Muscles of The Shoulder

The primary functions of the shoulder muscles are to rotate and lift the arms, known as the deltoid muscle, it’s triangular and is located on the outer aspect of the shoulder.

The shoulder muscle is constructed with three main heads: the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and the posterior deltoid, all of which can be worked with different dumbbell shoulder exercises.

Basic Functions

  • Anterior deltoid lifts the arm to the front
  • Medial deltoid raises the arm to the side
  • Posterior lifts the arm to the rear

The trapezius, also known as the “traps” is the flat triangular muscle, it’s one of the widest back muscles, that extends out and down from the neck and then down between the shoulder blades. The traps main function is to tilt and turn the head, shrug, steady the shoulders, and twist the arms.

Shoulder Width/V-Shape

Wide shoulders and a slim waist is what most bodybuilders train for, not all, but it’s becoming increasingly popular again as it was in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Known as the classic V shape, the aesthetically pleasing proportions of this shape are achieved from a mix of anterior, medial and posterior shoulder exercises with greater emphasis on the medial.

Not all of us are lucky enough to be born with wide shoulders; you can add width to your shoulders by developing the side deltoids, with exercises such as dumbbell side laterals.

Developing the side heads of the deltoid is only one part of total deltoid development.

Compound movements such as dumbbell presses will build your strength and give mass and thickness to your shoulders, and it’s the thickness that will help show the development of the front and rear deltoid heads.

Training The Deltoids

There are two different kinds of exercises for shoulders:

Straight arm raises

  • Raises are best for isolating the heads of the deltoid, you can do raises to the front or the side in a wide arc, remember to use a lighter weight and correct form. Using too much weight will force you to compromise on form, you will not be isolating the muscle correctly if you risk your form.


  • Shoulder presses are a compound movement, compound movements like the shoulder press utilize multiple joints in turn, maximizing muscle recruitment. Presses involve both the deltoids and triceps because you are straightening your arms as well as lifting upwards.

Starting Out

When you first start out training your shoulders, it’s a good idea to start with some heavy pressing (power) movements like dumbbell presses, upright dumbbell rows. If you own a barbell, then clean and press here would be great for gaining your strength; it also brings a lot of other muscles into play.

If you only have a set of dumbbells, then dumbbell presses behind and in front of the head will increase your strength and give you some mass.

Increasing shoulder strength will also help with many other power exercises such as bench pressing, and bent over rows where the shoulder muscles are heavily involved.

Once you have built up your strength and gained a little mass, you will be able to start some advanced movements, like bent-over lateral raises, shrugs, and supersets.

Below we have a look at a variety of the different exercises you can do for each of the three heads of the deltoids, Including the trapezius. Not all of these are dumbbell exercises, but if you happen to own a barbell, there are some excellent shoulder movements you can do at home.

Don’t worry if you do not own a barbell, our 5 Top Dumbbell Exercises below this list will help build strength mass and isolation to all three heads.

Front Deltoids

  1. Arnold press
  2. Front dumbbell raises
  3. Upright dumbbell rows, upright barbell rows
  4. Incline dumbbell and barbell presses

Side Deltoids

  1. Dumbbell lateral raises
  2. Cable lateral
  3. Lying side laterals
  4. Military dumbbell press
  5. Arnold press

Rear Deltoids

  1. Incline bench lateral raises
  2. Bent over dumbbell lateral raises
  3. Bent over barbell rows
  4. Head-supported bent-over dumbbell lateral raise

Top 5 Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises You Can Do at Home

Dumbbell Presses

To train the front and side deltoids

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, making sure your elbows are at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Do not lean back, and extend through your elbow and raise the weights directly above your head until they touch at the top.
  3. Now lower the dumbbells down as far as possible and repeat for the desired amount of repetitions.

Standing Lateral Raises

Develop outside head of the deltoid

  1. Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand with legs shoulder-width apart bending your upper body slightly forward.
  2. Bring the dumbbells in front of you at arm’s length, this will be your starting position.
  3. Lift the dumbbells to your side with a slight bend on the elbow, turning your wrist slightly as if pouring some water, this is so the rear of the dumbbell is slightly higher than the front, helping put as much stress on the side deltoid as possible.
  4. Lift the dumbbells slightly higher than shoulder height and then slowly lower. Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions.

Front Dumbbell Raises

Develop front head of the deltoid

  1. Stand straight with a dumbbell in each hand, hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs, this will be your starting position.
  2. With your palms always facing down, lift one weight up in a wide arc until your arm is slightly higher than parallel to the floor, pause for a second at the top of the movement.
  3. Lower the weight slowly to starting position whilst simultaneously lifting the other arm, make sure the dumbbells pass each other at face height, this will help work the deltoids directly. Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions.

Seated Bent-Over Dumbbell Laterals

To isolate and work the rear heads of the deltoids

  1. Sit at the end of a bench. Push your legs together with the dumbbells behind your calves.
  2. Bend at the waist keeping your back straight, try to get your chest as close to your knees as possible. Make sure the palms of your hands are facing each other as you pick up the dumbbells, this will be your starting position
  3. Keeping your torso steady, lift the weights out to either side until both arms are parallel to the floor. Turn your wrist slightly at the top of the movement so your little fingers are higher than your thumbs.
  4. After a one second contraction at the top of the movement, lower the dumbbells to starting position. Repeat for the desired amount of repetitions.

Arnold Presses

To develop the front and sides of the deltoid (excellent range of motion)

I happen to own Arnie’s Encyclopedia of modern bodybuilding, I’m sure he can explain his press better than I can, so… Arnold says:

  1. In a standing position, elbows at the sides, grasp one dumbbell in each hand and raise the weights towards your shoulders, palms turned down towards you.
  2. In one smooth motion, press the weights up overhead-not quite to the point where they are locked out and at the same time rotate your hands, thumbs turning inward, so that your palms face forward at the top of the movement.
  3. Hold here for a moment, then reverse the movement, lowering the weights and rotating your hands back to the starting position.