I’m a personal trainer and if I wanted to get stronger shoulders this is the one exercise I’d do

Build strong shoulders and arms with this simple but effective compound move

Woman doing a single-arm dumbbell front raise in the gym
(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the most common questions I get asked as a personal trainer is: how do I get strong shoulders? There are lots of shoulder dumbbell workouts you can try, but if I had to suggest just one move it would be this single-arm chest row and front raise combo.

I love that this compound move works multiple muscles, including the deltoids (the rounded shoulder muscles), lats, traps and rhomboids (back muscles), and the core.

You also don’t need much equipment to do it, just a couple of fairly light dumbbells like these cheap 3lb options from Amazon.

How to do the shoulder-strength exercise

Add this move to the beginning of your regular fitness routine, aiming for 10-12 repetitions and three sets.

How to do the move:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, engaging the core. Hold the dumbbells out in front of you at shoulder height. This is your starting position.
  • Slowly and with control, bend your elbow and bring the right dumbbell back towards you, keeping it at shoulder height, then return to the starting position.
  • Repeat the move on the left side.
  • When both weights are out in front of you again at shoulder height, slowly lower them down towards your thighs.
  • Bend your elbows and bring the dumbbells back up close to your shoulders.
  • Push your arms out in front, so you’re back at the starting position.

Form tips

  • Try not to lean back, maintain a strong core.
  • Go slow when lowering the dumbbells towards your thighs.
  • Keep hips facing forward, try not to rotate them.
  • Avoid locking your knees or elbows, keep a slight bend in your arms.

Why strengthen your shoulders?

Strong shoulders are essential for everyday tasks such as lifting and carrying, and they also help us maintain good posture and stay mobile in older age.

While we might think of the shoulders as a muscle group, they are actually part of a joint. In fact the shoulders are the main joint responsible for most of the upper body movements. So while strength training is important in this area, it’s also worth mentioning that overloading the shoulders—especially with a lot of ‘pushing’ movements—can lead to injury. Start with a light weight and only progress when you're confident you can.

To avoid muscular imbalance, you should complement this push move with a pulling exercise. Try doing some deadlifts or lat pulldowns during your workout, too.

Maddy Biddulph

Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specializing in fitness, health and wellbeing content. With 26 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the US and UK. 

She is also a qualified L3 personal trainer and weight loss advisor, and helps women over 40 navigate menopause by improving their physical and mental strength. At Maddy Biddulph Personal Training, she runs one-to-one and small group training for menopausal women who want to get fit to ease symptoms and feel like themselves again.