5 of the Hardest Dumbbell Shoulder Exercises

Performing your shoulder exercises with a bench can help keep your back safe and stable.
Image Credit: Judith Haeusler/Cultura/GettyImages

Building strong, well-rounded shoulders is a game of quality over quantity. In other words, it's not about how ​many​ exercises you perform but ​which​ exercises you choose — and how well you do them.

And here's another bit of good news: Your deltoids (the main muscle group in your shoulders) don't require elaborate equipment. All you need is a pair of dumbbells and these five challenging exercises to strengthen and sculpt your shoulders.

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1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Shoulders", "Arms" ]
  1. Begin standing or seated with a flat back, feet rooted in the ground, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Lift the weights to your shoulders with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  3. On an exhale, brace your core and press both dumbbells overhead.
  4. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.

Tip

To make this move harder, lower the weights slowly after you press them up, Carolina Araujo New York-based certified personal trainer, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Or, perform alternating shoulder presses, pressing one arm up at a time (kind of like a see-saw).

2. Dumbbell Scaption

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Shoulders", "Arms", "Abs" ]
  1. Stand and hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides, palms facing in toward your body.
  2. Brace your core and lift the dumbbells in front of your body at about a 45-degree angle, making a V shape with your arms in front of your chest.
  3. Raise the weights until they're slightly above shoulder height. Make sure to keep your shoulder blades down and along your back.
  4. Lower the weights back down with control.

3. Single-Arm Dumbbell Lateral Raise

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Advanced
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Shoulders", "Abs" ]
  1. Stand and hold a dumbbell in your right hand at your side. Keep your back flat and knees slightly bent.
  2. Keeping your core braced, raise the weight out to your side until it reaches shoulder height.
  3. Lower the weight slowly to the starting position.

Tip

"Make sure that you're not swinging the weight as you lift," Araujo says. "Start with a lighter dumbbell, and keep your abdominals engaged or place your hand on your hip to increase stability."

4. Dumbbell Front Raise

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Intermediate
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part [ "Shoulders", "Abs" ]
  1. Begin either seated or standing, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  2. Brace your core and raise the weights in front of your body until they reach shoulder height, palms facing down.
  3. Lower the weights back to the starting position with control.

Tip

If raising both dumbbells at the same time is too difficult, alternate lifting one arm at a time.

Or you can make this exercise more challenging by sitting with your back against an exercise bench, Araujo says. This prevents you from using any momentum to lift the weights.

5. Eccentric Lateral Raise

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level Advanced
Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Keep your back flat and knees slightly bent.
  2. Keeping your core braced, raise the weights out to your sides until they reach shoulder height.
  3. Lower the weights slowly back to the starting position for a 3- to 4-second count.

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