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Dumbbell Shoulder Workout: Bells For Boulders

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Shoulders… a complex joint that is often poorly trained.

Worry not though… with the Bells for Boulders dumbbell shoulder workout you’ll build strong, functional shoulders with minimal kit & maximum results.

These methods have been refined over my 20 years in fitness. 

They’ve served me and my clients well, and they’ll serve you too. 

The shoulders are vulnerable joints, but they’re vital to so many functions. With this in mind we have to train them properly. This requires balancing effort, intensity, movement quality and movement patterns.

Poor shoulder training results in too many injuries, so we’re here to eliminate them.

In the Bells for Boulders program, we work on making the shoulders both stronger and injury resistant. We work through full ranges of movement, eliminating muscle imbalances and creating high quality movement patterns. 

In this dumbbell shoulder workout, you’ll learn shoulder anatomy, movement patterns and protective measures to make your shoulders healthier than ever…

A person doing shoulder exercises with a dumbbell

Bells For Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout General Infographic

Bells for Boulders: Benefits of the dumbbell shoulder workout

If you’re going to be working hard in the gym, you’ve got to make it worth your while. If the effort isn’t directed in the right way, you’re running the risk of not making any real progress, or even worse, causing yourself an injury.

A well-put-together and considered training plan avoids this. Here are three of the benefits of this workout…

Bells For Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout Benefits

Benefit 1: Shoulders that ‘pop’

This is an all-round shoulder training program, and the volume will serve you well. 

Within 6-8 weeks you’ll see a difference (if you’re lifting hard) and by the end of the 12 weeks your shoulders will be a different shape altogether.

Broader shoulders are important for your “waist-to-hip” ratio and are the main muscle group that emphasis that ‘X’ body shape. This program will help with all of this.

Benefit 2: Reduce your injury risk

I’ve already mentioned a couple of times in this article the risk of shoulder injury. I’ve done so with good reason – it’s shockingly common.

Having spent a couple of decades in fitness, I’ve lost count of the amount of people who have told me they’ve suffered shoulder injuries in the gym.

This isn’t just anecdotal either – a review of research published in 2010 by Kolber et al concluded that…

‘The results of the review indicated that up to 36% of documented resistance training related injuries and disorders occur at the shoulder complex. Trends that increased the likelihood of injury were identified and inclusive of intrinsic risk factors such as joint and muscle imbalances…’

This shows that nearly 40% of gym injuries occur at the shoulder, and often because of muscle imbalances. This is absolutely in keeping with what I witness in the gym.

Poorly-designed training programs increase injury risk. The evidence is clear… so don’t take any chances. Follow a well-designed shoulder workout and you’ll reduce this completely avoidable risk.

Benefit 3: Strong shoulders reduce the chances of sports-related injuries

One of the common narratives in strength training is that strong muscles are less prone to injury than weak muscles. One of the unavoidable truths for anyone playing a sport is that injuries are one of the risks we face.

To protect yourself against sports injuries, one of the most important steps is to become stronger. 

Strength training doesn’t just make muscles stronger. It strengthens connective tissues as well. This is important, because all tissues are vulnerable to injury in sport.

By strength training, of course we train the muscles, but the ligaments and tendons benefit from this process as well – they’re also dealing with the loads and changes in length that full range weight training demands.

Evidence of the effects of strength training mitigating shoulder complaints can be found in a 2014 study by H Østerås et al. Their investigation concluded that…

‘…in the exercise group, the prevalence of players with shoulder pain decreased from 34 to 11%, while the control (non-strength training) group increased the prevalence from 23 to 36%. The exercise group increased the shoulder-muscle strength significantly, compared to the control group.’

This is huge, showing that strength training isn’t just preventative towards injuries – it helps to improve existing injuries.

Benefit 4: There are lots of sporting benefits from strong shoulders…

This one may seem somewhat obvious, but it gets lost in a haze between old school and new school approaches. 

Confused? I’m sure. Let me elaborate…

In a lot of sports, the old school coaches shy away from resistance training, worried that their athletes will become ‘muscle bound’. This is another term for ‘too big and too stiff’. Research shows that their worries are unfounded though. 

When strength training is applied appropriately (and appropriate is determined by goal), sporting benefits can be achieved. Not all weight training is about getting bigger.

You can use weight training to make you faster, more explosive, and more powerful. 

