Forget deadlifts. Just loading and unloading a barbell is a workout unto itself. So it stands to reason that those heavy hunks of rubber or metal will give you a full-body workout, no bar required.
Playing with plates has some unique advantages. For example, climbers (and guitar players) will benefit from the increased finger strength that gripping the flat weights requires. Plus, holding the sides of a plate positions your hands about shoulder-width apart, which is great for activating your arms during overhead moves. Unlike a kettlebell or a dumbbell, a plate is easy to hug to your chest for squats and weighted good mornings. And the equipment is in abundance—just about every gym has them.
Jeb Stuart Johnston, a strength and conditioning coach in Brooklyn, designed this eight-move AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) strength and endurance workout. Grab two plates, a light and a heavy, set a timer for 20 minutes, and perform 10 reps of each move (except number 8) before going on to the next. Do as many rounds as you can before the buzzer. Record the number of rounds you finish, and try to beat it next time.
For poundage, start with a 25- and a 45-pound plate. It’s OK to lighten the load, but Johnston warns against going heavier. The goal is to move quickly through the circuit, which gives you an added dose of cardio. As a bonus, unlike lifting barbells, you can clean up your area in just one trip to the racks.
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Starting in January 2018, Women’s Health will feature readers of all shapes and sizes rather than fitness models in the magazine’s “15-Minute Workout” series. Here, Morgan Gibson Kanner, digital content manager at WeddingWire, kicks it off! Follow her #IAmFit story!
If you’re looking to change up your workout routine, consider throwing a weight plate into the mix. This simple barbell accessory can help you refine your technique during upper-body exercises (courtesy of its shoulder-width diameter), add difficulty to basic strength exercises (placing one hand or foot on the plate offers a subtle but effective change in elevation), and master rotational movements (the unique weight distribution can make it easier to twist without compromising form).
To test it out for yourself, try this total-body workout (here, using a 10-pound weight) created by Idalis Velazquez, certified personal trainer and founder of I.V. Fitness in Miami. Crank this circuit in order, resting only as needed. Repeat as many times as you can in 15 minutes, and do it two or three times a week for major results.
(Get tons of great workout ideas that will help you maintain a fit, healthy lifestyle for GOOD with The Women’s Health Fitness Fix.)
- Overhead Press Squat Jack
- Deficit Lateral Lunge
- Rotational Skater Hop
- Alternating Knee-In and Press
- 10 Weight Plate Exercises You Have to Try
- 1. Front plate raise
- 2. Squat reach
- 3. Plank plus
- 4. Burpee plate hop-over
- 5. Overhead triceps extension
- 6. Weighted sit-ups
- 7. Weight plate shrugs
- 8. Single leg deadlift
- 9. Front lunge with a twist
- 10. Halos
- 10 Amazing Exercises You Can Do with Weight Plates
- Fix Me a Weight Plate Workout, Will Ya?
- 11 Weight Plate Exercises For A Solid Core
- Ultimate weight plate exercises for a solid core
- Blast Your Upper Body With This Shoulder Plate Raise Workout
- How to Perform Plate Raises
- Plate Raise Workout Finisher
- Shoulder exercises
- Beginner Shoulder Exercises
- Intermediate Shoulder Exercises
- Advanced Shoulder Exercises
Overhead Press Squat Jack
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a weight plate at your chest, elbows bent (a). Jump your feet out wider than your shoulders as you raise the plate directly overhead and push your hips down and back to lower into a squat (b). Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep; do eight.
Related: How Often Do You Need To Do Leg Workouts To See Results?
Deficit Lateral Lunge
How to: Stand with both feet centered over the middle of the plate, your hands together at your chest (a). Brace your core as you step your right foot out to the side and lower your body until your right knee is bent 90 degrees and your left leg is straight (b). Reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep; continue alternating for eight.
