Compound Shoulder Exercises : Harness the Power of Compound Movements

The deltoid muscle is one of the main muscle groups that form part of the shoulder, along with the rotator cuff. It’s broken down into three muscle fibers, the posterior deltoid, the anterior deltoid, and the lateral deltoid. The deltoids give the rounded appearance of the shoulders and are responsible for aiding with arm movement and protecting the shoulder joint.

By incorporating shoulder specific exercises into your workout routine will help you to build strong shoulders, helping with flexibility and increasing muscle mass.

It’s important to undertake a wide variety of exercises for best results, this includes isolation exercises as well as compound movements.

Isolation movements will target a single muscle group whereas compound movements will focus on multiple muscle groups including the shoulders and other muscles such as the upper arms and back muscles.

This article looks at several shoulder specific movements focusing on building mass and strength.

Compound Shoulder Exercises

Arnold Press

The Arnold press is a compound shoulder exercise that works the front deltoids, triceps, and upper chest. It is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, who popularized this movement. It’s a take on a regular shoulder press but adds in a rotation to work all three heads of the deltoid muscle. The movement can be done either seated or standing.

To Do The Arnold Press Seated:

  1. Take a seat on a weights bench or stability ball whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing you. This is your starting position.
  2. From this position, press the dumbbells upward, rotating your palms away from your body as you do so.
  3. As you press the dumbbells upward, lift your elbows up and out to the sides.
  4. Keep pressing the two dumbbells upward until your arms are outstretched and above your head.
  5. Pause at the top of the exercise and lower the dumbbells slowly to the initial point as you rotate your palms toward your body.
  6. Repeat the desired number of reps.
Tips for Performing the Arnold Press Exercise
  • Keep your back straight as you tighten your core. This will help you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
  • Avoid locking your elbows while at the top of this movement. Instead, keep a slight bend in your elbows to prevent strain on the elbow joint.
  • Focus on using your shoulder muscles to press the dumbbells up, rather than depending on momentum.
  • Avoid swinging the dumbbells or using excess weight, as it can result in poor form and increase the risk of injury.
  • If you are new to the exercise, start with a lighter weight and slowly increase the weight as you become stronger.

Pike Push-Ups

Pike push-ups are also known as downward dog push-ups or handstand push-ups. They’re quite a challenging bodyweight exercise that targets your upper body, especially the shoulders, triceps, and chest. They are similar to traditional push-ups, but with more emphasis on the shoulder’s stability and mobility.

To Do Pike Push-Ups:

  1. Start by standing up with feet shoulder width apart. Hinge at the hips, leaning forward until your hands are flat on the ground. You’ll likely be on tip toes depending on your flexibility.
  2. Keep your heads between your arms and your back straight.
  3. Your body should be in an A frame position with your knees straight. This is the starting position.
  4. Maintain the position with your lower body and slowly bend at the elbows, lowering your head towards the ground.
  5. Once your head is almost on the ground, push your hands to straighten the arms while lifting your body to the original position.
  6. Repeat the exercise.
Important Tips When Doing Pike Push-Ups
  • Ensure you keep your legs straight throughout to help challenge the upper body parts more.
  • If you are new to pike push-ups, you can start with your feet on a raised surface ( a box or step) to make the exercise easier. As you become stronger, gradually lower the height of the surface.
  • Keep your core engaged when performing this exercise as it will help you to maintain correct form.
  • To make the exercise more challenging, try using a resistance band around your back or adding weight to the hips.

Front Raises

The front raise is a simple movement to execute but very effective for targeting the front deltoids. This exercise involves lifting and lowering a weight in front of your body, using your shoulder muscles.

To Perform Front Raises

You will need a pair of dumbbells. Here’s how to perform a front raise exercise for the shoulders:

  1. Stand upright with feet shoulder width apart whilst holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing toward your thighs.
  2. Keeping your back straight with a slight bend at the elbows, raise the dumbbells up and out in front of you until they reach shoulder height.
  3. Your arms should now be out in front of you with your palms facing the ground.
  4. Hold the position for a second or two before lowering back to the start position.
  5. Repeat the desired number of reps.
Important Tips When Doing Front Raises
  • Maintain a straight back throughout the training to maintain a perfect form and avoid straining the lower back.
  • Slightly bend your elbows to avoid putting pressure on the elbow joint.
  • Avoid swinging the weight up, as it can cause you to lose control of the weight and strain your shoulder joint. If you find you are doing this, it could be because the weight is too heavy. In which case, drop to a lighter dumbbell.

Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is a compound exercise that targets the upper chest muscles, triceps, and shoulders. You will require a barbell and an adjustable weight bench for the incline bench press exercise. Here are simple steps for doing the incline bench press:

The Best Way To Execute The Incline Bench Press:

  1. Position a bench in a power rack or squat rack, set the weight bench to an incline angle; around 30 to 45 degrees.
  2. Lie on the bench and keep your feet flat on the floor, support your head, upper back, and shoulders with the bench.
  3. Use an overhand grip to clasp the barbell. It should be slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  4. Un-rack the barbell by straightening your arms and lifting it off the rack, be sure not to lock out at the elbows.
  5. Slowly lower the bar down to upper chest, keeping your elbows tucked in throughout.
  6. Once you’ve reached your chest, press the barbell back up to the starting position before repeating.
Tips to Remember as You Do the Incline Bench Press
  • Use a spotter for added safety, especially when using heavy weights. They can also help with un-racking and re-racking the barbell.
  • Maintain form by engaging the core and keeping your feet flat on the ground.
  • Use a full range of motion by lowering the barbell to your upper chest and fully extending your arms at the top without locking out the elbows.
  • Avoid arching your back or lifting your head off the bench, as this can put stress on the lower back.
  • Avoid bouncing the barbell off your chest as this can put pressure on the shoulder joint.

