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Compound shoulder exercises allow you to target multiple muscles in the shoulder area at the same time. They involve several muscle groups and joints working together to help you t achieve your workout goals.
Best compound shoulder exercises for a strong upper body
Compound shoulder exercises can help improve overall upper body strength and endurance, leading to a balanced, proportionate, and aesthetically pleasing physique.
Compound shoulder exercises involve movements that work the deltoid muscles, which comprise the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, and other surrounding muscles, including the trapezius, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles.
These exercises can help improve shoulder strength, stability, and muscle mass.
Strong shoulder muscles are vital for everyday activities such as lifting, pushing, pulling, and carrying heavy objects.
When included in your training regimen, compound shoulder exercises can save time, helping you to achieve your goals much sooner than expected. Thus they can be an efficient way to target and work the shoulders and other muscle groups.
Below are some of the best compound shoulder exercises for your fitness regimen.
The Military press, aka Overhead Press or Shoulder Press, is a classic and one of the best dumbbell shoulder exercises that primarily target and build the deltoid muscle.
While the exercise is simple to describe, it is much more technical and requires lots of practice to master.
But when done correctly, the military press will target the anterior deltoids, medial deltoids, triceps, and upper chest and indirectly work other shoulder muscles, the triceps, and your core.
It is one of the most effective exercises for building upper body strength and mass, improving shoulder stability, and enhancing the overall functioning of the shoulders.
You do the exercises from the standing position. Thus you will need enough core strength to help keep the spine stable when pressing the weight overhead.
You will need a weighted barbell for the overhead press.
Barbell Push Press
The barbell push press is a compound shoulder exercise that targets the shoulders, triceps, and legs.
It involves a combination of a leg drive and an overhead press, allowing you to generate more power to lift heavier weights than a standard shoulder press. That makes it possible to build more muscle within a shorter period.
The barbell push press is one of the most effective compound shoulder exercises for building upper body and leg strength, power, and explosiveness.
Steps to follow
- Place a barbell in a squat or power rack at shoulder height and load with an appropriate weight that matches your fitness level.
- Stand with feet at shoulder-width
- Grasp the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width, palms facing forward.
- Rest the barbell on your upper chest, with your elbows bent and pointing forward.
- Brace your core, and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
- Bend your knees and perform a slight dip, then explosively extend your knees and hips to drive the barbell overhead. Exhale as you do this.
- Finish the movement by fully extending your arms without locking out your elbows.
- Lower the bar slowly to your starting position in a controlled manner. Inhale as you lower the bar towards your chest.
- Lower the bar until it lightly touches your upper chest or collarbone, then press it up until you extend your arms fully overhead.
- Repeat 8-10 reps in a set and 3-4 sets per session
- The barbell push press involves a significant leg drive, where you generate power from your legs to help push the barbell overhead. Ensure you perform the dip under control, and drive with explosive force, to help maximize the results.
- Start with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form and complete the desired number of repetitions.
- Gradually increase the weight as your strength increases, and you get more comfortable with the movement.
- You can vary the grip width, hand placement, and bar type (e.g., straight bar or EZ Curl bar) to challenge your muscles in various ways.
Cable Face Pull
The cable face pull is a compound shoulder exercise that targets the rear deltoid muscles.
It also works the upper back, shoulders, and arms.
It is one of the best shoulder compound exercises for improving posture, developing upper body strength and stability, and preventing shoulder imbalances.
You will need a cable machine for the cable pull exercises.
- Aim to pull the handle towards your face while keeping your elbows high and wide.
- Avoid excessive shrugging or hunching of the shoulders.
- Do not use momentum or swinging to pull the cable
- Focus on controlled movements throughout the exercise.
- Keep your back straight and avoid arching or rounding your lower back. Engage your core and maintain good posture throughout the exercise.
- Avoid excessively tilting your head or straining your neck, and
- Keep your gaze forward.
- Use a comfortable grip and maintain a firm hold on the handle throughout the exercise to prevent it from slipping.
- Start with lighter weights and gradually progress to heavier weights as you gain strength and confidence with the exercise.
- Consider seeking guidance from a qualified fitness professional if you have any pre-existing shoulder issues.