Check out Morgan’s fitness story here:
Rotational Skater Hop
How to: Stand on your left foot and hold a plate in front of you with both hands, elbows bent. Brace your core and lift your right foot off the floor (a). Hop to your right, raising your left leg behind you as you rotate your torso and bring the plate toward your right hip, keeping it close to your body (b). Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep; continue alternating for eight.
Related: The 5-Minute Workout That Will Rev Your Metabolism
Alternating Knee-In and Press
How to: Lie on the floor and hold a plate a few inches above your torso, then raise your shoulders, back, and legs off the floor (a). Engage your abs to lift your upper body higher as you bring the plate overhead and pull your right knee in toward your chest (b). Reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the other side. That’s one rep; do eight.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Women’s Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!
Marissa Gainsburg Marissa Gainsburg is the Features Director at Women’s Health, where she oversees the magazine’s news-meets-trends Warm Up section and Love & Life section.
10 Weight Plate Exercises You Have to Try
Thanks to weight machines and free weights, bulking up biceps and getting killer legs has never been easier. But if you work a typical eight-hour day, you know that theses pieces of equipment are all in use come 5:30. If you’re sick of waiting around to do your favorite strength-building exercises and you still want to get your workout in as efficiently as possible, skip the dumbbells and go for the weight plates instead. While they’re typically around to give more resistance to barbells, you can use a single weight plate to help you build muscle and endurance — and you definitely won’t have to wait around to use them. Here are 10 different weight plate exercises you need to try.
1. Front plate raise
Use weight plates for this exercise. | iStock.com
This arm workout from from Livestrong is easy to perform and tough on your arm muscles, working the biceps, triceps, and deltoids. To start the front plate raise, choose a weight plate of an appropriate weight for you and begin with it in front of the body, hands holding the sides. Keeping the arms extended at the elbow, raise the plate up and over your head. Lower the plate back down in front of your body slowly.
2. Squat reach
Hold a weight plate for added resistance. | iStock.com
To get a full-body workout that gets your heart pumping and builds muscle, try the weight plate squat reach from Men’s Health. Start with feet shoulder-width apart and the weight plate held close to your chest. Squat down, driving your weight into your heels and keeping your knees behind your toes, then thrust the weight plate forward with your arms, keeping your arms extended and parallel to the ground. Rise from your squat and pull the weight plate back to your chest to prepare for another rep.
3. Plank plus
Use weight plates to work your abs. | iStock.com
You’ll feel this exercise in your shoulders, obliques, and abs as you do this plank variation, which you can see over at Self. Start in a plank position with arms extended (don’t rest on your forearms) and the weight plate under your chest. With your right hand, take the weight plate and drag it over to the right side. Then, reach under your right arm with your left hand to drag the weight plate to your left. Repeat this exercise for as many reps as you can on each side before resting.
4. Burpee plate hop-over
These weight plates are perfect for this exercise. | Phil Walter/Getty Images
This cardio-fueled exercise from Men’s Fitness is even more difficult than a traditional burpee, and you’ll feel your heart rate rising significantly after the first few reps. Begin with your weight plate on the ground directly in front of you. Then, go into your burpee. Jump up with hands high, lower your hands to the ground, jump your feet back, perform the push-up, and jump feet back toward the chest. As you rise from the ground, jump over the weight plate and turn around to face the weight plate again, then go right into another one. Try 10 of these burpee plate jump-overs and you’ll feel the burn.
5. Overhead triceps extension
A weight plate instead of a dumbbell works just fine. | iStock.com
You may already be doing this exercise with dumbbells to work the back of the arms, but you can do this exercise with weight plates, too. STACK explains you should stand tall, holding the weight plate behind your head with both hands. Keeping your elbows close to your ears, lift the weight plate toward the ceiling and lower down with control. Make sure to keep the abs engaged to protect your back muscles here, too.
