While there are plenty of machines at the gym that target your shoulders, as well as countless bodyweight exercises like push-ups and planks, one of the best ways to really strengthen those muscles is by doing resistance band shoulder exercises.
The resistance band is a good tool to target — and even advance — your shoulder strengthening routine, says Andrea Rogers, the founder of international barre brand XTEND BARRE. The stretchiness of a band creates the perfect amount of tension to deeply work the muscles. And the thicker the band, the more burn you’ll feel. “Resistance bands are also a great tool as they travel light,” Rogers tells Bustle. “They can be used to maintain your upper body routine even when you’re away from your usual studio or gym.” Not only that, but they’re great to use if you have an injury and can’t work with heavy weights or anything high impact, says fitness trainer Mikhaila B.
While most people prioritize working other muscles in the arms — like the biceps and triceps — you shouldn’t sleep on the shoulder muscles. According to Rogers, it’s important to strengthen this area as a way to maintain good postural alignment. If these muscles are weak, it’s more likely that your shoulders will round forward, she explains. Give them a little extra attention, and it’ll be much easier to stand up straight.
It’s also a good idea to focus on your shoulders from time to time so your whole upper body remains balanced, Rogers says, instead of only ever working your biceps or triceps. Intrigued? Here are 7 resistance band shoulder exercises to try in your workout routine.
1. Resistance Band Pull-Apart
- Hold one end of a resistance band in each hand.
- Raise your arms out in front of you at shoulder level, palms facing down.
- Your arms should be almost straight, but your elbows can have a slight bend.
- Pull against the tension of the band to open your arms wide, keeping elbows slightly bent and shoulders down.
- Bring your shoulder blades together.
- Pause briefly, then slowly return to the starting position.
- Perform 12 to 15 reps.
2. Single-Arm Shoulder Press
According to Jake Boly, CSCS, a strength coach and founder of That Fit Friend, resistance band single-arm shoulder presses train the front and lateral deltoid muscles, aka the fronts and sides of your shoulders.
- Place the resistance band under the middle of your foot. Make sure it’s secure.
- Grab the other end of the band and bring your hand up to a position that looks like you’re holding a serving tray.
- Keep the elbow bent at 45 degrees.
- Press directly upwards and think “biceps to ear” as you lock out your arm.
- Lower your arm slowly. Stop once your hand gets to a height that is just above your shoulder. This will keep the tension on your shoulder muscle and put you into a more productive range of motion, Boly says.
- Press back up again.
- Do 6 to 10 reps, 3 to 4 sets, then switch sides.
3. Rear Delt Row
This move from Boly targets the rear deltoids, or the muscles on the backs of your shoulders. He recommends using a lighter weight or thinner band for this exercise.
- Sit down in an "L" position with legs extended out in front of you. Slightly bend your knees if you'd like.
- Securely loop the resistance band around the arches of your feet to keep it anchored.
- Grab the band with both hands and stabilize your torso.
- Keep your arms about 1 to 2 feet apart out in front of you.
- Begin to row or pull the band back toward you, aiming to bring it to about chin level.
- Keep the elbows high.
- Once you reach your chin, pause for one second.
- Slowly let the band pull your arms back to the starting position with control.
- Do 10 to 12 reps, 2 to 3 sets.
4. Reverse Flys
According to Mikhaila B, this exercise works to strengthen your shoulders, upper back, and upper arms. “It is beneficial for people who sit or do forward-bending movements often,” she tells Bustle.
- Stand on the middle of the band. Keep your toes facing forward and shoulder-width apart.
- Cross the ends of the band to opposing hands, so the band crosses like an “X” in front of your lower body.
- With a slight bend in your knees, hinge your hips, bend forward, and maintain a neutral spine.
- Slowly pull the band back and up and out.
- Once your hands are at chest height or higher, pull your shoulder blades to each other.
- Hold for a few seconds, squeezing your muscles together.
- Slowly return to start.
- Repeat for 20 reps.
5. Lateral Raises
Mikhaila also recommends this move for hitting the shoulder muscles.
- Plant your left foot on the resistance band. Keep toes facing forward and shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the end of the loop in your left hand in an overhand position.
- Keep a slight bend in your knees and elbows throughout the movement.
- Slowly raise your left arm up from the sides of your body. Stop when you reach a parallel height with your shoulder.
- Once you reach this position, hold your arm there, pause, feel the contraction, then slowly lower back down.
- Repeat 15 to 20 repetitions on each side, or stand in the middle of the band and do both sides at once.
6. 90-Degree Press Out
Rogers recommends this move to work the shoulders.
- Place a looped resistance band just above your wrists.
- Bend your arms up to form 90 degrees angles.
- Press your forearms into the band to open them a few more inches apart. The range of motion will be small.
- Your shoulders should stay relaxed and chest high.
- Keep tension in the band throughout the movement.
- Return to start.
- Aim for 8 to 16 reps.
7. Extended Press Out
Last but not least, try this one from Rogers whenever you want to focus more on your upper body.
- Place the resistance band just above the wrists.
- Extend your arms long out in front of you, palms facing in.
- Stretch the band as you press your arms out.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and arms in line with shoulders.
- Do 8 to 16 slow reps, then 16 to 32 in double time.
Kim, M. (2018). The effects of shoulder stabilization exercises and pectoralis minor stretching on balance and maximal shoulder muscle strength of healthy young adults with round shoulder posture. J Phys Ther Sci. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5857441/
Picha, K. J. 2019. Elastic Resistance Effectiveness on Increasing Strength of Shoulders and Hips. Journal of strength and conditioning research. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002216.
Shelby Stover, CSCS, strength and nutrition coach
Jake Boly, CSCS, strength coach
Mikhaila B, fitness trainer