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August 15, 2020 10 min read

Sculpted shoulders are sexy. Period.

A strong, defined pair of shoulders make every single piece of wardrobe fit better. That goes beyond cut-out shirts, tank tops, and strapless little black dresses. Beautiful shoulders are easy to spot even under the sweater. It's something about the overall appearance—improved posture, accentuated bust, and the way it all communicates self-confidence.

Furthermore, with much research linking physical strength to higher confidence in women, we now know it's not just a gimmick. And it really makes sense. After all, exercising and watching your body taking a new, improved form is indeed empowering by nature. You’ll always remember the feeling of the pull-up bar, squatting, or deadlift for the first time. 

It feels like a superpower. And the best of all, upper-body and shoulder exercises for women can build female musculature just as well as they build the male ones.

Elements of a Shoulder

Your shoulders are not merely a couple of joints; they are a complex set of tissue. In short, there are two shoulder blades shaped like upside-down triangles. Each comes with a little divot on its upper, outside edge, akin to a golf tee, that's called the glenoid. The end of your upper arm sits on top of a shallow groove resembling a golf ball on a golf tee. This set is your glenoid-humeral joint, commonly known as a shoulder joint.

Before you start with shoulder workout, you should know different parts of the shoulder muscle and understand their functions. There are two crucial muscle groups to the shoulder: the deltoids and rotator cuffs, equally important, but serving different purposes.

Your deltoids (lateral, posterior, and anterior deltoid) are the heavy workers, located on top of rotator cuffs. They connect your humerus, collarbones, and shoulder blades. Deltoids give the shoulders their shape, but also drive most movements.

The four "rotator cuff" muscles and multiple ligaments and tendons surround the shoulder blades, connecting to the collarbones and humerus. This set is composed of supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. They work to stabilize each joint.

Welcome to the machinery that enables your shoulder's ball to move in directions, controlling your arms. In short, this is how you push, pull, and rotate.

A girl working out with a resistance band.

Shoulder Muscles, in Detail

Dive into some more theory before you start to build muscle and create strong shoulders. The more you know, the more effective each exercise will be. 

Trapezius: This is the triangle-shaped muscle running down across your shoulder blade and along your spine. Naturally, there are two of those, right and left trapezius. They work to support your arms and shoulders. Trapezius muscles are the engines that raise your arms.

Latissimus Dorsi: This is one of the most massive muscles in your back, partially covered by the trapezius. Lats exercises are essential for a well-developed back and upper body.

Teres Major: Lat's little helper is a small muscle on the underside of your upper arm. Nick says it all.

Rhomboids: The rhomboids stand on the top of your back, between the shoulder blades. Their tension pulls your shoulder blades together.

Levator Scapulae: This muscle is located at the side and back of the neck to lift the scapula at the shoulder's end. It further affects your upper arm movement through humerus and collarbone.

Deltoids: The three main sets of muscle fibers are connected by a very thick tendon, anchored into a V-shape. The deltoid muscle is the key to arm rotation. You should also know that deltoids are essential in guarding your shoulders against injuries. If you develop this set correctly, it will prevent dislocation and damage to the humerus when heavy lifting or carrying loads.

Rotator Cuff: A group of muscles and tendons surrounding your shoulder joint, including teres minor, makes the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff's role is to keep the head of your upper arm bone within the socket of the shoulder.

Why Train Shoulders?

Shoulder strength, stability, and range of motion are backstage for every workout. Lifting, for example, requires a variety of angles. Furthermore, exercises for the sculpted look are different than those for building mass. Toning muscles workout requires a higher rep count with a more moderate weight.

Injury prevention should go hand-in-hand with the aesthetics of a fully toned shoulder. The right set of exercises will give you both.

The shoulder set, biceps, and triceps in the upper arm, pecs of the chest, lats, and teres in the back usually work in composition and support each other. The set of movements often includes trapezius and rhomboids too. Having one weak link will severely impact the quality of the whole chain.

The shoulder is especially injury-prone due to its construction. A combination of many moving parts results in extensive mobility and endless movement options. This can come with the expense of stability. If stability breaks down, even under small loads, pain and injury are unavoidable.

