Best Shoulder Workout for Women

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Last updated on February 12, 2023

Nothing epitomizes that sleek, fit, athletic look in a woman more than a rounded, defined set of shoulders. Whether you’re sporting a sleeveless top or wearing a t-shirt, those beautiful, toned deltoids are bound to turn heads.

In this article, we show you how to get them with the ideal shoulder exercises and workout for women. As a upper bodies workout it is very popular and you can work your shoulder muscles as a home workout or in the gym.

Shoulder Anatomy

There are three parts to the shoulders, or deltoids. Each portion is known as a separate head of the deltoids and each one has its own separate function and direction of movement. These three separate portions are:

  • the anterior deltoid (front part)
  • the lateral deltoid (side part)
  • the posterior deltoid (rear part)

The lateral deltoid has the main job of raising the arm sideways. The ideal exercise to work the lateral deltoid head, then, is one that mimics this straight arm sideways movement and that moves the muscle from a point of full extension to full contraction.

The anterior deltoid is also known as the front deltoid. It is involved in pulling the humerus (upper arm) bone forward and upward. That is why the front deltoids get a good workout when you do most chest exercises.

The best exercises to work the front deltoids are those that take it from a stretched position to a point of contraction. The ideal stretch position would see the upper arm angling back about 40° from the torso. From this position, extending the arms forward to full contraction would ideally stimulate the front deltoids.

The posterior deltoids are more commonly called the rear delts. The main job of the rear delts is to pull the upper arm back behind the body. It also helps to externally rotate the humerus bone of the upper arm.

The Best Exercises for Shoulders

If you ask most regular gym goers what the best shoulder workout for women are, they will inevitably come up with a list that includes such mainstay movements as the shoulder press, upright row, front raise, lateral raise and reardelt fly. However, by our short examination of the function of each of the heads of the deltoid muscle, we are able to see which exercises actually work, giving you a strong shoulder, and which do not.

The two most commonly performed exercises for the shoulders are:

  • the overhead shoulder press and
  • the upright row

Neither of these are effective deltoid exercises.

The overhead press uses short levers, such as slightly bent arms, which reduces the load on the deltoids. It also engages assisting muscles to take the load off the delts. In addition, the overhead press puts a lot of strain on the spine and increases the chances of developing impingement syndrome.

The upright row also reduces the effective length of the lever being operated upon, in this case the humerus bone. This also greatly reduces the load placed on the deltoids. This exercise also places a great deal of strain on the infraspinatus muscle, as well as the wrists and the lower back.

let’s go through the exercises.

Shoulder Exercises for Beginners from Home

Push Ups

  1. Get down on standard push up position with your hands shoulder width apart.
  2. Lower down into a bottom push up position until your chest is about two inches from the ground.
  3. Press back to the start position.

Side Lateral Raises

  1. Stand with a couple of weights in your hands in front of your body. This could be a pair of cans or books. Your elbows should be slightly bent.
  2. Pivot from the shoulder joint to bring the weights up and out to shoulder level.
  3. Lower under control and repeat.

Band Upright Row

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and a resistance band looped under your feet.
  2. Hold the band with an overhand grip with your thumbs about 6 inches apart.
  3. Pull your arms up to bring the band up to the level of your chin.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

The Workout

  • Push Ups – 3 x 15 reps
  • Side Lateral Raises – 3 x 12-15 reps
  • Band Upright Row


Intermediate Shoulder Exercises from Home

Handstand Push Ups

  1. Stand in front of a wall, facing away from it.
  2. Bend down to palace your hands on the floor and then begin to walk your feet up the wall until you are in a handstand position.
  3. Lower down to bring your head toward the floor, stopping a couple of inches from the floor.
  4. Push back to the start position.

Band Side Lateral Raises

  1. Secure a resistance band to the bottom of an internal door.
  2. Stand side onto the door and grab the handle with your outside hand.
  3. With your elbow slightly bent. Pivot from the elbow to bring the band up and out to shoulder level.
  4. Pause for a second, then lower and repeat.

Band Front Raises

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart and a band looped under your feet. Hold the bands at arm’s length and adjust so that it is taut when your arms are fully extended.
  2. Bring your straightened right arm directly up in front of the body to chest level.
  3. Lower and repeat.
  4. Do the same number of reps on both arms.

The Workout

  • Handstand Push Ups
  • Band Side Lateral Raises
  • Band Front Raises

Shoulder Exercises for Beginners from Gym

Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise


  1. Stand with a pair of dumbbells held in front of your body, palms facing each other and elbows slightly bent.
  2. Pivot from the shoulder to bring the dumbbells up to the shoulder level.
  3. Pause and then lower slowly to the start position.


