Free Weight Shoulder Exercises

Young attractive woman doing exercises in gym

When was the last time you took a moment to thank your shoulders? They make it so you can grab something off the top shelf, reach behind you, carry a heavy box, swing a golf club or tennis rack, push a stroller and grocery cart and, don't forget, they look strong and sexy in body skimming T-shirts and tanks.

One way to truly show your appreciation is to provide them with a bit of tough love in the form of strength training. A multitude of free weight exercises allow you to improve their functionality and enhance your physical appearance.


Use a pre-weighted or plate-loaded barbell to complete these moves. Shoulder presses and front raises target the fronts of the shoulders while the upright row taxes the top of the shoulder.

Shoulder Press: Do this from a seated or standing position. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, hands about shoulder-distance apart. Bring the weight to the height of your shoulders with your elbows bent. Press the weight directly overhead until your elbows are straight. Lower back down to the starting position for one rep.

brunette girl wide grip barbell shoulder press workout at gym

Work those shoulders!

Upright Row: Stand and hold the barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands are slightly closer than shoulder width and the barbell hangs in front of your thighs. Bend the elbows to pull the weight up toward your chin. Release back down to complete one rep.

Front Raise: Stand and hold the barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-distance apart and bar hanging in front of your thighs. Brace your core and raise your arms straight up in front of you. Pause when you reach chin-height and return to allow the barbell to hang in front of your thighs.


Dumbbells offer the most versatility for shoulder activity. You also get the benefit of training each side independently, so a stronger shoulder can't compensate for a weaker one.

The front arm raise, shoulder presses and Arnold presses target the front and top of your shoulders. Lateral raises address the top shoulder and the bent-over rows and flyes work the backs of your shoulders.

Lateral Raises: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging along your sides next to your thighs. Raise the dumbbells straight up to the sides of the room with straight arms. Stop when your arms are parallel to the floor. Return to a hang to complete one repetition. Do this move standing or seated. Modify this move by bending the elbows to a 90-degree angle as you raise and lower the arms.

Front Arm Raises: Just like a barbell front raise, hold a dumbbell in each hand hanging in front of your thighs. Raise the arms straight up to chin height and lower down. Dumbbells allow you to perform this seated as well as standing.

Personal Trainer doing front dumbell raises for training his deltoids in a brown background

Work those shoulders!

Shoulder Press: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, elbows bent and weights at shoulder height. Press the arms straight up until the elbows are full extended. Return to shoulder height. Sit or stand to complete this move. You may also do one shoulder at a time.

Arnold Press: Change up the shoulder press by adding a little twist. Stand or sit with a dumbbell in each hand. Bring the weights to your shoulders and turn the palms to face the body. Lift the weights by extending your elbows as you turn the palms to face forward. Finish by reversing the action to bend the elbows and return the palms to face the body.

Incline Row: Lie facedown on a workout bench set at a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow the arms to hang down. Bend your elbows to pull the shoulder blades together as you draw the weights up. Point your elbows to the sides of the room with each row. Release to complete one repetition.

Bent-Over Reverse Flyes: Lie on a 45-degree angled workout bench, belly down. Keep your arms mostly straight with a slight bend in your elbows, which ace to the sides of the room. With a dumbbell in each hand, pull your shoulder blades together as if you were opening up to hug someone. Release the arms back down to release the move.


Kettlebells are cannonball-shaped weights with handles, so their weight is distributed differently than it is with dumbbells or barbells. You'll challenge stability in the shoulder joint as well as work the deltoids from different angles with these moves.

Single-Arm Overhead Press: Stand and place your hand inside the handle loop of a kettlebell and grasp the handle with and overhand grip. The ball of the bell will rest against your forearm. Bend your elbow and hold the kettlebell inside your shoulder. Press your arm straight up to extend your elbow; keep your upper arm next to your ear. Bend your elbow to bring the bell back to your shoulder for one rep. Do both sides.

Bottoms Up Press: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, or in a kneeling lunge. Grab the handle of the kettlebell and flip it so that the flat bottom faces the ceiling. Hold the weight at your shoulder and press straight up and down. This is more challenging than it looks.

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