Seated Dumbbell Press

The seated dumbbell press is a simple compound exercise that will work not only the delts, but also the traps, triceps, and upper chest muscles. To perform the movement, you’ll need access to an adjustable weights bench and a pair of dumbbells.

How To Do The Seated Dumbbell Press:

  1. Choose your dumbbells and set the back pad of the adjustable bench to its highest setting.
  2. Take a seat on the bench and grab the dumbbells.
  3. Hold the dumbbells at your shoulders with your palms facing forwards, your elbows will be at 90 degrees. Keep your back against the pad throughout the exercise to provide support.
  4. Inhale and press the dumbbell up overhead while extending your arm fully.
  5. Breathe out while lowering the dumbbell toward shoulder level and always keep your wrists straight to prevent injury.
  6. Repeat the chosen number of reps.
Important Tips to Consider When Performing the Seated Dumbbell Press
  • Ensure you engage your core and maintain a neutral spine during the exercise. It will help maintain the correct form and support the spine.
  • Avoid arching the back or leaning forward as you press the dumbbells upward.
  • Use a reasonable weight for your strength. When starting out, a lighter weight is preferable; as strength grows, heavier weights can be used.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid tensing them up as you lift the dumbbells.
  • Avoid locking your elbows while at the top of the workout. This can put excessive strain on your elbow joint.

Barbell Military Press

The barbell military will primarily work your shoulders, specifically the anterior and medial deltoids. It can also help develop strength in the triceps, chest, and back. This is an excellent exercise for boosting your strength and building muscle mass.

How To Perform A Barbell Military Press:

  1. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell with an overhand grip at shoulder height. Your wrists should be over your elbow.
  2. Exhale whilst pressing the barbell overhead, ensuring you fully stretch your arms for full range of motion.
  3. As you press the barbell overhead, make sure to keep your wrists over your elbows throughout.
  4. Once the barbell is fully overhead, hold it for a moment before lowering it back to around collar bone height.
  5. Repeat the steps.
Important Tips to Keep in Mind When Doing the Barbell Military Press:
  • Maintain the shoulder-width position for your feet and keep your core tight throughout the exercise to maintain balance and stability.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body as you press the barbell overhead to engage the shoulder muscles effectively.
  • Ensure you fully extend your arms at the top of the press but be careful not to lock out the elbows.
  • Avoid this exercise if you have any pre-existing shoulder injuries.

7. Landmine Shoulder Press

The landmine shoulder press is great for overall shoulder health as it can improve mobility whilst building muscle. This movement can be done half kneeling or standing and with one or both hands.

How To Perform The Standing Landmine Shoulder Press:

  1. Position the end of a barbell in a landmine attachment or lodge into the corner of a room.
  2. Load the desired weight onto the other end of the barbell.
  3. Take hold of the end of bar and stand upright with your back straight.
  4. Using one hand, hold the end of the barbell to around chest height and slightly to the shoulder, so it should be off centre of your chest.
  5. You should be slightly leaning into barbell and keep the foot back of the side you are pressing with.
  6. Press the barbell up and away from you until your arm is outstretched.
  7. Hold at the top whilst squatting the muscles and slowly lower back down to the starting position before repeating.
Tips for perform the landmine shoulder press
  • Keep your back straight and core engaged throughout to maintain form.
  • Make sure to maintain a staggered stance so you can press the bar up correctly.

8. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is a simple exercise to execute and will activate all three heads of your deltoids along with your traps and, to a lesser extent, the biceps. All you need for this exercise is a barbell.

How To Do A Barbell Upright Row

  1. Begin by taking hold of a barbell with an overhand grip.
  2. Maintain a neutral spine (keep your back straight) and feet around shoulder width apart.
  3. Adjust your hands if you need to so that they too are shoulder width apart, this ensures proper isolation of the muscles.
  4. Next, retract your shoulder blades and keep your core tight whilst bringing the barbell up your body until it reaches just under your chin.
  5. Lower back to the starting position and repeat your chosen number of reps and sets.
Tips for performing the barbell upright row
  • Keep the barbell close to your body throughout the exercise.
  • Make sure your elbows remain higher than your wrists.
  • If you feel any wrist pain then switch to a EZ curl barbell which will reduce stress to the wrists.


The above are some of the best compound exercises for activating all parts of your shoulder and scapular muscles, along with many other muscle groups, helping to build overall strength to the upper body area. If you’re new to any of these movements and unsure how to properly execute them, seek advice from a personal trainer and be sure to mention any pre-existing upper body injuries or pains

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