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A nice cap at the shoulder will set off a pair of toned arms to perfection. The key muscle you need to develop is the deltoid, which has 3 heads Ė the anterior (front), the lateral (side) and the posterior (rear). In bodybuilding terminology, these 3 heads are collectively known as the ďdeltsĒ. All three heads should be equally developed so that your shoulder cap is symmetrical.

The anterior head lifts your arm up in front of your body, the lateral head lifts your arm out to the side and the posterior head moves your arm towards the back of you. The anterior and lateral heads work together to lift your arms straight up above your head.

The anterior head also works closely with the pectoral (chest) muscles, so that when you are doing pushups or dumbbell chest presses the pecs are the primary muscle being worked and the anterior deltoid is being worked as a secondary supporting muscle. Similarly, some back exercises will also secondarily work the posterior deltoid.

Female anatomy differs from its male counterpart in a number of ways, and one of them is that as a general rule, women have weaker shoulder muscles than men. In fact, one study showed women produce about half the torque strength of men. You will therefore most likely find shoulder exercises quite challenging, particularly the overhead presses, but donít become discouraged or frustrated because of it. Understand that it will take time, go at your own pace, and train consistently.

Iíd like to add an important word of caution when it comes to shoulder training. Underneath the deltoid muscles is a much smaller group of muscles collectively known as the rotator cuff. These muscles stabilize the shoulder joint as the ball of the joint rotates in its socket. Rotator cuff muscles are quite small and the tendons associated with them are susceptible to tearing, which in addition to being quite painful, severely restricts movement of the arm. Rotator cuff injuries are most commonly associated with repeated overhead movements or forceful pulling motions.

Therefore, exercise good form and proper control of all movements at all times when training your deltoid muscles. This is particularly important as your shoulders start to tire near the end of each set and/or near the end of your overall workout. As the muscles tire you may be tempted to use a bit of body torque to swing the weights up and down; please do not give in to temptation. I speak from personal experience when I tell you that a shoulder injury can take up to two years to fully heal.

If youíre new to working out, start at the basic level and progress from there at a realistic pace to avoid injury. It takes time to build a strong and healthy body, so donít start with unreasonable expectations that within a few weeks youíll be smoking hot. Understanding and accepting this will prevent you from becoming discouraged and allow you to actually enjoy your transformation process.


Shoulder Exercises You Can Do At Home
Overhead Shoulder Press
Arnold Press
Front Raise
Lateral Raise
Bent Over Raise
Reverse Flye


IMPORTANT NOTE:

Always exercise in a safe and responsible manner. Please be aware that as with most physical activities, there is always a risk of injury associated with weight training and other exercise programs. While I have made every effort to describe how to perform the exercises outlined on this site in a safe manner, note that every body is different and so not all exercises can or should be peformed by all people. Therefore, if you feel pain or discomfort when attempting any of the exercises described on this site, please stop immediately.

It is always important to consult your physician before starting any exercise program, especially if you have been sedentary for an extended period of time. This is particularly true if any of the following apply to your current medical condition:
  • chest pain or pain in the neck and/or arm
  • shortness of breath
  • a diagnosed heart condition
  • joint and/or bone problems
  • currently taking cardiac and/or blood pressure medications
  • have not previously been physically active
  • dizziness
In addition, if you have any chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes or arthritis) or risk factors (such as smoking or being more than 20 pounds overweight), and have not discussed exercising with your doctor, you should do so before beginning. Exercise is often an important part of the treatment for such conditions, but you may have some limitations or special needs that your doctor can tell you about.

If none of these apply to you, start gradually and sensibly. However, if you feel any of the physical symptoms listed above when you start your exercise program, contact your physician right away.


Overhead Shoulder Press

Overhead shoulder presses work both the anterior (front) and lateral (side) heads of the deltoid muscle.

The overhead shoulder press can be performed either seated or standing. The advantage of doing it from a standing position is that your core, intercostal and upper back muscles all work much harder to stabilize the body during the movement.

However, there is a greater risk of twisting your spine from the standing position, especially if you are struggling to control the weights. Therefore, I recommend first trying this exercise from a seated position with your lower back supported against the back of a chair until you are comfortable with the movement and have good control of the weights.