In research on cricketers by Rucia Vern-Clare November and Lloyd Leach in 2019, there was a clear relationship between shoulder complex strength and throwing velocity. One of the research conclusions was…

‘The shoulder concentric internal rotators play a significant role in throwing velocity of cricketers.’

This result can be extrapolated and applied to any throwing sport… Football, baseball, discus, javelin etc. When applied appropriately, shoulder strength training can make you a better athlete. The injury prevention issue is a bonus!

5 Steps to Use the Bells for Boulders to Get Bigger, Stronger Shoulders

As I mentioned before, if you’re going to be putting effort into your training, make sure it’s directed in the right way. Follow these 5 steps and you’ll perform these workouts effectively, maximizing results and safety as you go.

Step 1: Don’t neglect any of the exercises in the program

This workout is designed to be completed in its entirety. It’s a stand alone workout, meaning this should be your only training for the day. It’s not an accessory program, whereby you do this AND something else.

It’ll take you around an hour or so, it’s completely comprehensive and it covers everything you need in a dumbbell shoulder workout. It covers the different ranges of motion, rep ranges and speed of lift.

Don’t be tempted to short cut this workout by dropping the exercises you don’t like. They’re all in this program for a reason. 

If you want to build strong, healthy and capable shoulders then you need to train them in a myriad of different ways. There’ll be exercises in this program you don’t like. There’ll be movement patterns you aren’t especially good at.

There’ll be points you’ll probably find boring. You may come across exercises you think are pointless.

Tough. Do them anyway. You’re not a puppy, here to be entertained. You’re here to train. 

Perform every rep, of every set, of every exercise in the workout. Do it every week for 12 weeks. Take a progress picture every 4 weeks and see how far you’ve come at the end of the three months. You’ll be surprised…

Step 2: Hit the Bells for Boulders dumbbell shoulder workout twice per week

Shoulders are a small muscle group, so this amount of work focused on them will take its toll. With this in mind, you have to spread the training days apart.

Twice per week is appropriate, but you’ll need to give it a couple of days rest between Bells for Boulders dumbbell shoulder workouts.

With this in mind, here’s how your training week could look…

Monday: Bells for Boulders workout

Tuesday: Lower Body Workout

Wednesday: Cardio

Thursday: Bells for Boulders workout

Friday: Pull Workout

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Cardio

This split gives you two shoulder workouts in the week, but it also allows time for cardio, lower body and rest. These are really important, because without them there’s a real chance of the shoulders doing too much work, leading to imbalance and injury.

You’re also able to dedicate a whole workout to pulling, which helps with muscle balance. You’ll notice that there’s no pushing workout mentioned in the week… that’s because we’re already dedicating two workouts per week to it. We don’t need a third. 

Step 3: Pay attention to the rep ranges – they’re very different

This program is quite unlike others in the sense that there are multiple different rep ranges in the same program. This is by design – I want to emphasize strength in some exercises, and stability in others.

This helps to build shoulders that are strong, but also resistant to injury. Shoulders you can confidently throw with, snatch with, clean and jerk with, tackle with etc. 

The rep ranges in this workout will vary from 5 reps with the heavy exercises, all the way to 21 reps for the lighter stability exercises.

There’ll be variety in the speed of execution of the lifts too, with some of them designed to work on power, and others focussing on control and stabilizing the joint.

As the teacher would say before a test in school… READ THE QUESTION PROPERLY!

In this case, it’s read the workout properly. Assess the training notes, understand the outcome of the exercise and focus on executing the exercise in the way it is meant to be done.

Steve working out with a heavy pair of dumbbells

Step 4: Take your time here

This workout isn’t about maximizing speed and calorie burn – it’s about achieving the best training outcomes possible. This will mean your rest times between sets can be elongated slightly. In this workout you should rest as long as you need to in order to be ready for the next set.

There are 10 exercises in the Bells for Boulders dumbbell shoulder workout, so it’s a comprehensive session.

The first three exercises are warm ups with higher reps, getting the blood flowing and preparing the shoulder joint for the work that’s coming up.

As a general rule, you recover quicker from lighter sets so can keep rest periods shorter here. 

In this workout you’ll perform 40 sets, so you’ll need to take the rest in order to cope with the volume. That could be anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on your level of fitness. 

To help make sure it doesn’t turn into a crazy long workout, I’ve kept the warm up shorter and straight to the point. When I’ve tested this workout on myself, it has taken just over an hour – about 65 minutes or so.

Allow a little more on your first workout, just so you know what to expect. 

