Some muscle groups can be challenging to train effectively without barbells, machines, and cable pulleys. However, a dumbbell shoulder workout at home can be as effective as a training session in the most well-equipped gym. All you need is a set of dumbbells to build your shoulder muscles. And an effective shoulder workout routine, of course! You bring the dumbbells; we’ve got the best at-home shoulder workout for broad and strong shoulders.
StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells is a complete shoulder workout for the intermediate to advanced lifter. In this article, you’ll find a comprehensive overview detailing the workout, with instructions on how to perform the best dumbbell shoulder exercises and even a pro tip or two on how to get the most out of your shoulder day home workouts.
This shoulder workout is one of many premium workouts in the StrengthLog app, which you can download for free using the buttons below.
Benefits of Strong and Muscular Shoulders
Your shoulder muscles are essential for both aesthetics and function.
Few things give the impression of an athletic physique more effectively than a pair of broad shoulders. Bodybuilders value massive shoulders with that 3D look for a competitive edge, but few people would argue that wide, muscular shoulders enhance the look of any physique.
For performance and athletic purposes, shoulder strength is essential for almost any task. Whether you’re throwing, pulling, or pressing, having a pair of strong shoulders means better performance.
Even if you don’t care about building big shoulders or athletic performance, an above-average shoulder strength makes most things in your everyday life easier and helps prevent shoulder pain.
Everyone from all fitness levels benefits from stronger shoulders. Fortunately, the best shoulder exercises are easy to do in the comfort of your home and don’t require a lot of expensive gym equipment. This shoulder workout requires nothing but a pair of dumbbells, and you can perform all the best shoulder exercises to hit your fitness goals, be it muscle growth, muscle function, or muscle strength.
Before we get to the workout, let’s look at how your deltoid muscles work. Don’t worry: we’ll keep it short and easy to understand.
Many believe the deltoid is a small muscle, but it’s actually one of the largest in the upper body. The volume of the deltoid is significantly greater than, for example, the latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major, two different muscles most people immediately think of as large.
The shoulder muscles have three heads: the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid, and the posterior deltoid. Or, easier to remember: your front delts, your side delts, and your rear delts. Each can be more or less isolated using different exercises targeting a particular head.
- The primary function of your front delts is to bring your arms forward. For example, the bench press and all variations of shoulder presses work your front delts effectively.
- Your side delts lift your arms to your sides and help stabilize your shoulder joint when you perform exercises like the bench press or the overhead press. To isolate your side delts, you’ll want to include some type of side raise in your shoulder workout, like the dumbbell lateral raise. The lateral deltoid is sometimes referred to as the medial deltoid, which is a mistake, as “medial” means something close to the midline of your body, not “middle”.
- An often forgotten or neglected muscle, your rear deltoids help retract your shoulder blades, aids in the external rotation of your shoulders, and assist in bringing your arms back when you perform exercises like the face pull or rows for your upper back. Your rear delts work with your lats in all shoulder extension movements.
- While not part of the deltoid, your rotator cuff consists of four small muscles and tendons surrounding your shoulder joint. The rotator cuff muscles keep your upper arm in place in the socket of your shoulder.
For complete delt development, you must train all three heads of the deltoid. This routine is one of the best shoulder workouts for your delts, using dumbbell exercises in all planes of motion and leaving no parts of the shoulder behind.
Equipment Needed For StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells at Home
Many people think you need a fully equipped gym to train your shoulders effectively. Good news: you don’t! Your home gym doesn’t even need to consist of more than a pair of dumbbells or two.
All the best exercises for building shoulder width and strength can be done with dumbbells. You do need at least one pair of dumbbells, though, preferably two, unless you get adjustable ones. More on those later.
Because you can handle heavier loads in compound movements like presses than in isolation exercises like side raises, you need to have access to both heavier weights and lighter weights.
Ideally, you have one pair of light dumbbells and one pair of heavy dumbbells at hand.
- Recommended intermediate dumbbells for women: a pair of 10 and 15-pound dumbbells.
- Recommended intermediate dumbbells for men: a pair of 15 and 25-pound dumbbells.
Note that these are just recommendations for the average man and woman. A pair of dumbbells that feels light for you might be heavy for someone else, and vice versa. We all have different strength levels, but the above suggestions suit most people.
If you’re an advanced lifter, you likely already know what dumbbells you need to get a good shoulder workout.
Another option is to get a pair of adjustable dumbbells. You can change the weight of an adjustable dumbbell by simply flipping a switch, making it easy to go from an exercise that calls for a lighter load to one that requires heavier weights without having several pairs of dumbbells lying around.
