6 Exercises To Carve Sexy Shoulders

By the time summer rolls around, you know you want to be able to don your cutest tank tops and slinky dresses with confidence, knowing full-well your shoulders look damn sexy in anything you put on. A solid shoulder workout won't just help you develop strength as you carve svelte muscles, though; it'll also help you improve your posture so you can walk tall no matter your actual height.

As a certified exercise physiologist, I'm happy to tell you it's not hard to incorporate shoulder-strengthening exercises into a standard workout routine. Whenever you target your upper body during compound exercises, whether you're holding a plank or doing a set of bench dips, your shoulders engage. In fact, the shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the entire body, made up of three bones, three ligaments, and 15 muscle attachments, including those of the deltoids and rotator cuff (the two groups most commonly thought of as "shoulder muscles"), the biceps, triceps, and many of the major muscles of the chest and back. In other words, a well-balanced exercise routine is probably doing a pretty good job of developing baseline strength and stability through your shoulders. But if you're ready to enjoy even greater results, start incorporating three to four of the following shoulder-targeting exercises into your workout two to three times a week. It won't take long before you notice your muscles pop.

Dumbbell shoulder press

The basic dumbbell shoulder press is one of the most straight-forward ways to unilaterally develop your anterior and lateral deltoids, as each arm has to independently lift its own dumbbell. Sit tall on a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bring the dumbbells to your shoulders, palms facing forward and your elbows pointing out to the sides. Keeping the dumbbells in the same plane as your shoulders (not allowing them to move in front of or behind your shoulders, press your arms straight up into the air, extending your elbows as you bring your upper arms toward your ears. Touch the dumbbells lightly at the top, then control the reverse motion, bringing the dumbbells back to your shoulders. Perform three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, using a weight that's heavy enough that the last one to two repetitions are challenging to complete with good form.

Lateral raise

Lateral raises target, unsurprisingly, the lateral deltoids — the central head of the deltoid muscle group, often termed the "middle" or "side" delts. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand tall, your feet hip-distance apart, your knees slightly bent. Roll your shoulders back and check your posture to make sure your ear, shoulder and hips are all aligned. Keeping a very slight bend in your elbows, raise both dumbbells out laterally toward the sides of the room, stopping when your wrists, elbows and shoulders form a straight line, like a "T." Lower the dumbbells carefully back to your sides. Perform two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, so the last few repetitions of each set are challenging (but not impossible) to complete with good form.

Front raise

Front raises are very similar to lateral raises, but they target primarily the anterior deltoid, commonly termed the "front" deltoid. Start as you did for the lateral raise, standing tall with your feet hip-distance apart, your knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Roll your shoulders back to check your posture as you engage your shoulder blades, and rotate your palms inward so they're facing your thighs. Keeping your body steady, lift the dumbbells straight up in front of your body, with just a slight bend at the elbows, stopping when your shoulders, elbows, and wrists are aligned. Carefully lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Perform two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, using a weight that makes the last few repetitions of each set challenging.

Reverse dumbbell fly

To target the third head of the deltoid — the posterior, or "rear" deltoid, the reverse dumbbell fly is a great option. The posterior deltoid is often ignored, so it's a good idea to start with very light weights to get accustomed to the movement. Stand tall, your feet shoulder-distance apart, a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your lower legs steady, press your hips back and tip your torso forward to a roughly 45-degree angle, allowing your knees to bend as needed to enter the position. From here, allow your arms to hang down from your shoulders so they're roughly perpendicular to the floor, but make sure you keep your shoulders rolled back and your scapula engaged, and add a slight outward bend to your elbows, almost as if they're "bow-legged." At this point, your palms should face inward. Once you're in this position, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lift the dumbbells out laterally toward the sides of the room, maintaining the bend at your elbows. When your wrists are roughly in line with your shoulders, reverse the movement and carefully lower the dumbbells back to their starting position. Perform two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, so the last few reps of each set are challenging.

Suspension trainer I, Y, T

The I, Y, T exercise using a suspension trainer is another great way to develop rear deltoid strength while improving your posture and strengthening your rotator cuff. Stand tall and hold the handles of the suspension trainer in each hand. You'll want to face the axis of the suspension trainer, but you'll need to take several steps backward so that if you hold the handles somewhere between your navel and chest with your elbows bent (the lower they are, the harder the exercise), there's no slack in the rope.

From here, plant your feet wide and lean back until your arms are fully extended. This is the starting position. Roll your shoulders back and tighten your core. Keeping your arms straight throughout, raise them up over your head, a movement that will pull your body back into a standing position, so you create an "I" shape. Carefully reverse the movement, lowering your arms back to the starting position. On the next repetition, again keeping your elbows straight, raise your arms up and out at an angle, so as your arms are lifted over your head, you form a "Y" shape with your body. Carefully reverse the movement and return to the starting position. On the final movement, draw your arms out toward the sides of the room, so your body forms a "T" shape. Continue alternating between the I, Y, and T movements until you can't perform another repetition with good form. Complete two sets.

Pike push-up

If you don't have access to dumbbells or other strength training equipment, there's nothing wrong with using your own body weight to target your shoulders. The pike push-up primarily works your anterior deltoid, as well as your chest, but you'll get a little bit of lateral deltoid work in there, too.

Start in a downward-facing dog position with your palms and the balls of your feet planted, your arms and legs extended, and your hips lifted, pointing toward the ceiling in an upside down "V" shape. Make sure your palms are aligned with, but slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Before you start, press through your palms and draw your shoulders away from your ears as you press your hips higher to really "lengthen" your spine. From here, bend your elbows outward, and carefully lower your head between your palms until it almost touches the floor. Just before it touches down, reverse the movement by pressing through your palms and extending your elbows. Perform two sets, completing as many repetitions as you can with good form.

A well-balanced shoulder routine

To maximize the effectiveness of your shoulder workout, you should start with either the dumbbell shoulder press or the pike push-up, then add a few of the other moves. This is because the dumbbell shoulder press and pike push-up each engage more muscles, while the remaining exercises do a better job of isolating specific, smaller muscle groups. As an example, one day you might do the dumbbell shoulder press, reverse fly, lateral, and front raises, and the next day you might do the pike push-up and I, Y, T exercises. When combined with other upper-body exercises, like pushups, rows, triceps dips, and biceps curls, you'll have no trouble developing the shoulders you've been craving.