- Stop immediately and consult a qualified fitness professional or healthcare provider if you experience pain or discomfort during the exercise.
Seated Arnold Press
The seated Arnold press is similar to the traditional dumbbell shoulder press but with a slight variation in the movement pattern.
Popularized by the bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is one of the most effective compound shoulder exercises for targeting the deltoid muscles.
The Arnold Press also works the biceps, triceps, and upper back muscles.
You will need a pair of dumbbells for the Arnold press
- Keep your back straight and avoid arching or rounding your lower back.
- Engage your core and maintain good posture throughout the exercise.
- Avoid excessively tilting your head or straining your neck.
- Keep your gaze forward.
- Start with lighter weights and gradually progress to heavier weights as you gain strength and confidence.
The landmine press is a compound shoulder exercise that involves pressing a weight attached to the end of a barbell anchored in a landmine attachment.
It targets the shoulders, chest, triceps, and core muscles.
The landmine press is a versatile exercise that can form part of your shoulder workout routine to help build upper body strength, stability, and muscle balance.
- Keep your core engaged, and focus on pressing the weight with control and stability.
- Avoid using momentum or jerking movements, and keep your shoulder and elbow stable throughout the exercise.
- Experiment with various hand placements on the barbell to target different areas of your shoulder muscles.
- You can use an overhand or underhand grip and vary the width of your hand placement to emphasize different areas of your shoulders.
- Newbies can start with lighter weights and focus on mastering their form and technique before increasing the weights.
The handstand push-up is one of the few challenging compound shoulder exercises that require upper body strength, balance, and coordination.
It targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest. It also engages the core and other stabilizing muscles.
- Keep your shoulders stable, and avoid shrugging or collapsing them towards your ears.
- Engage your core and maintain a strong, straight body position throughout the exercise.
- Start with a partial range of motion or perform them with your feet on an elevated surface if you are new to handstand push-ups. That will help you to master the movement.
- Experiment with different hand placements. You can vary the width and try different hand positions, like fingers pointing forward or pointing to the sides.
Handstand push-ups are advanced compound exercises for shoulders, thus start gradually and safely and progress only when possible.
Newbies can start with modified variations, like Pike Push-Ups or Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups, to build strength and technique before attempting the movement.
Handstand push-ups are some of the most effective compound shoulder exercises for building shoulder strength, stability, and muscle balance.
But they require a high level of upper-body strength and stability. You will also need proper form, technique, and progression to ensure safety and effectiveness. Thus ensure you have the necessary skill and fitness level before attempting to avoid injuries.
Clean and Press
The clean and press is one of the compound shoulder exercises involving lifting a barbell from the ground to overhead.
The exercise activates and works multiple muscle groups, including the shoulders, upper back, legs, and core.
It is a complex movement that requires coordination, technique, and strength.
The clean and press can help develop upper body strength, power, and muscle coordination.
But it requires proper technique, practice, and safety precautions to perform it effectively and safely.
Ensure you start the movement with lighter weights and focus on proper form before progressing to heavier weights.
Pay attention to your grip, stance, hip drive, and shoulder position throughout the movement to ensure optimal performance.
Steps to follow
- Place the loaded barbell on the floor and stand behind it with your feet at shoulder-width and your toes pointing forward.
- Bend at the knees and hips to grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, with palms slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keep your back straight and shoulders pulled back and down.
- Inhale, and in a smooth motion, explosively extend your hips and knees and pull the barbell towards your shoulders.
- Quickly transition into a front squat position as the barbell reaches the midpoint of your thighs and catch the barbell on the front of your shoulders with your elbows pointing forward and your palms facing upward.
- Exhale, then push the barbell overhead by extending your arms and pressing it towards the ceiling from the front squat position. Keep your core engaged and your back straight, and avoid arching your lower back or shrugging your shoulders.
- Lock out your elbows at the top of the movement.
- Lower the barbell back down to the front squat position and further to the starting position on the ground in a controlled movement. Keep your back straight and maintain control of the barbell throughout the lowering phase.
- Ensure you maintain normal breathing throughout the movement, and avoid holding your breath.
Dumbbell Upright Row
The upright row primarily targets the shoulders, particularly the deltoids. It also works the upper back and biceps.
