3 standing dumbbell exercises for building strong and defined shoulders

Photo of a woman's defined back and shoulder muscles
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Strong, sculpted shoulders are not only an aesthetic asset but also a key player in supporting your body during various other forms of exercise and activities. Thanks to popular fitness trainer, Sandy Sklar, you can fit in a quick shoulder shred using just three moves.

Your shoulder muscles, or deltoids, consist of three main parts: the anterior deltoid (front), lateral deltoid (side), and posterior deltoid (rear). Training these muscles offers a range of benefits, including improved posture, increased upper body strength, and a more well-rounded physique. 

To try out this three move workout for yourself, you'll need a pair of dumbbells. A pair of the best adjustable dumbbells is a personal favorite of ours because they allow you to move up or down weights with ease from just one set. As with any weighted workout, we recommend starting with a manageable load and focusing on perfecting your form.

While a single workout won't lead to significant muscle growth or deliver instant gains, the key lies in your consistent dedication and efforts to always progress even if it’s only by a little every workout. You may or not be familiar with the term, progressive overload, which is the practice of gradually increasing the resistance, intensity, or volume of your workouts to continually challenge and stimulate muscle growth and strength gains over time. And this shoulder blast is a great place to start.

What is the workout?

This dumbbell workout consists of three exercises:  alternating Arnold presses, alternating isolation hold reverse flys and, last but not least, lateral front raise combos. When ready, you will perform 20 reps of each exercise. 

As a note from someone who always underestimates how demanding upper body isolation moves can be, make sure you adjust the weight accordingly. 

While you'll need to source some dumbbells for these three moves you won't need to source a bench as all exercises are performed standing up.

Alternating Arnold Presses

The Alternating Arnold Press primarily targets the anterior deltoids (the front part of the shoulder muscles) and the lateral deltoids (the side of the shoulder muscles). 

To do this move, sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Begin with your palms facing your body, and your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. As you press the dumbbells overhead, rotate your palms to face forward. Lower one arm at a time to the starting position while maintaining the 90-degree angle.

If you'd like some extra guidance on mastering this move, head on over to our full guide on how to do an Arnold press

Alternating Isolation Hold Reverse Flys

The Alternating Isolation Hold Reverse Flys primarily works the posterior deltoids, which are the muscles located at the rear of the shoulder. This move is specifically designed to target and strengthen the muscles in the back of the shoulders, helping improve posture and overall shoulder strength. 

To perform this type of reverse fly, stand with a weight in each hand, feet hip-width apart. Bend at the hips and raise one arm out to the side while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for a moment before lowering the weight.

The Lateral Front Raise Combo

Similar to Arnold presses, a lateral front raise combo primarily targets the anterior deltoids and the lateral deltoids. This exercise combines both front raises and lateral raises, making it an effective way to work on the front and side portions of the shoulder muscles. It contributes to a well-rounded shoulder workout, enhancing the aesthetics and strength of your shoulders.

Stand with weights in hand, palms facing your body. First, lift the weights straight in front of you until your arms are parallel to the ground. Then, lower them. After that, lift the weights out to the sides until your arms are again parallel to the ground. 

What are the benefits? 

Well, first of all, performing a higher number of repetitions, such as 20, for each exercise challenges your shoulder muscles and enhances their endurance. This is essential for activities that require sustained shoulder strength, like lifting, carrying, or playing sports.

By incorporating different exercises, this shoulder workout provides variety in the movements and angles at which the shoulder muscles are worked. This variety is important for stimulating muscle growth and avoiding plateaus in your fitness progress.

If you are anything like myself and tend to slouch when sitting at your desk or while relaxing on the sofa, then building a set of strong shoulders is a good idea as it will aid better posture, pulling your shoulders back and reducing the risk of hunching over yourself.

Not only do well-defined shoulders add a fierce dimension to your physique, but they also contribute to greater upper body strength that makes performing other upper body exercises easier for you. Ever envied someone executing a set of perfect pull-ups next to you in the gym? You can bet they probably have excellent base strength in their back and shoulder muscles.

So, what are you waiting for? These exercises are all yours for your next upper body sweat!

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.