10 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

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Last Updated on December 19, 2020

Wide and rounded shoulders are the essence of the male figure. All bodybuilders dream of cannonball-shaped shoulders that give the upper body width and optical size. Compound exercises for the shoulders are one of the best ways to fulfill that dream.

Six-pack or muscular thighs can be found in swimmers or footballers, but powerful shoulders are usually features of very strong people who heavily engage them in their strength training.

Best Compound Shoulder Exercises - big rounded shoulders

In addition to the muscle mass of the shoulders, their spacing also plays an equally important role in the visual aspect. Their quality is therefore influenced by many factors, from specialized training, nutrition to biological renewal and supplementation improving anabolism and regeneration, for example with BCAA amino acids, creatine or laxogenin.

The arm muscles are made up of many small and medium-sized muscles. The most important in terms of body shape is a deltoid muscle which is often shortened in slang as delt.

The deltoid muscle consists of three parts:

  • Anterior deltoids which are commonly called front delts
  • Intermediate deltoid also called lateral deltoid, middle delts, outer delts, or side delts
  • Posterior deltoid also called rear deltoid or rear delts for short
10 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises 1
Anterior, intermediate and posterior deltoid

Due to their complex structure, one of the best ways to develop these muscles is with compound exercises that involve multiple muscles at the same time, as opposed to isolated exercises that work on a single muscle group. Because the shoulder itself is made up of many small and medium-sized muscles, compound exercises are a good way to incorporate several muscles simultaneously.

examples of compound exercise - dips

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How do you train your shoulders to maximize their development without getting injured? Well, it is commonly believed that shoulder training is not the easiest one.  In this article, however, we are going to discuss the best compound shoulder exercises that have been going well for many years. If you do them correctly, you will be able to develop powerful shoulders well.

What are these exercises?

10 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

Let’s list 10 best compound shoulder exercises that you can add to your training:

1. Standing Overhead Press (military press)

10 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises - standing overhead press - military press

It is a great exercise that activates not only our shoulders but also the muscles stabilizing the entire body. The training plan should be dominated by complex exercises that require the involvement of the entire body. This ensures a much better hormonal response of the body to the effort made.

In addition, by maintaining a natural posture and performing natural movement patterns that resemble our daily movements, we reduce the risk of injury.

Before starting this exercise, you should ensure that your torso is properly positioned:

  • Your feet are about hip-width apart, with your toes pointing very gently outward.
  • Tighten your buttocks and then your stomach.
  • Grab the bar a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale, remove the barbell from the racks and take a step back, taking care not to lose your torso stabilization.
  • Rotate the shoulder joints (as if you wanted to break the barbell).
  • Then push the bar over your head while exhaling. Avoid hyperextension in the elbows.
  • With a slow, controlled movement, lower the barbell back to the collarbones while inhaling.
  • Do the required number of repetitions.

2. Sitting Overhead Press

This exercise can be performed while sitting or standing, the grip can be a standard grip or the arms parallel to each other. The dumbbells should be lowered to the height of the ears, and the elbows should not be overstretched while the dumbbells are pushed out. This exercise allows the arms to work independently, which compensates for possible disproportions.

Inhale while lowering the dumbbells (eccentric movement), exhale while pushing the dumbbells over your head (concentric movement).

  • Sit on a bench with the backrest angled at 90 degrees.
  • Grab the dumbbells with a closed grip.
  • The elbows should be slightly forward, in front of the body axis.
  • The use of a bench allows you to avoid straining the spine extensors.
  • Whole feet touch the ground and are placed sideways for stability.
  • The path of the dumbbell movement should be similar to a triangle, with the shoulder line being its base.

Common mistakes:

  • unclosed grip,
  • torso curve, where the shoulder line goes beyond the hip line
  • hyperextension in the elbow joints
  • lowering the bar too abruptly
  • incorrect elbows movement
  • dumbbell lowering too low

Do not lower the dumbbells too low, as stretching too far can cause muscle breakdown.

3. Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

Another group of compound exercises for the shoulders are shoulder raises with dumbbells to the sides and in the torso descent, which are highly effective. During EMG (Electromyography) tests, one of the greatest muscle activities of the lateral shoulder was found. Additionally, the values ​​were also increased for the posterior deltoid muscle, even though the exercise emphasizes the middle axon.

