You don’t need the gym to build upper body muscle — just a set of dumbbells and this 6-move shoulder workout

a woman performing lateral raises with a pair of dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking to sculpt your shoulders with minimum equipment? You've come to the right place. We've found a super simple dumbbell-only workout that hones in on the shoulder muscle, helping to strengthen and sculpt this area of your upper body. It can be done at the gym or at home, you'll just need to have a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells if you're looking to do it at home.

Dumbbells are an excellent tool for building shoulder muscle and strength due to the versatility and range of motion they allow. Unlike fixed-weight machines, dumbbells require greater stabilization from surrounding muscles, engaging more muscle fibers in the shoulders for more greater results. 

If you are prone to feeling tightness or tension in your shoulders, be sure to check out these shoulder stretches to relieve pain and build strength before getting stuck into the workout. Otherwise, here's the shoulder sculpting routine you didn't know your upper body was missing from fitness trainer, Hayley Madigan.

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells: was $549 now $429 @ Amazon
Price check: $429 @ Best Buy | $492 @ Walmart

Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells: was $549 now $429 @ Amazon
The SelectTech 552 are among the best adjustable dumbbells for working out at home. They can be adjusted from 5 to 52.5 pounds by simply rotating the dials on each dumbbell. We found they're easy to adjust between sets, have a comfortable rubberized grip, and come with some handy storage trays, complete with a safety strap.
Price check: $429 @ Best Buy | $492 @ Walmart

What is the shoulder workout?

You will be working with a classic sets and reps structure for this upper body pump. No need to bother with any timers on your phone, just focus on nailing good form with each move and building up the number of reps as you progress through sets. Implementing progressive overload into your training is a great way to boost strength and muscle gains.

You will find demonstrations of each exercise in the video below, as well as the number of reps to aim for. So you don't have to worry about pausing the video over and over again as you note down the reps for each exercise, we have provided a breakdown below:

  • Diagonal front raises: 6,8,10
  • Lateral raises: 10,12,15
  • Overhand frontal raises: 6,8,8
  • Upright row: 10,12,15
  • Single Arm Shoulder Press: (per arm) 8,9,10
  • Underhand Grip Frontal: 12,12,15

♬ cant stop x in da club - thatsthewrongnote

Why is this shoulder workout worth doing? Well, each exercise in this routine emphasizes different areas of the shoulders, contributing to overall muscle growth and functional strength.

Firstly, the diagonal front raises engage the anterior deltoids, which play a big role in movements like pushing and overhead pressing. The lateral raises primarily target the medial deltoids, which can aid promoting a more muscular look in the shoulders.

The overhand frontal raises continue to work the anterior deltoids, helping to isolate and develop them further. Then you have the deceptively demanding upright rows that hit multiple shoulder muscles simultaneously, including the traps and medial deltoids, improving overall shoulder strength and stability.

Meanwhile, the single-arm shoulder press provides unilateral work, which can help to address muscle imbalances ensuring both shoulders receive equal attention. Finally, the underhand grip frontal raises round off the workout by adding variation to the anterior deltoid engagement and promoting muscle growth.

Ultimately, strong shoulders are crucial for maintaining proper posture, preventing injuries, and enhancing overall upper body strength and functionality. Why not pick up your dumbbells and give these six moves a go?

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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.