What exercises target the arms and shoulders?

Any exercise that is a pushing exercise will help engage your arms and shoulders.  By pushing, I am referring to taking a weight and pushing it away from your body.  The resistance that will result from this will include strengthening your arms and shoulders.  To be more specific, you can complete and overhead shoulder press, a biceps curl, and a triceps extension.  Many exercises will help these muscle groups and I would be glad to assist you with more, just contact me and we can discuss further. 

Some exercises to target your shoulders:

  • seated barbell military press
  • Arnold dumbell press
  • seated lateral raise, with dumbells or tubes
  • seated dumbell military press

For your triceps:

  • close grip bench press
  • reverse grip triceps push down (cables and bar)
  • triceps push downs (cable with rope)
  • triceps dumbell extensions
  • Hammer curl (dumbells)
  • seated dumbell curl
  • barbell curl with EZ bar
  • dumbell prone incline curl 


  • wrist curls (cable or barbell)
  • barbell behind the back wrist curl
  • wrist roller (regular and inverted)
  • most back exercises require a pulling motion and work the forearms too

Here are some exercises that target the arms and shoulders:

-Single-leg dumbbell scaption (shoulders) - Standing on one-leg, with dumbbells in both hands with thumbs up, slowly raise arms at a 45-degree angle. Stop at about shoulder level, lower and repeat.

-Single-leg dumbbell curl (biceps) - Standing on one-leg, with dumbbells in both hands, palms facing forward and arms down at sides. Slowly bring weights up by bending just at the elbow, lower and repeat.

-Seated stability ball Military press (shoulders) - Sitting on stability ball, keeping palms facing forward, and press dumbbells overhead until both arms are fully extended. Lower to chest level and repeat.

-Stability ball dumbbell triceps extensions (triceps) - Sitting on stability ball, arms straight up with palms facing in and keeping elbows in line with the shoulders. Bend at the elbow, slowly lowering the weight. Slowly return to the starting position.

This method also challenges your core and balance. However, these exercises can also be performed either standing with feet shoulder width apart or on a stable surface, such as a bench.

A good exercise to target the shoulders and arms is the dumbbell scaption.  You can use dumbbells in both hands or perform the exercise without weight.  Stand with your feet hip width apart and raise both arms at a 45 degree angle to a Y shape.  Hold at the top and then return the arms to the side of the body.  You will be targeting the deltoids primarily.  You can advance the exercise by performing it on a single leg to decrease stability. 
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

To target your arms and shoulders, try the shoulder matrix and empty can exercises.
Shoulder Matrix: Holding dumbbells in each hand (or other household objects like jugs of water), hold the weights at your shoulders. Press them straight over your head. Bring them back down to your shoulders. On your next repetition, press them up and slightly to the left. Next time press to the right, then forward, then slightly backward. Repeat through all the moves.
Empty Can: Hold dumbbells down and by your sides. Keeping your arm straight, raise one arm forward (thumbs stay up to the ceiling) so that your arm becomes parallel to the ground. As you lower your arm, rotate your wrist (as if you're emptying a can). Repeat with the other arm and alternate repetitions. This emphasizes different parts of the shoulders.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.