You can do overhead shoulder presses using either dumbbells or tubing. Here is the basic movement for the overhead shoulder press with dumbbells, from a seated position:

  1. Start with your dumbbells close to your shoulders. Your palms should be facing forwards.

    Start Position

  2. Make sure you have a firm grip on the dumbbells so they donít slip from your grasp and fall on you during the exercise. Your thumb should be across your fingers, which locks your grip in place.

    Right Way
    Thumb locking fingers into place
    Wrong Way
    Weight of the dumbbell could force
    your fingers open and cause it to slip from your grasp

  3. Your wrists should remain straight and rigid at all times. If you relax them at any time during the exercise and the weight of the dumbbells causes your wrists to bend you could strain the tendons or perhaps even break your wrist!
  4. Tighten your core and shoulder muscles and press the dumbbells up in a smooth, controlled motion and stop when your arms are fully extended above your head. DO NOT LOCK YOUR ELBOWS STRAIGHT OUT once you have fully extended your arms as serious joint injury could occur. Your arms should remain slightly bent at the top of the lift (but only very slightly bent) to avoid stressing the elbow joint.

    Finish Position

  5. As you complete the movement, focus on really squeezing your shoulder muscles to maximize the muscle contraction and explode upwards with authority.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Donít let gravity do the work, for two reasons. The first is safety Ė letting the dumbbells simply drop can damage your shoulder joints, which will take the brunt of the stress when the dumbbells abruptly come to a halt. Second, you want to keep as much stress as possible on your shoulder muscles during the downward motion so they donít get a chance to recover between reps.
  7. Breathe out as you push the dumbbells above your head and breathe in as you bring them back to the starting position.
  8. Complete only as many repetitions as you can perform in a safe and controlled manner. Push yourself, but NEVER go to failure on this exercise as you could drop a dumbbell on your head and seriously hurt yourself.

Helpful Tips:

  • Dumbbell starting position will vary for each individual, depending on their natural flexibility. At bare minimum, your upper arms should be parallel to the floor, but the lower you can drop your elbows the better the pre-stretch on the shoulder muscles. (Refer to Basic Workout Guideline #6.) However, you should NEVER drop the dumbbell below your shoulder as doing so can overstress the shoulder joint and cause serious injury.

    Minimum Start Position - Upper arms parallel to the floor
    More efficient Start Position - Dumbbells closer to shoulders

  • Your dumbbells should come together above your head, but not quite touch. Touching them together takes some of the pressure off the muscles and allows them an opportunity to recover slightly. Even though it's only for a moment, you do not want this to happen as it detracts from the overall effectiveness of the exercise.
  • Until you are sure you have good control of the dumbbells, use a chair to support your lower back to protect it from injury. Once you are comfortable with the exercise, graduate to sitting on a weight bench or other surface without lower back support before trying the exercise on a stability ball - see below.

Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press on Stability Ball

Start Position
Finish Position

Standing Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press

Start Position
Finish Position

Single Arm Alternating Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press
To progress the degree of difficulty of the overhead shoulder press exercise and really challenge your stabilizing muscles, try single arm alternating presses. The start position for the exercise is the same as for regular presses, with both arms at your shoulders. However, only one arm presses at a time while the other remains in place. The pressing arm comes back to the start position before the other side begins the press.

Alternating Dumbbell Shoulder Overhead Press on Stablity Ball
Start Position
Finish Position

A further progression would be to alternate your arms simultaneously so that as one arm comes down the other is going up.

Simultaneous Alternating Dumbbell Shoulder Overhead Press on Stablity Ball
Finish Position
Transition

Here's yet another option. Instead of alternating your overhead presses, do one arm at a time. The free arm can then be held out to the side so that the shoulder muscle is working to hold it balanced and steady throughout the exercise.

Single Arm Dumbbell Overhead Shoulder Press
Start Position
Finish Position

Standing Overhead Shoulder Press with Tubing
You can also do overhead shoulder presses with tubing. The amount of resistence on the tubing can be controlled by the width of your stance on the tubing. Tubing is a good option if you're worried about dropping a dumbbell on your head or shoulder.

Standing Overhead Shoulder Press with Tubing
Start Position
Finish Position

TOP

Arnold Press

The Arnold press is a variation of the overhead shoulder press that places more emphasis on working the anterior deltoid, although the lateral deltoid is still called into play.

