Strong and Shapely: Shoulder Exercises for Women

Strong and Shapely: Shoulder Exercises for Women

Reading Time: 5 minutes 8 seconds


Date: 2019-10-10T00:00:00-04:00

Many clients have specific goals for their body: from weight loss, to building functional strength and size, or overall health. Shoulder strength, stability, and range of motion should be in every trainer's toolbox when working with female clients. Exercising for a defined look is different than when a client is working to build mass. More shapely and toned muscles require a variety of angles when lifting. The workout programming for muscle tone requires the rep count be higher (12-15+) and the weight used is more moderate.

Injury prevention is always a focus for the trainer, but the aesthetics of a full and toned upper body are something most female clients desire. You can create a strong shoulder joint as well as toned and shapely shoulders for every one of your clients with the right movements.

Muscles of the Shoulder

The deltoid is the major muscle group in the shoulder, but the rotator cuff, the biceps and triceps in the upper arm, the pectoralis muscles of the chest, the latissimus dorsi and teres in the back, and the musculature of the shoulder blades support the movement and structure of the shoulder joint. The trapezius and rhomboids are often recruited as well.

Several tendons attach in the shoulder joint and make up the rotator cuff. There are also several bursa and joint capsules supporting the ball-in-socket joint. It is a well-buil, but often injured joint for most clients. The unique condition of your client will help you determine the correct ranges of motion and angles to use when training the shoulders.

Men's health and women's health can differ when related to their abilities and ranges of motion. With so many muscles involved in moving the shoulder joint, be sure to complete a full assessment of your client before beginning a new exercise routine or adding to a current plan.


Clients may use resistance bands, kettlebells, free weights, and barbells to workout their shoulders. Many of the exercises can be completed seated or standing. The rep counts will range from 12 to 15 for toned, strong shoulders. As the expert, you will help your client decide which modality is best for their goals and abilities.

Protect your client by helping them set up their five kinetic checkpoints for any standing movements: feet, knees, hips, shoulders, and neck.

The Best Shoulder Exercises for Women - A Breakdown

There are many shoulder exercises and they all have their benefits. The differences in men's and women's bodies will mean adjustments to the range of motion and resistance or weight used for most exercises. The following is a list of the top six best shoulder exercises to add to your female client's workouts to develop a strong, shapely upper body.

1. Dumbbell Front Raise

Targets the anterior deltoid and pecs and is stabilized by the core.

May be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, resistance bands, or cables.

This movement can be progressed from stable to less stable by having the client stand during the movement. Core strength and balance will be required to minimize swinging the dumbbells. Have your client stand with soft knees, hips tucked, core engaged, and shoulders down and packed.

2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Targets the lateral deltoid and is stabilized by the upper back, core, biceps, and triceps.

May be performed with dumbbells, cables, or a resistance band.

The lateral raise can also be progressed in the same way as the front raise or with the alternating of the arms to engage the core, glutes, and stabilizer muscles. Beginning the lateral raise from the outside of the thighs will minimize swinging but may limit the range of motion without straining the neck. There is a variation with soft elbows and the weight will start in front of the thigh and finish the range of motion level with the shoulders.

Want to focus on adding shoulder width? Try changing the lateral raise angle. Have the client hold on to something fixed to the wall or equipment, their feet close to it. They raise the weight from the thigh to shoulder height. The change in angle focuses the movement on the lateral deltoid.

3. Overhead Shoulder Press

Targets the deltoids, pecs, and upper back and is supported by the triceps.

May be performed with barbell, dumbbells, cable, or resistance band.

The overhead press should not cause shoulder pain for your client when using the correct angle and range of motion. The elbows can be wide, neutral (forward), or any place in between. The range of motion begins with the hands level with the ears and ends with arms fully extended overhead. This is a great exercise for toned arms and increasing shoulder width.

4. Bent Over Reverse Fly

Targets posterior deltoid, rotator cuff, and upper back and is supported by the core, glutes, and spine (when in a hinged standing position)

May be performed with dumbbells, cables, or a resistance band.

The reverse fly is a good full-body exercise when performed in a hinged position but can also be performed supported on a bench. The hinged position requires the feet hip-width, knees pressed out to engage the glutes and stabilize the lower back, core engaged, and the head neutral to protect the cervical spine. Ensure a soft bend in the client's elbow as they complete the repetitions. This is one of the most well-rounded and challenging upper body movements you can add to your client's routine!

5. Dumbbell Arnold Press

Targets the anterior deltoid, pecs, and biceps and is supported by the core and rotator cuff.

May be performed with a resistance band or dumbbells.

The rotation of the weight in this shoulder movement is great for clients with shoulder issues as it works to strengthen the rotator cuff and improve range of motion. The movement can be progressed from seated to standing to engage the core and stabilizers.

6. Upright Row

Targets the rotator cuff, and deltoids as well as the upper back and pecs. Supported by the core and serratus anterior muscles of the ribcage.

May be performed with barbell, dumbbells, or cable.

There are several hand placements for the exercise depending on the client's range of motion and the equipment used. Narrow grip will target the deltoids and trapezius in the upper back and neck. A wider grip will focus more on the deltoids and triceps. Clients with shoulder pain or impingements should be closely supervised while performing this movement.

Do you have a client with shoulder impingements or pain? For more on shoulder pain relief, try the ISSA blog post for relieving tight shoulder muscles in your clients.

Putting It Together

These movements can be completed in one workout specifically to target the shoulders or added into workouts one at a time to enhance an existing routine. Challenge your clients with the rep count of 12-15 with additional weight and by building supersets that will challenge their shoulders. They are a relatively small muscle group and can be trained 2-3 days per week.

All of the best shoulder exercises involve the muscles of the upper arms, namely the biceps and triceps. A byproduct of strong and toned shoulders will be shapelier, stronger arms. Specifically targeting the arms is a great way to strengthen the muscles that will assist in shoulder exercises and, in exchange, speed up your client's results.

Want to know more about preventing shoulder dysfunction in your clients? Check out the ISSA Corrective Exercise Specialist Certification and become invaluable to the longevity of your client!

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