A pair of adjustable dumbbells is a great way to increase your training load as you get stronger without buying new, heavier dumbbells.
In addition to the dumbbells, you might consider getting a resistance band for when you’re not home but still want to get a workout done. For example, if you’re traveling, you probably don’t want to bring several dumbbells, but a resistance band takes almost no space and weighs virtually nothing. All the exercises in this dumbbell shoulder workout can be done using resistance bands.
Because the shoulder joint is complex and has a unique range of motion, you might want to do shoulder-specific dynamic warm-up movements before picking up your dumbbells for the first set.
- Arm circles, going from small circles to a full range of motion.
- Pendulum circles for the rotator cuff muscles.
- Shoulder rolls, both forward and backward.
- Overhead pressing movements without any external load.
Your shoulder joints and muscles will thank you later for a thorough warm-up.
StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells at Home: The Exercises
It’s time to hit the weights! The training session consists of five different exercises, targeting all three heads of the deltoid and making for a great workout for shoulder size and strength.
Let’s take a closer look at each exercise and how to perform them for the best possible results. You can see the exact number of sets and reps in StrengthLog.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
The dumbbell shoulder press works your front and side deltoids. It’s a compound exercise that allows you to use heavy weights to build size and strength.
According to research, performing dumbbell shoulder presses in the standing position means the highest neuromuscular activity of the deltoid muscles, more significant than when using a barbell and when compared to the seated version of the exercise.1 Standing up also involves your core muscles more effectively.
Use a full range of motion and press the dumbbells to straight arms overhead without using momentum. You want your deltoids to do as much of the work as possible, which means avoiding using your leg drive to turn the exercise into a dumbbell push press.
Muscles Worked in the Dumbbell Shoulder Press
How to Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lift them up to the starting position at your shoulders.
- Inhale and lightly brace your core.
- Press the dumbbells up to straight arms, while exhaling.
- Inhale at the top, or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
- Repeat for reps.
The monkey rows is a fantastic but sadly forgotten exercise that deserves a spot in your shoulder session. Monkey rows are a variant of the dumbbell upright row but without the potential stress on the shoulder joint. It primarily hits your side deltoids but also involves your upper traps and rear deltoids and allows people who can’t do regular upright rows to reap the benefits without the risks.
Be sure to use a weight that allows you to pull the weight as high as you comfortably can, and try not to turn the monkey row into a monkey shrug. Some shrugging motion is OK, but you want to feel it primarily in your side delts, not your traps.
Contract your delts at the top of the movement and focus on your side deltoids before lowering the dumbbells with good form and complete control.
Muscles Worked in Monkey Row
- With your arms by your sides, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Pull the dumbbells straight up as far as you can.
- With control, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
While presses might be your primary mass builders for the shoulders, lateral raises isolate your side delts and are one of your best bets for building greater shoulder width.2
For best results, don’t let your ego select the weights. Instead, use relatively light weights to isolate your side delts and avoid transferring the work to your front deltoids and traps.
Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Lateral Raises
How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Hold a pair of dumbbells, in almost straight arms hanging by your sides.
- With control, lift the dumbbells outwards to your sides, until your upper arm is horizontal and your hands are at or slightly above shoulder level.
- Lower the dumbbells with control.
- Repeat for reps.
Dumbbell Front Raise
Your front delts get their fair share of training from all kinds of presses for both your chest and shoulders, but for isolating them, the best exercise in your toolbox is the front raise. However, you’ll be doing the least number of sets of front raises of all exercises in this shoulder workout, seeing as your anterior delts are heavily involved in many other movements.
The front raise is another exercise where you don’t want to go too heavy. It’s easy to start swinging and using more weight than you can handle. However, you don’t want to turn this isolation movement into a hybrid kettlebell swing. Instead, lower the weight and focus on lifting the dumbbell using your front delts only.
Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Front Raises
How to Do Dumbbell Front Raises
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in straight arms, in front of your thighs or hip.
- With control, lift the dumbbells forward with straight arms, until the dumbbells are at shoulder height.
- Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells with control.
Reverse Dumbbell Fly
You might not see them easily in the mirror, but your rear delts are essential for complete shoulder development, not to mention performance. Most people get some posterior delt training from back exercises like various rows, but if you never target them directly, they might end up underdeveloped. Enter the dumbbell reverse fly.
The reverse fly does not 100% isolate the rear deltoid, as your upper traps are also somewhat involved during the exercise, but it’s a great exercise for balancing the front and rear delts.