Like the basic overhead shoulder press, the Arnold press can be done from either a seated or standing position. Here is the basic movement from a standing position:

  1. Start with your dumbbells in front of your body at about shoulder level. The palms of your hands should be facing you.

    Start Position

  2. Make sure you have a firm grip on the dumbbells so they donít slip from your grasp and fall on you during the exercise. Your thumb should be across your fingers, which locks your grip in place.

    Right Way
    Thumb locking fingers into place
    Wrong Way
    Weight of the dumbbell could force
    your fingers open and cause it to slip from your grasp

  3. Your wrists should remain straight and rigid at all times. If you relax them at any time during the exercise and the weight of the dumbbells causes your wrists to bend you could strain the tendons or perhaps even break your wrist!
  4. Bring your elbows out to your sides and then twist your wrists so that your palms are now facing forwards. Without pausing, press the dumbbells upwards in a smooth, controlled motion and stop when your arms are fully extended above your head. DO NOT LOCK YOUR ELBOWS STRAIGHT OUT once you have fully extended your arms as serious joint injury could occur. Your arms should remain slightly bent at the top of the lift (but only very slightly bent) to avoid stressing the elbow joint.

    Intermediate Position
    Finish Position

  5. As you complete the movement, focus on really squeezing your shoulder muscles to maximize the muscle contraction and explode upwards with authority.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down to your sides, twist your wrists so that palms again face you and bring the dumbbells back to the starting position in front of your body. Do so in a controlled manner - donít let gravity do the work, for two reasons. The first is safety Ė letting the dumbbells simply drop can damage your shoulder joints, which will take the brunt of the stress when the dumbbells abruptly come to a halt. Second, you want to keep as much stress as possible on your shoulder muscles during the downward motion so they donít get a chance to recover between reps.
  7. Breathe out as you push the dumbbells above your head and breathe in as you bring them back to the starting position.
  8. Complete only as many repetitions as you can perform in a safe and controlled manner. Push yourself, but NEVER go to failure on this exercise as you could drop a dumbbell on your head and seriously hurt yourself.

Helpful Tips:

  • Dumbbell starting position for this exercise is where the dumbbells are in line with your shoulders. Once you move your elbows to your sides and twist your wrists in preparation for the upwards press, your elbows may be too low to begin the pressing movement without stressing your shoulder joint. If this is the case, try lifting the dumbbells slightly as you move them to the sides of your body so that you begin the press from a slightly higher position.
  • Your dumbbells should come together above your head, but not quite touch. Touching them together takes some of the pressure off the muscles and allows them an opportunity to recover slightly. Even though it's only for a moment, you do not want this to happen as it detracts from the overall effectiveness of the exercise.

Arnold Press (Standing)

Start Position
Intermediate Position
Finish Position

TOP

Front Raise

For shoulder training, it's important for both postural and cosmetic reasons to ensure you develop all three heads of the shoulder muscle (anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, posterior deltoid) equally. However, since the front part of the shoulder is worked during most chest exercises, you do not need to do as much isolation training for the anterior deltoid compared to the lateral and posterior deltoid heads.

The front raise is the best exercise for isolating the anterior head of the deltoid muscle. It can be done from either a standing or seated position. You will find the seated position more challenging, because you are less able to use body torque to lift the weight. (Not that you deliberately want to use body torque when you are standing - in fact, the opposite is true. But there is a tendancy for the rest of the body to want to help the shoulder get the weight into the air, so be cognizant of this and try not to let it happen.)

Front raises can be done using either dumbbells or tubing. Here is the basic movement using dumbbells from a standing postion:

  1. Extend your arms towards the ground, holding the dumbbells with palms facing behind you and hands slightly behind your body. Your elbows should be slighty bent, particularly when using heavier weight, to protect the joints.

    Start Position

  2. Make sure you have a firm grip on the dumbbells so they donít slip from your grasp and fall on you during the exercise. Your thumb should be across your fingers, which locks your grip in place.

