How to Train Shoulders With Dumbbells

There are plenty of workouts you can try using a dumbbell. While dumbbells are convenient since you can use them everywhere, they’re not always as easy as you might think. If you want to get the best possible gains then you should properly know how to train shoulders with dumbbells.

How to Train Shoulders With Dumbbells

There are a lot of dumbbell exercises that target your shoulders. That’s why we picked some of the best workouts that offer the best yields. They are also great for getting the shoulder strength and build you want.

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Man holding a dumbbell with each hands

Reverse Flye

The reverse flye targets the weakest muscles in your shoulders so it’s great to start off with this while you are still full of energy. It’s simple to do and builds the muscle on your shoulder. 

  1. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Slightly bend your knees and lean forward where your front body is slightly facing the floor. 
  3. Keep your shoulders retracted while your hands are holding the dumbbell below and at the level of your knees.
  4. Bend your arms slightly and slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side as if you are a bird flying. Your arms should be parallel to the floor. 
  5. Slowly return back to your starting position and repeat. 

You would need lighter dumbbells for these workouts as they are designed for lighter dumbbells. It’s more of building the weak muscles on your shoulders. You should only use your shoulders to lift the dumbbells. The moment you do it with the help from your legs or hips, the workout loses its purpose. 

Lateral Raise

While this is similar to that of a reverse fly, here you change the position of your body. Its focus shifts to another shoulder muscle group, the deltoids. Make sure you practice with light dumbbell weights and focus on your form before going heavy. 

  1. Start off by standing straight with your core tightened and feet together. This will keep you from relying on your legs to help with lifting. 
  2. Hold the dumbbells with each of your hands and place it at the front of your abdomen with your palms facing each other. 
  3. Lift the dumbbells to the side using your shoulders and elbows. Your arms should be stretch sideways at shoulder height. This is the last position. 
  4. Make a good short pause before going down slowly to the original position. 

Most people fail to execute this exercise properly. Most people just lift heavy weights and get on with it. The purpose of this exercise is to properly build shoulder muscles so it’s more important to emphasize going slow and proper. Keep your body upright and relaxed so the focus is always on your shoulders. 

Arnold Press

When your shoulder muscles warm-up from previous workouts, you can start with the Arnold press. It’s a great workout that targets a lot of your shoulder muscles. 

Woman lifting a dumbbell on her chest level
  1. Start off by curling the dumbbells up. Bring them down in front and just below the eye level. Your palms should be facing you. 
  2. Lift the dumbbells above your head until your arms are straight upward. Twist them as you go up so that your palms face forward at the end position. 
  3. Return back to your original position slowly while also twisting your arms. 

This workout is not about how heavy your dumbbells are. It’s about holding each position with tension for as long as possible. Making a short pause every time you hold a position. This will maximize your muscle gains

The Different Shoulder Muscles

There are various muscles that compromise your shoulders. People can categorize them as extrinsic and intrinsic shoulder muscles. It’s important to know these muscles and their function so you would know what muscle you should focus on your shoulders in order to get to your desired goals.


The trapezius is an extrinsic muscle that is a triangle in shape. It runs down along the spine and across the shoulder blade. You have a right and left trapezius. These muscles are responsible for supporting your arms and shoulders. They are worked when you raise your arms.

Latissimus Dorsi

This is one of the largest muscles you can find in your back. If you are looking to lose some bodyweight, then working on your “lats” is a great idea. The trapezius partly covers the lats. It’s an extrinsic muscle. 

The lats are responsible for the extension, adduction, transverse extension, flexion from an extended position, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint. Working this muscle will give you lesser back pains. 

Levator Scapulae

The levator scapulae muscle is mainly responsible for lifting your scapula. It’s a triangle-shaped bone located at the back of your shoulder. It connects your humerus (upper arm bone) with your clavicle (collarbone). The levator scapulae muscle is at the side and back of your neck. It’s an intrinsic muscle.

The Levator Scapulae functions to elevate the scapula and stabilize the spine and extend and laterally flex the neck.

Woman lifting a dumbbell over her head


The rhomboids are responsible for pulling your shoulder blades together whenever they contract. They are located at the top of the back and middle of your shoulder blades. They are also extrinsic shoulder muscles. 


The deltoids are intrinsic muscles divided into three parts of muscle fibers. They can be anterior, lateral, and posterior. They are connected by a very thick tendon anchored into a V-shape.

The deltoids’ main function is to facilitate arm rotation. It’s also the reason why you don’t experience dislocation and injury to the humerus when you are lifting heavy weights. 

Teres Major

The teres major is an intrinsic muscle and functions primarily to support the latissimus dorsi. It’s a small muscle that is located on the underside of your upper arm. It also helps stabilize the humeral head in the glenoid cavity to prevent hyperextension.

Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is an intrinsic muscle that keeps the head of your upper arm bone in place within the shallow socket of your shoulder. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons and it surrounds your shoulder joint. 

It prevents the sliding of the head of the humerus, to allow you a full range of motion and provides stability. It also helps with the mobility of your shoulder joint. 


These are some of the best ways you can do to train your shoulders with dumbbells. Shoulders contain a lot of muscles and that’s why you should pick workouts that work most of them or you can also set a day or two where you focus on building your shoulder muscles every week.

Robert Lemus has been a natural competitor for 6 years, starting in Men’s Physique, then Bodybuilding, and then into Classic Physique. He is the Orange County Bodybuilding champion in 2016 for the Musclemania Organization. In 2018, he received his Pro Card with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in Classic Physique.