12 Compound Shoulder Exercises for Mass and Strength

You may be training your shoulders regularly, but you won’t gain the strength and size you need unless you incorporate compound shoulder exercises into your routine.

Compound shoulder exercises are a great way to build shoulder muscle mass and strength.

Before switching to compound lifts, I was stuck in the front and lateral raise rut for a long time. The difference was incredible. My shoulders strengthened, and my upper body workouts became more challenging and rewarding.

In this guide, I’m sharing the 12 compound shoulder exercises that transformed my training, and they can do the same for you.

What are the Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

The shoulders are a complex joint system with several muscle groups working together to create movement and stability. The deltoid, the most visible muscle group in the shoulder, has three distinct heads responsible for different actions.

However, building strong shoulders requires training not just the deltoids but also other important muscles like the rotator cuff muscles, trapezius, rhomboids, lats, and triceps.

The rotator cuff muscles consist of four muscles that provide stability and control to the shoulder joint. They include:

  • Supraspinatus: Assists in shoulder abduction and helps initiate movements.
  • Infraspinatus: Aids in shoulder external rotation.
  • Teres Minor: Works synergistically with the infraspinatus in shoulder external rotation.
  • Subscapularis: Facilitates shoulder internal rotation.

When it comes to choosing the best compound shoulder exercises, you must choose those that engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously. This multi-muscle recruitment allows you to lift heavier weights, which means faster strength gain and size gain.

Here are some great options to incorporate into your workout routine.

Shoulder Anatomy
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12 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

Here are the 12 best compound shoulder exercises to build muscle mass and strength.

You’ll get more benefits if you introduce some compound exercises into your routine that also work your shoulder

1. Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press is the best exercise for building shoulder muscle mass and strength. It remains the grand-daddy of all shoulder exercises to build big, round shoulder muscles.

It is the favorite shoulder exercise among bodybuilders because it builds muscle fast and is a power move. This movement also strengthens the upper pectorals and triceps.

You can perform it in both standing and seated positions, but seated upright is stricter than standing.

Because you’re sitting, you can’t use your legs to help you lift. This means you’re challenging your shoulders and getting better results.

Barbell Shoulder Press

How To Do

  1. Sit on a back-supported or flat exercise bench in an upright position (90-degree angle).
  2. Keep the distance between the bar and the bench small so you can grab the bar without reaching too far back.
  3. Grab a bar with an overhand grip. Your hands should be slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Bring the bar over and in front of your head, under your chin, and just above your upper chest.
  5. Take another breath and lower the barbell to below your chin level, being careful not to hit your nose on the way down.
  6. Once finished, bring the barbell back and place it over the rack before relaxing your upper body.


  • Perform a warm-up with 50% weight for 1–2 sets.
  • Always perform the Shoulder Exercises before you perform the triceps.

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell overhead shoulder press is an excellent variation of the barbell shoulder press. The fact is that the dumbbells allow a full range of motion.

It is a fundamental compound exercise that primarily targets the deltoid muscles, specifically the anterior (front) and medial (side) delts. It also engages the triceps and stabilizes the core and upper back muscles.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

How To Do

  1. Sit on a bench or standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder level, palms facing forward, and elbows bent at 90 degrees.
  3. Press the dumbbells overhead by extending your arms.
  4. Pause briefly at the top of the movement with your arms fully extended but without locking out your elbows.
  5. Lower the dumbbells back down to shoulder level.


  • Don’t allow the head to jut forward excessively.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements

3. Arnold Shoulder Press

The Arnold Press, named after the bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a unique shoulder press variation that offers several benefits beyond its standard counterpart, like an increased range of motion and maximum stretch.

Unlike the standard press that primarily hits the front delt, the Arnold Press incorporates a twisting motion that engages all three deltoid heads (anterior, medial, and posterior delt)

Arnold Press

How To Do

  1. Sit on a bench or standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder level with your palms facing your body.
  3. Push the dumbbells up overhead without letting your elbows flare out. Rotate your wrists so that your palms face away from you.
  4. As you press upward, rotate your palms until they face forward at the top.
  5. Pause briefly at the top, then reverse the movement by rotating your palms back towards your body as you lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.


  • Inhale when you lower the weight and exhale when you lift.
  • Keeping the elbows slightly bent at the top and not locking out entirely will help to keep tension on the shoulders.

4. Landmine Shoulder Press

Although the landmine shoulder press is not a popular exercise, it strengthens your shoulders, chest triceps, and upper back while stabilizing your core.

Due to the angled bar, the landmine press allows for a more natural pressing path. This can be especially helpful for people with shoulder impingement or mobility limitations.

Because of the uneven base, your core muscles must work harder to maintain stability.

The Landmine Chest Press

How To Do

  1. Stand holding the weighted end of the barbell with one hand.
  2. Clean that bar to shoulder height and tuck your elbow into your side.
  3. Make sure the barbell is wedged securely in a landmine device or corner.
  4. Your feet should be level and shoulder-width apart.
  5. Keeping your core braced and knees soft, press the bar up and away from you, fully extending your arm at the top.
  6. Press the weight with both hands until your arms are extended, then bring it back down slowly.
  7. With control, lower the bar back down to the starting position.