To avoid injuries, the following technical aspects should be kept in mind when performing this exercise:

  • slightly tilt the back,
  • raise your arms only to shoulder level. Movement above this level can irritate the shoulder joint,
  • do not use too heavy weights,

Although it is not a pure compound exercise, it is nevertheless a very important exercise for the comprehensive development of the deltoid muscles. This exercise hits the middle deltoid muscle directly. It gives the shoulders the most spherical shape and the overall width of the silhouette.

There is simply no way to skip this exercise or its variation in your bodybuilding training plan.

  • Make sure your torso is properly positioned
  • Your feet hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward.
  • Tighten your buttocks and then your stomach.
  • Grab the dumbbells with a closed grip, bend your arms slightly at the elbows.
  • Too strong bending of the arms in the elbow joints will shorten the lever and allow us to apply greater loads – and we do not want this, because the shoulder joints are very delicate.
  • After taking care of the correct position:
  • Take a breath
  • Then lift the dumbbells sideways in line with your body and exhale. Make sure that the movement starts at the elbows and that the elbows do not exceed the shoulder line.
  • With a slow, controlled motion, lower your arms down while inhaling.
  • Do the required number of repetitions.

4. Bent Over Reverse Fly

Bent over reverse dumbbell rise is one of the most effective exercises in the back of the deltoid muscle. There is a very small risk of getting injured while doing it. In order not to use too heavy loads, it is worth focusing maximum on the work of the posterior shoulder muscle.

Muscles involved in the exercise:

  • Shoulder muscles (mainly the back)
  • Trapezius muscles
  • Smaller round muscles
  • Subcapsular muscles.

How to:
Stand slightly apart, bend your knees, and drop your torso parallel to the ground.
Raise your arms with a dynamic sideways motion in line with your shoulders. The elbows are slightly bent and they should be the highest part of the shoulders.
Remember to keep your chest stretched out all the time.

You can also do this exercise while sitting at the end of a bench with your torso on your thighs.

It can also be made using a machine, thanks to which the path of the arms’ movement will be fixed – and therefore more insulated.

Inhale as the dumbbells descend (eccentric movement). Breathe out as you dynamically raise your arms (concentric motion).

Common mistakes:

  • unclosed grip,
  • “cat’s back”,
  • wrong arm movement,
  • raising the torso while raising the arms,
  • hand raised higher than the elbow.

Correct posture causes constant isometric tension in the spine extensors, so if you do not feel up to doing this exercise in the descent, you can do it while sitting. In this case, also pay attention to the correctness of the position and the appropriate motion path of the arms.

5. Arnold Press

Muscles involved in the exercise:

  • Shoulder muscles (mainly the front part)
  • Triceps shoulder muscles

How to:
This exercise can be performed while standing or sitting. The difference in this exercise is the path of the dumbbells guided by the hands.
First, raise the dumbbells in front of you at the height of your head, pointing your palms towards your body.

Then push the dumbbells over your head while rotating them 180 degrees, with the palms facing forward.

Lowering the dumbbells, return your arms to the starting position and push them over your head again. Perform in one smooth motion.

Inhale as you lower and rotate the dumbbells (eccentric movement). Exhale as you push the dumbbells over your head (concentric motion).

Common mistakes:

  • Unclosed grip,
  • Hyperextension in the elbow joints,
  • Lowering dumbbells too quickly,
  • Lack of smoothness,

This exercise is a modification of the dumbbell overhead bench press while sitting. The difference is rotation, which strongly engages the front part of the deltoid muscles. It is a very good exercise, but you must pay close attention to its accuracy and technique.

This exercise is a modification of the dumbbell overhead bench press while sitting. The difference is rotation, which strongly engages the front part of the deltoid muscles. It is a very good exercise, but you must pay close attention to its accuracy and technique.

6. Behind the neck shoulder press (advanced lifters)

One of the best compound shoulder exercises is a barbell press behind the neck. There is controversy about this exercise. However, due to its high efficiency, we have included it on this list.

The most important point is the correct technique, which will reduce or even eliminate the risk of injury.

In order to perform this exercise correctly and avoid injury, several criteria must be met:

  • mobility in the thoracic spine,
  • full mobility during external rotation of the arm,
  • correct stabilization of the shoulder blade

If you have trouble assessing the above items, it is worth consulting a physical therapist who will conduct the appropriate tests.

Research with the use of electromyography (EMG) has shown relatively high efficiency of pressing the barbell from behind the neck, especially when the exercise is performed in a sitting position. It is most effective at developing the front and middle parts of the deltoid muscle.

