The ultimate shoulders workout with dumbbells

A man is doing seated overhead shoulder press because he read it was a good exercise in the ultimate shoulders workout with dumbbells

Training shoulders is simple yet most lifters seem to do it wrong. They prioritize weight over form, is either doing way too many or not enough reps, or spending too much time on pointless exercises targeting their already dominant parts of the shoulders. The ultimate shoulders workout with dumbbells is a simple program, which aims to give you a simple, yet effective workout.

Before we have a look at the dumbbells workout for shoulders, let’s look into the muscles we’re working on and the exercises.

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Shoulder anatomy – Aesthetics in focus

The main muscle in the shoulder is called the deltoid. It consists of three heads, the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid, and the posterior deltoid. All are important for lifting the arms, in a process called glenohumeral elevation.

The deltoids are often seen as one of the most aesthetically pleasing muscles as it makes you look wider both from the front and the back. It’s important to understand the muscles’ function to maximize gains.

The anterior deltoid, also called the front delt, is placed on the front of the shoulder and is responsible for lifting the arm forward. Isolation exercises are rarely necessary for the anterior deltoid as it’s activated in most push exercises. It’s usually the most developed of the three heads.

The lateral deltoid also called the middle delt, is placed on the side of the shoulder and is responsible for lifting the arms to the side. It isn’t being activated as much doing during compound movements and isolation exercises is often necessary to develop your lateral deltoids.

The posterior deltoid, also called the rear delt, is placed on the back of the shoulder and is responsible for moving the arms backward and outward. The posterior deltoid is often overlooked as people confuse it with being a part of the back. Isolation exercises are often necessary to develop this head.

Training shoulders often come with a risk of injury. Chose form over weight and add weight slowly to keep your shoulders healthy.

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Shoulder exercises with dumbbells

The exercises for the shoulders workout with dumbbells are useful, no matter what level you’re at.

Using too heavy weights, using momentum and bad form is common when performing shoulder exercises. Let the ego go and pick up some lighter weights to reduce the risk of injury and work the intended muscles.

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Seated shoulder press with dumbbells

The seated shoulder press with dumbbells is working all three heads but with an emphasis on the anterior- and lateral deltoids. While the other exercises are isolation exercises and don’t offer much in terms of strength gains, the seated shoulder press is giving both size and strength.

How to perform the seated shoulder press with dumbbells?

  • Sit on a bench at 75-90 degrees, depending on your shoulder flexibility, with a pair of dumbbells on your thighs.
  • Use the legs to nudge the dumbbells up, into position. They should be just above your shoulders with your palms facing away from your body.
  • Press the dumbbells straight up until your arms are almost straight, with only a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells into starting position again.

The seated shoulder press with dumbbells is an exercise that suddenly feels hard in the middle of the set. Start with a pair of light dumbbells and slowly work your way up. Never lock your elbows in the top as it takes the strain of the deltoids.

Going too heavy too fast in shoulder exercises is one of the biggest reasons for shoulder injuries.

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Dumbbells lateral raises

The dumbbells lateral raises are an isolation exercise working the lateral deltoid, the side of the shoulder.

How to perform dumbbells lateral raises?

  • Stand with a pair of dumbbells in your hands, in front of your abdomen. Palms facing each other.
  • Slowly raise the dumbbells to the side, lifting through your elbows.
  • Stop once they’re at shoulder level and hold for a second.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells into starting position again.

It’s easy to “cheat” and use your traps instead of the lateral deltoid, by going too heavy or too fast. Use a pair of light dumbbells, focus on form and perform the reps slowly to shift the focus back onto the lateral deltoid.

Dumbbell reverse fly

The dumbbell reverse fly is an exercise working the rear deltoids, the back of the shoulder.

how to perform dumbbell reverse fly?

  • Bend in your hips and get your upper body as close to parallel to the ground as possible. Can be either standing or seated.
  • Have a dumbbell in each hand below you.
  • With slightly bent arms, slowly start to lift the dumbbells until your arms are parallel with the floor.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Using momentum will not only increase the risk of injuries but also make this exercise useless. Use a light weight and focus on slow and controlled reps.

The ultimate shoulders workout with dumbbells

Make sure to warm up properly before starting the dumbbell workout for shoulders to avoid injuries.

The workout can be done 2-3 times a week, depending on your lifting experience and activity level.

Dumbbells lateral raises is an important part of this shoulders workout with dumbbells
Dumbbells workout for shoulders

You can do 3-5 sets of each exercise depending on your experience and if you’re doing it combined with other muscle groups.

Check out our dumbbell workout for bigger arms

Maximize your gains

Following a good workout plan is only a step towards your dream physique. Other than a good workout, you might want to consider the things below:

  • The diet is the most important part of a successful transformation. Make sure to eat enough and give proteins extra thought, especially when cutting.
  • Supplements such as creatine and whey protein aren’t necessary to build muscles but it sure makes the process easier.

Related: Does creatine make you gain weight?


The shoulders workout with dumbbells is for everyone who wants to grow their deltoids, no matter their training experience.

The shoulders are a big injury risk to most and keeping them healthy should be a priority to every lifter, no matter goals or experience. Keeping the weight low and having a focus on clean technique will for many be enough to stay injury-free.