There’s something beautiful about a quick shoulder workout that builds serious, balanced strength—without sucking up your entire day.
This 10-minute shoulder workout, created by Alicia Jamison, C.P.T., a NASM-certified personal trainer at Bodyspace Fitness in New York City, serves as an excellent standalone upper body workout or as a strength-based finisher tacked onto a separate cardio, core, or lower-body workout.
For any shoulder workout, it’s key to target all three parts of the shoulder: the front, lateral, and rear deltoids to avoid imbalances. “Anytime you have muscular imbalances, you’re putting yourself at risk of injury, especially when you’re pretty sedentary all day and then you try to jump into a workout,” Jamison tells SELF. Building balanced shoulder strength not only prevents tension and injury, but it also helps with posture and everyday, functional movements like lifting things up or pushing something out of the way.
This quick shoulder workout uses the classic push-pull movement patterns to ensure that each part of the shoulder gets strengthened. While you may think of pulling as just a way to work the back of your body, like your lats and your rhomboids, it’s also important for shoulder health, since this motion helps work those important stabilizing muscles around your shoulder girdle. So you need more than the traditional shoulder pushing exercises to safely and thoroughly work that area.
You can break down those push-pull movements into horizontal pushes (like the single-arm chest press), vertical pushes (think the overhead shoulder press), horizontal pulls (like the bent-over row), and vertical pulls (the dumbbell pullover). This kind of workout emphasizes working both your anterior chain (the front of your body, as in pushing or pressing) and your posterior chain (the back of your body, with pulling), SELF reported previously. Jamison created this workout so that you alternate pulling and pushing exercises. This allows the primary pulling muscles to rest while you work different pushing muscles, and vice versa, to keep from burning out your upper body too quickly, she explains.
You might be wondering, how can you actually build strength in just 10 minutes? A common misconception is that short workouts aren’t as effective as longer ones. But effectiveness doesn’t really have a lot to do with how long you’re working out, says Jamison. Rather, “for strength to occur, you have to hit momentary muscular fatigue,” she explains. That just means that you’ve gotten to the point where your muscles say, “Nope, I can’t do another rep.” In this workout, you have 45 seconds for each move, which Jamison emphasizes is a long time to bang out numerous reps with good form so you can find that momentary muscular fatigue. But remember to make form a priority over speed, and pace yourself so that you can work for the entire 45 seconds—you don’t want to burn out too soon.
“When the movement is slower, it’s much more deliberate and it’s more mindful,” she says. “Stay focused and think about what muscles you’re supposed to be activating at that time and those muscles will activate. Really, [strength training] is an informal meditation practice if you allow it to be.”
Ready to grab your dumbbells and get to work? Here’s what you’ll need to get started. Before you jump into it, warm-up with a few full-body cardio moves like jumping jacks or high knees, and tack on a few dynamic stretches that loosen up your shoulders. Happy lifting!
What you’ll need: Some dumbbells. You may want a lighter set (around 5-10lbs) for the isolation moves, like the rear delt raise, and a heavier set (around 15-20lbs) for the bigger compound moves, like the row. You may also feel more comfortable with an exercise mat for extra cushioning. If you can’t complete 45 seconds of an exercise with good form, that’s a sign to go a little lighter with your weights.
- Bent-over row
- Overhead shoulder press
- Alternating single-arm chest press
- Side-lying single-arm rear delt raise
- Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, resting for 15 seconds after each move. Complete 2 rounds total, with no additional rest between them.
- For the single-arm rear delt raise, do the first set with your right arm and the second set with your left arm.
Demoing the moves below are Harlan Kellaway (GIFs 1 and 4), a trans bodybuilder based in Queens, New York City; April Nicole Henry (GIF 2), a strength athlete, mother, and wife who was born and raised in New York; Nathalie Huerta (GIF 3), coach at the Queer Gym in Oakland, California; and Erica Gibbons (GIF 5), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist.