Training at home doesn’t have to mean a steady diet of pushups, pullups, planks, and burpees. While there is nothing wrong with bodyweight training, if building muscle is your goal, you’ll get better results with free weights, and dumbbells are especially useful.
Dumbbells are smaller, more compact, and more versatile than barbells, and you can use dumbbells to train every muscle in your body. They also allow you to fix left-to-right muscle weaknesses, increase stabilizer activation and strength, and will also improve your balance. There is nothing dumb about dumbbells.
A pair of dumbbells is also all you need to build cannonball shoulders. Even if you only have one set, and they aren’t very heavy, you have the perfect delt-building tools. Work hard, and you can transform your shoulders into something you can be proud of!
Not sure where to start? No problem! Try our at-home dumbbell shoulder workout on for size.
Your shoulders, properly called the deltoids, are a three-headed muscle. They have several functions, and while all three heads usually work together, it’s also possible to emphasize each one with specific strength training exercises.
While you don’t need a degree in anatomy and physiology to build bigger shoulders at home with dumbbells, it may be useful to understand how your shoulders work so you can design your own shoulder workouts in the future.
The three heads of the deltoids and their functions are:
The anterior deltoid is your front shoulder muscle. Its main roles are shoulder flexion and medial or inward rotation. It’s the most-active deltoid in overhead pressing movements and is also very involved in all chest exercises.
The medial deltoid is located on the side of your shoulder. Like a pair of shoulder pads, the medial deltoids give your upper body its width. The medial deltoids, also known as the lateral deltoids, are responsible for lifting your arm up and out to the side in a movement called abduction.
The posterior deltoid is located on the back of your shoulder, and its main roles are shoulder extension and external rotation. An important postural muscle, the posterior deltoid is often overlooked and underdeveloped, which can lead to slouching and shoulder pain. Any good shoulder workout should include exercises for this muscle.
The Best At Home Dumbbell Shoulder Workout
Do 3-5 sets of the following exercises. Ideally, you should do 6-12 reps of each exercise, but the actual number of reps you’ll perform depends on how heavy your dumbbells are. To keep things simple, just rep out until you are 1-2 reps shy of failure. This is usually the point at which you notice your rep speed decreasing, and your muscles start to burn.
On a scale of 1-10, you should feel like you are hitting an 8 or 9.
- Alternating Arnold press
- Lean away single-arm lateral raises
- Double front raises against a wall
- Reverse flyes
- Seated dumbbell clean and half-press
Get the most from your workout by doing all these exercises using the best possible technique. Read the descriptions below and, if you are still unsure, check out reputable trainers on YouTube for further instructions.
1 – Alternating Arnold press
The Arnold press is named after bodybuilding superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger. This exercise mainly works your anterior or front deltoids but also hits your medial and posterior deltoids pretty hard too. The alternating arm action makes this exercise even more effective as it keeps your muscles under tension for longer. That’s very useful if you only have light dumbbells.
How to do it:
- Seated or standing, hold a dumbbell in front of your shoulders, palms facing you. Your elbows should be directly below your hands, and your forearms should be vertical.
- Keeping one arm stationary, extend your opposite arm and press the weight up and overhead. As you push your arm up, turn your wrists so, at the top of the movement, your palm is facing forward.
- Lower the dumbbell using the same movement in reverse. Swap arms and repeat.
- Continue alternating sides for the duration of your set.
Related: Arnold Press Guide.
2 – Lean away single-arm lateral raises
Lean away side laterals work your medial or side deltoids. This exercise prevents you from cheating and also allows you to focus on one shoulder at a time so you can spot and fix any left to right imbalances. Leaning away places greater overload at the top of the movement, making each rep more effective.
How to do it:
- Hold a dumbbell in one hand and stand next to a sturdy doorframe, railing, pillar, or similar. Grip the frame/railing, etc., and lean away, so your body is slightly inclined. Let your other arm hang straight down, palm facing your leg.
- With your elbow slightly bent but rigid, lift your arm up and out to the side until it’s roughly parallel to the floor.
- Lower the weight and repeat.
- Do the same number of reps on each arm.
3 – Double front raises against a wall
Front raises work your anterior deltoids as well as your upper traps. Big shoulders and traps go together like bacon and eggs and will give you a powerful looking upper body. This exercise is often done using an alternating arm action. However, this can lead to swinging and cheating. Raising both arms at the same time and leaning your back against a wall makes cheating all but impossible and will make light dumbbells feel much heavier.
