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Shoulder Flexion Exercises

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
Shoulder Flexion Exercises
Raising the arm up is one form of shoulder flexion. Photo Credit: John Lund/Tiffany Schoepp/Blend Images/Getty Images

Frankenstein and most of the zombies that we see in movies and television shows have one thing in common: They love shoulder flexion. When you raise your arms up in front of you, like Frankenstein or a zombie, you are flexing your shoulders. These fictional characters are working real muscles when they raise their arms up, like the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles.

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What is Shoulder Flexion?

If you put one hand on the opposite shoulder and raise that arm straight in front of you, you will feel a muscle pop out in the front of the shoulder. This muscle is called the anterior deltoid, and it's the main muscle responsible for flexing the shoulder. You also use your rotator cuff muscles and some of your pec muscle, according to a 2011 paper in Clinical Anatomy.

The most straightforward example of shoulder flexion is raising your arm straight up in front of you, but you actually use shoulder flexion in most pushing movements. Exercises such as push-ups, bench presses, dips and shoulder flexion all involve flexing the shoulder at different angles. According to a study in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, shoulder flexion is actually the strongest of all shoulder movements.

Shoulder Flexion Exercises

The most straightforward shoulder flexion exercises involve holding a weighted object with your arms straight and raising it in front of you. A combination of the pushing exercises and front-raising exercises will work the anterior deltoid from all angles and give you the best workout.

If you pick and choose these exercises and put them into your own workout, make sure that you perform pushing exercises first because they involve more joints and muscle groups. The front-raising exercises, isolate the anterior deltoid, forcing it to work harder. If you tax the muscle before doing a multi-joint pushing exercise, it will make that exercise much more difficult.

For pressing exercises, the shoulder press and divebomb push-up are excellent options because they take your shoulder through a large range of motion, forcing more of the muscle to work. In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that taking a muscle through greater ranges of motion during an exercise can make you stronger than a smaller range of motion.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Use dumbbells heavy enough to challenge you for three sets of 10 repetitions.

Step 1

Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand. Curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders and rest the weighted part on your shoulders with the other side of the dumbbell facing in front of you.

Step 2

Start with your hands in a neutral position, and your knuckles facing to the outside.

Step 3

Press the dumbbells straight up toward the ceiling until your elbows are straight. As you press up, turn your hands out, so that by the top of the press your knuckles are facing toward the wall behind you.

Step 4

Lower the dumbbells back to your shoulders and turn them back to a neutral position.

Divebomb Push-Up

Sometimes this exercise is referred to as the "yoga push-up." It is a slow, controlled movement that involves an impressive 180 degrees of range of motion at the shoulder.

Step 1

Start in a push-up position. Press your torso back and stick your hips up high in the air. This position is known as "downward dog."

Step 2

Slowly lower your torso and head toward the ground. Imagine that you are trying to duck under a very low fence. Get as close as possible to the ground between your hands.

Step 3

As soon as your head passes your hands, try to turn up, like you are coming up from under the imaginary fence.

Step 4

At the end of the movement, your hips should be close to the ground and arms straight with your back arched and chest facing up.

Step 5

Move your torso down and back, like you are ducking back under the imaginary fence, and go back into downward dog.

Plate Hold

For more isolated shoulder flexion exercises, try the plate hold and dumbbell front raise. This is an isometric exercise, meaning you are holding a position for as much time as possible.

Step 1

Use a weighted plate that would normally be used on a barbell for this exercise. Start by standing tall with good posture, holding the plate by the sides.

Step 2

Keeping your elbows straight, raise the plate up until it is shoulder height. Hold it there for as long as possible. Try not to lean forward or backward with your upper body.

Dumbbell Front Raise

Try to avoid swaying too much with your body during this exercise. If you stay as upright as possible, it will target your shoulder muscles even more.

Step 1

Stand in a tall posture, holding two dumbbells at your sides.

Step 2

Keeping your elbows straight, turn your knuckles forward toward the wall in front of you. Raise the dumbbells up until your arms are at shoulder height with your knuckles facing upwards.

Step 3

After pausing for a brief second at the top, lower the dumbbells back down to your sides.

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