The 9 finest shoulder workout routines of all time
If you're reading this article, we assume that you don't have to believe that big, strong shoulders are one of the hallmarks of a great body. You already know that. All you have to do is figure out how to get there in no time.
It's also safe to assume that you've already poured countless hours and liters of sweat into shoulder workouts that promised to give you incredible results, but to no avail. The truth is that building massive shoulders is not an easy task and there are simply no short cuts here. On the other hand, it can definitely be done, and it can be done a lot faster if you have the right exercises.
But why do some exercises offer amazing benefits to some people and are practically useless to others? First and foremost, the anatomy of your shoulders is determined by genetics, so men with better shoulder genetics will get better results faster than men with, for example, narrow shoulders, inconvenient limb lengths, and "poorer" muscle attachments (which define how efficient the muscles are, biomechanically).
This does not mean that those who are “cursed” by genetics cannot build great bodies – they just have to put in extra efforts to hide their drawbacks and correct weaknesses. Most obstacles can be overcome through intelligent training.
Second, the effectiveness of a particular exercise also depends on the rest of your program, the frequency of the exercise, and whether there is adequate recovery between sessions. Exercising too often, overexerting certain muscles, or not allowing your body to rest properly after a hard workout can stunt growth. You could do the best exercises there are, but if you don't provide the right supportive context, they can't do miracles on their own.
Creating the perfect training program takes knowledge and experience. However, don't worry if you are not there already. This article was made for men like you by men who have already been there.
So let's get down to business. In this article, we will help you develop a highly effective shoulder exercise program by providing you with the best shoulder exercises that will help you build both size and strength. You simply can't go wrong with these powerful moves. So read them carefully and get ready to hammer heavy iron.
The Best Shoulder Exercises to Add to Your Training Plan
– The best back delts
# 1. Cable reverse bow tie
Intro: The backward fly is an isolation exercise that targets the upper back and shoulders and encourages significant growth of a number of muscles in those two areas. It can be done sitting, standing, or even face down on a weight bench. The main benefit of this exercise is that it hits the rear delts efficiently, which usually doesn't find much love in standard shoulder workouts, although they are a crucial part of achieving that thick 3D look.
So if you want to develop balanced shoulders, the size of your rear delts needs to match the size of your front and middle delts. It is therefore advisable to highlight the return flies in your routine. Also, the great thing about wired movements is that they continually tighten the target muscles so they never really get a break, which leads to more growth. Since the shoulders and back are one of the most vulnerable parts of the body to injury, always use the correct form during this exercise.
Targeted Muscles: Posterior deltoids, rhomboids, and middle trapezius muscles.
How one: Attach the D-handles to the top pulley of a cable machine. The pulleys should be above your head. Grasp the left handle with your right hand and the right handle with your left hand, cross them in front of you and step in the center. Your palms should be in a neutral grip and your elbows should be straight but not locked.
Keeping your arms up at shoulder level, open your arms to your sides and engage your back delts as you pull each handle to the other side. Keep your arms perfectly straight as you perform the movement. Once your arms are fully extended, reverse the motion and return the handles to their starting position.
# 2. Lift bent over dumbbell to the side
Intro: No matter how many times you've heard that the side elevation bent over the arm is superior to its bilateral counterpart because you can put more stress on each side, that's not true. The one-sided version of this exercise increases the chance of cheating by allowing you to twist more at the waist, and that easily outperforms any benefits.
Performing the movement with both arms at the same time removes that type of swing and allows you to put more pressure on your rear delts, which helps you achieve a more balanced overall body structure. It can be done either standing or sitting on the end of a flat bench.
Targeted Muscles: The posterior delts and the upper back muscles.
How one: Take a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other, and bend your knees slightly while maintaining a flat back and chest. Bring your gaze to a point on the floor in front of you and bend at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and your elbows are fixed in a slightly bent position. Raise the dumbbells in an arc to the side and outward until both upper arms are parallel to the floor. After a second press on top, reverse the motion to lower the dumbbells back.
# 3. Face pull
Intro: This baddass move could be the least used lifting exercise ever. While powerlifters swear by it, it's quite rare for the average lifter to perform facial features on a regular basis as part of a shoulder workout. And even then, they are seldom done properly. Either way, the Face Pull is an incredibly multifunctional lift that can serve as both a highly efficient muscle building exercise and a movement to restore and improve shoulder health.
It can help crush lifting plateaus while also powerfully conditioning the delts, diamonds, and outer rotators. Best of all, it can help prevent internal rotation of the shoulder joint, which is a problem for many dedicated lifters. That being said, the facial feature has a unique ability to sculpt your posterior delts like no other exercise while also activating the middle traps to aid in movement. After all, the fact that you can manage more weight overall translates directly into maximum gains.