6. Weighted sit-ups
Weighted sit-ups will really work your core. | iStock.com
This is a variation on a classic move that builds major core strength. To start this weighted sit-up from Train Online, begin by lying down on a mat with feet stretched out in front of you. Grab your weight plate and extend it over your head so it is parallel with your face, using both hands to hold it steady. Make sure to fully extend your arms here as well. Then, lift your upper body into a crunch, keeping your arms and legs fully extended to work your core muscles, and lower back down to the floor.
7. Weight plate shrugs
Shrugs are just as effective with weight plates. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
You can get strong, sculpted shoulders without the use of dumbbells — this weight plate shrug from Jefit is great for isolating the shoulders and building strength. Begin this exercise with feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Hold a weight plate in each hand and let your arms rest down by your sides. Then, slowly shrug your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for a second before letting them drop slowly back to their normal position.
8. Single leg deadlift
Deadlifts are great for your lower body. | iStock.com
This difficult move from FitnessRx for Men requires focus, balance, and strength in the core and legs to pull it off, and it will give your hamstrings a serious workout. Start in a standing position with a weight plate held close to your chest. Then, push the weight in front of you as if you’re performing a chest press, keeping the arms parallel to the ground, with a slight bend in the elbow. Keeping your weight in your right leg, lower the weight plate down toward the ground as you lift your left leg straight out behind you until your torso and left leg create a flat plane. Lower your left leg down and bring the weight plate back up with arms still extended. Switch legs to receive the benefits on the opposite side.
9. Front lunge with a twist
Use these weight plates for lunges. | iStock.com
This move incorporates legs, abs, and arms, as you’ll be using your full range of motion to build strength and get your blood pumping. Livestrong explains that to start this move, hold the weight plate to your chest, and forward lunge, keeping your legs at 90-degree angles as you sink down into the move. Once you’re in your lunge with your back knee nearly touching the ground, twist your shoulders and the plate over the front leg. Twist back into your neutral position and push your front leg back up to standing, and repeat on the opposite leg.
Halos are very effective. | iStock.com
This move, outlined by Body Building Advisor, is simple and effective, and you’ll feel it in your arms, shoulders, and core muscles. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and lift your weight plate over your head. Keeping arms bent, circle the weight plate around your head, moving the plate behind your head, over your shoulders, and across your forehead. Make sure to keep your core muscles engaged to protect your back and work your abs as well. Switch the direction of the plate after each set.
10 Amazing Exercises You Can Do with Weight Plates
No bulky and expensive training equipment? No problem! You can jumpstart into a healthy and fit lifestyle with your handy weight plates.
Typically used in combination with barbells, weight plates are often underestimated, and dare we say it, underexplored. When we say weight plates, most people are limited to thinking of only one exercise: lifting. However, it must be known that its simplicity is what makes a weight plate a piece of flexible equipment. Among others, you can use it to build endurance, boost strength, and improve your balance.
Here are ten ways you can integrate weight plates in your regular routine:
Plank Plate Switch
Targets: Shoulders, chest, abs, obliques
Level: Beginner to intermediate
How: Start by doing a plank. Fists should be at eye level and toes firm to the ground. Stack four to five weight plates together at your right. Raise your left arm and grab each plate one by one, stacking them to your left. Once stacked, raise your right arm, grab each plate and stack them to your right. Repeat the process, speeding up as you go.
Targets: Shoulders, chest, abs, arms
How: Start in a pushup position. Keep a plate under each hand, making sure the plates are in contact. Lower your chest and slide plates apart as you go. Aim for your nose to touch the ground. Get back to start position and slide the plates back together. Repeat.
Front Shoulder Raise
Targets: Shoulders, back, abs
Level: Beginner to intermediate
How: Grab a weight plate with both hands. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding plate at inside grip with arms extended forward. Keeping arms straight and elbows soft, slowly raise plate overhead until biceps meet ears. Return to start.
Targets: Deltoids, shoulders, upper back
How: Stand with a straight torso and with feet hip-width apart. Grab a plate with each hand and keep them to your side. This is your starting position. Raise the plates to your side with a slight bend on the elbow. Stop when your arms are parallel to the floor. Lower the plates slowly back to starting position. Repeat.
