How do I strengthen my shoulder muscles?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
You can strengthen your shoulder muscles by doing a standing side lift exercise using free weights.

Muscles worked: Middle deltoid (side shoulder), anterior deltoid (front shoulder), and supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle)

Starting position: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, and your knees and hips slightly bent. Lean forward slightly from the hips and let your arms hang straight down, with your elbows slightly bent and palms facing each other.

Action: Pull your arms up and out to your side, keeping your wrists straight and elbows slightly bent. Continue lifting until your arms are almost parallel to the floor and your hands are slightly in front of you. As with the tubing, the hands should be continually visible with your peripheral vision. That is, the hands should be in front of your body. Slowly lower them back to the starting position.

  • Your shoulder is not strong in this position, so use light weights -- start with 1 to 3 pound or 1/2 to 1 kg weights. It's crucial that you discontinue the exercise if any shoulder or back pain occurs. If you're using your back to raise the weight to where it should be, use a lighter weight, even if it seems too light. Remember, the goal of these exercises is to strengthen muscles, not to injure yourself.
  • Make sure your shoulders stay down. In this exercise, people typically try to lift with their shoulders, and their shoulders end up practically covering their ears. Have another person look at your shoulders or hold them down while you're doing this exercise, or look in the mirror at yourself, to ensure that you are doing it correctly.
  • I like to do this in a modified-lunge position, and I do two sets, alternating one set with the right leg forward and one with the left leg forward. If you do them in this manner, make sure you split the sets up with another set of exercises in between, so that you don't do two sets in rapid sequence.
  • Women very rarely get past 8 pounds in free weights; men very rarely get past 15 pounds, so I would start with considerably less weight ( 1 to 3 pound or 1/2 to 1 kg weights for women, 3 or 5 pounds or 1 to 2 and a half kg for men) unless you're a semi-professional weight lifter or body builder.

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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.