Shoulder Workout – 9 Best Shoulder Exercises for Women

Nothing has a greater impact on your figure than a pair of well-sculpted shoulders.

I think most women can agree that the definition around the shoulders really helps enhance a woman’s frame.

And just like a well-toned pair of arms that communicates: “I’m fit”, “I exercise”, “I’m strong”, and “I’m healthy”, your shoulders are no different.

In fact, your arms and shoulders are connected.

They’re the perfect accessory to any sleeveless dress or top.

And unlike your abs, legs, and thighs—which only make a peekaboo appearance in spring and summer, your shoulders have to be ready for their close-up pretty much year-round.

But this is not the only reason to train the shoulder muscles.

Training your shoulders has several benefits beyond the aesthetic. Dr. Mike Clark, DPT explains the reasons why shoulder workouts are important, particularly strengthening exercises for the shoulder muscles.

Here are some of the key benefits of why training the shoulder muscles matters according to the doctor.

  • Improves and enhances your posture.
  • Strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, creating more stability and overall studier body structure.
  • Reduces the risk of shoulder injuries.

He also advises adding shoulder exercises that train the rotator cuff (the muscles that act as stabilizers to the shoulder joint) to your workout regimen, as strengthening these muscles helps stabilize the shoulder joint—helping you avoid injuries.

There are mainly four muscles that makes the rotator cuff:

  • Subscapularis
  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres minor

They sound pretty foreign and intimidating.

But don’t worry, this is why we’ve created this shoulder workout, a cheat sheet that includes 9 different shoulder exercises that target various muscles in your shoulders, including the important stabilizers Dr. Mike Clark mentioned above.

And as a bonus, your arms will also benefit from these moves, as some of them can also be considered arm exercises.

Arm workout for women

If you need specific moves that target the arms and give you a killer arm workout that crushes arm fat, then feel free to grab our cheat sheet for the best arm workout routine and score yourself a pair of nice arms with definitions.

Here’s how to use the exercises from this shoulder workout.

Before you even start selecting shoulder exercises, the first thing you need to pick is your goal.

Although your individual goal is very unique to you, your body type, exercise history and other determining factors, it can fall into one of the three main and common fitness goals: EnduranceStrength, and Toning.

Deciding on your goal dictates how many repetitions you perform each exercise and for how many sets.

So let’s review each fitness goal, and see which one resonates with you and your goal the most.

Endurance: If you are a non-regular weight training exerciser or just getting started lifting weights—this is a great starting point for you. At this stage, your focus emphasizes more on mastering the movements and form, rather than building lean muscles.

Repetitions and sets for this goal are also perfect for building strength in the smaller stabilizing or endurance muscles that provide stability to the shoulder joint, essential in later, more advanced stages of your shoulder workouts.

Toning (hypertrophy): This is the toning phase—meaning adding lean muscle tone to your body—losing the fat and sculpting your physique. This is the stage for more experienced exerciser with body strength and fitness levels that can handle more stress.

You’ll be utilizing low to intermediate repetition ranges with progressive overload.

What that means is, you’ll begin to add the size of dumbbells into equation and use it for toning purposes. A bit heavier weight, in exchange of fewer repetitions and longer rest, up to 2 minutes between the sets.

This is to allow your muscles to recover before starting again.

To perfect this phase and achieve your goal, lifting the right amount of weight is the key, and that is 75-85% of the one repetition maximum (1RM).

This may mean 10 lbs dumbbell or 20 lbs dumbbell depending on your fitness level and physical strength.

The fastest way to find out the appropriate weight for you is to pick up a pair of dumbbells that feel modestly heavy to you and see if you can perform 12 repetitions with them. If you can do more comfortably, you need to up the weight.

Conversely, if you have a hard time performing not even 6 reps, your weights are too heavy. Pick a pair you can do just about 6-12 reps or slightly more. That’s where you want to be.

Also, the dumbbells you may pick out for a shoulder exercise such as Y-raise may be different from a pair you’d want to use for another exercise such as Dumbbell Press. This is because each exercise has different target muscles and engages them differently. What a larger muscle can handle may not be equal to what a smaller group of muscle can tolerate.

Be ready to have a few pairs of dumbbells for different exercises you plan to perform.

Strength: This is the last and most advanced stage (goal) and where you can turn things up a notch and build strength and maintain the leanness you developed so far.

In this phase, you perform the least amount of repetitions (1-6 reps) with heavier weights than the previous, toning stage. This is, so that you can maintain your strength and increase your muscle definitions.

Fitness Goal Repetitions  Sets
Endurance  15-20 reps 1 – 3 sets
Toning 6-12 reps 3 – 5 sets
Strength 1-6 reps  

Warm-up exercises

  • Y-Raise
  • W-raise
  • T-raise

The workout

  • DB-Press
  • DB Row
  • Incline Flyes
  • Scaption
  • Arm Rotation
  • External Rotation

Although we listed 9 shoulder exercises above, there is no need to perform them all. Picking 1 warm-up exercise and 3-4 exercises for the main workout is all you need in one setting.

Sample shoulder workout

To give you an idea of how to pair and construct a shoulder workout program, we created a sample plan.

This program works for all fitness goals, but to make it more practical, we used the fitness goal, Toning’s rep and set range. If that’s not your goal, feel free to insert the appropriate repetitions and set counts for your goal.

You may also noticed Y-Raise and External Rotation have Endurance’s reps and sets.

This is not by mistake, but put in with a purpose. Y-Raise and External Rotations are weight bearing exercises; however, they are better suited as warm-up and cool-down.

For that, instead of living heavier, it’s best to stay with lower-intensity and slowly warm up or cool down your body.