Targets: Shoulders, biceps, triceps, back, abs
How: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding plate at the outside grip, arms extended overhead. Bend elbows and move plate around your head in a circular motion until you get back to starting position. Switch directions. Repeat.
Chest Squeeze Press
Targets: Pecs, Triceps, deltoids
Level: Intermediate to advanced
How: Hold and squeeze two plates together in between your hands and across your chest. Shoulders should be kept down. Extend elbows as far as you can go, with the plate going away from the body in chest height. Go back to starting position. Repeat.
Targets: Triceps, chest, abs, butt, thighs
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
How: Start in a squat position and make sure your back is straight. When re-assuming standing position raises the plate overhead. Make sure you bring the plate as close to the body while moving it over your head.
Targets: Triceps, abs, butt, thighs, lower back
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
How: Start with feet shoulder-width apart and the weight plate held close to your chest. Squat down, driving your weight into your heels and keeping your knees behind your toes, then thrust the weight plate forward with your arms, keeping your arms extended and parallel to the ground. Rise from your squat and pull the weight plate back to your chest and repeat.
Targets: Triceps, abs, butt, thighs, lower back
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
How: Stand in an upright position. Hold a plate with your left hand as your right-hand hold your waist. Bend your waist to the left as far as you can. Hold for one to two seconds. Go back to starting position and change hands.
Targets: Chest, shoulders, triceps, upper back
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
How: As you would with a normal overhead press, raise your chest upwards and arch your back. Hold a plate with both hands. Lift plate overhead and then press it close to your face. Repeat.
Fix Me a Weight Plate Workout, Will Ya?
Jan 29, 2018 · 5 min read
I’ve always been into lifting and toning over the years. Barbells, dumbbells, and kettle balls have always been my go to gear when trying to focus on specific muscle groups. But did you know you can tone and build by using a Weight Plate instead? Using plates instead of regular lifting equipment really mixes up your workout and allows you to try basic moves in a new way. You name it, glutes, biceps, triceps, and shoulders can all be targeted by picking up a plate too!
I’ve never been big on plate workouts, maybe because I’m more traditional, but lately I find myself grabbing a few plates and incorporating them into a workout routine. Plates are easy to hold and maneuver when trying to balance and lift all at the same time. Basically it’s another way to achieve that full body workout I push for each time I talk about some of my favorite workouts. Even though weight plates are one of the most common pieces of gym equipment, most people don’t give them a thought other than sliding them onto a bar and laying back for some chest toning action.
Check out some of my favorite go to plate workouts so you can be super creative at the gym or at home:
Overhead Squat- you guessed it, this first idea is most certainly one of my faves. Overhead squats not only target your lower body muscles, it also help you tone your shoulders and back too. Press the plate overhead and stand with your feet in traditional squat position. Attempt to “stand tall” while squating. Maintain a tight core and do not lean forward. Use a plate that is an appropriate weight. Complete 12 reps 3 times.
Plate Chest Press- this really targets your chest, shoulders, and back muscles since your lifting, moving, but also in a stabilized position. Stand with feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Hold one or two weight plates together depending on your weight preference between both hands, fingertips pointing forward, at chest height. Keep constant pressure on the plates throughout the keep them from falling. This pressure will pull your chest in. Leading with fingertips, slowly extend elbows as far as you can to press the plates out and away from body. Once fully extended, pause, then flex through elbows to return to start. That’s one rep. Try 12 reps 3 sets.
Sumo to Side, Sumo to Side Plate Squat- as you already know, I’m big on squats and lower body toning. I really enjoy mixing up my workouts and this one really does it for me on top of wearing me out too. Start in a standing Sumo squat position holding a plate between your legs. Proceed to complete a Sumo squat and return to starting position. Once standing, lunge to your right holding your plate between your legs. Return to starting position and complete another Sumo squat. Then lunge to your left in the same manner. Once you get your bearings, this movement should almost be fluid-like moving from Sumo to lunge, to Sumo to lunge all with your plate centered on the lower half of your body. Complete 10 reps 3 times.
