The Best Dumbbell Exercises for Your Shoulders

Last week, I was in the mountains of Western Massachusetts at a yoga retreat center assisting my teacher Sage Rountree in some trainings for seven days. It was a dream come true, but also potentially nerve-wracking since I was less than a month out from my first CrossFit competition.

I’d been to this facility in the past so I knew that I’d be without my usual playground of barbells, kettlebells, and workout buddies. Uh huh — I’m a little spoiled. But what better time to test my workout creativity than this new challenge?

The Best Dumbbell Exercises for Your Shoulders

Speaking of this upcoming competition, one of the lifts that we’ll be trying to max out at the event is the barbell strict press. I love this lift and do it often, but I’ve been stalled out at 95 pounds for a few months now. Being the problem-solver that I am, I’ve been brainstorming ways to get over that hump and finally break into the triple digits.

So I took this trip away from my comfort zone — to the land of no barbells — as an opportunity to mix up my training a bit and try a different approach. Armed with only dumbbells, I worked my shoulders hard and here’s what I realized: Dumbbell work is a super effective way to compliment your barbell training. Using dumbbells puts a different demand on your muscles, particularly the stabilizer muscles. So it adds a new layer of challenge, which will ultimately lead to new adaptations in muscle strength.

Also, dumbbells force both sides of your body to work equally. In life, we use each arm to perform different tasks. This, if left unchecked, leads to muscular imbalances that may contribute to shoulder injuries down the line. However, when you work with dumbbells, each side of your body must support an equal amount of weight and neither side can do the work of the other. The benefit is that those sneaky little imbalances are exposed and you’ve got a golden opportunity to work on correcting them.

In short, dumbbells can make you stronger when you pick up that barbell again — just what I needed. And guess what, shortly after I got home for the trip, I nailed that 100-pound strict press!

Here are the best dumbbell moves to keep your shoulders strong and healthy:

And if you’re jonesing for a kick-ass shoulder day, try this workout out:

Check this video out for all the exercise demos.

How do you like to give your shoulders some love? Share in the comments below! —Alison

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