Compound Exercises
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Compound Shoulder Exercises

Whether you’re looking for your body to be aesthetically pleasing, stronger and more powerful or just to function more effectively shoulder exercises would be a staple in any gym-goers program.

Because the shoulder itself is made up of many small and medium sized muscles compound exercises are a good way to incorporate several muscles simultaneously.

Specifically, compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. These exercises can be used to engage many muscle groups across the body and very much differ from isolation exercises which work a single muscle group at a time.

Compound Shoulder Exercises


Here is a list of compound shoulder exercises:

  • Barbell Standing Press
  • Bench Press
  • Arnold Press
  • Seated Dumbbell Press
  • Upright Row
  • Bent Over Reverse Fly
  • Front Raises
  • Handstand Push Ups

Barbell Standing Press

Standing shoulder press

If you are lucky enough to have barbells in your gym, then get to it. The barbell press is your fundamental exercise for building well developed shoulders.

This staple compound movement will focus on your shoulders but will also engage your whole body, great for burning calories. 

With your feet shoulder width apart, hold the barbell across your chest with palms facing out, you can use the power in your legs to assist your shoulders to press the weighted barbell above your head. This is perfect for strengthening your core and increasing overall strength due to the stability aspect of this movement.

Bench Press

bench press

If you haven’t completed a bench press then “do you even lift, bro?”. This well-known exercise is the gym-goers preferred exercise. However, even though it is the most common exercise in the gym, it is not so widely known that this compound exercise is great for shoulder muscle development and builds overall upper-body strength.

The bench press can be done with a barbell or dumbbells in a decline, flat or incline position. More specifically, if you are in the incline bench press position then this will recruit more engagement from the shoulder muscle group.

The muscles most under stress in this compound exercise position are the pectorals, the anterior deltoids and the triceps.

Arnold Press

Yes, this compound exercise is named after Mr. Schwarzenegger, due to the rotating motion he added at the end of the press.

Best performed with dumbbells, hold one in each hand with palms facing towards you close to your chest.

Slowly press/push the dumbbells up over your head whilst rotating your palms so they face away from you at the end of the movement.

This compound press activates more muscles than a standard press as well as hitting all three sections of your delts; the standing Arnold press recruits a number of stabilising muscles in your back, which helps you carve out that formidable “V” shape to your upper body.

Seated Dumbbell Press

Seated Dumbbell Press

Keep the dumbbells in hand, sit down on a bench with your back straight, this is necessary to place more emphasis on the shoulders and stabilising muscles during the exercise.

Hold the dumbbells at shoulder height to your side so your elbows are bent at a right angle.

Slowly press the dumbbells up, above your head.

This compound movement is great for moving heavier dumbbells, whilst staying seated is the perfect opportunity to engage your core muscles and work your supporting strengths too.

When your lowering the dumbbells back down to starting position keep the movement slow and keep full range of motion, by sitting you are taking the load off your feet and placing it all on your delts, welcome to your new well-built shoulders.

Upright Row

Upright Row

Either with a barbell or a dumbbell in each hand, hold the weight in front of your hips at arms lengths with palms facing towards you.

Pull the weight up towards your chin so your elbows bend out to the side, aim to get the point of your elbows higher than the peak of your deltoids for full contraction of muscles.

This compound exercise is a great way to add weight, and muscle. Use fewer reps and heavier loads to really encourage your delts, traps and core to work hard, perform and grow.

Bent Over Reverse Fly

With your feet at shoulder width apart, a dumbbell in each hand, bend at the hips and keep your back straight. With your chest parallel to the floor, hold the dumbbells out in front of you before slowly raising them up and out to the sides.

You will feel the squeeze of your shoulder and back muscles as you recruit many stabilising muscles to help raise the weight into a ‘flying’ motion.

This is a great compound exercise to focus on the rear, or posterior deltoid. You can also lay your chest against an incline bench whilst sitting for additional support throughout this movement.

This support will allow you to reverse fly heavier dumbbells to encourage deeper muscle mass activation.

Front Raises

Front Raises

Again with a pair of dumbbells or a barbell hold the weight in front of your hips and stand with your feet shoulder width apart.

Slowly raise the weight up in front of you so your arms are out straight and weight is in line with your chest.

Lower the weight back down to starting position to complete the rep.

This movement forces your body to stabilise itself to move the weight up and away from your body, it engages the core muscles whilst targeting the front deltoids.

Keep the weight low, and the reps high to feel the burn in your shoulders and core.

Be aware you may need to go up a size in t-shirts after using consistency with this exercise.

Handstand Push Ups

Handstand Push Ups

No weight or equipment needed here, which means no excuses. This is a great varied compound movement to engage the core muscles as well as improve balance and coordination to maintain posture.

Doing a press up in the hand stand position against a wall places your entire body weight on to your shoulders.

This upside down shoulder press forces the deltoids in the shoulder musculature, the pectoral muscles and the main back muscles, extensor, trapezius, latissimus dorsi to work extremely hard and carry the bulk of the load.

This compound push-up is one of the most effective exercises for your shoulder muscles. They are therefore ideally suited for strength and muscle building.

Wrapping It Up


A key advantage to compound exercise is the ability it gives you to make better use of your time. A compound exercise is much more efficient than single, isolation exercises, you’ll work more muscles and build more strength in a shorter period of time when the focus is on a compound movement.

Further benefits include burning more calories due to the work rate required to function through the exercise, elevate the heart rate quicker, improve flexibility, and of course develop strength and gain muscle mass.

With such a variety of muscles to engage in the shoulder area no one exercise will work them all, in which case we recommend adding these compound movements that will see your shoulders developing effectively across your workout plan. 

Adnan Munye

A certified personal trainer, Adnan specialises in weight loss, muscle building, body conditioning, core strengthening and injury rehabilitation. Adnan comes from a sporting background, where he has played football, badminton, rugby, and swimming all at various levels.

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