Tricep Plate Extensions- I don’t know about you, but I truly think triceps are crucial to target. Without really focusing on this muscle group, your arms will never really look toned. The best way to put it is that you’ll always have bat wings. This can be in a stabilized standing or seated position. Hold a plate in both hands at the 4 and 7 o’clock positions. Your palms should be facing each other and your arms should be extended directly above your head. Keep your elbows close to your head. Slowly lower the plate behind your head as you hold the upper arms stationary. Return to the starting position by flexing your triceps. Complete 12 reps, 3 sets.
Bicep Plate Curl- biceps are another important muscle group we shouldn’t ignore. Toned and strong arms not only look good, it also helps you complete day to day tasks much more easily. Start by standing straight with a plate held by both hands and arms fully extended. For the best results, grab the weighted plate at 3:00 and 9:00 o’clock position. Slowly lift the plate up while keeping the elbows in and the upper arms stationary until your biceps and forearms touch while exhaling. Slowly lower the plate back down while competing with the weight’s resistance. Complete 12 reps, 3 sets.
No matter your target area, grabbing a plate will definitely change up your daily routine. There are tons of other great ways to use a weighted plate in your workout. Try some of my suggestions above and check out this week’s Instagram post for plate workout ideas all week! Happy Workout!
11 Weight Plate Exercises For A Solid Core
Using a Weight Plate to work your core is one of the most effective ways to strengthen your abs as well as burn fat.
And if you’re looking for functional exercises that go above and beyond just using your bodyweight, you’ve come to the right place.
Weight plates exercises are great for building strength while allowing you to move naturally.
Target weak spots, challenge your core and give your abs the resistance they need to get to the next level.
Below you’ll find our guide to the best core exercises you can do using just an Olympic Tri Grip Weight.
Follow these exercises for stronger abs as well as a solid workout.
Ultimate weight plate exercises for a solid core
1) Dead Bugs
30 x reps
Target your lower core and maintain focus with dead bugs. While lying on the floor, hold the weight plate up above your chest with your arms straight. Bring both legs up at the same time and lower them gradually towards the floor but don’t let them relax. Bring them back up again and repeat.
2) Overhead With Russian Twists
30 x reps
Take your Russian twists to the next level with these exercises. Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent. Take the weight plate up over your head and back again. Come up into a sit up position and twist the weight plate once towards your right hip and once to your left before you go back down to start again.
3) Lying Leg Holds
Hold for a minute
Isometric training is great for helping you get stronger so adding in some holds as well as full reps, is ideal. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Place the weight plate on top of your lower shins. You can also grip it between your feet – whatever is most comfortable. Lie back and then raise both your legs up off the floor.
4) Side Bends
30 x reps each side
Target your obliques with side bends. First, stand up straight with the weight plate in your right hand. While keeping your chest elevated, reach the weight down towards the floor so that you bend down on your right-hand-side. As soon as you get to the point where you can’t go any lower, come back up slowly so that you’re standing up straight and start again.
5) Weighted Dish
Hold for a minute
We’re not going to lie; these exercises aren’t easy! But if you can do them, they’re really worth adding to your core training as the benefits are tenfold.
Lie on your back with your legs straight and feet together. Raise the weight plate up over your head with your arms as straight as possible. Then raise your arms and your legs off the floor at the same time so that your body forms something similar to a dish or banana shape. Hold.
6) Overhead Plate Crunches With Reach
30 x reps
When you’re doing these, really focus on your form to make sure you’re fully extending your abs. Start off by lying on the floor with your knees bent. Take the weight plate up over your head, then bring it back over. As you sit up, straighten your arms and push the weight plate up into the air as high as you can. Make sure you elevate your chest and straighten your back at the same time. Then bring the weight plate back into your chest as you lie back down to start again.
