Compound workouts allow you to work many muscles at once. Find out what shoulder exercises are part of this category.
When it comes to weights for these compound exercises, you have many shoulder exercise equipment options to choose from.
If you want to work even more different muscles, a pair of dumbbells tends to be a great choice.
1. Shoulder press
Shoulder presses are one of the most popular shoulder exercises for good reasons. Take the following steps to do this movement with a pair of dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Point your hand palms to the center.
- Swing the dumbbells forward and up until you can move them to right in front of your shoulders. Point your upper arms somewhat forward. At about 45-degree angles to the horizontal line of your shoulders.
- Push the dumbbells up in a controlled motion until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to shoulder height. Again, make sure your upper arms point somewhat forward.
The main thing to keep in mind during this dumbbell shoulder exercise is that you point your upper arms forward enough. This tends to reduce your shoulder injury risk.
That aside, shoulder presses are a compound shoulder exercise that works the front and middle deltoids (main shoulder muscle), triceps, and trapezius.
By using dumbbells, you work a variety of shoulder stabilization muscles to a larger extent too.
2. Pike pushup
While regular pushups also focus on your front deltoids to a nice extent, you can change the angle of the exercise to focus even more on this area.
Take the following steps to do a pike pushup on the ground:
- Put your hands about shoulder width on the ground with your arms slightly less than stretched. Keep your body in about one line from your hips to your hands and from your hips to your feet. Raise your hips to an angle where you can complete the next steps.
- Slowly lower your upper body until it is close to the ground by folding your arms. Keep your upper arms pointing somewhat forward in relation to the horizontal line of your shoulders.
- Push yourself back into starting position in a controlled motion.
You can basically describe pike pushups as a shoulder press where you use your body weight as resistance instead of external weights.
In turn, pike pushups are another shoulder compound exercise that works your front and middle deltoids, triceps, and trapezius.
You can say that pike pushups work your chest, abs, and hip flexors just a bit more due to the sideways angle and to keep your body in position.
While most people will find the bodyweight version more than hard enough, there may be some experienced lifters who need more of a challenge.
These individuals can wear a weighted vest, elevate their feet, and/or do pike pushups with their hands on pushup handles to see more and faster results.
3. Upright row
Upright rows are a movement where you can use a variety of equipment options. Due to the more comfortable wrist position, upright rows are a popular EZ curl bar shoulder exercise.
Take the following steps to do this variation:
- Load the EZ curl bar with the desired amounts of weight.
- Hold the EZ curl bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart and stand up straight.
- Slowly raise the EZ curl bar until your upper arms are about horizontal.
- Lower the EZ curl bar back to hip height in a controlled motion.
Besides working your middle deltoids a lot, upright rows are also a compound bicep exercise that works your upper trapezius and to some extent forearm grip muscles.
One thing to keep in mind is that some people find upright rows uncomfortable on their shoulder joints. If this applies to you, you may want to stick to one of the other compound shoulder exercises.
4. Incline bench press
As the name implies, you will need a good incline weight bench to do this next shoulder exercise. Additionally, you need some form of resistance.
For example, you can take the following steps to do an incline bench press with a barbell (and rack):
- Rack the barbell at a height where you can conveniently do the next step and load it with the desired amount of weight. Put the incline bench below the bar at a good distance for the next step.
- Lie down on the weight bench and pull your shoulder blades back and down. Put your hands about shoulder-width apart on the barbell. Your arms should be folded a decent amount right now.
- Push the barbell up until your arms are slightly less than stretched and move it forward until it is above your shoulders.
- Lower the barbell as far as comfortable in a controlled motion. Keep your upper arms at angles of 45 degrees or less to your sides.
- Slowly push the barbell up again until you are back in the position of step 3.
Regular bench presses already work your front deltoids (shoulders) a nice amount. However, by doing the exercise in an incline, you focus even more on this body part.
Additionally, this compound exercise still works your (upper) chest and tricep muscles a nice amount too.
Keep in mind that if you go really incline, you may be able to lift less weight. In that case, using the same number of pounds or kilograms as your regular bench press can offer suboptimal results.
5. Face pulls
Ideally, you would use a cable machine or resistance bands with a good anchor for the next shoulder compound exercise. At the same time, you could use one-handed free weights like dumbbells too.
As an example, take the following steps to do a cable face pull:
- Set the pulley to about face height, attach a double rope handle, and select the desired amount of weight. Stand right next to the cable machine with your face toward it.
- Grab the double-pulley handle with your hands “under” the handle and your hand palms pointing to the center.
- Take a step or two back so you have room to do the exercise. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Let your arms and shoulder blades follow the resistance for now.
- Slowly move your hands to a position where your shoulder blades are pulled back, your upper arms are in one line, and your lower arms are pointing up and inward at about 45-degree angles with your upper arms. Keep your upper body in the same position throughout the movement.
- Return your hands back to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Face pulls definitely count as a compound shoulder exercise with how many muscles you engage. These include your back deltoids, biceps, trapezius, and a variety of scapular muscles.
6. Arnold press
This next exercise requires you to have single-handed free weights that are relatively mobile. Your two main options will be dumbbells and kettlebells.
As an example, take the following steps to do an Arnold press with kettlebells:
- Stand up straight with a kettlebell in each hand. Point your hand palms toward each other for now.
- Swing the kettlebells up to chest height. Keep your hands right in front of your chest with your hand palms pointing toward your body. The bulk of the kettlebell hangs against your forearms.
- Slowly raise the kettlebells up until your arms are slightly less than stretched. When they reach shoulder height you slowly rotate your wrists 180 degrees and point your upper arms somewhat more outward (but not too much).
- Lower the kettlebells back to chest height in a controlled motion by reversing the movement from step 3. Again, keep your movements controlled.
Arnold presses are somewhat unique in that they work all three parts of the deltoid muscles. On top of that, this shoulder exercise also works your triceps, trapezius, and a variety of scapular muscles to nice extents.
You do want to make sure you don’t overdo it with twisting your wrists and pointing your upper arms outward. If you are weak in your shoulders and/or wrists you may want to start with other movements.
Additionally, it can be smart to warm up extra well before doing Arnold presses.
7. Rear deltoid rows
While you can use other equipment options too, the walkthrough below will assume you have a barbell with weight plates.
Take the following steps to do rear deltoid rows with this equipment setup:
- Load the barbell with the desired amount of weight, stand in front of it, and put your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the bar. Your hand palms point downward/backward.
- Stand up straight with the barbell in your hands and bend your knees slightly.
- Tilt your upper body forward as far as comfortable or until it is about horizontal. Let your arms and shoulder blades hang down for now. Keep your spine straight.
- Slowly raise the barbell as far as comfortable by pulling your shoulder blades back and folding your arms. To work your shoulders, you really want to pay attention to pointing your upper arms outward. Do not keep them close to your sides.
- Lower the barbell in a controlled motion until your arms are slightly less than stretched again.
Regular bent-over rows are mainly a back exercise. However, by pointing your upper arms outward more, rear deltoid rows become a barbell shoulder exercise.
More specifically, you mainly work the back part of your deltoids, your biceps, and your trapezius.
Additionally, you engage your erector spinae (lower back), glutes (butt), and hamstrings (back thighs) to some extent to keep your body in the bent-over position.
Are shoulder presses a compound exercise?
Yes, shoulder presses are a compound exercise that works your deltoids (shoulders), triceps, and upper trapezius.