Step 5: Warming up the shoulders properly

A warm up is important no matter what workout you’re doing. In this case we can make the warm up part of the workout too, because we’re targeting a very small area of the body.

As well as that, the first couple of exercises are the slow, deliberate exercises that are there to emphasize stability in the shoulder joint. They’re inherently low risk because they’re not fast or explosive. The weight being lifted is also very light.

What this means is that it’s doing a few jobs at once…

  1. It’s activating the muscles we’re about to train, stimulating sufficient blood flow to the area
  2. The movement is warming up the neural connections as well, making the joints move better
  3. The shoulder muscles as a collective (there’s a lot of them) are trained with the exercises, so the warm up is thorough

We therefore can incorporate the warm up into the main workout, meaning there’s no obvious divide between ‘warm up’ exercises and ‘work exercises’.

They’re one and the same thing essentially – the warm up exercises are still a very important part of the workout and not to be missed.

You just won’t be doing any cardio as a pre-warm up.

Training notes for the dumbbell shoulder workout

A lot of thought has gone into this workout, because it isn’t just a case of ‘throw all of the dumbbell shoulder exercises you know into a list and call it a workout’.

Do that and all I’d end up doing is adding more people to the list of gym users with shoulder injuries due to poor workout design. And frankly, I value my reputation a lot more than I value making my life easy by pumping out crappy programs.

I’m going to explain a lot of my thinking here, in a (longer than normal) training notes section. Here you’re going to learn about the what, the why and the how the workout has been put together.

We’ll cover topics such as shoulder physiology, human movement and anecdotal observations. 

Shoulder strength and stability

The shoulders are the joints with the largest range of movement in the body. They’re able to press, pull, internally and external rotate, elevate and depress and rotate around the joint. In English… they can move. A lot.

We have to make them strong in all of these movements, but we also need to make sure they are stable whilst doing so. This means the joint has to be strong both front and back to make sure it holds the arm securely.  

For that reason I’ve included exercises in all different directions, using different rep ranges.

Position of the shoulders

The amateur trainer or regular gym goer may have heard of the coaching cue ‘shoulders back and down’ whilst performing certain pressing lifts. The claim is that this helps to keep the shoulders stable during lifts.

It’s true to a degree, but I want to offer a better cue (in my opinion), with an explanation as to what we’re doing, and why it’s better.

You may have read in my abs workout on the site about proximal stiffness allowing distal movement. What this means is that in order to move a limb safely at speed, you need to maintain a stiff, secure anchor point for the joint. 

In this case, if you want to throw a ball, a punch, a weight overhead etc, you need to have stable shoulders. 

I like my lifters to practice scapular retraction when pressing overhead. Instead of bringing the shoulders back and down, I want them to imagine they’re trying to hold a pen between their shoulder blades as they press.

This helps to create a stable shoulder for heavy lifting.


There’s one exercise here that’s conspicuous by its absence… the dumbbell front raise. No, I didn’t forget about it. I just think it’s an absolutely unnecessary exercise for circa 99.9999999999%* of the lifting population.

Think about modern life. 

We sit at desks, behind the wheel of a car, to eat… all of these positions create internal rotation at the shoulders. This can cause upper back and neck pain, headaches and can compromise shoulder health. It’s a position that causes shoulder impingements too.

We then hit the gym. We bench press, cable fly, do push ups, overhead presses, push presses, snatch, do skull crushers… all of which activate the anterior deltoid, one of the key drivers of the internal rotation at the shoulder.

To then throw in set after set of dumbbell front raises, an exercise that deliberately targets the anterior deltoid, a muscle that is already overactive is asking for trouble.

We do enough work either directly or indirectly for the anterior deltoids, so I’m not going to include it in this workout. 

*Figures may have been exaggerated for comedic effect (but probably not!)

Why so many exercises? The complexity of the musculature…

The shoulder isn’t merely the ‘anterior, medial and posterior deltoid’ that some gym bro’s will have you believe. Although it is nice to simplify it to these main sections…

Shoulder Muscles Simplified (5 muscles)

It’s actually a complex joint that is acted upon by 18 different muscles, 8 of which are the actual shoulder structure.

There’s a dense junction of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels at the shoulder.

Muscles around the shoulder

Each muscle co-operates with the others to create force and movement. In order to cover the range of movements required here, we need a lot of exercises. You simply can’t cover everything we need to do with presses and rows. 

What’s the thinking with different rep ranges?