    Right Way
    Thumb locking fingers into place
    Wrong Way
    Weight of the dumbbell could force
    your fingers open and cause it to slip from your grasp

  3. Your wrists should remain straight and rigid at all times. If you relax them at any time during the exercise and the weight of the dumbbells causes your wrists to bend you could strain the tendons or perhaps even break your wrist!
  4. Tighten your shoulder and arm muscles and lift the dumbbells in a smooth, controlled motion.
  5. Finish Position

  6. Barely pausing, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Donít let gravity do the work, for two reasons. The first is safety Ė letting the dumbbells simply drop can damage your elbow and/or shoulder joints, which will take the brunt of the stress when the dumbbells abruptly come to a halt. Second, you want to keep as much stress as possible on your shoulder muscles during the downward motion so they donít get a chance to recover between reps.
  7. Breathe out as you lift the dumbbells and breathe in as you lower them back to the starting position.
  8. Complete only as many repetitions as you can perform in a safe and controlled manner. Push yourself, but try not to go to complete failure. If your shoulder muscles were to suddenly give out and the weight of the dumbbells forced your hands to drop quickly, you could injure either your shoulder or elbow joint.

Helpful Tips

  • Starting position on the front raise is key to maximizing the effectiveness of this exercise. The front raise start position is for your arms to be fully extended at your sides (your elbows should remain slightly bent to prevent stressing the elbow joint), with your hands slightly behind your body. The palms of your hands are facing behind you. This properly pre-stretches the shoulder muscles with resistance. (Refer to Basic Workout Guideline #6.)

    Most Efficient Start Position:
    Hands slightly behind your body (palms facing behind you)
    to fully prestretch the muscle

    You will see many people resting either their hands or the edge of the dumbbells on their thighs between reps. This is a big no-no. Not only does it take the strain off the shoulder muscles at the bottom of each rep and thus allow them to partially recover between reps, it severely limits range of motion of the exercise. The greater the range of motion of an exercise, the greater the muscle recruitment and the better the overall muscle development.

    Inefficient Start Position:
    Dumbbells resting on your thighs allows your muscles to rest
    between reps and limits your range of motion.
  • How high you lift the dumbbells in the air depends on your natural flexiblity. While you want to work the muscle through as full a range as possible, you do not want to risk impinging the shoulder by lifting the dumbbells too high. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Many trainers will advise you to only lift as high as your shoulder level, just to be on the safe side. But our shoulders are naturally meant to lift higher than that, and therefore I believe lifting to eye level or higher is quite safe, provided you have normal shoulder flexibility (i.e. you can easily raise your arms above your head without dumbbells in your hand) and you are not swinging the dumbbells up in the air in order to get them that high. Using momentum to swing as opposed to lift the dumbbells will place extreme stress on your shoulder joints once momentum slows and gravity suddenly takes over. So only lift the dumbbells as high as you can by doing so in a smooth and controlled motion. No swinging allowed!

    Ultra-Safe Finish Position
    Dumbbells lifted to shoulder height
    Reasonably Safe Finish Position
    for Naturally Flexible People
    Dumbbells lifted to head height

  • Do not pause appreciably at the top of the movement before lowering your arms back to the start position. Your entire rep should be a single smooth and controlled movement. The only reason you do pause somewhat is to prevent yourself from incorporating momentum to swing the weights up and down. The same logic applies upon return to the start position; begin your next rep as quickly as you can without allowing momentum to do the work for you.

Standing Front Raise with Dumbbells

Start Position
Finish Position

Seated Front Raise with Dumbbells

Start Position
Finish Position

Alternating Front Raise with Dumbbells
Front raises can also be done one arm at a time. The start position for the exercise is the same as for the two arm exercise, with both arms slightly behind you. However, only one arm lifts at a time while the other remains in place. The lifting arm comes back to the start position before the other side begins the lift.

Alternating Dumbbell Front Raise (standing)
Start Position
Finish Position

A further progression would be to alternate your arms simultaneously so that as one arm comes down the other is going up.

Simultaneous Alternating Dumbbell Front Raise
Finish Position
Transition

Standing Front Raise with Tubing
You can also do front raises with tubing, either one or two arms at a time. Securely fasten the tubing at or near ground level behind you. Stand facing away from the tubing and set the correct amount of resistance by positioning yourself either closer or further away from the secured end. Grasping the tubing handle(s) securely, lift one or both arms just as you would when using dumbbells.

The advantage of using tubing to do front raises is that as you tire you can step back to reduce some of the tension on the tubing and keep on going. Note that for many tubing exercises, you can perform the equivalent of a strip set by continuously stepping backwards to further reduce tension as you tire. However, strips sets are not recommended for front raises because the risk of damaging the shoulder joint is too great.

