Ultimate Back & Shoulder Workouts

Dumbbell shoulder presses are a great shoulder workout.
Image Credit: Mike Harrington/Photodisc/GettyImages

You do pressing and pulling movements during everyday activities like placing items in cabinets, opening doors or putting your luggage in an overhead compartment. Having a strong set of back and shoulder muscles is essential to your daily life. Not to mention, they're often the show muscles that you see in the mirror or when you head to the beach.


Do the following exercises in the order presented for the ultimate back and shoulder workout experience.

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1. The Inverted Row

Body weight exercises that aren't push-ups or pull-ups are often overlooked. But not everyone has the strength to perform a pull-up. The inverted row is a body weight exercise that, like the pull-up, targets your back and shoulder muscles. If you're not strong enough to perform a pull-up at first, this is an excellent substitution for increasing back strength.

HOW TO DO IT: Lie down on your back under fixed horizontal bar. Grab the bar and place your hands at a distance slightly wider than your shoulders. With your legs straight out in front of you, squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your body straight. Then pull your body towards the bar. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position until arms are fully extended. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps as your first exercise in your workout.

Inverted rows are an excellent start for increasing blood flow to your back and shoulders before the main lifts of your workout.


Read more: Are Pullups or Rows Better for Back Width?

2. Barbell or Dumbbell Row

The barbell row is the best way to increase strength and build an impressive set of back muscles. Barbell rows allow you to add more weight than dumbbells, and depending on the width of your grip, will target more of your lats or the upper muscles of your back like the trapezius and rhomboids.


HOW TO DO IT: With an unloaded barbell on the floor, load the barbell with weight plates. The barbell should cross over the midline of your foot. Now, bend over the bar, while maintaining a straight back, and place your hands slightly wider than shoulder width and grip the bar.

Brace your core, and keep your back straight, then pull the bar towards your waist. Pause for one second at the top of the exercise and then return your arms to their fully extended position with the weight resting on the ground. Perform four sets of eight to 10 reps of this exercise. Rest for 90 seconds between sets. Check it out at ExRx.net.



Read more: The Best Back Exercises with Dumbbells

3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Toned and muscular shoulders can add a three-dimensional look to your body. Not to mention, they can make a dress or a t-shirt look even more impressive to your friends.

Your shoulders are made up of three muscles, the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids. Rowing movements like the ones above target your back and your rear deltoids, while the dumbbell shoulder press builds the front of your shoulder. But isolating and targeting your lateral deltoids is just as important.


HOW TO DO IT: Grab a pair of light dumbbells. You don't need to lift heavy weight for this exercise, so you can start with weights from 2 to 10 pounds. With the dumbbells on the side of your thighs, raise your arms to your side until your elbows are shoulder height.

Pause at the top of the movement and then slowly lower your arms back to your side. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 reps. Rest for sixty seconds between sets. See it in action at ACE Fitness.


4. The Batwing Row

Sitting hunched over at a desk all day kills your posture by weakening the muscles of your back and shoulders.

By strengthening your upper back and shoulder muscles, you'll help improve your posture. Improved posture helps breath more easily, reduce strain on your core, and can help you feel more confident.


The best exercise for improving posture is the batwing row.

HOW TO DO IT: Grab two light dumbbells — anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds is enough — and lie down chest first on an incline bench. Allow your arms to hang straight down towards the ground while you hold the dumbbells. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows to your sides. Keep your chest in contact with the bench the entire time while your elbows stay as close to your body and the bench as possible. At the top of the motion, squeeze your shoulder blades together, like two friends high-fiving one another, and pause for one second. Then slowly lower the weights back towards the ground.


Perform this exercise last in your workout. One or two sets of 12 to 20 reps are all you need.

Read more: How to Fix the Worst Posture Mistakes

5. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbells are the classic way to train your shoulders and your back. The dumbbell shoulder press is the go-to exercise for increasing strength and muscle growth in your shoulders. It targets your anterior deltoids as well as your triceps.

If you're new to lifting or if you have had problems with your shoulders in the past, perform this exercise seated according to ACE Fitness.

HOW TO DO IT: Find a bench with a flat back that's at 90 degrees. Or fix an adjustable bench to this position. Grab two dumbbells of moderate weight (10 to 25 pounds to start), and position them on each side of your shoulders; your elbows should be below your wrists. Now, press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are fully extended. Then lower the dumbbells back to your side. Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps. Rest for ninety seconds between sets.

To prevent hurting your rotator cuff and to make this exercise safer on your shoulders, rotate your shoulders inward and hold the dumbbells parallel to one another as opposed to perpendicular to your body.

6. Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row not only trains your lats (the largest muscle in your back) but, when you use it with the V-shaped handle, you'll activate your biceps, rear deltoid, traps, and the muscles of your mid back as well.

HOW TO DO IT: Sit slightly forward on the seat of the cable row machine and place your feet on the platform. Slide your hips back and keep a slight bend in your knee.

Maintain a straight back in this position, and with your arms fully extended, you'll feel a stretch in your back. From this position, pull the cable attachment towards your stomach. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you finishing pull the cable as far as you can. You should now be sitting straight up with your arms at your side.

Slowly return the cable, while extending your arms, until you feel a stretch in your back. And then repeat the motion. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps after the dumbbell shoulder press, starting with a weight of 50 to 70 pounds. Rest for 60 seconds between sets.