How to do it:
- With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your back to a smooth wall. Lean back, placing your butt, upper back, and head against the wall. Rest and hold the dumbbells in front of your hips. Bend your legs and move them forward about two feet from the all.
- From this position, and with your elbows slightly bent but rigid, lift both arms forward and up until they are parallel to the floor.
- Lower the weights back down to your legs and repeat.
4 – Reverse flyes
This exercise targets your posterior deltoids, middle trapezius, and rhomboids. These muscles are crucial for shoulder health and posture. While your posterior deltoids are definitely shoulder muscles, they tie into your upper back. They can add a lot of your physique when viewed from behind.
How to do it:
- With a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Lean forward from your hips until your upper body is about parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders, palms facing inward.
- Open your arms and lift the dumbbells up and out to the side to form a T-shape. Do not use your legs or back to help you swing the weights up, and do not round your lower back either.
- Lower your arms and repeat.
- This exercise can also be performed seated, by leaning forward and resting your chest on your legs.
5 – Seated dumbbell clean and half-press
Your final shoulder exercise will leave all three deltoids pumped and tired. Doing a half-press might feel like cheating, but it’s an excellent way to keep the tension on your delts. This is your final exercise, so crank out as many reps as you can. Go for it!
How to do it:
- Sit on a chair or bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet flat on the floor. Let your arms hang down by your sides, palms facing inward.
- Lean forward slightly from your hips and without rounding your lower back. Quickly sit up straight, using this momentum to help you raise the weights to shoulder height, palms still facing inward.
- From your shoulders, press the weight up to just above head-height – the half-press.
- Lower your dumbbells to your shoulders and then to your sides before repeating.
Do you have any questions about this home dumbbell shoulder workout? We’ve got answers! If you can’t find the information you are looking for below, drop us a line in the comments section, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
How often should I do this at home dumbbell shoulder work out?
For best results, do this work out once or twice per week. If you choose twice, do it on non-consecutive days, e.g., Monday and Thursday, to allow plenty of time for recovery. Also, try and keep your shoulder and chest workouts separated by a day to two. Why? Because both workouts involve your triceps and anterior deltoids and doing them back-to-back could lead to overtraining and poor performance during the second workout.
My rear delts are weak. What other exercises can I do for them?
For home workouts and training in general, one of the best rear delt exercises you can do is band pull-aparts. All you need is a resistance band. Hold the band up at shoulder-height with your elbows straight. Open your arms and stretch the band out across your chest, pulling your shoulders down and back as you do so. Return to the starting position and repeat. Do a few sets of 12-20 reps every other day to quickly bring your posterior deltoids up to strength.
I don’t have any dumbbells. What is a good bodyweight shoulder exercise?
All types of push-ups and dips involve your deltoids. Still, if you specifically want to target this muscle, you need to invert your body to replicate overhead presses. You can do handstand push-ups or, more conveniently, pike push-ups. Adopt the standard push-up position but then lift your butt into the air, so your body resembles an inverted V. Bend your arms and lower your head to the floor, and then push back up again. Use a slightly wider-than shoulder-width hand placement for best results.
Is the at home shoulder workout the only training I need to do?
While your deltoids are a vital muscle group, you should not neglect the rest of your body. Your legs, chest, and back are equally important. This workout is designed to be part of a split routine, where you train different muscle groups on different days. While it’s okay to emphasize your shoulders, don’t neglect the rest of your body. Here are some bodyweight-only home leg workouts to get you started.
I’ve only got light dumbbells. Can I still build muscle?
When it comes to building muscle, most people tend to graduate toward moderate to heavy weights and work in the 6-12 rep range. There is a lot of evidence to suggest this is optimal for muscle growth. However, other studies have revealed that you can also build muscle with light weights (1). Providing you take your muscles to failure or close to it, it appears that training with light weights will also help you build bigger shoulders. That’s good news, especially if you only have light dumbbells for your at-home shoulder workouts. However, it’s also important to note that training with light weights won’t build strength like heavier loads can.
Lack of training equipment does not have to mean you can’t build size and get strong at home. All you need is a pair of dumbbells, a good program, and the willingness to push yourself. Use this workout to pack some size on your delts so that, when your shirt comes off, your upper body is capped with new muscle.
1 – Science Daily: Light weights are just as good for building muscle, getting stronger, researchers find https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120430105358.htm