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Shoulder Exercises for Women

The Results in 1-2-3: Shoulders Workout

Count down to a better shoulder-sculpting routine with this three-step approach.

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There are times in life when the order in which we do things doesn’t really matter all that much. I mean, who really cares if you go to a restaurant and get the cheesecake before the cheesesteak? Live it up a little!

On the other hand, there are times when order is everything. Don’t — and I mean don’t — ditch your friends (or worse, your date) and slink off to the restroom just before the check arrives at the table. That’s a jerk move!

Workouts tend to be one of those times when the order you do things isn’t a black-and-white situation . . . but can make a positive difference in certain instances.

Take the following shoulder session. We’ve crafted it so that you’ll do your heavier compound barbell exercises first, followed by two dumbbell movements, and finish up with two cable machine favorites.

The “why” is simple: By using this particular pattern, you’ll tackle the harder part of your workout upfront when you have the most energy to give, then switch to dumbbells — still challenging but less so than the barbells — and finally end up on machines, where you’ll use lighter weight as you eke out the last remaining reps you have to give before you’re spent.

It’s an arrangement that helps you pace yourself, meaning you can give maximum effort at each stop along the way. You’ll provide your delts their fill of stimulation and quench your hunger for results — a win-win no matter what fitness goals you have on the menu.

The Results in 1-2-3 Shoulder Workout

Use a light weight for the first set of the seated barbell press as a warm-up, then add enough weight to the bar to reach muscle fatigue within eight to 10 reps for subsequent sets.

Rest one to two minutes between your sets of presses and upright rows, 60 to 90 seconds between sets for each of the dumbbell exercises, and 30 to 60 seconds between sets of the machine moves.

Mode Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Seated Barbell Press 4 8-10
Barbell Upright Row 4 8-10
Dumbbell Leaning Lateral Raise 4 10-12 (per arm)
Dumbbell Figure-8 4 10-12
Machine Bent-Over Cable Lateral Raise 4 10-12
Machine Rope Face Pull 4 10-12


Seated Barbell Press

Sit upright in a barbell press station, keeping your lower back slightly arched and your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the bar outside of shoulder width with a palms-forward grip, elbows pointing down and outward. Carefully unrack the bar and hold it at shoulder level. In a smooth, strong motion, press the bar straight up to just short of elbow lockout. Squeeze and then lower the bar under control to a point right at your upper chest and clavicle area.

Tip: Not all gyms are equipped with a traditional barbell press station, but you can create one yourself with an adjustable bench or a lower-back bench set inside a power rack. This is actually preferable if you don’t have a spotter on hand because you can set the safeties in the rack to give you an “out” option if you fail during your set. (A Smith machine is a good alternative, as well, if you don’t have a spotter.)

Upright Row

With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand holding a barbell in front of your thighs with a wide, pronated (overhand) grip. Maintain a slight bend in your knees, and keep your head straight and abs tight as you flex your shoulders and pull the barbell straight up toward your chin, bringing your elbows high and out to the sides. Hold the top for a one-count, then slowly lower the bar along the same path.

Tip: The idea with this row is to keep the bar close to your body during the entire movement, as if you’re dragging it up your body — allowing the bar to drift out in front of you changes the angle of the pull and reduces the involvement of the front and side delts. Think about keeping your core tight, the natural arch in your lower spine intact, and lifting your elbows high and pointing upward in the top position.

Leaning Lateral Raise

Hold a dumbbell in one hand and place your free hand on a fixed object, such as a column, machine or a power rack. Put your feet together and lean away from that object so that you are supporting yourself with that arm and your body is at about a 45-degree angle to the floor. With your abs tight, chest up, shoulders back and a pronated (palm-down) grip on the dumbbell, raise the weight up and out to your side in a wide arc, keeping your elbow and hand moving together in the same plane. Stop when your arm is parallel to the floor, momentarily hold that peak-contracted position while flexing your middle delt, and then slowly lower the dumbbell down along the same path until a point just before your arm goes perpendicular to the floor.

Tip: By making sure you stop the descent of your working arm just before it goes directly perpendicular to the floor, you’ll keep tension on the deltoid versus letting it go slack and relax between reps. Letting the delt relax reduces the overall intensity of the set, meaning less muscle-shaping benefits.


Start in an athletic “ready” stance with your feet set hip-width apart, slight bend in your knees, and your core and glutes tight, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Extend your arms directly out in front of you and slowly draw a figure-8 pattern with the dumbbell — as large as you can without rocking your torso — with one figure-8 equaling one rep.

Tip: As described here, you are doing the exercise with one dumbbell, but you can ratchet up the intensity by instead using two. For this variation, hold a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms out with your palms facing one another, press the weights together in front of your body, and then do the figure-8 pattern simultaneously with both while not letting the edges of the dumbbells separate from one another.

Bent-Over Cable Lateral Raise

With a D-handle in one hand, stand sideways to a lower-cable pulley. Place your nonworking hand on your hip for balance. With your chest up, back flat and knees slightly bent, bend at your hips until your torso is just about parallel with the floor. Let the working arm hang directly beneath you with your elbow just slightly bent, and powerfully raise the cable up and out to your side until your upper arm is parallel with the floor. Squeeze and then slowly return to the start position without letting the weight stack touch down, and repeat.

Tip: Keep in mind, the target of this movement — the rear head of your three-headed deltoid (shoulder) muscle — is relatively small. So be sure to err on the lighter side with your weight selection, which helps you keep the focus on the posterior delt head without getting your upper-back muscles involved.

Rope Face Pull

Put a rope attachment on an upper-cable pulley, stand in front of the pulley, and grasp each end of the rope with an overhand grip so your palms are facing each other, lifting your elbows up to shoulder level and to the sides. To start, lean back so your body forms a 45-degree angle to the floor and, keeping your elbows elevated, pull the rope back toward your face until your hands are alongside your ears. Squeeze and then reverse to the start, not letting the weight stack touch down between reps.

Tip: The key is to make sure you select a heavy enough weight that can counterbalance you when you lean back but manageable enough that you can perform 10 to 12 reps — it may take a bit of careful trial and error to figure out the amount you need to balance yourself. You also can try this movement using a pulldown station, and place one knee up on the seat to help provide balance and an anchor point.