Shoulder Exercises Ranked (BEST TO WORST!)

There are so many shoulder exercises, but which ones should you be focusing your efforts on if you want to build bigger shoulders and increase your strength? In this video, I’m going to give you the most popular shoulder exercises ranked from worst to best and help you to determine which you should be doing and which you can probably ditch.

With that said, we have to lay out the criteria for the shoulder exercise selections. The first thing is that it has to be a multi-dimensional exercise if possible. This means, if it is only good at hypertrophy but provides no opportunity for overload and for building progressive strength, then it is not going to rank up there with the exercises for shoulders that do a good job at both.

Furthermore, if the exercise is harmful to the shoulder joint or can cause shoulder injury over time, it is simply not going to rank high no matter what type of short term benefits it can provide the person that does it.

With that being said, we start laying out the list and work our way up the rankings from the worst to the best shoulder exercise.

1. Upright Rows
2. Cuban Press
3. Behind the Neck Press
4. Pour the Pitcher Side Lateral Raises

The upright row is simply a terrible exercise biomechanically for the shoulders and should not be part of a shoulder workout routine long term. It places the glenohumeral joint in a position of impingement and increases the likelihood of developing symptoms if they don’t already exist.

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The cuban press is just a step away from joining the upright row as the worst of the worst but it’s still pretty bad. Even though it includes an element of external rotation, it does so from an elevated and internally rotated position.

The behind the neck press takes the shoulders out of the scapular plane and forces motion from an awkward position of the elbows. Again, overhead presses are a great exercise for building boulder shoulders but it shouldn’t be done from this position when we know there are better ones without the risk.

Stop pouring the pitchers on a side lateral raise and instead turn the thumbs up and you’ll take a bad shoulder exercise and make it a great one, just like that.

5. DB Pressouts – Front Delts
6. DB Cheat Laterals – Middle Delts
7. DB Reverse Flys – Rear Delts

DB or plate press outs are a good exercise for building up the front delts but they lack the range of motion possible with other exercises for the front head of the delts.

The cheat lateral raise is a good middle delt builder as it gives you an opportunity to load the exercise heavier than you might be used to. This gives you a chance to place a good eccentric overload on this head of the delts to drive growth. Muscle substitution however limits your ability to target the middle delt specifically.

The db reverse fly may be the most popular rear delt exercise but it has its limitations. Not enough of an ability to extend the arm behind the body makes this an inferior choice to the ones coming later.

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8. Arnold Presses – Front Delts
9. Abduction Rows – Middle Delts
10. Facepulls – Rear Delts

The Arnold Press is a good multi-head shoulder building exercise. It keeps the elbows out in front of the body which is safer for the joint but as with all presses, is limited in its ability to target the front head more specifically.

The face pull is normally my favorite exercise for everything – that said – it involves too many other muscles like the rotator cuff and mid scapular muscles that tends to limit it’s position on this list of the shoulder exercises ranked.

11. DB Scoop Press – Front Delts
12. Side Lateral Raises – Middle Delts
13. Hip Huggers – Rear delts

These three shoulder exercises are near the top of the heap when it comes to the best exercises for building big shoulders. Watch the video to see why they stand alone.

14. DB Front Raise – Front Delts
15. Cable Lateral Raises – Middle Delts
16. Rear Delt Rows – Rear Delts

There simply are no better shoulder exercises for building big delts than these for the front, middle and rear delts. They combine the ability to load up the best, target the head in question and do so in the safest way possible.

If you want just overall shoulder mass and growth, then be sure to watch the bonus segment on the variations of shoulder presses and overhead presses.

For a complete step by step workout program that was created with the same level of science behind the selection of every exercise in the plans, be sure to head to via the link below and check out the program selector tool.

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For more videos on exercises for bigger shoulders and the shoulder workouts / shoulder exercises be sure to remember to subscribe to our channel here on youtube via the link below and remember to turn on your notifications so you never miss a new video when it’s published.

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45 thoughts on “Shoulder Exercises Ranked (BEST TO WORST!)

  1. ATHLEAN-X™ says:

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    • Rusty Miller says:

      Jeff, where did you get that rope that rope you did the face pulls with??? I tried searching for it and couldn’t find any thing like it. Any info would be appreciated.

    • BcroG11 says:

      Are there no machine exercises? I realized that the very act of holding/gripping the dumbbell is very demanding on my forearms, thus diminishing the amount of effort I can put into the body part I am actually exercising (my forearms reach the point of failure prior than the body part I’m exercising does). Machine exercises don’t suffer from this problem.

  2. Nobody says:

    If Jeff ran a person over by the side, he would do the same for the other side to prevent muscle imbalance

  3. LiLi Creates says:

    When Jeff said ” you do train your rear delts don’t you?”
    That hit me in my soul “Imma go train them right now Sir”

  4. Adam Limbach says:

    Was most surprised at the Arnold Press being so low. Feel like that is just a dumbbell OHP which he loves at the end with some more external rotation thrown in. But great stuff as usual.

    • I Have More Plates I Want More Dates says:

      standard OHP you would use more weight on the part that really matters, Arnold press is just a waste of time

  5. Max Heithmar says:

    Jeff that was big of you to put facepulls in the lower tier category- credit to you man, I know it was hard

  6. Cold Shiver says:

    I loved this ranking style video seeing allot of exercises and seeing how they compare, even some new ones, that was interesting. Excellent video.

  7. Stay Rad MTB says:

    This series has been hugely helpful man! Really appreciate you all are doing to make this serious helping us get the best bang for work

  8. milan-hoi says:

    Handstand-push up seems like a great way of solving the issue of not having a headache, by giving you one.

    • I am wrong but says:

      You can try the isosceles push-up which I find better for that. You raise your hips as high as possible and try to do as vertical a push as you can while keeping your feet on the ground. Can def destroy them shoulders

    • TheShadowblast123 says:

      don’t hit the ground with your head/ only tap??? If you didn’t have the strength to control your body in that position there’s always easier variations

  9. TypicallyUnique says:

    Love this video except I have some thoughts on the Arnold press.

    When you perform them correctly (they are not supposed to be performed as shown in this video) with your elbows out directly in front of your shoulders not in front of your abs) and you lift up and out with your side delts (minimizing tricep activation) it destroys your side delts.

    I think the Arnold press is one of the most misunderstood and improperly executed exercises as people go way to heavy on them.

    The Scott press is an even better example as it’s basically a partial range of motion Arnold press that focuses even more on the side delt and I highly recommend anyone wanting bigger side delts to give them a shot. Just keep them lighter in the 10-15 rep range, because heavier weights can be harder to execute the exercise and defeats the purpose.

  10. Taric TheGemKnight says:

    When he bumped his chest to make a dagger motion, I felt that. However, he might wanna do the other side of the chest too, for balance.

  11. Jane Ross says:

    Joker looking for workout tips to impress Batman: “That bit about one word making a difference. I don’t get it.”

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