There are a few important points to pay attention to while doing this exercise:

  • In the lower position, the elbows should be under the barbell. This will help transfer the force to the bar
  • The exercise should be performed in the full range of motion. This means that in extreme positions the barbell should be lowered onto the trapezius muscle and the elbows should be fully straightened.
  • Pay close attention to correct body tension. This will protect your spine from potential injury.

7. Upright Rows

Upward rows, just like behind the neck shoulder press, evokes quite extreme emotions and has their opponents and supporters. It is considered to be one of the most complex and valuable in terms of the development of lateral and posterior deltoid actons, but on the other hand, there is a potential risk of injury.

10 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises - Upward Rows

What’s the truth? When it comes to safety, it must be admitted that this is an exercise with an increased risk of injury. During the exercise, you need to position your arms in internal rotation and additionally perform a rise. It is common to irritate the supraspinatus muscle, which rubs against the bone due to a small space.

How to do this exercise without risking an injury:

  • correct internal rotation of the arm,
  • mobility in the thoracic spine.

If this exercise is painful when properly performed, give it up. Sometimes the problem can be solved by using a wider grip of the barbell.

In the case of this exercise, EMG tests showed one of the highest values ​​related to the activity of the middle and posterior deltoid muscles. However, considering that there are safer exercises aimed at developing hypertrophy and deltoid muscle strength, where the risk of injury is much lower, it is recommended to use the barbell raises along the torso periodically.

In the case of strength exercises, we often deal with repeating many myths. So, have you ever seen anyone with your own eyes injured their shoulder while practicing upward rows? Well, this situation is at least debatable and reasonable weight and correct technique are, as usual, the keys to our safety and efficiency.

The most common mistake is to hold the bar too narrowly. The use of a slightly wider spacing (shoulder width) is a good solution and minimizes the load on the elbows or wrists.

8. Front Raises

Best Compound Shoulder Exercises - front rise

The front rises very strongly engage the anterior deltoid muscles and the pectoral muscle, the greater clavicle (upper) part.

How to:

  • Stand up straight, feet shoulder-width apart. The arms are extended along the body holding the dumbbells, the thumbs point inwards.
  • Inhale and raise the dumbbells forward until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Breathe out and lower your arms.
  • Maintain the correct starting position, avoid swaying your torso
  • Speed: 1 second up, 2 seconds down.
  • Maintain constant muscle tension.
  • Keep your head in line with your back.

9. Seated Dumbbell Press

The seated dumbbell press is a great alternative to the overhead barbell press. This exercise has many advantages. It compensates for imbalances between the sides and increases the range of motion. However, the weight used is less than when using a barbell, so progression can be a bit more difficult.

In studies of muscle activity, this exercise performs very well, the values ​​shown are slightly lower than when pressing a barbell from behind the head. However, this difference in activity may be related to the weight used. So it can be concluded that this exercise will be great for developing the anterior and lateral parts of the deltoid muscle.

we can use large loads here if we do them at the beginning of training, or put on a slower negative phase and perform them at the end of the training plan, then we operate with a much smaller weight.

Seated dumbbell press helps to reduce disproportions that may result from training with a barbell or on machines.

The seated dumbbell press strongly engages the anterior and lateral deltoid muscles. As a disadvantage, we can mention lower weight than in the case of a barbell, as well as more difficult progression due to the disproportion in the strength of our arms.

Nevertheless, this exercise is an excellent alternative in our training plan and can successfully become even the main exercise for the shoulder muscles.

10. Incline Rear Delt Dumbbell Row

Best Compound Shoulder Exercises incline rear delt dumbell raws

Incline Rear Delt Dumbbell Row very effectively hits the rear delt muscles

How to:

  • Lie face down on the bench at a positive 30-45 degree angle.
  • Take the dumbbells in both hands.
  • Tighten your stomach and buttocks muscles.
  • Perform a shoulder retraction.
  • Begin rowing your hands upwards, leading your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body.

Repetitions: 6-12 in series.
Series: 3-5
Rest: 30 seconds to a few minutes – depending on the body’s needs


By performing selected exercises from the above-mentioned exercises and by gradually overloading the muscles, you can comprehensively develop your shoulder muscles. It is also worth paying attention to the stabilization of the shoulder blade. This will ensure safety training and help in working on selected parts.

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