  • Hold a neutral spine throughout the movement to prevent injury.
  • Exhale on pushing movement, and inhale when returning to the starting position.
  • Lean your body forward slightly and engage your core muscles to help with stabilization.

5. Cable Shoulder Press

Even though you might not see many people using the cable machine, mixing in your shoulder workout is a fantastic exercise for extra variety.

The angle of the cable overhead press can help recruit new muscle fiber that’s not engaged much with other types of shoulder presses because the force is pulling down behind you.


How To Do

  1. Stand between a low pulley cable machine with two cables attached to the machine.
  2. Bend down, grab the cables, and then bring them to your shoulders, as this will be your starting position.
  3. Keep your back straight, head up, and chest up, and extend through your elbows.
  4. Push the handles up towards the ceiling over your head.
  5. Hold for a count at the top, then return to the starting position.


  • Try to stand as close to the cable machine as possible. If you stand too far away, the weight will pull you back, placing stress on your lower back and making the exercise more difficult.
  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.

6. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is a weightlifting exercise that targets the muscles of the shoulder and upper backincluding the deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, and even the biceps. It is a great addition to any full-body workout.

Barbell upright rows can be done with both narrow grips and wider ones.

  • The narrow grip focuses on the trapezius,
  • The wider focuses on the entire shoulder girdle.
  • Also, the wider grip allows some cheating movement, thereby allowing you to lift more weight.
Barbell Upright Row

How To Do

  1. Stand facing the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and load it with the weight you want to use.
  2. To grasp the barbell, hold it with an overhand grip and hands slightly closer than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Pick up the bar with your back straight and bend your knees.
  4. Keep your back straight and eyes facing forward, and lift the bar straight up while keeping it as close to your body as possible. 
  5. Hold for a moment before you go back to the starting position.


  • Focus on keeping your elbows higher than your forearms.
  • Keep your back straight.

7. Standing Barbell Rear Delt Row

Standing barbell rear delt row is a free-weight exercise that primarily targets the rear deltoid and middle back, but it also targets the biceps, lateral delt, and traps to a lesser degree.

If you haven’t tried this exercise before, load the barbell with a reasonable amount of weight and try it.

Standing Barbell Rear Delt Row

How To Do

  1. Stand up straight while holding a barbell using a wide (higher than shoulder width) and overhand (palms facing your body) grip.
  2. With slightly bent knees, bend over at the waist so your chest is parallel to the floor.
  3. While keeping the upper arms perpendicular to the torso, pull the barbell up towards your upper chest as you squeeze the rear delt.
  4. Slowly go back to the initial position as you breathe in.


  • Do not use your biceps to do the work. Focus on targeting the rear delts; the arms should only act as hooks.
  • Focus on the form before you go for a heavyweight.
  • Maintaining the right posture while working out is essential.

8. Seated Neutral-Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

The seated neutral-grip dumbbell overhead press is a very effective exercise that targets the deltoids’ anterior (Front) head.

The neutral grip places your wrists and elbows in a more natural position. This can reduce shoulder joint stress, which makes it a great option for those with shoulder pain or limited mobility.

Seated Neutral-Grip Overhead Dumbbell Press

How To Do

  1. Sit on a bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height.
  3. Begin with your palms facing each other and elbows just below shoulder level.
  4. Push the weights straight up, stopping just short of locking out your elbows.
  5. Then, control the dumbbells all the way down until your upper arms are parallel to the floor or slightly lower.


  • Keep your back and neck neutral.
  • Do not lock out your elbows.
  • Always warm up before training heavily to prevent shoulder discomfort.

9. Behind-the-Neck Press

The standard military press and the overhead dumbbell presses hit more of the anterior head of the deltoid.

Behind the neck press, on the other hand, stimulates all three heads of the shoulder and also recruits the triceps, traps, and rhomboids.

This compound shoulder exercise is not recommended if you don’t have a lot of shoulder mobility.

Behind-the-Neck Press

How To Do

  1. Sit on an exercise bench and place the barbell just below shoulder height.
  2. Elevate the barbell overhead by fully extending your arms while breathing out.
  3. Hold the contraction for a second and lower the barbell back to the starting position by inhaling.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.


  • Don’t bounce the bar off your neck. Perform the exercise in a slow and controlled manner.
  • Perform a warm-up with 50% weight for 1-2 sets.
  • Keep your elbows flared out, aligning with the shoulders or slightly behind.

10. Pike Push Up

Pike Push-ups, also known as shoulder push-ups, is a variation of the push-up that increases strength and stability in the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

A more upright position will target the shoulders more than the chest.

The pike push-up looks like a mash-up of Downward-Facing Dog and Dolphin Pose, and this move can build major strength.

Pike Push Up

How To DO

  1. Start in a push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart and your elbows locked out.
  2. Lift the hips up and back until your body forms an inverted V shape.
  3. Keep arms and legs as straight as possible.
  4. Slowly lower the top of your head towards the ground.
  5. Once your head is about to contact the ground, pause for a second.
  6. Then slowly push back until your arms are straight and you’re in the inverted V position.