The shoulders are small muscles, so in order to move big weights they need a mechanical advantage. 

Some of the exercises simply don’t allow for that. 

To get around this, with the exercises and movements where we can lift heavy, we do.

On the exercises where we’re targeting a smaller muscle, or we’re not at a mechanical advantage (for example the external rotations and the reverse fly), we use lighter weights and higher reps. 

On exercises where we’re generating a lot of power and explosive force, we’re shooting for a medium weight with 8 reps or so. A weight light enough to lift quickly, but heavy enough to make the muscles work hard. 

There are also movements that we’ll work slowly and deliberately, focussing and maintaining the scapular retraction I spoke about earlier. 

Bells for Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout – the Exercises

This is the section where we’ll cover the workout itself. All of the exercises will be listed, including a brief description and important coaching cues and points for the exercises. 

The workout is to be done as a whole. Don’t break it down into sections, and ideally stick to the order the workout is written in. What’s imperative is that you ensure you do the warm up exercises first.

The workout…

1. Dumbbell YTW (W/U)321 (7/7/7)
2. Dumbbell External Rotations (W/U)12 (per side)
3. Dumbbell Reverse Fly (W/U)315
4. Lat Raises312
5. Dumbbell Press55
6. Dumbbell Shrugs510-12
7. Arnold Press412
8. Alternating Dumbbell High Pull58 (per side)
9. Single Arm Dumbbell Snatches58 (per side)
10. Dumbbell Lu Raises410

Bells For Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout Infographic 1

1. Dumbbell YTW

Chances are if you’ve ever had a shoulder injury and been treated by a physical therapist, you’ve been prescribed a variation of the YTW exercise. It’s a simple yet SUPER effective shoulder complex, activating the shoulders and traps with simple, slow and deliberate movements.

It’s a perfect warm up because it’s light weight, essentially risk-free and forces your brain to switch on! Perform this in a 7/7/7 pattern – seven each of the ‘Y’, ‘T’ and ‘W’. The 21 reps make up 1 set. Repeat 3 times.

Equipment needed for dumbbell YTW’s:

  • A bench
  • A pair of light dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do dumbbell YTW’s:


  • Lie chest down on an inclined bench, with a light dumbbell in each hand with your thumb side facing the ceiling
  • With your arms straight, slowly and deliberately lift them up and out slightly outwards, squeezing the shoulder blades together as you go
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required


  • Lie chest down on an inclined bench, with a light dumbbell in each hand your thumb side facing the ceiling
  • Slowly lift the arms up and to the sides, keeping your arms straight and you lift into a ‘T’ shape
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together as you go
  • At the top of the movement, pause and slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required


  • Lie chest down on an inclined bench, with a light dumbbell in each hand your thumb side facing the ceiling
  • Slowly lift the arms up and to the sides, bending your arms, so your elbows pull back into a ‘W’ shape
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together at the top of the movement
  • Pause and slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required

2. Elbow-Supported DB External Rotations

The elbow-supported dumbbell external rotations is an exercise I learned from a physical therapist who was treating me for a shoulder problem.

It’s a simple but effective exercise, because it trains the external rotation of the shoulder, but because the weight of the arm is supported, it doesn’t fatigue the deltoid – it just engages the muscle.

Equipment needed for elbow-supported dumbbell external rotations:

  • A bench
  • Single light dumbbell

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do elbow-supported dumbbell external rotations:

  • Kneel by the side of the bench (seat must be in an upright position)
  • Position your upper arm on the bench, and have your elbow bent 90 degrees
  • The hand should be pointing directly in front of you
  • Lift the hand up, keeping the upper arm in contact with the bench throughout
  • Pause at the top, then slowly lower the arm back to the starting position
  • Repeat

3. Dumbbell Reverse fly

This a classic bodybuilding exercise for good reason – it hits the rear deltoids very well. So much so that it’s the first exercise in our rear delt dumbbell exercises article!

I see the reverse fly as a supporting exercise for the shoulders, helping to stabilize the scapular and strengthen the traps. As part of an overall dumbbell shoulder workout, it’s worth its weight in gold.

This is the final exercise of the warm up – keep your movements slow and deliberate here, don’t rush the exercise.

Equipment needed for reverse fly:

How to do reverse fly:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Bend at the hips, keeping your back straight
  • With your arms straight and pointing directly below you, use your rear deltoids and upper back to lift the weights out to the sides
  • At the top squeeze the upper back muscles together
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

4. Lateral raises

The dumbbell lateral raise is a shoulder exercise almost everyone would have seen before. It has been popular in the bodybuilding world for years and hits the medial deltoid effectively.

