How To Build Big Shoulders with Dumbbells Only

March 4, 2020

how to build big shoulders with dumbbells only

We all want to get big shoulders with capped delts. But many go about it the wrong way.

In this post, you’re going to get a shoulder workout that you can do with dumbbells only.

And I’m going to show you why using dumbbells may be a better way to build big shoulders.

You’ll also 3 different shoulder workouts (with only dumbbells) that you can do. One workout will be dedicated to shoulders while the other 2 workouts will be coupled with other body parts.

I’ll also show you how to make your dumbbell exercises more effective for building muscle.

Dumbbells VS Barbells for Big Shoulders

rear delt raises bent over raises

Before we dive into your shoulder workouts and exercises, let’s talk about why dumbbells may be a better choice for building shoulders.

Now, keep in mind the goal is for bodybuilding and getting those nice round, capped delts. We’re not talking about building strength or powerlifting.

That said, here are some reasons why dumbbells may be better for building and shaping your delts:

  • You typically train chest and back with barbells (ex: bench press, barbell rows) and your shoulders are heavily involved in those exercises.
  • With the above said, it may not be necessary to do exercises like barbell overhead press for shoulders.
  • Doing dumbbells for shoulders will allow you to get a better range of motion.
  • Dumbbells will also help you better target your shoulders allowing you to train them from all angles.

*Don’t misinterpret this to be ‘anti-barbell.’ It’s not. Barbell exercises are an awesome way to build muscle.

And of course, doing overhead barbell press is a must if you’re primary goal is to gain strength.

But remember, we’re talking about the best way to build and shape your shoulders. When you start digging into the workouts below it will make sense.

Shoulder Workouts

Below are 3 shoulder workouts you can do. Each workout only uses dumbbells.
*One of the benefits is you can do these workouts in the same section of the gym!

Shoulders - Seated arnold dumbbell press

You’ll notice that each workout has a specific purpose:

  • Workout 1: This is meant for a shoulders-only day (so there are more exercises and overall volume).
  • Workout 2: This is what you can do if you’re training shoulders after a larger muscle, like chest or back. So it’s condensed.
  • Workout 3: You may want to train shoulders as your primary muscle but not dedicate an entire workout to just shoulders. So it’s shorter than the first workout above because you’ll be hitting a smaller muscle after shoulders.

Workout 1: Shoulder Day

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 8
Bent-over Raises3 x 10
Front Raises3 x 10
Lateral Raises3 x 10
Dumbbell Shrugs3 x 12
Seated Arnold Press3 x 12

Here you’re dedicating the entire workout to shoulders, and only shoulders. This is going to allow you to hit every angle of your shoulders with 6 exercises.

You’ll start with a basic seated dumbbell press followed by several exercises that will hit all angles of your shoulders.

You’ll end where you started but this time you’re modifying the seated dumbbell press by starting the movement with your palms facing towards you (like you see in the image above). I’ll explain this exercise further, below.

Workout 2: Shoulders After Chest or Back

Shoulders - dumbbell lateral raises
ExerciseSets x Reps
Chest or Back Exercise4 x 8
Chest or Back Exercise4 x 10
Chest or Back Exercise3 x 10
Chest or Back Exercise3 x 12
Seated Arnold Press3 x 10
Lateral Raises3 x 10
Bent-over Raises3 x 12

You may want to end your workout with delts after training a larger muscle, like chest or back. Of course, your volume for shoulders will not be as much in this case.

The benefit of training shoulders with back or chest is that your delts are going to be warmed up thoroughly from training those other muscles. So this is a great way to burn them out and exhaust the muscle.

Workout 3: Shoulders and Arms

Shoulders - seated dumbbell press
ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 8
Bent-over Raises3 x 10
Front Raises3 x 10
Seated Arnold Press3 x 12
Arm Exercise3 x 10
Arm Exercise3 x 10
Arm Exercise3 x 12

Training shoulders with arms will give you an awesome pump. Whether its shoulders and triceps or shoulders and biceps, you’re entire upper body is going to look jacked once you finish.

In fact, I have another post that gives you an entire series of workouts for shoulders and arms here: Shoulders and Arms: Why You Should Train Them Together

Try this workout on a Friday! It’s a great way to end the week.

How to Make Your Exercises More Effective

The exercises you’re doing are basic muscle builders. But there are some things you can do to make each exercise more effective.

Seated Dumbbell Press

  • Focus on your shoulders as you press the dumbbells up so that you don’t use your upper chest as much
  • Contract your shoulder muscles at the peak of each rep
  • Control the dumbbells as you bring them back to the start point, forcing the tension to be on the muscle
Shoulders - seated dumbbell press

Arnold Press

  • Start with your palms facing you, and with the dumbbells directly in front of you
  • Gradually turn your wrists to the pronated position as you press the weight up
  • Use controlled reps throughout each entire rep (2-3 seconds up, 2-3 seconds back down)
Shoulders - Seated arnold dumbbell press

Lateral Raises

  • Lead with your elbows and make sure you’re using your delts to lift the weight; don’t allow any other muscles to assist
  • Don’t swing the weight or use momentum; keep your body still while doing lateral raises
  • Try doing these seated every other shoulder workout; you won’t be able to do as much weight but you may find that this way targets your delts more
Shoulders - dumbbell lateral raises

Bent-over Raises

  • Make sure you keep your torso at the appropriate angle to truly work your rear delts
  • As with lateral raises, don’t swing the weight or use momentum
  • Your gym may have a chest-pad that you can rest on to do these, and some will lay facing on an incline bench; both are great ways to better-target your rear delts (and keep pressure off your lower back from bending over, if that’s an issue)
rear delt raises bent over raises

Front Raises

  • Keep your torse straight and do not swing the dumbbells; go light and do them correctly
  • Use controlled reps
  • Squeeze and contract your shoulder muscles at the peak of each rep
Shoulders - dumbbell front raises

Dumbbell Shrugs

  • When you shrug the dumbbells, shrug straight up
  • Try doing these with slower, controlled reps as opposed to banging out fast reps
  • Hold the dumbbells up for several seconds, contracting your traps at the peak of each rep
shoulders - dumbbell shrugs

How to Warm Up Your Shoulders

The below video has a dumbbell-only workout for shoulders but also shows you how to properly warm-up before going into your working sets.

He’s also giving you some alternative rep styles for better pumps. So you can try this method as well.

Dumbbells for Bigger Shoulders

One of the cool things about using dumbbells that I didn’t mention is that you can easily do these exercises at home. So just get a few different sizes in dumbbells and a bench, and you can save a trip to the gym that day.

I also want to reiterate the increased range of motion with dumbbells. You can really go deep and also get a better contraction with dumbbells than with barbells.

Another benefit is the ability to target your delts from all angles. Your muscles are going to feel big and full after these workouts (especially Workout 1 and 3 above).

I hope you enjoyed this post and I encourage you to try these workouts! And if this post helped you, please share it on your social media page!

Also, don’t forget to check out my premium muscle building programs here.

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,


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About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!