Targeted Muscles: Posterior deltoids, middle trapezius muscles.
How one: Set up a rope attachment at head height at a pull-down station and choose a relatively heavy weight. Grasp each end of the rope with an overhand grip on the pulley and raise your elbows on either side to shoulder level. Put one foot on the knee pad for better anchorage and then lean back slightly.
Keeping your elbows up, pull your shoulder blade back and pull the rope directly towards your face. As you do this, separate your hands until your hands are next to your ears. Keep your chin tight and don't let your neck reach forward. Remember to keep your elbows raised and aligned with your shoulders throughout the movement.
Pause for a second and hold, then reverse the motion to lower the weight without letting it sit down. It is important to keep your elbows high throughout the movement.
– The best side shoulder exercises
# 4. Lift dumbbell sideways
Intro: Side elevations are great for building your shoulders and increasing shoulder mobility while also strengthening the muscles that support and stabilize your shoulders. And if you make sure you have proper support for your core as you lift, you can get some decent improvements in core stability as well.
The main reason the side elevation of the dumbbell is so great when sculpting large shoulders is because your shoulders appear wider, creating favorable size contrasts between your shoulders, waist and hips. However, the fact is that his exercises are one of the most abused in the gym. Too many men rely solely on side raises to build their shoulders.
It is also a fact that this exercise makes swing cheating a little too easy. That being said, the side lifting is still a crucial move in building wide, massive shoulders that allows you to put the middle delts in strong tension. So if you want to get optimal growth, make sure you get it right and tight.
Targeted Muscles: Middle deltoids
How one: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding your abs and shoulders back, holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip. Adjusting your grip so your thumb side is slightly lower than your small side can help snap the middle head even more firmly into place.
While keeping your torso in a stationary position (to avoid the use of momentum), raise the dumbbells to your sides in an arc with a slight bend of your elbows and hands tilted slightly forward. Your elbows and hands should move together in the same plane. Raise the dumbbells just above shoulder height and pause for a second at the top. Then reverse the movement and slowly lower the weight.
# 5. One-cable side lift
Intro: If you're looking to cut out a set of broad, strong shoulders, side ridges should be an important part of your routine. Properly done side elevation of the single arm cable can be a crucial isolation exercise in your training arsenal as it helps target the side delts, i.e. the side heads of the shoulders, which are often difficult to hit in other exercises but are required when needed want to maximize your delts thickness.
For example, overhead presses put a lot of emphasis on the front delts but do not adequately stimulate the side and back of the head. To develop full shoulders, each head needs to be exhausted on its own – and this movement is the perfect solution for your neglected middle delts.
Targeted Muscles: Middle deltoids.
How one: Set the pulleys on the low setting and select the weight you want to work with. With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand sideways to the machine, grasp the right handle with your left hand and place your non-working hand on your hips. Stand up straight, with your abs and shoulders back, and lift the cable outward and to the side in a wide arc, moving your elbows and hands together in the same plane.
Once your arm is above shoulder height, pause for a second and squeeze the delts together. Then reverse the movement to lower it. Repeat this process for the number of repetitions you want and repeat the exercise with your right arm by grasping the left handle with your right hand. Remember, shape is more important than weight. Keep your elbows high throughout the movement, and don't straighten your hands up as you move the weight, to ensure maximum activation of the middle delt.
# 6. Wide-grip Smith Machine Upright row
Intro: For starters, we agree with most Smith haters that free weight barbell movements are generally superior to machine exercises. However, when used intelligently, the forging machine can help you overcome sticking points and destroy plateaus, practice the correct form in a safer context, and even improve the biomechanics of certain lifting exercises, resulting in more efficient performance.
With upright rows, running on a Smith machine is almost like using a bar, only you can't cheat, which is a big plus. Hence, you cannot use the same weight with the Smith machine as you would with the normal upright rows, but that's fine as the absence of cheating ensures adequate overloading of the target muscles.
Additionally, using a Smith machine provides a single level of vertical movement and constant pressure on your shoulders, which further emphasizes your shoulder gains.
Targeted Muscles: Primary: middle deltoid. Secondary: anterior, posterior deltoid and trapezius muscles.
How one: Adjust the bar on the Smith machine to a height about the middle of your thighs. Position yourself with your feet shoulder-width apart in the center of the forging machine and grasp the bar with a pronounced handle that is a few inches wider than shoulder-width apart. Curve your shoulders and lift the bar straight towards your chin, almost touching it while holding it as close to your body as possible. There should be a slight bend at the elbows that should always be higher than the wrists, and the back should stay straight. However, if you want to highlight the side delts, pull the bar up until your elbows and forearms are almost parallel to the floor. Hold the upper position for a second, then slowly lower the bar to the starting position. Always use the correct form, avoid jerking and swinging, and be careful with how much weight you use. Using too heavy a weight will damage your shape and increase the risk of shoulder injuries.
