Nope. This isn’t going to be another one of those run-of-the-mill “boulder shoulder” articles repeating the already nauseatingly understood exercises it takes to build big, wide shoulders.
You know the ones, they go something like this: A standard press, a side lateral raise and then something for rear delts.
This also isn’t a list of some crazy-looking bosu ball balancing movements better suited for ballerinas with little to show for your efforts.
I am about to list the undisputed 5 best shoulder builders and then show you a few ways to make them better. A few twists to get more out of these basic, tried and true movements so you can add some muscle and a little excitement back into your shoulder training.
1. Barbell & Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Yes, what is a list of shoulder exercises without mention of the basic shoulder press? The shoulder press is by far the big boy on the block when it comes to packing on size to your entire shoulder area, especially in the front (anterior) and side (medial) heads of the deltoids. Additionally, overhead pressing will also help build stability in your shoulders to better facilitate bench pressing, rowing and pull-ups.
The Twist: One underlying problem a lot of lifters have is pressing too much weight, therefore creating lower back, shoulder and neck problems. One way to keep reaping the rewards of pressing without ditching it all together is to use a moderate load and perform 3-part, 15 rep sets much like the technique of 21s for biceps curls.
First, press the bar up only halfway, then press from the midpoint to the top, and then finally perform full reps for 5 reps each. Just be sure to lower the bar at or slightly below chin level when doing bottom half and full reps.
2. Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise
Sure, the side lateral raise doesn’t hold as big a punch as the overhead press, but the benefits they provide are too good to not include in your arsenal. What other exercise isolated the side deltoid head so well? Besides, the medial head is what gives you that wide look and can make your waistline instantly look smaller as well. Side laterals allow you to push those fibers a little further and create that all-encompassing illusion of that sought-after V-taper.
The Twist: Besides the obvious ways to make them more intense; such as running the rack and supersetting with other movements, side laterals can be manipulated in such a way to get even more of an isolated burn out of each rep. Start with the dumbbells by your sides. Starting the motion with your pinky side up, raise the weights out to your sides directly in line with your body.
Don’t let the weights float out front. Here’s the key: instead of raising the dumbbells with your hands allow your elbows to lead the lift and lift them as high as your shoulders. No twisting or turning.
3. Barbell & Dumbbell Upright Row
Upright rows are often thought of as insignificant shoulder builders due to lifters focusing on their sole purpose of trap development. Upright rows can also serve as a vital tool toward providing yet another multi-joint movement for more overall mass (along with the overhead press). This is particularly evident when different grips are used and where you pull from.
The Twist: As noted, taking a wider grip on the bar (or a wider arc of motion with dumbbells) will allow more stress to be placed on the medial deltoid heads and less on the trapezius muscles. A few inches wider than shoulder width will suffice.
If you start to experience shoulder pain then try using an EZ bar where your grip is slightly angled toward forearms. This should alleviate some of the discomfort. Also, be sure to pull up with your elbows higher than shoulder level. Pulling in this manner will engage the medial delts more fully.
4. Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise
For every action there is usually a reaction. Building a quality, balanced physique is no different. Performing the big, compound lifts such as presses and upright rows are great for adding on mass but you will eventually need a few other tools to balance things out and provide proportion and better function. Rear delt training is essential when it comes to establishing true shoulder balance not only for looks but for proper shoulder health as well.
The Twist: Bent-over lateral raises are pretty much a staple for said goal but let’s throw in a few more unique moves to not only add variety but also aid in achieving overall shoulder strength, balance and function. Rope pulls to the face, wide-grip pull-downs to the face with elbows flared and bent or standing cable rear pulls are just a few options at your disposal.
Here’s the key: As with many other shoulder moves, be sure to pull with your elbows and not your hands. Pulling in this manner will shift the stress to your targeted deltoid head instead of your upper back.
5. Hang Clean
Adding in a power move or two isn’t just for athletes or those who partake in cross-training. They can easily be installed into a shoulder program to give you some brutally awesome results. Hang cleans are particularly effective when you want to add some real, solid muscle on your yoke. What’s your yoke? Some refer the entire area of your traps, deltoids, neck and upper back as your yoke. Hang cleans is the perfect move for building and strengthening this area.
The Twist: Aside from actually adding them into your program you can beef up their effectiveness (pun intended). First, placing them at the beginning of your shoulder workouts will amp up your nervous system and prep you for more work to come along with a healthy dose of natural growth hormone.
Secondly, performing a hang clean and press will take care of your overhead work and then some. Other A-list power shoulder builders are snatches, split jerks and push presses.
2 Effective Workouts For Building Your Shoulders
Try each workout once per week. For example, program A on Monday and program B on Thursday.
|Program A Exercises||Sets||Reps|
|3-Part BB Shoulder Press||3||5,5,5|
|Superset: DB Side Laterals w/ DB Upright Row||4||10-15|
|Rope Face Pull||4||15|
|Program B Exercises||Sets||Reps|
|Hang Clean and Press||3||4-6|
|Superset: DB Bent-Over Laterals w/ DB Laterals||3||10-15|
|Wide-Grip BB Upright Row||3||10-15|
Enjoy the workouts! If you have any questions about them, feel free to comment in the comments section below.
I believe you meant "yoke" rather than "yolk." Otherwise, excellent article.
Great no BS article! My question... how would you use the two programs you have outlined? Alternate them one after the other?
Brad states to "Try each program once per week. For example, program A on Monday and program B on Thursday."