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Free Weight Shoulder Exercises

author image Brian Bowden
Brian Bowden began writing professionally in 2008 for "American Football Monthly" and "Gridiron Strategies." He is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise and sport science from Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Education in elementary education from Widener University.
Free Weight Shoulder Exercises
A man is doing a shoulder press. Photo Credit MaxRiesgo/iStock/Getty Images


When looking for ways to develop the shoulder muscle group, or deltoids, there are a variety of free weight exercises that you can use. Both barbells and dumbbells can provide the resistance needed to properly develop muscular strength or muscular endurance depending on what you are trying to achieve. As long as each exercise technique is performed properly, developing the shoulder muscles does not have to be difficult.

Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is an exercise that can performed with either a barbell, or two dumbbells and while standing or seated. In addition to developing the shoulders, this exercise will also develop the various synergistic muscles involved with any shoulder movements. The key to appropriately performing the shoulder press is making sure your upper body stays erect while driving the weight overhead. To perform a barbell shoulder press, grasp a bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lift them to the starting position, in front of your collarbone. Stand in a staggered stance, extend your elbows and press the bar straight overhead. Pause, bend your elbows to lower the bar to the starting position and repeat.

Lateral Raises

To perform lateral raises you must use dumbbells. They should be held at the sides with your palms facing in. Lifting your arms to a point that they are parallel to the ground will fully contract the shoulder muscles. Again, be sure that you do not use momentum to help with the lift. If need be, you can stand against a wall while performing this exercise to ensure you are not swinging or swaying.

Front Raises

You can use either a barbell or dumbbell to perform the front raise. Either way, the weight should be held against the thighs with the palms facing in. By raising your hands, and weight, to the front of the body to a shoulder height, or parallel to the ground, the deltoids will be fully contracted. Much like with lateral raises, you do not want to use momentum during this exercise and a wall can come in handy to help.

Military Press

The military press is very similar to the shoulder press. The main differences are in the width of your grip and your stance. To perform this exercise, start by grasping the bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart. This is a slightly narrower grip than with the shoulder press. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, not staggered. Lift the bar to the front of your collarbone, press it overhead, lower it back to the front of your collarbone and repeat.

Upright Rows

Also effective in targeting your shoulder muscles is the upright row. This exercise can be done with dumbbells or a barbell. To perform dumbbell upright rows, grasp a dumbbell in each hand, stand tall and hold the weights so your palms are facing your thighs. Bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells up until they are in front of your shoulders. Lead with your elbows and flex your wrists slightly as you raise the weights. At the top of the motion your elbows should be pointing out to the sides, not forward. Lower the weights to the starting position and repeat.

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