Forget the gym — you just need a pair of dumbbells and 5 exercises to sculpt your shoulders

a woman flexing her shoulder muscles
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're eager to build a stronger upper body, your shoulders are a great place to start. Not only do strong shoulders look good but they also can enhance your performance across a range of activities from lifting weights at the gym, to swinging a tennis racquet, to throwing a ball. And this dumbbell workout builds strength and muscle in your shoulders in just five moves.

The exercises will vary in intensity so you may find yourself requiring more than one size of dumbbell to complete the full workout. If you're trying this workout out in a gym then you should be able to find a range of dumbbell sizes available to work with in the free weights section. On the other hand, owning a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells makes working out at home a lot more convenient and they save on space.

The workout is designed by online trainer Cindy Yu and instead of performing the exercises on a bench or standing up, Yu has based the exercises so that you are either sitting or kneeling on the floor. This helps to eliminate the use of your lower body during the exercises, meaning you can isolate your shoulder muscles better whilst working through the routine.

Cindy Yu's dumbbell shoulder workout

Aim to complete 12 to 15 reps of each exercise and, if you can, Yu suggests finishing after five rounds. She points out in the Instagram video's caption that you don’t have to stick with the same weights throughout the whole workout, and she's working with a range of dumbbell sizes. 

This is important to remember as what you can lift for one exercise won't necessarily feel the same for another exercise. Your form could be compromised and therefore you can put yourself at risk of injury. So drop your ego before trying the following shoulder dumbbell workout.

First off, in the Kneeling Cross Raise you will really be tuning into your deltoid muscles, they play a key role in your shoulder stability and contribute to the overall sculpted look of the shoulders.

Additionally, doing this exercise on your knees requires your core muscles to engage helping you develop core strength at the same time as building your shoulder muscle.

And then you have the Seated Around the Worlds, which again will engage your important deltoids. The seated position will help you nail proper form and better isolate your shoulders in the movement.

This is followed by the Kneeling Overhead Press that targets your delts and your tricep muscles. This exercise will help enhance your overall upper body strength. Again, your core muscles will be working to help you control the move.

When you come to perform the Seated Cuban Rotations you will feel the upper body burn. This exercise targets the rotator cuffs, a part of your upper body that is responsible for shoulder stability. Building strength in the rotator cuffs can lower your risk of experiencing shoulder injury. 

Finally, you have the Kneeling Alternate Upright Rows, the move you need to target your middle and rear delts as well as your traps. Kneeling for this exercise helps isolate your shoulders, meanwhile, alternating between arms to perform the move on each side will work on any muscle imbalances you may have in your upper body.

When you feel confident with each move, you might be looking to increase the challenge and continue increasing your strength gains in your shoulders. In this case, you can look to incorporate the progressive overload technique into your workout to promote muscle growth.

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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.