15 Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: August 18, 2022

Compound movements are king when it comes to building muscle size and strength. But most people focus on isolation exercises when training shoulders, which leads to less than maximum growth.

So if you want to shift gears and unlock new gains, you came to the right place. I’m about to show you the best compound shoulder exercises for bigger, stronger delts.

Compound Shoulder Exercises 2

What Are Compound Shoulder Exercises?

In weightlifting, compound movements are exercises that involve multiple joints. For example, the squat is a compound leg exercise because you simultaneously bend at the hips and knees.

Similarly, compound shoulder exercises involve both the shoulder and elbow joints. An example of a compound upper body movement is the bench press.

The benefit of compound exercises is that they recruit more muscle groups, allowing you to move heavier weights. And that increased loading helps you build strength and gain muscle size over time.

Compound vs Isolation Shoulder Exercises

On the other hand, isolation exercises involve only one joint, such as the elbow during a bicep curl. Isolation shoulder exercises include front raises and lateral raises that involve only the shoulder.

Generally, bodybuilders use isolation exercises to target specific muscles for hypertrophy. In comparison, compound exercises maximize workload and strength gains. But it takes both types of exercises to build muscle and power.

Related: Hypertrophy Training vs Strength Training

Isolation vs Compound Shoulder Exercises

Muscles Worked by Compound Shoulder Exercises

Before we get into compound shoulder exercises, it’s helpful to know a little more about shoulder anatomy. The shoulder comprises three separate muscles: anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids.

The anterior deltoid is the front, the lateral is the side, and the posterior is the back. Furthermore, different movements target different parts of the shoulder.

Shoulder Muscle Anatomy

Pressing Compound Shoulder Exercises

Pressing movements involve pushing a weight away from your body, as in a bench press. These exercises work your chest, triceps, and shoulders.

More specifically, overhead presses target the anterior and lateral deltoid. But they don’t hit the posterior deltoid very much.

Rowing Compound Shoulder Exercises

Rowing movements involve pulling a weight towards your body, as in a bent over barbell row. These exercises work your back, biceps, and shoulders.

However, upright or high rowing exercises target the posterior deltoid more than the anterior or lateral heads.

Best Compound Shoulder Exercises

To make this list easier to browse, I broke it up by barbells, dumbbells, machines, and other equipment. So you can find compound shoulder exercises no matter your gym setup.

Barbell Compound Shoulder Exercises

The barbell is arguably the best piece of equipment for compound shoulder exercises. It is highly versatile and allows you to pack on some serious poundage.

1. Overhead Press

The overhead press should be a staple in your shoulder workout routine. It works the front and side delts with maximum loading.

To start, set the barbell on a rack at about chest height. Then grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside shoulder width.

Now lift the bar off the rack and hold it against your collar bones. From this starting position, press the bar overhead until your elbows lock out. Then lower it back to your chest.

Another variation of the overhead press is called a push press. This exercise involves generating momentum with your legs at the start of the movement, which allows you to lift more weight, but it’s not as good for targeting shoulders.

Compound Shoulder Exercises Overhead Press

2. Seated Military Press

The seated military press is like an overhead press performed while sitting on a bench. This exercise takes your legs out of the equation, so you only use your upper body.

Start by sitting in the seat and lifting the bar off the rack at arm’s length. Next, lower the bar to your chest and immediately press it back overhead until your elbows are straight.

You can also perform the seated military press by lowering the bar behind your head. This variation removes some of the load from your upper chest and targets the anterior deltoid. However, it’s best to use less weight to avoid stressing your shoulder joint.

3. Incline Bench Press

You might think of the incline bench press as a chest exercise. But you can also use it to target your front delts.

Start by laying back on the bench and lifting the bar off the rack at arm’s length. Then lower the bar to your upper chest before extending your arms to press it back up.

If you have an adjustable incline bench, set it at a steeper incline to use more shoulders and less chest.

Related: Incline Bench Press vs Flat Bench Press For Building Chest

Incline Bench Compound Shoulder Exercises

4. Landmine Shoulder Press

A landmine is a solid base with a pivoting bracket that attaches to one end of a barbell. Essentially, it turns a barbell into a giant lever you can use for many different exercises like landmine rows.

To do a landmine shoulder press, start facing the free end of the bar and grab the sleeve with one hand. Stand so the the end of the bar in front of your shoulder.

From this starting position, push the end of the bar straight overhead before lowering it back down. You can do this exercise while kneeling to change the angles. Or hold the bar with both hands for more stability.

5. Upright Row

The barbell upright row is an excellent compound shoulder exercise for targeting the rear delts and traps. But it’s essential to use good form to prevent shoulder pain.

Start by grabbing the bar with an overhand grip and hands 6-12 inches apart. Next, stand straight up with the barbell resting against your thighs.