Single Arm Front Raise with Tubing
Start Position
Finish Position

Two Arm Front Raise with Tubing
Start Position
Finish Position


TOP

Lateral Raise

The lateral raise is the best exercise for isolating the lateral head of the deltoid muscle. It can be done from either a standing or seated position. You will find the seated position more challenging, because you are less able to use body torque to lift the weight. (Not that you deliberately want to use body torque when you are standing - in fact, the opposite is true. But there is a tendancy for the rest of the body to want to help the shoulder get the weight into the air, so be cognizant of this and try not to let it happen.)

Note that with the lateral raise, the anterior deltoid starts to be recruited when your hands begin to point forwards a little bit as opposed to straight out to the sides. The more forward your hands point, the more your anterior deltoid is called into play. There is nothing wrong with this if you wish to work both heads together, but if your desire is to work the lateral head in isolation, make sure you keep your arms to the sides. The anterior head is usually stronger than the lateral head, so your body will naturally pull your arms forward as your shoulders tire. You need to fight this tendancy in order to keep the lateral head properly isolated.

Lateral raises can be done using either dumbbells or tubing. Here is the basic movement using dumbbells from a standing postion:

  1. Extend your arms towards the ground, holding the dumbbells with palms facing each other and hands slightly crossed in front of your body. Your elbows should be slighty bent, particularly when using heavier weight, to protect the joints.

    Start Position

  2. Make sure you have a firm grip on the dumbbells so they donít slip from your grasp and fall on you during the exercise. Your thumb should be across your fingers, which locks your grip in place.

    Right Way
    Thumb locking fingers into place
    Wrong Way
    Weight of the dumbbell could force
    your fingers open and cause it to slip from your grasp

  3. Your wrists should remain straight and rigid at all times. If you relax them at any time during the exercise and the weight of the dumbbells causes your wrists to bend you could strain the tendons or perhaps even break your wrist!
  4. Tighten your shoulder and arm muscles and raise the dumbbells up and out to the side in a single smooth, controlled motion.

    Finish Position

  5. Barely pausing, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Donít let gravity do the work, for two reasons. The first is safety Ė letting the dumbbells simply drop can damage your elbow and/or shoulder joints, which will take the brunt of the stress when the dumbbells abruptly come to a halt. Second, you want to keep as much stress as possible on your shoulder muscles during the downward motion so they donít get a chance to recover between reps.
  6. Breathe out as you lift the dumbbells and breathe in as you lower them back to the starting position.
  7. Complete only as many repetitions as you can perform in a safe and controlled manner. Push yourself, but try not to go to complete failure. If your shoulder muscles were to suddenly give out and the weight of the dumbbells forced your hands to drop quickly, you could injure either your shoulder or elbow joint.

Helpful Tips

  • Starting position on the lateral raise is key to maximizing the effectiveness of this exercise. The lateral raise start position is for your arms to cross each other in front of your body (your elbows should remain slightly bent to prevent stressing the elbow joint). This properly pre-stretches the shoulder muscles with resistance. (Refer to Basic Workout Guideline #6.) Note that you will need to incline your upper body forward slightly in order to bring the dumbbells across the front of your body.

    Most Efficient Start Position:
    Hands crossing in front of your body
    to fully prestretch the shoulder muscles

    You will see many people resting either their hands or the edge of the dumbbells on their outer thighs between reps. This is a big no-no. Not only does it take the strain off the shoulder muscles at the bottom of each rep and thus allow them to partially recover between reps, it severely limits range of motion of the exercise. The greater the range of motion of an exercise, the greater the muscle recruitment and the better the overall muscle development.

