Big, round shoulders are a crucial piece of any physique puzzle – if you want a defined v-shape, you need shoulders that look like they could support a car. Apart from the standard press/jerk variations and the standard isolation work, here are some movements to shake up your shoulder-building routine: Arnold press, handstands, face pulls, & reverse grip presses. Bonus points for taking the time to master the iron cross.
Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.
4 Uncommon Movements to Build Massive Shoulders & work on shoulder joint stability
(so you can hold up all those responsibilities)
In the physique world, big, round shoulders are necessary. You can be developed everywhere else, but if your shoulders are weak or small, the wide top of your coveted V-shape will be nonexistent. Having superiorly bulging shoulders affects your overall visual aesthetic and often requires you to size up in shirts.
Strengthening the shoulder girdle also helps protect from injury, since the complex shoulder joint can be prone to tears and impingement. Gymnasts typically bulletproof their shoulders to support their own bodyweight in a wider range of positions, and weightlifters need both strength and mobility in their shoulders to hold crazy poundage overhead. Whatever your athletic preferences: avoid shoulder workouts to your detriment.
We know the standard press and jerk variations – strict/military, push press, split jerk, push/power jerk. And the standard isolation work – lateral/front raises, upright rows, reverse flys. So what else can you do to mix things up and hit your shoulders from multiple angles? First, a little anatomy refresher.
What makes up the shoulder?
The shoulder is comprised of a handful of interconnected muscles and tissues that extend across the front of the body and down the back, including supporting groups like your lats, traps, rhomboids.
These groups are responsible for every articulation of the joint up and down the chain that involves moving your arms (like reaching overhead, out to the side, and in any direction). For our purposes, we’re going to focus on the primary muscles, not the supporting ones.
These are the most visible muscles of the shoulder and the image that comes to mind when someone says they want “boulder shoulders”. The deltoids are a set of three: front, side, and rear. If you want to expand your shoulder meat in all directions, you want to target the delts.
Making your shoulders look like they could support a small car means you cannot neglect the rear delt, which is easy to forget about. Front delts are involved in common horizontal pushing movements like bench press, whereas rear delts are involved in less popular horizontal pulling movements like ring rows.
Not so much a muscle group as a combination of tendons and ligaments surrounding the ball and socket of your shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is responsible for rotation and stability of the joint, meaning everything here needs to be healthy in order to build strong shoulders.
These smaller tissues can take a lot of abuse. They’re affected by muscles running down to the arms, across the front of the body to the chest/clavicle, and across the back of the body to the scapula. Remember: avoid heavy weight for rotator cuff warm-ups and be sure to focus on stabilization techniques as often as possible.
4 Movements to Mix Up Your Shoulder Training
Probably the most dynamic, fun bodybuilding movement for time under tension and gassing your shoulders is the Arnold Press. Named after our favorite Governator, the rotation aspect of this press variation targets the front delts, adding a stamina element to the conventional dumbbell press.
Handstands & Handstand Pushups
Let’s be real – some of you could seriously benefit from being upside down more often. It’s good for your circulation and spacial awareness, and absolutely burns out your shoulders. Try holding a handstand against a wall for just one minute and see how fast your shoulders fatigue. Now make it harder by pressing up and down in that handstand position. (Watch videos for some coaching on this!)
If HSPU aren’t in your wheelhouse yet, start with pike pushups. Elevate your feet on a box or bench and create a “tripod” position with your hands, then lower the crown of your head toward the floor between your hands and press back up.
Remember that tricky rear delt? When developed nicely it gives your shoulder a full-capped look. Banded or cable machine face pulls are just the kind of horizontal pulling movement that targets those rear delts. The key here is to aim your elbows up and out, not down and tucked. If you have trouble connecting to these bad boys, get a gym buddy to touch your rear delt so you can really feel it working. (Mind-muscle connection is a real thing!)
Reverse Grip Press
Another uncommonly used version of a strict press – reverse grip pressing can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, smith machine, even a cable machine. Flipping your grip on a press hits the front delts hard. (And upper pecs if you change the angle by lying on a flat or incline bench.) This is a real bruiser movement when done for reps to failure on a smith machine.
Bonus: Iron Cross
If you have super healthy shoulder joints and you’re feeling dangerous, try progressing to an iron cross. This is an advanced movement for aerialists, and an acrobatic gymnastics trick to stun your friends and family. Performed correctly, the iron cross challenges your entire upper trunk and core. Don’t try to jump into this one right away – it’s tough. Take some time to develop the strength and coordination so you don’t tear something.
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