It’s also a very simple exercise to do, with a range of movement that can be adjusted depending on your shoulder movement capability. Select a medium weight for this one. 

Equipment needed for lateral raises:

How to do lateral raises:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Lean forward slightly – this helps to lock the lower back into place and prevent over-leaning
  • With an overhand grip, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side, going as high as you comfortably can
  • When you reach the top of the movement, pause for a split second 
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Bells For Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout Infographic 2

5. Dumbbell shoulder press

This is a pure strength exercise here – we’re going for weight primarily. Make sure you select a challenging weight (you’re well warmed up by now), keep your form excellent and drive the dumbbells for a full range of motion.

Keep your core tight and glutes squeezed to maintain a strong back. DON’T ARCH your lower back!

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

How to do a dumbbell shoulder press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead, maintaining the neutral grip throughout
  • At full extension, pause and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Note: This exercise can also be performed on a shoulder press machine. Learn more about this in our best shoulder press machine in-depth buying guide.

6. Shrugs

One of the movements people forget about when it comes to shoulders is elevation – lifting the shoulders upwards, if you were trying to touch your ears with them.

This movement is important for shoulder support, and also helps to prevent injury by strengthening the muscles at the back of the shoulders.

You’ll likely be able to lift a heavy pair a dumbbells here, even for multiple reps. Go heavy for the 10-12 reps.

Equipment needed for shrugs:

How to do shrugs:

  • Stand with a heavy dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body
  • Keeping your arms and back straight, shrug your shoulders up (towards your ears) and together, squeezing your shoulder blades together tightly
  • Hold the squeeze for 2-3 seconds
  • Lower your shoulders and repeat

7. Arnold press

A classic shoulder exercise, possibly/probably invented by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s an exercise that forces contraction through a press and a rotation, so works the shoulders two ways. The Arnold press is a nice way to mix up pressing movements.

The plan here is to maximize contraction by really concentrating on the movement.

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

How to do Arnold presses:

  • Sit upright on a bench, with a dumbbell in each hand
  • Dumbbells should be at chest height, palms facing your chest
  • Press the dumbbells overhead, rotating them as you press
  • When your arms are overhead and at full extension, your palms should be facing away from you (180 degree turn)
  • As you return the dumbbells to the starting position, rotate the dumbbells back so your palms are facing you again
  • Repeat

Note: If you want to learn more about all things Arnold – check out our Arnold split article as well.

Bells For Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout Infographic 3

8. Single arm dumbbell snatch high pull

This is the first of our two power movements. It’s designed to work on explosive power, the kind of which you’d use in a sporting context. It’s also a perfect way to combine several body parts in a single movement, with the shoulder doing most of the work.

Finally, it’s a vertical pull movement from the ground up, which is unique in a shoulder training concept. A great movement for lots of training outcomes. 

Equipment needed for single arm dumbbell snatch high pull:

How to do single arm dumbbell snatch high pull:

  • Place the dumbbell between your feet, slightly in front of you
  • Take hold of the dumbbell with an overhand (palms facing towards you) grip
  • Keep your back straight and pull directly upwards
  • Pulling the elbow up high and wide, but squeeze the shoulder blade of the lifting arm in towards the middle
  • Emphasize the elbow traveling upwards and keeping the dumbbell close to the body
  • Lower the dumbbell under control
  • Repeat as many times as required

9. Alternating dumbbell power snatches

A dumbbell power snatch is the second power movement in the workout – it’s a complete upper body exercise that combines strength, power and stability. As well as being unilateral, it’s functional dynamic and will also help to build overhead range of movement if you need it to.

It’s a great addition to any dumbbell shoulder workout and tests the shoulder through a full range of motion. 

Equipment needed for alternating dumbbell power snatches:

How to do alternating dumbbell power snatches:

  • Set a dumbbell between your feet
  • Take an overhand grip, squat slightly and drive up with the legs, putting upward momentum into the dumbbell
  • Use the momentum to carry the dumbbell up, then lift it the rest of the way overhead
  • Once the dumbbell is overhead, drop it to the floor under control
  • Switch sides and repeat
  • Continue for as many reps as required

10. Dumbbell Lu Raises

The ‘Lu’ raise is named after legendary Chinese weightlifter, Lu Xiaojun. It’s essentially a lat raise with a huge range of motion, taking the weight from the sides of the body to directly overhead, and then back down to the sides.