    Inefficient Start Position:
    Dumbbells resting on your thighs allows your muscles to rest
    between reps and limits your range of motion.
  • Try to keep your arm straight throughout the entire exercise (although your elbows should remain slightly bent to prevent excess stress on the elbow joints). Your elbow should not move during this exercise. If you start with your elbow bent and then straighten it during the exercise you are recruting your triceps (back of the arm) muscle to assist in the movement. I have seen women with weak shoulder muscles do this unknowingly, and unfortunately their shoulder muscles will never get stronger as long as their triceps muscles are doing the work.
  • How high you lift the dumbbells in the air depends on your natural flexiblity. While you want to work the muscle through as full a range as possible, you do not want to risk impinging the shoulder by lifting the dumbbells too high. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Many trainers will advise you to only lift as high as your shoulder level, just to be on the safe side. But our shoulders are naturally meant to lift higher than that, and therefore, I believe lifting to about eye level is quite safe, provided you have normal shoulder flexibility (i.e. you can easily raise your arms out to the side and lift them above your head without dumbbells in your hand) and you are not swinging the dumbbells up in the air in order to get them that high. Using momentum to swing as opposed to lift the dumbbells will place extreme stress on your shoulder joints once momentum slows and gravity suddenly takes over. So only lift the dumbbells as high as you can by doing so in a smooth and controlled motion. No swinging allowed!

    Ultra-Safe Finish Position
    Dumbbells lifted to shoulder height
    Reasonably Safe Finish Position
    for Naturally Flexible People
    Dumbbells lifted to head height

  • Do not pause appreciably at the top of the movement before lowering your arms back to the start position. Your entire rep should be a single smooth and controlled movement. The only reason you do pause somewhat is to prevent yourself from incorporating momentum to swing the weights up and down. The same logic applies upon return to the start position; begin your next rep as quickly as you can without allowing momentum to do the work for you.

Standing Lateral Raise with Dumbbells

Start Position
Finish Position

Seated Lateral Raise with Dumbbells
When doing seated lateral raises, lean forward slightly to get the shoulder muscle pre-stretch. As you raise the dumbbells, make sure you keep leaning forward - sitting up straight will allow you to use body torque to lift the weight, and it will also put strain on your lower back.

Start Position
Finish Position

Alternating Lateral Raise with Dumbbells
Alternating raises can be done in both standing or seated positions.

Alternating Lateral Raise with Dumbbells (Standing)
Start Position
Finish Position

Alternating Lateral Raise with Dumbbells (Seated)
Start Position
Finish Position

One Arm Lateral Raise with Dumbbell
Instead of alternating your lateral raises, do one arm at a time. The free arm can then be held out to the side so that the shoulder muscle is working to hold it balanced and steady throughout the exercise.

One Arm Lateral Raise with Dumbbell (Standing)
Start Position
Finish Position

One Arm Lateral Raise with Dumbbell (Seated)
Start Position
Finish Position

One Arm Lateral Raise with Tubing
You can also do lateral raises with tubing from a standing position, one arm at a time. Securely fasten the tubing at or near ground level behind you. Grasp the handle with the hand furthest from the tubing, and cross that arm in front of your body to fully pre-stretch the shoulder muscle. Set the correct amount of resistance by positioning yourself either closer or further away from the secured end. Lift your arm to the side just as you would when using dumbbells.

The advantage of using tubing to do lateral raises is that as you tire you can move closer to the secured end of the tubing to reduce some of the tension on the tubing and keep on going. Note that for many tubing exercises, you can perform the equivalent of a strip set by continuously stepping closer to the secured end of the tubing to further reduce tension as you tire. However, strips sets are not recommended for lateral raises because the risk of damaging the shoulder joint is too great.

One Arm Lateral Raise with Tubing (Standing)
Start Position
Finish Position


TOP

Bent Over Raise

The bent over raise works the posterior head of the deltoid muscle. It can be done from either a standing or seated position. You will find the seated position more challenging, because you are less able to use body torque to lift the weight. (Not that you deliberately want to use body torque when you are standing - in fact, the opposite is true. But there is a tendancy for the rest of the body to want to help the shoulder get the weight into the air, so be cognizant of this and try not to let it happen.)

This exercise can be done from either a standing or seated position, using dumbbells or tubing. Here is the basic movement using dumbbells in a standing position:

  1. With knees bent, lean forward so that your back is parallel to the ground. Extend your arms towards the ground, holding the dumbbells with palms facing each other, dumbbells close together but not touching.

    Start Position

  2. Make sure you have a firm grip on the dumbbells so they donít slip from your grasp and fall on you during the exercise. Your thumb should be across your fingers, which locks your grip in place.