– Best exercises for the front shoulder
# 7. Lift up the cord at the front
Intro: Lifting the cable front is a brutally effective shoulder movement that allows you to isolate the front delta head while requiring minimal dynamic support from other muscles.
While both dumbbells and cables have the advantage of working the shoulders on one side to ensure even resistance and compensate for any muscle imbalances, using cables for front elevation brings another benefit to the table – continuous resistance throughout Move. In addition to working on the anterior delts, the exercise also requires activating a number of stabilizing muscles such as the trapezius, erector spinae, biceps, rotator cuff, and serratus anterior.
Targeted Muscles: Primary: anterior deltoid muscles. Secondary: medial deltoids.
How one: Select the weight you would like to use on a low pulley machine and reach for the one-handed cable tether with your left hand. Stand shoulder-width apart and place your non-working hand on your hip for better balance.
Your upper body should be stationary throughout the movement, while your knees should be slightly bent. Lift the cable with the hand cable attachment in front of you vigorously upwards and outwards at arm's length until your upper arm is parallel to the working shoulder and a flat back is maintained.
To ensure maximum safety and avoid injuries such as shoulder bumps, rotate your thumbs slightly in the air as you near the height of the movement instead of keeping your palms down.
Exhale as you do this part of the movement and pause at the top for a second to compress the working muscles. As you inhale, lower your arm back to the starting position and repeat the process for the desired number of repetitions. Then switch arms and do the exercise with your right arm.
# 8. Press press
Intro: The printing press has made a slow but mighty comeback in recent years, and thank goodness for that, because it's one of the finest shoulder movements ever invented by man. It allows you to handle more weight than the rigorous shoulder press and combines heavy overhead action with a sufficient amount of momentum, but at the same time it's not as difficult to master as the push jerk.
Unlike most other overhead upper body exercises, this movement requires that the exercise be initiated by the legs so that you can use larger, more challenging loads. Not only does the press help you develop tremendous amounts of upper body strength, it also conditions your rotator cuff and strengthens your abdominal muscles. It carries over directly to the shoulder press and bench press.
Performing movements like this will ensure that your muscles are as strong as they look. Pretty neat, right?
Targeted Muscles: Primary: anterior deltoid muscles. Secondary: middle deltoid, trapezoid, triceps, core muscles, leg muscles.
How one: Stand on a barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold it with an overhand grip that is slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart, palms up and elbows forward. Your upper arms should be almost parallel to the floor. With your elbows close to your body, pull the barbell directly over your shoulders, then lower your hips and bend your knees in a semi-squat position.
Exploding your legs and hips upward, straighten your arms to push the weight above your head with a full elbow extension. Make sure you are not overextending your lower back in the locked position and that you maintain a neutral arch in your spine throughout the movement. Hold the top for a moment, then lower the bar back to its resting position on your upper chest.
# 9. Seated barbell shoulder press
Intro: The barbell shoulder press is a highly effective upper body exercise that can increase strength and size in the shoulder area. In a sitting position, the shoulders are better isolated by limiting the involvement of other muscles. When it comes to proper deltoid development, shoulder squeezing is an absolute must – it's challenging, intense, and has a crazy transference to other lifts.
Since it is a multi-joint exercise, the barbell shoulder press can get very heavy and overload your muscles without endangering your safety, which in the long run means more muscle will be built. And since all three heads of the delts are activated, the shoulder press gives you an excellent ability to gather maximum mass and strength throughout the shoulder area while working the traps and upper chest to some extent.
Targeted Muscles: Primary: anterior deltoid muscles. Secondary: mid deltoid.
How one: Find a barbell press station or low-back bench in a power rack and position the barbell at a height just above your head. Sit straight with your feet flat on the floor, holding a slight arch in your lower back, and gripping the barbell firmly outside of the width of your shoulder with a pronounced grip with your elbows pointing down and out.
Loosen the bar and bring it to shoulder level. This will be your starting position. In a slow, controlled motion, push the bar straight to just before the elbow lock as you inhale and squeeze the working muscles firmly. As you exhale and repeat, lower the controlled bar back to the starting position. Avoid the flare of your elbows and keep your back straight throughout the movement. Also, make sure you use the full range of motion.
Extra tip: dumbbell shoulder press
You can also do this movement with a dumbbell. In fact, it is advisable to rotate them regularly within a few months. The dumbbell press allows the arms to protrude a little more to your sides, which activates the middle delts more, while the barbell press emphasizes the front delts more.
The second main difference between the two variants is that you can't handle the same heavy loads with dumbbells. On the other hand, the dumbbell variant works better when it comes to preventing muscular imbalances.