You only need five exercises to grow shoulder muscle and strengthen your upper body

Grab some weights and get ready to charge up your upper body muscle with this shoulder building routine

Woman lifts a weight plate while sat on a gym bench
(Image credit: Getty)

Not all upper body workouts involve exercises that specifically target the shoulders. Therefore, it's worthwhile dedicating the occasional isolated session to strengthening your shoulders and this doesn't have to take long. In fact, this short resistance routine only includes five moves and will help to build muscle fast.

Often, you'll only need to get your hands on some dumbbells to target your shoulders with but for this routine, you will be learning some fresh exercises that incorporate other forms of weights, including weight plates and the bar from a barbell.

However, if you are working out from home and only have access to a pair of the best adjustable dumbbells, you can modify the exercises and the volume of weight you are working with to complete the full routine without the additional equipment.

Lisa Lanceford (also known as lisafiitt (opens in new tab) on Instagram), the personal trainer behind this routine, demonstrates each move for you so that you can ensure you are grasping the correct form. This will help you gain better results and avoid injury.

Not all of the exercises are performed for the same number of repetitions or time duration but you will complete three sets of each exercise. Once you've warmed up your shoulder joints, grab a pair of the best workout earbuds and get ready to grow your shoulder muscles with this short routine.

Watch Lisa Lanceford's Five Move Shoulder Workout

A post shared by Lisa Lanceford (@lisafiitt) (opens in new tab)

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If you're new to strength training and are wondering what dumbbell weights should I use, then the simple answer is to start light. People who haven't much experience with weight lifting have less muscle endurance and will need to build this up. Rather than focus on what other people are lifting around you in the gym or online, start with a low weight that feels comfortable to work with, and then the more you train the bigger you can start to lift.

Each exercise in Lanceford's routine is perfect for applying the popular progressive overload technique for you to continue your strength and muscle gains. We've listed the routine in full below:

  • Seated plate frontal raise variation 3x10 
  • Around the worlds 3x30s each direction
  • Alternating seated frontal raise 3x16
  • Two handed shoulder press variation 3x16
  • Military press 3x8

You can either choose to use these moves as their own workout or you can add them to a larger upper body session. If you really want to max out your shoulder gains try adding some shoulder presses and lateral raises into your session. According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics (opens in new tab), these two exercises show a higher level of shoulder muscle activation than dumbbell flies or the bench press.

When you're ready to target your other upper body muscles you can give this tricep and chest workout a go or drop your weights and try this bodyweight arm workout.

Jessica Downey
Staff Writer

Jessica is Staff Writer at Fit&Well. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 


When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.