Best Shoulder Exercises for Men

Make your shoulders stronger and prevent injuries with shoulder exercises for men from STACK Expert Jim Carpentier.

Shoulder Exercises for Men

Shoulder-strengthening exercises are important for athletes in baseball, hockey, lacrosse and tennis—and other sports that require repetitive motion in the shoulder. Overuse without proper warm-up and stretching can cause muscle strains, tears, impingement, dislocation and rotator cuff inflammation.

The following guidelines and strengthening exercises can help prevent shoulder problems and also help with recovery.

Shoulder Exercises for Men

Dynamic Warm-up

Standing arm circles (with arms outstretched at shoulder level) effectively get blood circulating to your shoulders to get them ready for intense upper-body exercises. You can also perform arm circles by resting your right hand on a bench or desk, leaning over with your left arm dangling at your side, and making small to large circles— clockwise, then counter-clockwise. Repeat with your left hand on the bench and perform right-arm circles.

Grip Exercises

Think about how many weight training barbell exercises are traditionally done with an overhand grip: Flat, Incline and Decline Bench Presses; Overhead Presses; Bent-Over Rows; Upright Rows; and Barbell Squats (when the bar is resting behind the neck atop the shoulders), to name a few.

Excessive use of an overhand grip contributes to repeated inward shoulder rotation, leading to rotator cuff inflammation. Varying your grip or using dumbbells or cable handles with an underhand grip, alternating overhand and underhand grip or a neutral grip (palms facing each other) helps minimize the risk of developing shoulder problems.

Try these exercises with varying grips instead of overusing the common overhand grip, and safely train your shoulders from different angles. Changing grips may also effectively help you train your shoulder muscles without putting stress on the rotator cuff if your shoulder muscles are sore or inflamed.

  • Neutral or Underhand Grip DB Overhead, Flat, Incline and Decline Presses
  • Underhand Grip Barbell Overhead, Flat, Incline and Decline Presses
  • Underhand, Neutral, and Alternated Grip DB Bent-Over Rows or Supinated or Alternated Grip Barbell Rows
  • Neutral, Underhand or Alternated Grip Pull-Ups (using pull-up handles) or Inverted Rows using a Supinated or Alternated Grip
  • Neutral Grip Push-Ups (using DBs or push-up handles)
  • Neutral Grip Bar Dips or Seated Dips
  • Neutral Grip DB Shrugs or Alternated Grip Barbell Shrugs

Partial-Rep Movements

Perform these exercises in your strongest range of motion.

When your shoulder joint or rotator cuff is tender, try overhead flat, incline and decline barbell and dumbbell exercises (or Pull-Ups) with a partial instead of a full range of motion. This lets you continue training and building muscle when full-range reps cause discomfort. Do the lift in the strongest range (top range). For Flat, Incline and Decline Presses and Seated Overhead Presses, use a portable bench and set the bar racks so the barbell rests a few inches higher at the top range (when completing the rep).

Your weakest range of motion is starting the bar at your shoulder for Overhead Presses or lowering the bar to your chest during Flat, Incline and Decline Presses. You can do partial-rep Pull-Ups just by pulling a quarter of the way up toward the pull-up bar. You can also do partial-rep Bar Dips and Push-Ups by going down a quarter of the way and pushing back up to start.

Shoulder External Rotation Exercise

A great shoulder external rotation exercise is the Dumbbell Lateral Raise using light to moderate weight. Instead of using a neutral grip, use a supine grip with your thumbs pointed out and the dumbbells hanging at your sides. Slowly raise the dumbbells to shoulder level (notice your shoulder is turning out rather than in with the underhand grip). Pause one second and slowly lower. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps. This exercise strengthens the rotator cuff and balances the repetitive inward shoulder movements from using a constant overhand grip and repeated overhand throwing and passing movements on the field.

Cross-Transfer Method for Active Recovery From a Shoulder Issue

The cross-transfer approach is an excellent training method for active recovery from a shoulder problem, helping you maintain shoulder muscle mass for an injured shoulder (preventing atrophying) and enhancing the healing process. According to the website, it helps rehab an injured limb or muscle by lifting on the healthy side to promote blood flow throughout the body and to the injured limb or muscle.

Instead of avoiding the weight room during a rehab process, you can continue to train the healthy shoulder with exercises such as One-Arm Overhead Dumbbell, Kettlebell Presses or Single-Arm Lateral and Forward Raises.

Pronated Wide Grip Barbell or Dumbbell Upright Rows

Traditional upright rows involve a hands-close-together overhand grip and raising dumbbells or a barbell almost to chin level. Unfortunately, the full-range movement with a close grip exacerbates shoulder internal rotation. Prevent shoulder inflammation by taking a slightly wider than shoulder-width pronated grip on the barbell or dumbbells. Raise the bar or dumbbells only a few inches above waist level and below the chest (a partial range rep), which still strengthens the shoulders while minimizing rotator cuff problems.

Balancing Pushing Movements with Pulling Movements

The shoulders are used in both pushing and pulling movements. Shoulder issues can arise if you focus too much on pushing exercises that target the chest and shoulders. Make sure to devote equal time to training the back muscles with pulling movements to complement pushing/pressing exercises.

Cool Down

Daily shoulder static stretches and cool-down static stretches following workouts enhance shoulder flexibility and improve range of motion. Hold each stretch 10 to 20 seconds. Typical shoulder stretches include:

Overhead Shoulder Stretch. Interlace your hands overhead with your arms extended.

Shoulder Cross Stretch. Place your left hand on your right elbow and pull your elbow/arm across at shoulder level to the opposite shoulder. Repeat with the other arm.

Wall Stretch. Place your right hand overhead against a wall and lean slightly forward until you feel a comfortable stretch. Repeat with opposite arm.

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