Exercises Fitness goal Repetitions  Sets Intensity (%1-RM)
Y-Raise Endurance      15 Reps 1-3 sets < 67%
DB-Press Toning 6 -12 reps 3-5 sets 67 – 85%
DB-Row Toning 6 -12 reps 3-5 sets 67 – 85%
Scaption Toning 6 -12 reps 3-5 sets 67 – 85%
External Rotation  Endurance 15 – 20 reps 1-3 sets < 67%


Make sure to read each of the exercise descriptions below to properly learn how to perform each move with the right form. 

This will help maximize the exercise effectiveness and reduce the risk of injuries.

So if you are ready, grab a pair of dumbbells and let’s get started. 

1. Y-Raise

Shoulder Exercise Y-Raise
  1. Hold a small dumbbell in each hand and lie face down on an incline bench. Let your arms hang straight down and turn your wrists to let your palms face in.
  2. Pull your shoulders back and away from your ears and raise your arms to your shoulders height, at a 30-degree angle. Pause 1-2 seconds, then slowly lower them back down to the starting position. Continue for the prescribed number of repetitions.

The benefits: This move activates the upper back and shoulder muscles including the lower trapezius and the muscles in the back of the shoulders (posterior deltoid). Great for correcting muscular imbalance in the shoulders, developing strength, and improving your posture.

2. W-Raise

W-Raise shoulder workout
  1. Hold a small dumbbell in each hand and lie face down on an incline bench. Let your arms hang straight down and turn your wrist to let the palms face in. 
  2. Bend your elbows slightly. Maintaining the bend, squeeze your shoulder blades together to raise your upper arms until your palms face the floor. Your arms should form a W at the top. Pause for 1-2 seconds, then slowly lower arms back down to return back to the starting position. And repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

The benefits: Similar to the Y-Raise, the W-Raise works many of the upper-back and shoulder muscles (mid-trapezius, posterior deltoid). Strengthening these muscles will make your shoulders less prone to shoulder injuries.

3. T-Raise

T-Raise shoulder workout
  1. Grab and hold a small dumbbell in each hand and lie face down on an incline bench. Let your arms hang straight down and turn your wrist to let your palms face forward.
  2. Raise your arms straight out to the sides until they’re at shoulder level. Pause for 1-2 seconds then slowly lower them back down to the starting position and repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions. 

The benefits: T-raise works primarily the posterior deltoid and the mid-trapezius muscle, as well as other upper-back and shoulder muscles.

4. Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell shoulder press
  1. Grab and hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bring them both at your shoulders level by bending your elbows at 90 degrees and turning your wrists so your palms face forward.
  2. Tuck your abs in and straighten your arms by pressing the dumbbells past your head towards the ceiling. Return to the starting position slowly and continue for the prescribed number of repetitions. 

The benefits: This exercise helps the anterior and lateral deltoid take shapes. It strengthens and tones the back shoulder muscles.

5. Dumbbell Row

Dumbbell row exercise
  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bend at the hips, keeping your lower back naturally arched, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
  2. Row the dumbbells by puling your elbows up back towards your side, squeezing your shoulder blades. Pause for 1-2 seconds, then slowly return to the starting position where the weights hang from your shoulders. Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions. 

The benefits: This exercise strengthens and tones the entire back and shoulder muscles. It also conditions the posture muscles both for strength and endurance. 

6. Incline Chest Fly

Chest fly
  1. Grab and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Sit and lie back on an incline bench. Have your arms extended in front of you by bringing the weights together directly over the shoulders and chest.
  2. Keeping your palms facing in and maintain a slight bent in your elbows, move your arms out to the sides and away from your body.

The benefits: This exercise strengthens and tones your chest and shoulder muscles.

7. Scaption

Dumbbell scaption
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing forward.
  2. Without bending your elbows, raise your arms at a 30-degree angle to your shoulder level. Pause for 1-2 seconds, then slowly lower your arms back to the starting position. And repeat.

The benefits: This exercise strengthens many of the shoulder and back muscles (serratus anterior, deltoids, supraspinatus, rhomboids and the lower trapezius). These muscles dictate many of your upper-body movements, so it’s important to strengthen them. This will enable them to function more efficiently and maintain their health.

8. Arm Rotation

Arm rotation shoulder exercise
  1. Grab and hold a small dumbbell in each hand on your back on a flat surface. Bend your elbows about 90 degrees so that your hands are pointed up with dumbbells.
  2. Keeping your elbows bent, slowly rotate the arms externally to move the weights towards the floor next to your ears. Pause for 1-2 seconds and rotate the arms back to the starting position. And repeat.

The benefits: This exercise strengthens many of the important shoulder muscles (infraspinatus, teres minor, and posterior deltoid). It also helps maintain the range of motion within the shoulder joints. A strong and stable shoulder also means that it is less prone to shoulder injuries.

9. External Rotation

External rotation exercise
  1. Grab and hold a dumbbell in your right hand, and lie on your left side, resting your head on left hand. Bend your right elbow at a 90-degree angle and rest the weight in front of your stomach.
  2. Rotate your right forearm up to raise the weight without moving your wrist. The dumbbell should be above your body on top. Slowly return to the starting position. And repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

The benefits: This move helps strengthen the rotator cuff area, deep in your shoulder. 

Like these dumbbell shoulder strength training exercises? Check out our “35 Dumbbell Workout Poster for Women”. Available now with free shipping on Amazon.

There you have it! 9 great effective shoulder workouts to tone your shoulder muscles.

Misato Alexandre


After making healthy living a priority, Misato lost over 20 lbs in less than 90 days. Instead of weight loss being a dreading experience, living the lifestyle of health and fitness granted her more happiness and joy than ever before. She co-founded Fitwirr to make health and fitness simple for everyone and share her tips through writing evidence-based articles on nutrition, weight loss, and exercise.

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