Kicking off our list, we have the overhead press. Being a compound movement it is a great exercise to build the base of our workouts and can be manipulated for a variety of training types. With it being a compound movement, we can easily apply progressive overload to it, which as we know is a major contributor to seeing results.

The overhead press does a great job of hitting the delts (the front ones specifically, as well as the side delts), however, it is also a great strength exercise. With it being compound, and a pressing movement you can load it up and work in the lower rep ranges, it’s also a great assistance exercise for a lift like the bench press. Not only that, but you can use it for other types of training, such as power if you change the loading or make it a push press. Throwing it into a circuit, maybe in the form of a push press would make for a great conditioning exercise as well.

Now we need to talk about how we can best implement the overhead press into our workouts. We first need to look at our goals. If we are training for hypertrophy, we may want to consider working with moderately heavyweight with a rep range of around 6-10 as a rough guideline. We may also want to throw in some pyramid training so we can work through a variety of rep ranges and be hitting some sets that would be more relative to strength training as well. A pre-exhaustive training style may be beneficial for hypertrophy so our limitation will come from out delts and ensure our triceps and chest aren’t taking over. If we are talking about strength training we would be working with heavyweight and using lower reps. We want to be as fresh as possible for these sets so we can use maximal force. Also, we may want to consider adding in some kind of variation such as a push press so we can handle heavier weight. Those are a couple of ways you can implement the overhead press, of course, there are others as well. If you have any questions about implementing this movement differently, please leave them in the comment section below.

Exercise Number Two – Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise:

Next on the list comes the dumbbell side lateral raise, we want to be basing our workouts mainly from free weights, so this exercise fits in perfectly. We are focusing on our side delts with this one. Although it is not a compound exercise, it has a good amount of room for progression mainly through volume, and it is quite versatile.

With this being a dumbbell exercise, it will hit our delts uni-laterally (individually), this is important to be included in any routine to prevent muscle and strength imbalances. Often times this also allows us to focus more on the muscle we are working, therefore applying more tension to our shoulders. In addition to that, seeing as progressive overload with weight isn’t going to be easily applied, this gives us a great chance to get a good amount of volume in. This because, this exercise will mainly be done in the 8-12+ rep range. This gives us a good amount of volume already, and we will be seeing the majority of progressive overload being applied through an increase in volume instead of weight being used.

We know this exercise is mainly used for hypertrophy, it isn’t super relative to strength training or endurance/circuit training. With that being said, there are plenty of ways we can vary up this exercise to differ our training approach and allow us to change things up. We can do our normal, elbows slightly bent, moderate tempo raises as a general way to perform the exercise and allow us to work in the moderate weight and rep ranges. A great and fundamental way to do this exercise. A couple other ways we can do this is either super strictly with our arm completely straight, performing the rep slower with lighter weight to apply all the tension directly on the delt. We can also do a cheat side lateral raise, with our elbows being quite a bit bent, doing faster reps with heavier weights and using some “body english”. This will allow us to apply more weight to the muscle then it is used to and provide a new stimulus for growth. The “cheat” method also has power benefits if programmed with that in mind. Athlene-X has some great content on YouTube where he goes into even more detail on this. Seeing as this exercise is still done moderately heavy with a fairly large range of motion, we want to be doing this exercise earlier in our workouts in most cases, maybe as a secondary movement.


Exercise Number 3 – Face Pulls:

Face pulls are done on a cable machine and do a great job of hitting you rear delt muscle. They induce a strong stretch and contraction on the rear delt which can often times be difficult when trying to target this. This is done so by the path of the rope, which means it follows the rear delt fibres and allows you to get a proper stretch and contraction.

As said by Jeff Cavalier from Athlene-X, another benefit of face pulls is to help with posture, and help balance out the large amounts of pushing movements often done by people. Some other benefits of face pulls include them being a great hypertrophy exercise for the rear delts, as well as the strengthening of the upper back and it’s stabilizing muscles. This helps our strength in the main compound movements like the bench press or deadlift. People often only see the muscles being worked as ones they need to focus on for the main movements. For example, in a bench press people think, “Ok, I need to work on my chest, triceps and shoulders to help improve my bench”. Although that is true, what about your back? If you don’t have a big, strong back… where is your platform? If you don’t have sufficient stability from you scapula (another thing the face pull helps), then how are you going to stay tight under the bar when performing max effort sets? There are often times more to an exercise then you may think/what you can see.

How do we implement face pulls into our routine? Well, there are a couple different ways, if you are trying to build your rear delts from a hypertrophy standpoint, do them in your shoulder workouts and apply the necessary volume. I would suggest moderate to high reps with an according weight. If your trying to build strength and stability in the upper back then consider doing them more frequently. As far as developing posture goes, I would do them after every workout in conjunction with the other exercise mentioned in Athlene-X’s video with the volume stated.


Wrapping Up:

Remember to keep the compound movements in mind and apply progressive overload. Go from exercise to exercise through you workouts logically and remember to target all 3 heads of the shoulder (front – anterior, side – lateral, rear – posterior). Variations of exercises are important, so be sure to apply them appropriately when trying to train in different ways.

Well, you are now one step closer to a better shoulders workout! As always, if you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to leave them below and I will be sure to reply!


Until Next Time,


Kohl Johnson


Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.







Support is much appreciated if you benefited from this:

Kohl Johnson

I am a 16-year-old fitness fanatic! I have learned nothing but quality training and nutrition information from the utmost well-respected individuals in the field. Now, my only focus is to share this knowledge with you for your benefit, in the most honest way possible. We are all in this together! LET'S GO!

4 Responses

  1. I’m going to try these three exercises for my shoulders the next time I’m in the gym. I’m wondering if there is any stretching that should be done before doing these shoulder exercises? I don’t want to pull any muscles before I try these. The shoulders for me are a hard exercise to get right and I’m hoping these 3 shoulder exercises help. Thanks for the article it will come in handy at the gym.

    • Hi Cory, that’s great! A general shoulder warm-up is what I typically do, maybe some stretching or foam rolling if there is a tight spot on your shoulder. This is what I do, it’s not guaranteed to work for you, or everyone, especially because everyone has different circumstances. Like anything, there is always a risk of injury, and no warm-up will prevent injury. Also, be sure you know how to do these exercises properly before performing them. This will help both reduce injury risk and help you perform the exercise more efficiently. Hope that helps! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment

Follow by Email