    Right Way
    Thumb locking fingers into place
    Wrong Way
    Weight of the dumbbell could force
    your fingers open and cause it to slip from your grasp

  3. Your wrists should remain straight and rigid at all times. If you relax them at any time during the exercise and the weight of the dumbbells causes your wrists to bend you could strain the tendons or perhaps even break your wrist!
  4. Tighten your shoulder and arm muscles and raise the dumbbells up and out to the side in a single smooth, controlled motion. The back of your hands should be facing the ceiling.

    Finish Position

  5. Barely pausing, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Donít let gravity do the work, for two reasons. The first is safety Ė letting the dumbbells simply drop can damage your elbow and/or shoulder joints, which will take the brunt of the stress when the dumbbells abruptly come to a halt. Second, you want to keep as much stress as possible on your shoulder muscles during the downward motion so they donít get a chance to recover between reps.
  6. Breathe out as you lift the dumbbells and breathe in as you lower them back to the starting position.
  7. Complete only as many repetitions as you can perform in a safe and controlled manner. Push yourself, but try not to go to complete failure. If your shoulder muscles were to suddenly give out and the weight of the dumbbells forced your hands to drop quickly, you could injure either your shoulder or elbow joint.

Helpful Tips

  • A proper stance is very important for this exercise, particuarly from the standing position, to protect your lower back. Your knees should be slightly bent and the width of your stance should be at a distance where you feel solid and strong. Your back should be parallel to the floor, and flat as opposed to rounded. (Your elbows can be slighty bent, particularly when using heavier weight, to protect the joints.)
  • Center the dumbbells beneath your body, close together but not touching. This will allow greater range of motion and thus a better muscle workout than if the dumbbells hang straight down beneath your shoulders. (In theory, crossing your arms in front of you (similar to the recommended start position for the standing lateral raise) will better pre-stretch your deltoid muscles and thus provide a more superior workout, but practically this is difficult to do from a bent over position. If you can do so without banging the weights into your arms as you return to the start position after each rep that's great, but if you can't it's not the end of the world.)

    More Efficient Start Position:
    Hands meet in front of your body
    to increase the range of motion of the exercise

    You will see many people begin this exercise with their hands hanging straight down towards the ground. While this is not wrong, per se, it limits the range of motion for the exercise. The greater the range of motion of an exercise, the greater the muscle recruitment and the better the overall muscle development.

    Less Efficient Start Position:
    Hands handing straight down
    limits your range of motion.
  • For the bent over raise you should not lift your arms very much higher than parallel to the floor. If you try to lift your arms too high, you risk impinging the shoulders. How high you lift will depend on your natural flexibility, and it's always best to err on the side of caution.

    Finish Position:
    To avoid shoulder impingement, arms should not be
    lifted much higher than parallel to the floor

  • While your arms should remain relatively straight throughout the entire exercise (elbows should always remain slightly bent to prevent excess stress on the elbow joints), it is quite okay if your arms are more bent when lifting heavier weights. But regardless of the degree of bend in your arms, your elbow should not move during this exercise. If you start with your elbow bent and then straighten it during the exercise you are recruting your triceps (back of the arm) muscle to assist in the movement. I have seen women with weak shoulder muscles do this unknowingly, and unfortunately their shoulder muscles will never get stronger as long as their triceps muscles are doing the work.
  • Do not pause appreciably at the top of the movement before lowering your arms back to the start position. Your entire rep should be a single smooth and controlled movement. The only reason you do pause somewhat is to prevent yourself from incorporating momentum to swing the weights up and down. The same logic applies upon return to the start position; begin your next rep as quickly as you can without allowing momentum to do the work for you.

Standing Bent Over Raise with Dumbbells

One Arm Bent Over Raise with Dumbbell (Standing)
Start Position
Finish Position

Seated Bent Over Raise with Dumbbells
When doing bent over raises from a seated position, lean forward so that your upper body is resting on your thighs. The dumbbells should meet underneath your legs. You can do this exercise on a solid surface such as a weight bench (or chair), or alternatively on a stability ball. You will need to sit forward on the bench or stability ball so that you can place your feet far enough in front of you to allow the dumbbells to fit between your feet and the bench or ball.

Two Arm Bent Over Raise with Dumbbell (Stability Ball)
Start Position
Finish Position

One Arm Bent Over Raise with Dumbbell
In theory, bent over raises can be done one arm at a time from either a standing or seated position. However, I do not recommed the one armed exercises with dumbbells unless you are using very light weight because of the increased risk to your lower back. Lifting one dumbell only from a bent over position will put uneven pressure on your lower back that could lead to injury, particularly if you swing as opposed to lift the weight, which has a tendancy to happen when you are working with too heavy a weight or when you start to tire near the end of your set.