Lying Shoulder Press

  1. Lie on a flat bench with a pair of dumbbells held at arm’s length above your chest. Your palms should be facing toward your head.
  2. Lower the dumbbells to your ribcage.
  3. Press back up in a slightly arcing motion


One Arm Side Cable Raise

The best exercise to directly work the lateral deltoids is the standing one arm side cable raise. Using a cable for side raises is far more effective than using dumbbells. Cables provide resistance at the beginning of the movement.

This is critical for full stimulation yet something that you do not get with dumbbells. When you use cables, you are also able to use a wrist strap with a D-ring attachment. This means that you are not reliant on the strength of your wrist or fingers to lift the weight.

How to do the One Arm Side Cable Raise

To perform the one arm side cable raise:

  1. Set the pulley at about the height of your wrist when it is hanging at your side.
  2. Now stand side on to the cable machine and either grab hold of the cable with your outside hand or attach a wrist strap to your arm.
  3. Keeping your arm straight, move directly out and up to the side until your arm is parallel with the floor.
  4. Slowly return and repeat.

The Workout

  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise – 3 x 12-15 reps
  • Lying Shoulder Press – 3 x 10-12 reps
  • One Arm Side Cable Raise – 3 x 12 (reach side)

Intermediate Shoulder Exercises from Home

Seated Anterior Deltoid Cable Press

The best exercise for the anterior deltoids is the seated anterior deltoid cable press. For this exercise you will need to:

  1. Place an exercise bench with a vertical back support about 3 feet in front of a cable machine with the seat facing away from the machine.
  2. Set the cable positions on a double cable machine in line with your elbows.
  3. Grab a hold of the cables and move forward to sit in the seat. You should be holding the cables in your palms facing up position parallel to the floor, bend your elbows angled back about 40° behind your torso.
  4. Keep your elbows at your sides as you push forward through the front deltoids to bring your hands palms facing together in front of you at full extension.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.

How to do the Seated Anterior Delt Cable Press

Rear Deltoid Cable Crossover

The best exercise for the posterior deltoids is the rear deltoid cable crossover.

  1. Set the cables on a double cable machine at shoulder level.
  2. Remove the handles from the ends of the cables and stand in front of the machine.
  3. Grab the opposite cable ends with your hands and cross your arms over at full extension in front of your body.
  4. Now brace your torso as you extend your arms out to full extension.
  5. Return to the start position and repeat.

This is a very targeted exercise that requires very little weight. In fact, you should probably not load any weights at all on the stack.

How to do the Rear Deltoid Cable Crossover

Sets and Repetitions

In order to rework your deltoids, you need to exercise them through a range of repetition volumes. For our ideal shoulder workout for women, we will use the following set and rep scheme:

Set one – 30 reps

Set two – 15 reps

Set three – 10 reps

Set four – 10 reps

Set five – 10 reps

With each succeeding set, you should try to increase the weight on the cable machine slightly. However, when you get to sets four and five, you will probably find that your fatigue level will mean that you will be working hard to keep that same weight for all sets.

When you come to the last exercise in this shoulder workout for women – the rear deltoid cable crossover – do not increase the weight on succeeding sets. By this time in the workout you’ll be so fatigued that you won’t need to.

The Workout

  • Seated anterior deltoid cable press – 5×30/15/10/10/10
  • Rear deltoid cable crossover – 5×30/15/10/10/10
  • One Cable Side Lateral Raise (same as beginner workout) – 5 x 30/15/10/10/10

Wrap Up

This three-exercise shoulder workout for women is an extremely effective routine that will provide you with complete shoulder muscles development. It should take you about 30 minutes to complete the workout. Schedule this into your program so that you perform the workout once every five days.

It is also a good idea to pair this workout with your chest workout. That’s because the chest also works your front deltoids. If you work with them on separate days, your limited recovery from this workout would impair the effectiveness of your chest training.

Follow this for six weeks and you will see these workouts to build muscles giving you impressive defined bolder shoulders. Lifting heavy weights for these exercises will also give you toned arms and they are easy workouts to do as part of your home gym if you are busy. These are great shoulder exercises for women use them and reap the benefits.

Always be careful training your shoulders as you can risk injury (shoulder joints, shoulder blade, rotator cuff) if done incorrectly or you lifting weights in excess of what you can really cope with. Watch shoulder exercise videos online to make sure your positioning is correct (for example shoulder height, stand with feet correctly positioned, knees slightly bent when required). This will ensure you range of motion is correct reducing the risk of injury.

Steve Theunissen has qualified from the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and is a certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. He has over 30 years experience in fitness and nutrition and currently working with famous fitness professionals. He is currently living in New Zealand with is wife and daughter.

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