If you’re a purist it’s done with weight plates, but it’s still every bit as effective when using dumbbells. Great for shoulders, upper back and mobility, it deserves its place here.

Equipment needed for dumbbell Lu raises:

How to do dumbbell Lu raises:

  • Take a dumbbell in either hand and start with your hands by your sides
  • Keeping your arms straight, lift the dumbbells out to your sides, and keep going until they are directly over head
  • Pause at the top, then lower your arms by your sides and return to the start position – keep your arms straight throughout
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

These ten exercises make up the Bells to Boulders dumbbell shoulder workout. It’s probably the most comprehensive and in-depth shoulder workout you’ve done, so take your time to execute it right. 

On the first time the workout may take you longer than you thought, but you’ll get used to it and it’ll happen quicker next time.

What to expect from the program

There’s a lot of work in a small area of the body, so there’s a few things you might notice. They’re all perfectly normal…

You might start to get ‘fasciculations’

Have you ever sat down, minding your own business and then a muscle starts twitching of its own accord? That’s called fasciculation. It’s a random firing of the nerves supplying a muscle.

For some reason, shoulders are particularly susceptible to them when fatigued! It’s totally harmless, but don’t be surprised if your shoulders start to twitch when they’re tired!

Your muscles just ‘switch off’ with fatigue

The shoulders are a small muscle group that does a lot of work. Unlike legs, back, or chest where you’ll gradually fatigue, shoulders can just ‘stop’ working almost! You might manage a rep pretty well, then the next one comes and the dumbbells just won’t budge.

Keep trying for a few seconds, but sometimes they just won’t play ball. Reduce the weight and go again.


Ahhhh, the dreaded delayed onset muscle soreness. The same advice applies. Eat plenty of protein, drink lots of water, keep them moving and it’ll soon go away. It’s basically ‘training tax’ as I see it.

Strength climbs weekly

Not a huge surprise, but your shoulders are going to get stronger. Being a small muscle group it won’t be the dramatic rises that you see with legs, back and chest, but it’ll be noticeable.

A few pounds extra on a given lift, or weekly increases in rep quality and quantity… it’s all progress and it all counts!

Bonus tips to help with the dumbbell shoulder workout

A couple of bonus tips to help with your shoulder training and maintenance of shoulder health…

Bells For Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout Bonus Tips


I have two favorite shoulder stretches – the first one is the passive hang. You literally just dangle and let gravity do its thing. I usually shoot for 2 sets of 30 seconds (or longer if you can)…

The next one is really simple. Get a couple of dumbbells and perform a dumbbell chest fly. Rather than return the dumbbells to the starting position though, you just hold them wide, opening the chest and stretching it fully. Aim for 3-4 sets of 30 seconds or more.

Do this AFTER your workout – not before! Take advantage of the warm, elastic tissues!

Note: check out our chest fly alternatives if you want to adequately replace the chest fly.

No more pushing all week

You’ll notice that in the training week I’ve suggested, there’s no more pushing throughout the week – only pulling. That’s not an accident. 

If you were to program too much extra pushing you’d run the risk of overdoing your pushing work, compromising shoulder health.

Instead, my advice (based on 20 years as a personal trainer) would be to forego the extra pushing work and instead focus on the horizontal and vertical pulling.

This would improve shoulder health and in many cases, successfully rehab troublesome shoulders.  

Be consistent

Twelve weeks of shoulder work might sound like a lot of time, but such a complex and important joint deserves the time and attention. Dedicate this time to your training and you’ll potentially prevent a costly shoulder surgery that takes a lot longer than 12 weeks to recover from!

Bells for Boulders Dumbbell Shoulder Workout: The bottom line

I started the article being critical of a lot of shoulder training programs, and for good reason. They’re often poorly written and poorly executed by the people following them. This one, though, is different. It’s considered. It’s deliberate and it’s thorough.

Perform this well and you’ll rebuild your shoulders, making them strong, functional and injury resistant. They’ll look and feel great.

Read the whole article, digest it, print out the workouts and get busy! Your shoulders will thank you… (and you’ll look great in a t-shirt!)

For more stand alone workout ideas, check out these other programs from the site…

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Steve Hoyles is a certified personal trainer and gym owner. Since graduating with his Sports Science degree in 2004 he's worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. His writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries as he inspires to help as many people as possible live a healthy lifestyle.

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