Studies have shown 13 percent of adults suffer a torn rotator cuff before their 50s, jumping to over 3 percent for 70-somethings. Shoulder issues make more than one-third of gym-related injuries. Additionally, clicky shoulders make two-thirds of shoulder complaints.

The shoulder joint tends to lack stability, due to its ability to move far in any direction. It can lead to injury over time. For example, if you don't have enough mobility to raise your arms up and behind your head, attempting to do so will wear on the shoulder's bones, muscles, and tissues over time. Similarly, if you try carrying a heavyweight up the stairs the wrong way, your shoulder will feel it.

Even a little bit of consistent and targeted shoulder training can prevent all that and develop greater shoulder stability and range of motion. That is why you should incorporate some shoulder exercises into your workout plan two to three times per week.

Benefits of Developing Shoulder Muscles

Well-balanced shoulder workouts for women mean strengthening the whole chain of upper body movements. More than just good looks, they promote stability and health in all of all little muscles and connective tissues you rarely even notice. That means enhancing your shoulders will affect all upper back workouts and arm workouts. Even better, daily activities like stretching, carrying groceries, and lifting up kids will become more comfortable and safer, too.

Your shoulders are versatile joints with the greatest range of motion. However, such mobility also makes them vulnerable to injury. When you actively strengthen your shoulders with regular workouts, you do more than help them prevent injuries of other motion links. You are also protecting yourself at the same time. 

15 Best Exercises for Shoulder Muscles

It's important to remember to select a weight appropriate for your fitness level. It should feel heavy but safe. If you can't lift the weight with proper form and no excessive swinging, go for the lighter one. Don't be hasty; you'll progress faster than you think. The right weight should be challenging enough to complete the last one or two of your set number of repetitions but not to give you fatigue.

If you aim to increase shoulder size, you need to do movements that use multiple angles to hit each part of the deltoids. You can increase shoulder size by adding dumbbells, barbells, and resistance bands to your shoulder workout routine. Along with exercise, you should consume more protein powders.

To reduce shoulder fat, you should do cardio three times a week and eat healthy foods to help burn fat. After three or four weeks, if you do everything correctly, you should be able to see results. Then you may start strength training or weightlifting to tone your shoulders, but make sure to have supervision at the beginning.

If you want to strengthen the rotator cuff, stretching and strengthening the muscles that support the rotator cuff is the key. Again, you should do exercises and stretches under the supervision of a personal trainer, when possible.

1. Seated Dumbbell Press

Start in a seated position with a straight back on a flat bench, and feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells at ear level with palms forward. Press the weight up to almost strengthen your arms, stop before you lock the elbow joint, and slowly return the dumbbells to ear level.

2. Overhead Shoulder Press

You can use a kettlebell, barbell, light dumbbells, resistance band, or cable.

Keep in mind that doing this in proper form will not cause any shoulder pain! Your elbows can be wide, neutral, or any place in between. Start at the ear level with arms fully extended overhead. Lift and return.

3. Seated Dumbbell Arnold Press

Sit on a bench, holding your back flat against the rest. Keep your feet braced against the floor. Hold the pair of dumbbells in front with your palms facing your shoulders. Press the weights up overhead, rotating your hands. At the top of the movement, your palms should be turned away from you with dumbbells directly above your ears. Pause and slowly return.

4. Lateral Raises

The starting position is standing straight with your legs shoulder-width apart, and shoulders rolled back. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbow slightly. Raise your arms to shoulder level, pause, and lower back. 

5. Front Dumbbell Raise

Stand with the feet shoulder-width and your knees in a slight bend, holding dumbbells in each hand at the frontal plane of the body, knuckles forward. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height, keeping arms straight. Without swinging, lower them back to the front of your thighs.

6. Front Raise

Start by holding a weight plate flat in front of the body. Slowly raise the plate up to shoulder height, and lower.

7. Side Lateral Raise

The starting position is standing with a pair of dumbbells in the lateral plane of the body. Alternatively, you can hold them slightly in front. Raise your arms out to the side, shoulder height only. Keep your elbow slightly bent. Return and repeat.

A girl doing side lateral raises in a gym.