  • Make sure you maintain control throughout the movement.
  • Keep your back neutral and knees straight throughout the exercise.
  • To make the pike push-up easier, you can place your hands on a block or a higher surface than your feet, as this reduces resistance.

11. Shoulder Tap Push Up

The shoulder tap push-up is a variation of the push-up that challenges the core more than its traditional counterpart.

It is a full-body strength move that focuses on your arms, shoulders, and chest while strengthening your core.

Shoulder Tap Push Ups

How To Do

  1. Start in a high plank position with your palms flat on the floor.
  2. Hands shoulder-width apart, shoulders stacked directly above your wrists, legs extended behind you
  3. Lower yourself by flexing your elbows so your chest comes within a few inches of the floor.
  4. Make sure your body is in a straight line from your head to your knees.
  5. Raise your body to the starting position by pushing up with your arms.
  6. Tap your left hand to your right shoulder while engaging your core and glutes to keep your hips as still as possible.
  7. Place it back on the floor and repeat your next push-up and shoulder tap with another hand.


  • Tighten your core, engage your glutes, and keep your spine, head, and neck aligned.
  • Do not let your lower back sag or your butt rise. Ensure your body is straight and rigid.
  • Your arms should resemble an arrow in the bottom position, not a “T”
Know More: 5 Best Shoulder Push-Ups To Build Strength & Mass

12. Parallel Bar Dip

This exercise simultaneously engages multiple muscle groups, including the pectoralis major, deltoids, triceps brachii, and stabilizer muscles like the rhomboids and trapezius.

You must add this compound exercise to train the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps.

Parallel Bar Dips (Chest Dip)

How To Do

  1. Hold on to the parallel bars with an overhand grip, palms facing downward.
  2. Lift your feet off and straighten your arms, supporting your body weight on the bars.
  3. Lean forward slightly while keeping your chest up and shoulders back.
  4. Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows until your shoulders are slightly below your elbows.
  5. Pause briefly at the bottom position, then raise your body to the starting position.


  • Hold a dumbbell between your legs if you need additional resistance.
  • A little forward body bend will hit the chest muscles harder.

Compound Shoulder Training Tips (With Workout Routines)

1. Select Weekly Workout Plan As per your fitness level

The number of sets you perform for shoulder exercises will depend on your fitness goals and current fitness level.

  • Beginners: ~10 sets per week.
  • Intermediate: ~15 sets per week.
  • Advanced: ~20 sets per week.

When a certain amount of volume stops being effective and your progress stalls, you can add sets to increase volume and use that as a driver of renewed progress. 

2. Select a Training Plan As Per Your Goal

  1. For muscle endurance: Aim for 3–4 sets of 12–15 reps, with moderate resistance.
  2. For muscle strength: Aim for 3–5 sets of 6–10 reps, with more resistance.
  3. For muscle hypertrophy (increased muscle size): Aim for 3–4 sets of 8–12 reps, with a moderate to heavy resistance.

It is always best to start with fewer reps and sets and gradually increase them as your strength improves.

Furthermore, it is important to allow adequate rest between sets, typically 60–90 seconds.

3. Keep Your Tempo Controlled

You should pay attention to the tempo of each repetition.

  • During the lifting (concentric) phase—a controlled and deliberate movement that emphasizes muscle contraction.
  • Focus on each rep’s lowering (eccentric) portion, taking 4–6 seconds to lower the weight under control. This technique targets the muscle fibers to stimulate new growth.

4. Beginner Compound Shoulder Workout Routine

ExerciseSetsRepsRest Time
Dumbbell Shoulder Press38-10 60-90 sec
Dumbbell Arnold Press310-1260-90 sec
Pushups (with emphasis on shoulder engagement)38-10 60-90 sec
Plank Shoulder Taps310-12 60-90 sec

5. Intermediate Workout Routine

ExerciseSetsRepsRest Time
Barbell Overhead Press46-8 60-90 sec
Dumbbell Arnold Press48-1060-90 sec
Dumbbell Upright Row410-12 60-90 sec
Dips48-1060-90 sec
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Are compound shoulder exercises suitable for beginners?

Yes, compound shoulder exercises are suitable for beginners, but it is crucial to start with lighter weights and focus on proper form and technique.

Beginners may also find it helpful to do compound exercises with help or modifications until they get strong.

Is shoulder press a compound movement?

Yes, the shoulder press is a compound movement because it works multiple muscle groups, including the deltoids, trapezius, triceps, and core muscles.

The motion involves the coordination of various joints, such as the shoulder and elbow, making it a multijoint exercise that simultaneously targets several muscle groups.


Shoulder compound exercises are highly recommended for anyone interested in building a wider shoulder and gaining strength.

It not only allows for targeted muscle development but also provides an overall 3D look to the shoulder. It is easy to do and requires no more scientific details and fancy equipment. Include some compound exercises in your shoulder workout routine.

The results will speak for themselves if you consistently do these compound exercises.

Thanks for reading.

10 Best Shoulder Exercises To Build Muscle Mass and Strength

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