The Ultimate Guide
to Shoulder Workouts

Intro

Your shoulders are the crux of your upper body. And simply put, big shoulders are sexy.

In the physique world, thick, round shoulders are a necessary part of achieving the perfect figure. As bodybuilders everywhere know, your shoulders form the wide top of your upper trunk’s “V”-shape. Picture a competitive athlete developed everywhere except their shoulders and try not to laugh.

Having massive boulders frame your physique usually means the difference between an L or XL shirt size. Women who lift and make the effort to develop nice delts give off the baddest b*tch vibes. Are yours feeling small yet?

Not only do you want your shoulders to be full and muscular, but they need to be functional and mobile.

Pain free is the name of the game here, since your shoulders are responsible for stabilizing your upper trunk and articulating your arms in different directions. This makes them susceptible to a host of injuries. But healthy rotator cuffs and strong delts protect the complex shoulder joint from tears, impingement, and other weird stuff that can cause shoulder pain.

Developing your chuck meat can also improve your gross/rounded posture by drawing your t-spine back. For weightlifters, strong delts assist with big pulling moves like cleans and deadlifts. And if you’re into strongman or powerlifting, good luck doing heavy farmer carries or log presses with little baby shoulders.

If you’re looking for the ultimate guide to getting wider, stronger, cannonball-pumpkin delts to hold up all your responsibilities, you’ve found it.

Shoulder Anatomy & Muscles Worked

Before tackling a muscle group as complex as the shoulders, it pays to understand the different parts of the shoulder, what they do, where they attach, and what supporting muscle groups are involved.

The shoulder is a complex ball-and-socket joint of interlocking parts that need the capacity to move in a wide range of directions.

The most visible muscle of the shoulder is the triangular, three-headed deltoid.

The deltoid comes in a set of three sections:

  • Front (anterior)
  • Side (medial)
  • Rear (posterior)

The entire muscle is responsible for raising your arm, but the front delts help more with pushing movements like bench press, while the rear delts do a little more pulling like with rows. It’s common to see overdeveloped front delts and underdeveloped rear/mid delts in naive gym bros who do a ton of bench press.

Your delts are also responsible for making sure your arms don’t dislocate when you carry things. When you feel the sides of your shoulders burning during heavy farmer carries, they’re helping to stabilize the weight at a safe distance from your body.

Fun fact: the name “deltoid” originates from the muscle being shaped like the ​​Greek capital letter delta (Δ). People love naming things after how they look.

The best shoulder workouts hit all three heads of your delts along with your upper trapezius muscles at the top of your back, your levator scapulae at the sides of your neck, and oftentimes (though not always) your biceps, triceps, and pectoralis major/minor. These supporting muscle groups will help give you a solid three-dimensional shoulder bulge.

Your rotator cuff is less visible, but extremely important — the main components are a combination of tendons and ligaments surrounding the ball and socket of your shoulder joint. These smaller tissues can take a lot of abuse, especially in athletes. They’re affected by muscles running down the arms, across the front of the body to the chest/clavicle, and across the back of the body to the scapula.

So basically, you use them all the time. Every day, even for simple stuff like making your morning coffee.

Your rotator cuff is responsible for (duh) rotation, but also stability, meaning everything here should be healthy enough to move weight if you want to build strong shoulders. Remember: avoid using heavy weights for rotator cuff warm ups and be sure to practice stabilization techniques like crawling and Turkish get ups often.

Injury Concerns

Strengthening your shoulder girdle helps protect it from injury, since the intricate shoulder joint can be prone to impingement and tears. The delicate labrum tissue that cushions the “ball inside the socket” can tear with overuse and age. The bones in the joint itself can have abnormalities or asymmetries that make some overhead positions difficult. (Chances are you have one shoulder that’s a little crankier than the other.)

Gymnasts typically put a lot of effort into bulletproofing their shoulders to support their own body weight in a huge range of positions. And Olympic weightlifters need both strength and mobility in their shoulders to hold crazy poundage overhead. Whatever your sport or goals, it pays to take care of your rotator cuff.

Ultimately: if you experience sharp, persistent pain, see your physical therapist.

Tightness or stiffness in your shoulders can be a sign of something deeper or a common indication that you need to put more effort into your warmups, mobility and soft tissue work.

Easy Shoulder Warmup Exercises

If your shoulders are otherwise healthy, here are some good prehab movements to get them nice and warm for a workout:

PVC External Rotation Stretch

Incline Prone Y Raise

Shoulder Controlled Articular Rotations

PVC Pass Through

Bench T-Spine Mobilization

Upgraded Sleeper Stretch

Be sure to check out this blog for a few mobility/stability shoulder exercises with weight: 3 Kettlebell Mobility Exercises for Shoulders

Coach’s Tip: There’s actually a whole fitness product geared towards helping you get healthy shoulders. If your gym has a set of Crossover Symmetry bands, use them! They usually come with an instruction guide. Even just a few sets to warm up or cool down your rotators can make a huge difference.

How-To Guides to the Most Effective Shoulder Workouts

Shoulder-Specific Workout Programs from Top Strength Coaches

STRONG & MOBILE SHOULDERS

This program takes advantage of the Smash, Lengthen, & Strengthen methodology that is proven to unlock your shoulders and then build up the muscles so you can enjoy a PERMANENT improvement to your range of motion.

Buy Strong & Mobile Shoulders

BUILDING 3D ROUND SHOULDERS

When it comes to building an appealing physique obtaining well developed shoulders is important. As a mens physique competitor I realized how important it was for me to build up my shoulders.

Buy Building 3D Round Shoulders

STURDY SHOULDERS

Do what the pro’s are doing. I have coached professional baseball and volleyball athletes through similar programs. The Sturdy Shoulders program is designed to help overhead athletes prevent injury and strengthen the shoulder girdle.

Buy Sturdy Shoulders

Sample Shoulder Workouts From Our Top Coaches

Nasty Shoulder Finishers

1. Do your warmups!

2. Aim to train your heaviest weights FIRST on the compound movements like overhead presses, then use the following as finishers.

3. Pick a weight you can do to failure. Grind out extra reps if you can.

4. Proceed at your own peril.

Simple Burner Combo

4 sets of 12 reps

  • :30 rest between sets
  • DB Lateral Raise + DB Front Raise
  • Each combination of the two movements counts as one rep!

Soreness Level 7/10

3-4 Sets

  • No rest between sets
  • 12 DB Reverse Flys
  • 12 DB Upright Row
  • 10-12 DB Lateral Raise
  • :15 DB lateral raise hold

Not For the Faint of Heart

  • TABATA Strict Press
  • Empty Barbell
  • 8 Rounds of :20 work, :10 rest (4:00 total)

Do as many strict presses as you can in 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Keep the bar in your front rack for the 10-second rest. Don’t set it down the whole time. Score is total number of reps. Keep track of this score and try to beat it in two weeks!

Other Resources

4 Uncommon Movements to Build Massive Shoulders

4 Uncommon Movements to Build Massive Shoulders

Author: Lily Frei

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.

You Work too Hard to Not See Progress

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