Shoulder workouts are one of the foundations of a fantastic physique. After all, your shoulders define your look in front or rear silhouette. Do you want full, rounded delts, or slumped shoulders that look like you’ve never done a workout in your life? If you want a workout to make you proud of your shoulders instead of looking for the nearest dark closet to hide them in, here you are.
Not only do shoulders help define your physique, they are vital to athletic performance and all your upper body lifts. The shoulder joint is involved in virtually every movement that you do with your arms, so an improvement in your shoulder strength will often translate into improved performance in other areas. Here is how you get that added shoulder strength.
Know that the deltoid is the muscle that covers the shoulder and gives you that broad shouldered, shoulder pad look. The deltoid muscles have three heads, appropriately named the anterior, lateral, and posterior. For those of you that haven’t spent their time in the pages of Muscle and Fitness Magazine, or a high school anatomy text, those equate to front, middle, and rear, respectively.
Shoulder workout exercises –
Upright rows –
The upright row is one of the real killer shoulder exercises that has to be a part of your shoulder workout. It hits your delts hard. Regular readers know I’m a big fan of compound exercises because they recruit so many more muscle groups simultaneously, increasing development and shrinking training times. The upright row is a compound movement that works your shoulders, forearms, biceps and trapezius muscles. (The trapezius are your “no neck” muscles).
Guys, if you’re looking for that NFL linebacker look, this will do it for you. Women can do them as well, and it is extremely effective for them too, but they won’t tend to come off looking like Junior Seau, as will the men. The upright row really does a great job at targeting the traps as well as the front delts, so if you’ve been plagued by pronounced clavicles for years, this can help make those bones disappear.
You can do these exercise with a barbell or a set of dumbbells. I have had success with both pieces of equipment. Dumbbells offer more flexibility to change angles and hit your muscles differently, in addition to making sure you’re working symmetrically. It is much more difficult for the stronger shoulder to help the weaker one when the weights on each side aren’t connected together.
Overhead presses –
This is another classic shoulder exercise, probably the first one many people ever do for shoulder development when they set out weight training. They can be done in front of the neck or behind it, with each working the deltoids differently. Like the upright row, they also stress the trapezius muscles, although not to the same degree as the upright row. Unlike the upright row, you’ll work the triceps muscle at the rear of the upper arm when doing the overhead press. The triceps really comes into play through the last half of the movement, when locking out the weights overhead.
You can do them seated or standing. When you progress to heavy weights, many lifters use a bench with a vertical back rest to ease the strain on their lower back and core muscles. This back rest allows them to safely use heavier weights for maximum shoulder development.
When using a barbell, lower the weigh until the bar touches the upper chest (when pressing in front of the neck) or traps (behind). Many people fail to lower the weight far enough. This compromises the range of motion and thus their progress, although they can use more weight to suitably impress others in the gym.
A safety note about the overhead press: When performing it behind the neck with a barbell, be extremely careful not to lower the weight too quickly and not far enough back, so that it crashes into the vertebrae of your neck. This can cause serious injury to a very vital area of your body (if you want to keep walking and using your arms) .
A nice variation of the overhead press when using dumbbells is the Arnold Press, named after the current Governor of California, for achievements in his
earlier career, when he worked in Venice Beach, not Sacramento. To do the Arnold Press, start with the dumbbells in front like you were going to do a front overhead dumbbell press. The difference is that you start with your palms facing you (supinated grip), and as you press the dumbbells upward, you rotate the dumbbells so that you end with your palms facing away from you (pronated grip). You’ll really feel it in your front deltoids when doing the Arnold Press.
This dumbbell exercise is an old standby for developing huge shoulders (for guys) and nice shoulders (for gals). It is an isolation movement, unlike the two exercises above, although it does slightly hit the traps along with the deltoids, it focuses on the delts. As the name suggests, dumbbell raises can only be done with dumbbells, unless you’re a genius with metallurgy, and can figure out how to separate a barbell and reassemble it again during your workout.
You can do raises with different angles relative to your body, depending on which part of the deltoid your want to develop the most. Front raises are performed by raising the weights directly out in front of you. They isolate the anterior head of the deltoid pretty effectively, while lateral raises are done by lifting the dumbbells out to the sides and focus more on the lateral heads. To hit the rear delts, bend over at the waist, hold the dumbbells in front of you, bend your arms to about 70 degrees, and lift the weights from the center of your body until your arms look like a Harley rider with ape hangers traveling down the freeway.
You can do traises with relatively light weights and still get a terrific workout, because the length of your arms work as a lever in reverse, making the weights seem much heavier than they are. The other advantage of dumbbell raises is that it allows you to target specific parts of the deltoids, depending on your specific needs. The disadvantage is that you’re only working a single muscle group at a time, which in this time compressed world, seems like a waste.
Power Cleans –
For regular readers, you know I’m a big fan of the power clean to burn fat and develop muscle. It is a great all around exercise, and one of the muscles it works best are those of the shoulder area. The power clean will give you a pretty great hit to the deltoids and traps, while throwing in some back and leg work for good measure. That makes sense, since it is basically a combination of deadlifts and upright rows in a single exercise.
A Great Shoulder Workout –
Here is a workout that will kill your shoulders in short order. You’ll be out of the gym during your lunch break, with enough time left over to prep for that important meeting after lunch.
All figures are sets x reps
1 x 15, 1 x 10, 3 x 6
2 x 6
Overhead presses (behind)
3 x 6
2 x 6
For all of these, go to failure on the 6 rep sets, and throw in an extra rep or three with a spotter, or by quickly dropping the weight a few pounds. The extra intensity will pay huge dividends in your shoulder development. If you’re trying to lose fat, I posted a few months ago on why 6 or 8 rep sets are more effective for losing fat, and it is scientifically proven, although many people still insist on doing sets of 15 to burn fat.
If you’re looking for shoulder workouts, these will do it. Your deltoids will thank you.
If you’re having a devil of a time getting your biceps to grow, here are some things you need to know now. Go to the post on building bigger biceps.