Pull the bar straight up the front of your body until you reach chest level. Now lower the weight back down to your thighs.

Dumbbell Compound Shoulder Exercises

Dumbbells are probably even more versatile than the barbell for doing shoulder exercises because you can work each arm individually. Here are the best dumbbell compound should exercises.

6. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press is the same as the barbell variation, except your hands aren’t locked together by the bar. This separation forces you to use more stabilizer muscles to balance the weight.

Start with one dumbbell on each thigh, then hoist them up to your shoulders with your palms facing forward. Now press both hands overhead until the dumbbells meet and your arms are fully extended.

With dumbbells, you can press both simultaneously or alternate arms.

7. Arnold Press

The Arnold press is a shoulder exercise popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It has a unique movement path better for targeting multiple deltoid heads in one exercise.

First, pick up the dumbbells and sit on the bench with one on each thigh. Next, use your legs to hoist the dumbbells up to shoulder level with your palms facing your chest.

In one smooth motion, press the weights up overhead until your arms are fully extended. As you press, rotate your hands so your palms face forward at the top.

Arnold Press vs Shoulder Press Muscles Worked

8. Dumbbell Upright Row

The dumbbell upright row resembles the barbell version, except it takes more control to move your arms in unison.

For this variation, stand with a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing the front of your thighs. Then pull the dumbbells straight up the front of your body to about neck level.

9. Incline Dumbbell Press

Another dumbbell version of a barbell exercise is the incline dumbbell press. Again, each arm works independently, and you get a more natural movement path.

Remember, the steeper the angle of the bench, the more shoulders you will use.

Machine Compound Shoulder Exercises

If you’re working out at a fitness club or commercial gym, you probably have access to a few machines. So let’s look at some machine compound shoulder exercises.

10. Machine Shoulder Press

Many gyms have some form of machine shoulder press or military press. Usually, you sit in an upright position and press handles attached to plates or a weight stack.

Also, you can use a Smith machine if you don’t have a weight stack shoulder press.

11. Smith Machine Shoulder Press

The Smith machine shoulder press is the same as the barbell military press, but the bar moves on rails. This fixed movement path makes it easier to balance and can help target the shoulder muscles.

To start, sit on the bench with your feet firmly on the footrests or floor. Then lift the bar off and rotate the hooks off the safety stops.

Next, lower the bar until it reaches at least the level of your chin. But you can go down to your shoulders to increase the range of motion.

Then press the weight back up until your arms are nearly fully extended. Repeat for the desired reps before racking the bar on the safety stops.

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12. Smith Machine Upright Row

Another machine barbell exercise is the Smith machine upright row. Again, the guides help control the movement path so you can focus on the working muscles.

First, set the safety stops so the bar rests at about mid-thigh. Then stand with the bar about 1 inch from your thighs.

Next, lean forward to grab the bar with an overhand grip about 6-12 inches apart and stand up to lift the bar off the safety stops.

Pull the bar straight up the front of your body until you reach chest level. Now lower the weight back down to your thighs.

13. Cable Face Pulls

The face pull is practically the same movement as the upright row, except the pulley is about head level. With the higher pulling angle, your shoulders rotate externally, incorporating the rear delt.

Grab the handle with an overhand grip using a rope or bar attachment. Then step back to put tension on the cable with your arms extended in front of you.

From here, pull your hands towards your forehead by bending at the elbows and squeezing your rear delts. Generally, it’s a good idea to use lighter weight so you can focus on the rear delt without using too many other muscles.

More Cable Shoulder Exercises

Other Compound Shoulder Exercises

You might not have found many exercises on the list so far if you work out at a CrossFit gym or you have a home gym. So here are a couple more compound shoulder exercises you can do with minimal equipment.

14. Kettlebell Shoulder Press

The kettlebell shoulder press resembles a dumbbell press, except the weight rests against your forearms as you hold the handle. You can do this exercise with both arms or one arm at a time, just like the dumbbell version.

15. Handstand Push Ups or Pike Push Ups

Handstand push-ups are essentially an inverted shoulder press using your body as resistance. Doing a free-standing handstand push-up can take months of practice.

But you can start by doing them as pike push-ups with your feet still on the ground. Then work your way up to balancing with your feet on a wall.

Compound Shoulder Exercise Pike Push Up

More Shoulder Exercises

Of course, your shoulder workout shouldn’t only be compound exercises. It’s important to include some isolation movements for the front, side, and rear delts as well.

Click below to get more ideas for a complete shoulder workout.

Cable Shoulder Exercises

Resistance Band Shoulder Exercises

Posterior Deltoid Exercises

Front Delt Exercises

Side Delt Exercises

Now you have a complete list of compound shoulder exercises from which to choose. Before you leave, check out some of these other fitness-related articles!

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By |August 18, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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