One arm bent over raises are more safely done with tubing, as shown below. However, if you do wish to try the one armed exercise with dumbbells, I recommend doing it from a seated position to minimize risk to your lower back. Holding your free arm out to the side will help keep the stress on your back more evenly balanced, plus it has the added advantage of working the shoulder muscle of your free arm by making it hold the arm balanced and steady throughout the exercise.

One Arm Bent Over Raise with Tubing
The safest way to do one arm bent over raises is with tubing, one arm at a time. Securely fasten the tubing at or near ground level to one side of you. Grasp the handle with the hand furthest from the tubing, bend forward and cross your arm in front of your body to fully pre-stretch the shoulder muscle. Set the correct amount of resistance on the tubing by positioning yourself either closer or further away from the secured end. Lift your arm to the side just as you would when using dumbbells, keeping your back flat.

The advantage of using tubing to do bent over raises is that as you tire you can move closer to the secured end of the tubing to reduce some of the tension on the tubing and keep on going. Note that for many tubing exercises, you can perform the equivalent of a strip set by continuously stepping closer to the secured end of the tubing to further reduce tension as you tire. However, strips sets are not recommended for bent over raises because the risk of damaging the shoulder joint is too great.

One Arm Bent Over Raise with Tubing
Start Position
Finish Position


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Reverse Flye

The reverse flye exercise, which works the posterior deltoid head, is normally done using a machine. However, you can mimic the action of a cable cross machine by attaching two lengths of tubing approximately arms width apart at around head height.

The basic movement is executed from a standing position, as follows:

  1. Facing the secured end of the tubing, grasp each handle in opposite hand. Cross your arms across your body at about shoulder height.

    Start Position

  2. Your wrists should remain straight and rigid at all times. If you relax them at any time during the exercise the tension on the tubing could cause your wrists to bend which could strain the tendons or perhaps even break your wrist!
  3. Tighten your shoulder and arm muscles and pull your arms towards your back in a single smooth, controlled motion.

    Finish Position

  4. Barely pausing, bring your arms back to the starting position in a controlled manner. Donít let the tension on the tubing do the work. You want to keep as much stress as possible on your shoulder muscles during the return motion so they donít get a chance to recover between reps.
  5. Breathe out as you pull your arms back and breathe in as you return them to the starting position.
  6. Complete only as many repetitions as you can perform in a safe and controlled manner. Push yourself, but try not to go to complete failure. You do not want to overstress your shoulder joint, as this could lead to injury.

Helpful Tips

  • Starting position on the reverse flye is key to maximizing the effectiveness of this exercise. The reverse flye start position is for your arms to cross each other in front of your body (your elbows should remain slightly bent to prevent stressing the elbow joint) so that your shoulders roll forward slightly. This properly pre-stretches the shoulder muscles with resistance. (Refer to Basic Workout Guideline #6.)

    Most Efficient Start Position:
    Shoulders roll forward slighly
    to fully prestretch the shoulder muscles
  • The height and length of the tubing should be such that your hands are about shoulder height when your arms are crossed in front of you in the start position and when you pull your arms back your hands should remain at shoulder level. Pulling back and down as opposed to back and level can stress the shoulder joint.
  • Try to keep your arm straight throughout the entire exercise (although your elbows should remain slightly bent to prevent excess stress on the elbow joints). Your elbow should not move during this exercise. If you start with your elbow bent and then straighten it during the exercise you are recruting your triceps (back of the arm) muscle to assist in the movement. I have seen women with weak shoulder muscles do this unknowingly, and unfortunately their shoulder muscles will never get stronger as long as their triceps muscles are doing the work.
  • Do not pause appreciably at the end of the movement before returning your arms back to the start position. Your entire rep should be a single smooth and controlled movement. The only reason you do pause somewhat is to prevent yourself from incorporating momentum into your movement. The same logic applies upon return to the start position; begin your next rep as quickly as you can without allowing momentum to do the work for you.

Standing Reverse Flyes with Tubing

Start Position
Finish Position
Note how my hands remain at the same height as my shoulders from start to finish.


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