Select a pair of dumbbells you can lift without involving the rest of your upper body and hips. As with other variants of the dumbbell raise, lifting too heavy weights takes the tension away from the muscle you’re trying to hit.
Muscles Worked in Reverse Dumbbell Flyes
How to Do Reverse Dumbbell Flyes
- Hold a pair of dumbbells, lean forward and let your arms hang towards the floor.
- With almost straight arms (just a slight bend at the elbow), slowly lift the dumbbells by raising your arms out to the sides in a wide arc.
- Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Whew! You’re done with your shoulder workout! You’ve thoroughly worked all three heads of your delts and should be feeling a nice pump by now. Stay with this routine consistently, and your shoulders will grow stronger and more muscular.
How Many Times Per Week Should You Do StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells at Home?
This shoulder workout is designed to be performed once or twice weekly, depending on your fitness level, goals, and training experience.
- One weekly shoulder workout is enough for optimal strength and muscle development for intermediates.
- Advanced lifters and bodybuilders can benefit from doing it twice per week for a greater training volume to boost muscle growth.
Current research suggests you need at least ten weekly sets per muscle group for the best possible results.3 If you have extensive training experience, you might benefit from up to 20 sets per muscle group per week.
Note that your shoulders are unique regarding sets per muscle group. You can isolate different heads of the deltoid, meaning you don’t work your front delts at all when you perform exercises for your rear delts, and so on. In addition, your delts are heavily involved when you train your chest and back.
Rest assured that StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells has you covered regardless of training experience or how you train the rest of your body. You always get at least as many sets as you need to optimize your progress without overdoing it for any part of the muscle.
How Do You Integrate StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells into Your Workout Routine?
Most likely, you’re not only training your shoulders. For optimal results, you probably want to do at least some strength training for all major muscle groups, including your lower body. Fortunately, you can integrate this shoulder workout into almost any workout split or training program.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
A push/pull/legs (PPL) routine is a three-day split that entails training your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) on day one, pulling muscles (back and biceps) on day two, and legs on day three.
Incorporating StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells into Your Workout Routine into a PPL routine looks like this:
- Day 1: Chest, StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells, and triceps
- Day 2: Back and biceps
- Day 3: Quads, hamstrings, and calves
You could move the dumbbell reverse fly from your chest, shoulder, and triceps day to the second training day, as your rear delts complement your back training. As both options work equally well, it’s mostly a matter of preference.
Three-Day Training Split
The PPL split is not the only three-day training split. You can also split your body into three workouts like this:
- Day 1: Chest and back
- Day 2: StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells, biceps, and triceps
- Day 3: Quads, hamstrings, and lower back
Splitting your body like that was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite way to train. He trained six days in a row, resting on Sundays. You can spread your workout days over the week as you prefer or follow Arnold’s example. His way of training is best suited for advanced lifters with plenty of experience.
Four-Day Training Split
With a four-day split, you divide your body into four different workout days. Here’s an example:
- Day 1: Chest
- Day 2: Back
- Day 3: Quads, hamstring, and calves
- Day 4: StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells, biceps, and triceps
That is a great split to combine StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells and the Arm Workout With Dumbbells at Home into one session on day four.
Five-Day Training Split
Training one or two muscle groups per workout, like with a five-day split, is affectionally called a bro-split. It’s easy to integrate this dumbbell shoulder workout into a bro-split.
- Day 1: Chest and abs
- Day 2: Back
- Day 3: StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells
- Day 4: Quads and hamstrings
- Day 5: Biceps and triceps
These are just some examples of how you can incorporate StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells into your workout routine. I’m sure you can come up with more if you prefer some other kind of workout split.
Track StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout With Dumbbells at Home in the StrengthLog App
There you go! This dumbbell arm routine hits all three heads of your delts to help you gain lean muscle mass.
If you want to grow bigger and stronger, the key to fast and consistent gains in strength and muscle is progressive overload: you increase the weight you use in your training or do more reps over time.
It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.
You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs and workouts (such as this one) are for premium users only.
Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.
Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:
Good luck with your training!
If you enjoyed this workout, check out our other home dumbbell routines:
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 7 – p 1824-1831. Effects of Body Position and Loading Modality on Muscle Activity and Strength in Shoulder Presses.
- J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct; 75: 5–14. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals.
- International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 1(1), 2021-08-16. Resistance Training Recommendations to Maximize Muscle Hypertrophy in an Athletic Population: Position Stand of the IUSCA.