You can perform the exercise with various equipment, including a barbell, dumbbell, or cable machine.
Using dumbbells for the exercise allows you to concentrate more on your weaker side. That will allow you to correct imbalances and help you to build a more symmetrical body.
Newbies should start with lighter weights and progress gradually to avoid shoulder impingement or other shoulder-related injuries.
The upright rows are some of the best compound shoulder exercises for developing shoulder strength and hypertrophy.
Prone Lying Shoulder Press
The prone lying shoulder press, aka supine shoulder press, is a compound exercise that targets the shoulders.
It is one of the best compound shoulder exercises that target the front delts or anterior deltoids. It will also work the triceps and upper back muscles.
Incorporating the prone lying shoulder press into your fitness regimen can help increase shoulder strength and stability.
Newbies should start with a lighter weight and gradually increase the load as their strength and technique improve.
Steps to follow
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip
- Lie face down on an incline weight bench with your chest supported and your feet firmly on the ground or pointing upward.
- Place your hands at shoulder-width, and bring them up to your shoulders.
- Slowly push the weights forward and overhead, fully extending your arms.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then pull the weights back until your lower and upper arms are at right angles.
- Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 sets per session.
Pike push-ups primarily target the deltoids and triceps but also engage the chest, core, and upper back muscles.
They are excellent compound shoulder exercises for building upper body strength and stability, vital for overhead activities, including throwing, lifting, and pressing.
Pike push-ups are challenging exercises that require high shoulder and core strength. Thus ensure you have the necessary form and fitness levels before attempting.
Barbell rear delt bent-over row
The barbell rear delt bent-over row is a weightlifting exercise that targets the posterior deltoids or rear delt shoulder muscles. It also works the upper back muscles.
It is best to perform the exercise with a barbell with lighter weights.
A wide elbow position can help target the rear delts, upper back, and traps.
Steps to follow
- Stand with your feet at shoulder-width, holding a barbell with an overhand grip. Your palms should be facing down, and your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight, your chest up, and slightly bend your knees.
- Let the barbell hang in front of your body at arm’s length.
- Pull the barbell towards your upper abdomen, ensuring your elbows stay close to your body. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull.
- Pause briefly, then slowly lower the barbell to your starting position.
- Repeat 8-15 reps for a set and 3-4 sets per session.
Benefits of Compound Exercises
Incorporating compound shoulder exercises into your training regimen can offer you many benefits.
- Efficient and Time-Saving
Compound shoulder exercises allow you to work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. That can save you time during your workout and help you achieve more quickly.
- Good Muscle Activation
Compound shoulder exercises activate and engage multiple muscle groups. That can boost muscle growth and strength gains.
- Improved Functional fitness
Compound shoulder exercises mimic movements commonly performed in daily activities and sports, including pushing, lifting, and carrying overhead objects.
Incorporating such movements into your fitness regimen can improve their strength and endurance, leading to better performance in various functional tasks.
- Improved Upper Body Strength and Stability
Compound shoulder exercises can help develop overall upper-body strength and stability, enhancing your ability to perform other upper-body exercises and activities with better form and control.
- Progressive overload
Shoulder compound exercises allow for progressive overload, a fundamental principle of resistance training. That can help you to challenge and improve your shoulder muscles continuously.
Progressive overload involves slowly increasing the weight or resistance used in an exercise over time to continue challenging the muscles and promoting gains in strength and hypertrophy.
Compound shoulder exercises provide the opportunity to increase resistance progressively.
- Enhanced Posture
Well-built, strong, and stable shoulders are essential for maintaining good posture.
Compound shoulder exercises can help strengthen the muscles that support proper posture, such as the deltoids, trapezius, and upper back muscles.
Improved posture can reduce the risk of postural imbalances, neck and shoulder pain, and other musculoskeletal issues.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Incorporating these compound shoulder exercises into your resistance training regimen can be a great way to target the shoulders and other muscle groups efficiently and effectively.
It will allow you to target and work many muscles simultaneously, saving you precious time.
- Cleveland Clinic. Deltoid Muscles.
- McAllister M, Schilling B, Hammond K, Weiss L, Farney T. Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright row. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(1):181-7. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31824f23ad