Ever thought about how much you use your shoulders on a daily basis? Probably not. Unless you’ve had a shoulder injury and experienced limited movement, you probably haven’t given much thought about the most flexible joint in the human body.

All about the shouldersConsisting of three bones and numerous muscles, ligaments, and tendons, the shoulder complex works together to produce tremendous range of motion, stability, and strength.

Since we use our shoulders for everything — from putting on our deodorant and grabbing almond milk out of the fridge to lifting luggage out of the overhead bin and getting kids out of car seats — we need a go-to workout to keep them strong, less prone to injury, and feeling and looking good. Start with this scientifically sound, chiseling workout.

Warmup routine

  • Perform the bear crawl 10 yards out and back, or for about 60 seconds.
  • Perform the band pulls for 15 reps.
  • Repeat this sequence 3 times.

The bear crawl

The bear crawl is a mobility, core, and strength move. It works your entire body — especially your shoulders, chest, back, glutes, core, and legs. This move will get your blood pumping and muscles prepped so that you can maximize your efforts to zero in on those shoulders.

Equipment: none

How to do it:

  1. Get down on all fours. Lift your knees off the floor, keeping your shoulders over your wrists. Be sure to elevate your knees.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles.
  3. Take a step forward, starting with your right hand and your left foot. Follow with your left hand and right foot.

Band pulls

The purpose of this move is to properly warm up and use your rotator cuff muscles. These muscles are responsible for supporting the stability of your shoulders. Targeting these muscles first will help you gain overall strength, prevent injury, and help you get the most out of the subsequent workout.

Be sure to use a light resistance band so your body’s smaller muscles will do the work instead of your larger ones, like the deltoid or trapezius.

Equipment: light resistance band

How to do it:

  1. Set up a band around a stable vertical pole or object like a chair.
  2. Hold one end of the band in the hand opposite to the chair. Position your elbow so it’s at your waist.
  3. Move forearm away from the pole as far as you can. This is known as “external rotation” of your rotator cuff muscles.
  4. Turn around and repeat the movement in the same arm.

I give this consummate shoulder workout to help my clients build strength. It also gives them that sought-after, tank-top-gorgeous sculpt.

Shoulder workout

  • Perform front raises, lateral raises, and shoulder presses 10 times.
  • Rest for 2 minutes.
  • Repeat 3 times.

Equipment: 5- or 10-pound dumbbells (these should be heavy enough to be able to complete 8 to 12 reps, but not light enough to be able to complete 15 to 20 reps)

Angie’s tips: Even if you feel like you’re ready to lift again before the 2 minutes is up, take the time to rest those muscles so that you’ll use the correct energy system to build strength rather than endurance. If this rep scheme is too hard, lessen the number of reps to 8. If this is too easy, then increase to 12 reps.

Front raises

This exercise strengthens the front of the primary shoulder muscle, the deltoid.

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand in front of your thigh bones, an inch away. Activate your arms, pulling your shoulder blades together. Your palms should be facing your upper legs.
  2. Raise your arms to shoulder height, keeping a slight bend in the elbow. Pause when the dumbbells reach shoulder height, then control the weights while returning to the starting position. Repeat.

Leaning lateral raises

This exercise strengthens the primary mover while concentrating on the sides and back of the deltoid. I suggest using lighter weights for this particular exercise.

How to do it:

  1. Standing in a shoulder-width stance, grab a pair of dumbbells with palms facing in and weights just in front of your body.
  2. Hinging at the hips, lean very slightly forward. Raise your arms out to the sides until they reach at shoulder height. With control, lower the weights back to the starting position and repeat.

Shoulder press

This exercise is optimal for strengthening your shoulders and core all in one move.

How to do it:

  1. Position dumbbells on each side of your shoulders, with your elbows just below your wrists.
  2. Press dumbbells skyward until your arms are extended over your head.
  3. Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your shoulders and repeat.

Do this shoulder workout one to two times per week as part of your overall strength training plan, but not consecutively! Allow at least 48 hours before doing this workout again. The shoulder muscles, like all others, need at least 48 hours to recover.

From there, you can expect to see strength gains and definition in as little as two to four weeks. When the weights get easier and you can do more reps than prescribed on the workout, increase the weight of the dumbbells and go again. As you work your way up, you’ll notice newfound strength — coming straight from your awesome body.


Angie Stewart, MPH, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She’s a former Division I collegiate athlete from Georgia and is now a celebrity trainer in Los Angeles. As a mom, Angie created an online fitness plan called the Road to Awesome to help women access fitness and nutrition plans from the convenience of their own home.