7) Wood Choppers
30 x reps each side
You can use these to inject some real power into your oblique exercises. While standing up straight, bring your weight plate up and over your right shoulder. Then, swing it down to your left knee while squatting down at the same time. You’ll need to twist your body to get the full motion but be careful to do this in a controlled manner so that you don’t put yourself at risk of injury. Once you have done 30 reps, repeat on the other side, starting off with the weight plate over your left shoulder and bringing it down towards your right knee.
8) Three-Point Crunches
30 x reps
These are a great variation to normal crunches, and you can concentrate on maintaining your posture as you extend and retract the plate.
Sit up on the floor with your knees bent and your feet off the floor. While clasping your weight plate in-between your hands, “point” the weight out to the left of your knees, then back in again. Then point it out in-between your knees, retract and then point out to the right.
9) Weighted Planks
Hold for a minute
Ramp up your planks and challenge your core with this awesome exercise. This is basically a plank with a weight plate on your back. Place your Tri Grip Weight Plate somewhere close to hand. Then get into a plank position and drag the weight plate up onto your back. Try and place it centrally or you can place it on your glutes. Just make sure it’s in the middle.
10) Weighted V-Sits
30 x reps
V-sits are hard enough on their own, never mind with a weight plate. But that’s exactly why we added one in! Lie down on the floor with your arms above your head while holding the weight plate. Sit up into a ‘V’ position, bringing your legs up at the same time while keeping them straight. Reach the weight up to meet your toes and then lie back down again. Your body and legs should come up together. Really squeeze your abs in the top position before you lower yourself back down.
11) Squats With Rotation
30 x reps
These will work your lower back as well as your abs and obliques, so a really good all-rounder to finish off with. Stand up straight with the weight close to your chest. Then squat down while pushing your weight back. I this position, twist once to the right taking the weight plate all the way round to the side of your hip. Return to the middle and then do the same on the left-hand-side. Then stand back up straight to start again. It’s important to make these movements slow and controlled to help you build strength.
If you’d like to read more about our weight plates as well as the types of exercises you can use them for, head over to the weight plate section of our Product Help Centre.
As always, we’d love to know how you get on. You can get in touch with us via our Instagram and Facebook pages @MirafitOfficial.
Blast Your Upper Body With This Shoulder Plate Raise Workout
Read More >>
Plate Raises, if used correctly, are great for building strength in the shoulder region. They develop stronger traps, and they can even increase your core strength.
RELATED: 5 Advanced Workout Finishers to Burn Fat
My favorite way to add this challenging exercise to a workout is as a finisher to blast your shoulders with a high number of reps and get a serious pump that helps build muscle. No doubt, this finisher will leave your shoulders absolutely on fire.
How to Perform Plate Raises
- Choose a weight plate and stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the weight plate with your palms facing one another, preferably around the 3 and 9 o’clock positions.
- Let the weight rest on your thighs, straighten your back and brace your core as if you were about to take a punch.
- Keep a slight bend in your elbows and slowly raise the plate until your arms are parallel to the floor.
- Try to avoid rocking back and forth during the raise. This will get more difficult as you use a heavier plate.
Plate Raise Workout Finisher
Step 1: Stack every plate denomination in a row. It might look like 45, 35, 25, 10 and 5—your heaviest plate might be lighter than 45. The lightest plate will be your first set. If you have them, bumper plates work even better.
Step 2: Perform 10 plate raises with the lightest plate. Drop the plate and move on to the next plate. Continue until you reach the heaviest plate.
Step 3: No, you’re not done yet. Now go through the pile again, but with the weights decreasing.
Do this once per week to build some serious shoulder mass.
RELATED: 7 Exercises That Safely Build Shoulder Strength
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock
This is an excerpt from Cycling Anatomy-2nd Edition by Shannon Sovndal.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a weight plate in both hands with arms extended in front of you.