8. Cable Scaption Raise

You can use a resistance band, dumbbells, or even lightweight household objects for a home workout.

Start by standing in the middle of a dual cable machine, feet hip-width apart. Place the cables as close to your feet as you can. Grip the ends of the cables with your palms facing your sides. Raise your arms in front of you, diagonally, up to shoulder height. Lead with your thumbs.

9. Resistance Band Shoulder Rotation

Take one end of a resistance band in each hand. Hold it in front of your waist, up to eight inches over shoulder-width with your palms facing your body. Hold your core tight and arms straight. Raise the band directly overhead, slowly, and lower as far as you can behind. Pause and repeat.

10. Half-Kneeling Archer Row

Kneel with your left knee on the ground. Take a light resistance band in both hands and engage your abs and glutes. Straighten your right arm and tighten your back muscles. Lock your eye on the highest point of your arm. Move your left hand close to your right elbow. With your right hand, pull the band apart. The movement should remind you of pulling off a bow, including squeezing your back and shoulder muscles and bending your elbow.

11. Scapular Wall Slide

Start in standing position with your head, back, and glutes firmly against a wall. Raise your elbows out to shoulder height and bend them at 90 degrees. The entire length of your arms should be pressed into the wall with palms facing forward. Slowly slide your arms up the wall, straightening your elbows. Pause briefly, then reverse back to the starting position.

12. Cable Rear-Delt Fly

Stand in the middle of a dual cable machine. Place the cables in the center, right next to each other, at shoulder height. Hold on to the ends of the cables. Cross them in front of you with the left cable in your right hand and the right cable in your left hand. Pinch your shoulder blades together to move your arms back and outward, keeping your elbows straight but not locked out. Pause and return slowly to the starting position.

13. Inverted Row

Get below a bar in a squat rack or Smith machine, placing your hands slightly over shoulder-width apart. Extend your feet out in front, to form a straight line of the body from shoulders to heels. Keep your core tight and body flat. Bend your elbows to pull your shoulder blades together and raise your chest to the bar. Pause and slowly return and repeat.

14. Plank Ups

Get into a plank position, keeping your core engaged, and your neck in line with the spine, looking down. First, flex your right elbow, placing your right forearm flat on the floor. Next, flex your left elbow, placing your left forearm flat on the floor. This is the elbow plank position.

Without any pause, place your right palm flat on the floor, extending your right arm. Repeat with your left arm. This transfers you in a push-up position. Interchange, and repeat.

15. Bent Over Low-Pulley Side Raise

Stand laterally to the machine, bending your waist until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Take the handle of the cable with a neutral grip, in the hand farthest from the machine. Pull the navel to the spine to activate your core. Contract the abdominal wall before you begin the motion. Raise your arm laterally, out to the side, and up to shoulder height. Pause for one second at the top of the movement and slowly return.

Shoulder Workouts for Every Woman

Building stronger shoulders is easy to do even as a home workout, and you don't need a ton of equipment. You can use your own bodyweight, like with Plank-Ups, or use a resistance band that is portable and affordable. Doing targeted shoulder exercises two times a week will result in improved injury resistance and a great, sculpted shape.

All exercises can be completed in one workout that targets shoulders specifically or added into workouts one at a time to improve an existing routine. Start with lighter weight and 8-10 reps, and gradually build your way up. The moderate level includes mid-range weights and 10-12 reps in 3 series. Advanced stuff comes with lower reps but higher weights.

The best shoulder workouts will include a wide variety of movements and work your rotator cuff and deltoid muscles. Such exercises build strength, stability, and mass at the same time.

All of the best shoulder exercises also involve the muscles of the upper arms, specifically biceps, and triceps. A byproduct of strong and sculpted shoulders will be shapelier, more muscular arms. Specifically targeting the arms is an excellent way to add strength to the muscles that will assist in shoulder exercises and daily activities. In exchange, it will speed up your results in many ways.

Shoulder exercises are not meant only for men. Doing a few shoulder exercises regularly will improve your upper body strength and add more strike-a-pose vibe to your personality. No more excuses - talk to your trainer, and start exercising your shoulders today!