To build robust shoulders you need to target them from multiple angles to activate all three heads of the deltoid muscle. Dumbbells are the perfect tool for the job. While barbell moves often require a spotter, and most machines fix your movement in one plane of motion, dumbbells require all your stabiliser muscles to work, force your core to hold everything together and offer plenty of versatility with every exercise.

This three-part shoulder complex from trainer Tom Dyer puts dumbbells to good use in targeting all three heads of your deltoids, helping you increase and maintain tension on the muscles, starting with the weaker rear deltoids and finishing by hitting all three in one big-hitting lift even Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of. Do ten reps of all three moves without stopping or putting the weights down, then rest for 90sec. Do three rounds in total.

Reverse flye:

The rear deltoids are the weakest muscles in the shoulders so it’s best to start with them when you’ve got the most energy. Aim to hold the top of the lift for a second before lowering.

How to:

  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, bend your knees slightly and lean forward 45° from your hips.
  • Hold the dumbbells together below you and keep your shoulder blades retracted.
  • With your arms slightly bent, raise the weights out to your sides until your arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Slowly return them to the start.

Form fix:

  • As soon as you use a bit of extra momentum from your legs or hips you’ll be shifting the tension away from your rear deltoids and rendering this exercise useless – reduce the weight rather than giving your muscles extra help.
  • Using “weedy”-looking dumbbells might make you feel slightly emasculated, but this muscle wasn’t designed for shifting huge weights.

Lateral raise:

This involves a similar movement but by standing upright you’re switching the focus to the medial deltoids, the middle muscles of the shoulder. Focus on keeping your form, lowering the weight slowly to challenge the muscles on both sections of the lift.

How to:

  • Stand tall with your core braced and feet together.
  • Hold the dumbbells together in front of your abdomen with palms facing each other.
  • Leading with your elbows, raise the weights out to the sides, making sure you use your muscles and not momentum.
  • Stop at shoulder height, then slowly return to the start.

Form fix:

  • This is probably the most misused and abused move you’ll see in a gym.
  • As with reverse flyes, you’ll see people hulking the weights up, rushing through a set and strutting off smugly after dumping the weights on the floor five reps in.
  • That’s missing the point entirely.
  • Go light, go slow and keep your body upright and neck relaxed so you don’t shift the emphasis onto your traps.
  • To truly get the best out of this lift, at the top of the move tilt your wrists forwards as if pouring from a jug.

Arnold press:

By now your shoulders should be screaming. Finish off with the Arnold press, a move pioneered by the Austrian Oak during his bodybuilding days. It uses all three heads of the deltoids so even when you’re tiring you can work all the muscles of the shoulder harder for the biggest growth and strength gains.

How to:

  • Curl the dumbbells up and bring them in front of you so your palms face you.
  • Press the weights above your head until your arms are straight, twisting them as you go so your palms end up facing forwards.
  • Reverse the movement so that the weights are in front of your chest again.
  • That’s one rep.

Form fix:

  • As with both previous moves, the aim is to maintain tension on your shoulder muscles as long as possible to make them grow back stronger.
  • To do this, stop fractionally short of full extension at the top of the move, and only lower the weights until your upper arms are parallel with the floor.