- In a circular motion, orbit the weight around your head, completing a 360-degree revolution and ending up at the starting position.
- Complete the same motion in the reverse direction, again ending at your starting point.
Primary: Anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids; trapezius
Secondary: Upper pectoralis major, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, teres major, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, transversus abdominis, external and internal obliques, erector spinae (iliocostalis, longissimus, spinalis)
This exercise hits nearly every muscle group of your shoulders and arms. I like including this in my workouts because it is efficient, working many muscle groups in one exercise. Imagine shifting your mountain bike back and forth to avoid terrain, all the while applying acceleration to summit the top of a climb. This exercise is fluid, like riding your bike. Microadjustments while performing powerful, sweeping movements will help stabilize your shoulders in addition to building power in the larger muscle groups.
Around the World on a Half Dome Balance Trainer
Standing on the unstable surface will help build core and back strength. It will also help strengthen the stabilizer muscles in your legs and buttocks.
Shoulder exercises should be an integral part of any gym routine, because building strength and improving mobility in your shoulders will help with a range of other exercises. And of course, if you’re physique training, wide shoulders are a key part of a V-shaped torso.
If you’re hoping to sculpt cannonball shoulders then check out these excellent exercises recommended by Jim Crossley, co-owner of F45 Kingston, and Keith McNiven, founder of personal training company Right Path Fitness. We’ve thrown in a few of our favourites, too. There are shoulder exercises suitable for all levels of gym-goer below, from beginner classics like the dumbbell overhead press up to advanced moves like the handstand press-up.
Beginner Shoulder Exercises
Dumbbell overhead press
“This is a good exercise for increasing shoulder strength and stability,” says Crossley. “Choose some light dumbbells to begin with. Hold them just above your shoulders with your palms facing forwards. Raise your arms straight above your head.
“When lifting the dumbbells don’t move your back and in particular don’t allow your lower back to arch. This move can be done standing or seated on a bench with a back for support.”
Alternating dumbbell front raise
“Stand with a slight bend in your knees, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs with your palms facing you,” says McNiven. “Lift the left dumbbell in front of you until your arm is slightly above parallel to the floor, keeping a slight bend in your elbow and the palm of the your hand facing down. Then lower the dumbbell under control back to the start. Repeat with the right dumbbell.”
“From a standard press-up position walk your feet towards your body, raising your hips and keeping your legs straight,” says Crossley. “Your body should be in an inverted V-shape. Then perform a press-up by bending your arms to move your head closer to the floor. “
“You can vary the difficulty and the load on your shoulders by moving your feet closer in or further out, and it can also be done with feet elevated on a box to increase the difficulty.
“This is a challenging bodyweight shoulder exercise in its own right, and a good way to build the strength required to do a handstand press-up.” (See the advanced exercise, if you dare.)
Barbell upright row
“Hold a barbell in front of your waist with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart,” says Crossley. “Lift the bar to chin height by raising your arms so your elbows finish above the bar.”
Plate ground to overhead press
This CrossFit standard is a great way to practise the movement of a medicine ball slam but with greater control – especially since if you rush this exercise you’re liable to smack yourself in the face with a weight plate.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of a weight plate standing vertically on its side. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees to lower and grasp the sides of the plate, thumbs on the face furthest away. Keeping a straight back throughout, drive your hips forwards to stand up and lift the plate overhead. As you bring your hands past your face, rotate the plate using your wrists so your thumbs are underneath it as you press it above your head. Reverse the movement to the start and touch the plate on the floor before you start the next rep.
Intermediate Shoulder Exercises
“Adding dumbbells to your shadowboxing routine is brilliant for the shoulders,” says McNiven. “Choose relatively light weights as you’re going to be doing a lot of reps, and hold them vertically at shoulder height.
“Push one dumbbell forwards, extending your arm fully and twisting the dumbbell to a horizontal position. Bring it back as you push the other dumbbell forwards and start to build up speed. As your experience increases, you can add in different shadowboxing moves.”
