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The Best Shoulder Exercises For Women

Targeting your shoulders when working out can help with toning, sculpting and shaping your arms and upper body, as well as improving your strength and general fitness. 

If you spend a lot of time hunched over your computer or phone, you may find yourself with weak shoulders, as they turn inwards and become increasingly slouched. A focus on working out your shoulders can also help with your posture, effectively pulling your shoulders back into place.

Whatever your goals, you’ll be able to find shoulder exercises that can help you meet your objectives and enjoy the many benefits of strong shoulders.


The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body and the muscles that fit around the area aid a variety of functions, namely attaching your upper limbs to your skeleton and helping you to lift and pull. Some of the major muscles to be aware of include:

  • Latissimus dorsi (lats) - one of the biggest muscles in your back, this muscle helps to protect and stabilise the spine and plays a primary role in many strength exercises.
  • Rhomboids -- the muscles in the middle of the shoulder blades and top of the back. They pull your shoulder blades together when they contract.
  • Deltoid (delts) -- mostly used for arm rotation, this sits on the top part of the arm at the top of the shoulder. This is the priority for many people looking to build muscle around their shoulders.
  • Rotator cuff (SITS) -- a group of four muscles and tendons which stabilise and provide strength during shoulder motion. They're key players in almost every type of shoulder movement, so it's worth maintaining their strength and flexibility in order to keep your shoulders functioning effectively.
  • Trapezius -- runs down your spine and across your shoulder blade and you have one on each side.


Women come in all shapes and sizes, with different health, fitness and wellbeing goals, so there really is no 'one size fits all' approach when it comes to shoulder exercises. Different workouts can target each muscle and achieve different objectives, whether that's building mass, improving posture or increasing flexibility.

You can effectively work your shoulders with just your own body weight, but it helps to utilise some of the equipment in the gym to boost your shoulder strength. Kit like dumbbells, kettlebells, cable ropes and resistance bands can help to increase the intensity of your shoulder workout.

Our Five Ways to Workout Your Shoulders post gives some great examples of shoulder exercises featuring barbells, dumbbells and the shoulder press. Our Arms & Shoulders hub has plenty more articles for inspiration, plus we've pulled together this workout as a fantastic starting point...


Notes: Rest for 1 to 1.5 minutes between each set.

Seated shoulder press: 10-12 reps 3 sets

The Smith machine is an aid for completing and improving bench presses, with notches to slot the barbell into as you lift, helping with control and resistance and providing support if you don't have a buddy with you as a spotter. Presses on the Smith machine will not only build muscle in your shoulders, but also your chest.

Sit at the Smith machine bench, ensure you have the correct weight set for your strength level and adjust the position so that the bar comfortably comes down just in front of your face. Un-rack the weights and bend your elbows slightly. Slowly lower the weight down until the bar is just below chin height, pause, and then gently raise the bar back to the starting position without locking your elbows out at the top of the movement.

Cable rope face pulls: 10-12 reps x 4 sets

Using a cable machine, stand facing a high pulley with a cable rope. Grab the cable handles with both hands and step back. Engaging your core, pull the cable in towards your face whilst pulling the cables apart. Slowly extend your elbows to return. This will target and help to strengthen your delts, rhomboids and external rotators, and will help to improve other your abilities with other pressing-style exercises such as push ups.

Cable rope front raise: 10-12 reps x 3 sets

Another great isolation exercise for the delts that utilises the rope cable machine again. Start with the rope attached to a low pulley and stand facing away from the cable machine just in front of the pulley with the rope between your legs. Grab a handle in each hand, and step forward slightly. Keeping your arms straight, but slightly bent throughout, pull the rope up to around eye height before easing back to starting position towards your lower body.

Dumbbell lateral raise: 10-12 reps x 3 sets

Hold a dumbbell in each hand, stand straight, with your legs shoulder-width apart, and shoulders rolled back. Bend your elbow slightly. Start your arms by your sides and your palms facing inwards. Raise your arms until they reach the shoulder level. Keep raising, but twist your arms forwards so your palms continue to face each other. As they meet over your head, pause and bring your arms down, again twisting around shoulder height so your hands keep facing in the correct direction.

Here at PureGym, every body is welcome, but we understand that for some women the weights area in particular can be quite intimidating. Don't let that hold you back from your fitness goals -- if you're feeling nervous you can speak to one of our Personal Trainers who show you the ropes and help to build your confidence.

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