Dumbbell lateral raise
“Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your waist with palms facing each other and a slight bend at the elbows,” say Crossley. “Lean forward from your hips a little and bend your knees slightly. Raise your arms to the sides until your elbows reach shoulder height.”
“Hold two dumbbells in front of your shoulders, with your elbows bent at 90° and your palms facing your chest,” says Crossley. “Move your elbows out to the side while raising the dumbbells and rotating your arms so that you finish with the dumbbells overhead with palms facing forwards.
“The Arnold press works both the front and side of your shoulders.”
“This is a classic shoulder-building exercise,” says Crossly. “Start by holding a barbell in front of your neck with an overhand grip. Press the bar overhead until your arms are fully extended. Do not let your back arch when you press overhead.”
Battle rope slam
“Battle ropes work your shoulders as well as your pectorals and are great for mobility and conditioning,” says McNiven. “There are many exercises you can try. A couple of good intermediate battle ropes exercise are slams and uppercuts.
“For slams, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent, holding a battle rope in each hand. Raise the battle ropes simultaneously above your head and slam down as hard as you can. Do this exercise for 60 seconds, then move on to another exercise like battle rope uppercuts .”
Battle rope uppercut
“As the name implies, you mimic an uppercut punch while holding the battle ropes. Use the same stance as with slams. Uppercut to one side and then the other. Build up speed throughout the 60 seconds of this exercise.” If you need a few technique pointers, check out our guide to using your gym’s punching bag.
Medicine ball slam
Need to blow off some steam? Fancy giving your shoulders a test? Want to work on your power? The medicine ball slam ticks all three boxes.
If you can, use a slam ball – a type of medicine ball designed to absorb the impact of landing so it doesn’t bounce or roll away. Stand with the ball on the ground between your feet. Squat down and pick it up with both hands, then push up explosively through your heels raising the ball above your head and going into a triple extension – up on your toes with your arms extended towards the ceiling. Now the moment you’ve been waiting for: slam that ball with all your might into the ground just in front of your feet.
If you want to up the cardio demands of this move, aim to catch the medicine ball right after the slam – even a slam ball should have a tiny amount of bounce.
This advanced exercise works your body harder than the standard overhead press by making it more difficult to keep your balance, meaning your control of the weight needs to be on point. Load up a barbell with a light weight on it – you’ll be surprised how quickly this weight will feel heavier once you start pressing. Hold the barbell at chin height with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and stand with your feet together like you’re standing to attention. Brace your core keep your elbows pointing forwards as you press the bar overhead, then lower under control.
Advanced Shoulder Exercises
“Start by either kicking up into a wall handstand or walking your feet up the wall into a handstand with your face to the wall,” says Crossley. “Your body should be in a straight line and close to the wall with your feet pointed upwards and your arms shoulder width apart. Bend your arms to lower your body towards the floor, then press up to return to the starting position.”
“This is the same as the overhead press, but your starting position is with the barbell behind the neck, rather than in front, which makes it a more challenging exercise,” says Crossley.
“This is an isometric hold that will challenge your shoulders and arms,” says Crossley. “Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms fully extended to the sides and your palms facing the floor. Hold the position for as long as possible.”
This compound exercise will do wonders for your shoulders and the supporting muscles, helping you to develop into a better lifter. You can use either dumbbells or a barbell for the move. Dumbbells will ask more of your supporting muscles, so pick a lighter weight than you normally would. You can go heavier with a barbell, but use caution – shoulders are easily injured.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing out slightly. If you’re using dumbbells, hold the dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing. For a barbell thruster, rest the bar on your upper chest in line with your shoulders using an overhand grip, palms facing away. Squat down with the weight still resting on your shoulders, then explode up and use the momentum to press the weight above your head. Once your arms are straight and above your head, you’ve completed a rep. The start of the next rep comes as you begin to lower the weight. Don’t pause – go straight into the squat.