You could have amazing biceps and chest muscle development, but if your shoulders are underdeveloped you’re going to look small and weak. Large, well developed shoulders really standout and command instant respect.
The shoulders are important for that broad, strong, well balanced look and make up a big part of your overall physique. They are one of the only muscle groups that are highly visible from the front, side and rear of the body.
If your shoulders seem resistant to growth, or you’re looking for a program that will build more mass on your shoulders, fast… today’s your lucky day!
In this post I’m first going to discuss the anatomy and function of the shoulder muscle group. And provide you with the best mass building exercises, and workout program to develop 360 degrees of cannon-ball shoulder muscularity!
The deltoid (shoulder) is built on a ball and socket joint and is a monoarticular muscle group that moves the arms in all direction.
The deltoid is a complex muscle that can be divided into three parts:
Anterior Head (front): The main function of this muscle is to lift the arm out in front of the body. It is used as a secondary muscle and gains some growth stimulation during bench pressing, other chest exercises and can be activated during some biceps movements. The front head is heavily used in all pressing exercises.
Medial Head (side): This muscle is responsible for abducting the arm out to the side and away from the midline of the torso. This muscle is involved in overhead press exercises but requires direct isolation such as side lateral raises with dumbbells or cables to maximize growth. Side lateral raises are essential if you want broad mass development of the shoulders, and in my opinion are the best isolation exercises for the shoulders and should be a priority in your workout.
Posterior Head (back): This part of the shoulder pulls the arm backward and away from the body. The posterior head is heavily utilized during some back (pulling) exercise such as pull ups or rows, but is often under developed because most people find it difficult to isolate this muscle correctly when training shoulders – A problem I will be addressing in the exercise program below.
Shoulder Building Training Program
Shoulders are arguably my strongest body part, which I owe to the exercise routine that I’ve been following for years and set out below. I only ever make slight changes to this every couple of months such as changing from dumbbell press to military barbell press, switching from dumbbells to cables (to change the strength curve and line of tension), changing up rep ranges or changing up the odd exercise. But I’ve pretty much stuck to this program and it’s served me well. Now it’s your turn!
Make sure to warm up properly before starting these exercises with some mild stretching followed by a few light sets, to get some blood into the muscle and the joint warmed up.
Exercise 1: Dumbbell Press (4 sets / 2 heavy sets at 6 – 8 reps, 2 sets at 8 – 10 reps)
If you’re serious about building massive strong shoulders then the dumbbell press should be a staple in your training. There are a lot of variations of this exercise… Arnold, Cuban, and incline presses for example. But we’re going with the tried and true classic seated dumbbell press here.
This exercise moves the arms through a very natural range of motion, placing stimulating tension on the anterior and medial heads and puts the anterior bundle in its best position for work. The contraction at the top of the movement is much better because it allows for the arms to freely move closer together as they straighten, compared to a barbell where your hands are locked in one position.
How to Perform:
- Sit on a bench with back support at its highest setting
- Pick the dumbbells up and let them rest in an upright position on the top of your thighs
- Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height (starting position) one at a time, using your thighs to help propel them up
- Make sure your palms are facing forward
Arching your back when pressing shifts emphasis to a different plane of movement and therefore taking some of the tension off the target muscle (shoulders) and directing it to the upper pectorals.
To keep the tension on the muscle and maintain good form your back should be firmly placed against the pad and maintain a slightly “retracted” position of your shoulders to eliminate your shoulders from sloughing forward.
Maintain an erect spine and stop any back arching. Contracting your abs can help maintain this firm position.
To insure optimum shoulder muscle recruitment make sure that your forearm is perpendicular (90 degrees) to the floor through EVERY rep of the exercise.
Your hands should be in direct line with your elbow. They should never move your hands inside or outside of that line.
Lifting Tempo: 2-1-3-0
Your lifting tempo should be 1-2 seconds on the way up (concentric) in an exploding motion, 1 second pause at the top, 3 seconds to lower the weight (Eccentric – very important to maintain a slow and controlled contraction on this part), 0 second pause at the bottom.
Exercise 2: Side Lateral raises x 3 (3 sets / 8 – 10 reps)
This is my favourite shoulder exercise and the best to give the shoulders that rounded look from the front. It’s the only exercise that offers great isolation of the medial head, while minimizing the recruitment of the anterior and posterior heads.
Side lateral raises can be done using either dumbbells, cable pulley or machine. All are very effective but the cable provides the greatest tension throughout the entire range of motion because of the direction of resistance. However, I recommend switching between dumbbells and cables weekly for some variety.
There’s no need to bring your hand above shoulder height when doing side lateral raises. Don’t try lifting the arms as high as possible, stop when the arm is parallel with the floor. The medial head is in a fully shortened position at shoulder level. Going any higher will recruit the trapezius muscles.
Maintain good form during this exercise, don’t swing the weight, jerk or twist your body. Keep your body in a static position concentrating on just contracting the medial head and lifting the arm out to the side.
Keep the weight fairly light so that you reach failure around the 12 rep mark and so that you are able to maintain good form. Remember, explode up and slow on the way down maintaining constant tensions on the muscle through every rep.
Exercise 3: Reverse Fly’s x 3 (3 sets / 8 – 10 reps)
Perform this exercise using a rear deltoid machine if your gym has one, or a chest fly machine with handles on a reverse setting.
Before you start, grip the handles and place your shoulders in a protracted position. Protract your shoulders by moving them forward slightly while keeping your torso completely still. You may find it difficult to maintain this position at first but it’s essential to properly isolate the posterior deltoid.
Set the seat so that your hands are in line with your chin. When bringing your arms back keep a slight bend in your elbows and keep them up. Squeeze the muscle for one seconds when you move your arms all the way back.
Exercise 4: Front raises x 2 (2 sets / 10 reps)
This exercise is optional, because the anterior head (front of the shoulder) is heavily involved in pressing movements most people find that this muscle is fairly well developed. However, if you find that the front of your shoulders need some work to equal the development of the other heads then do a couple of front raises to finish off your shoulder training.
This exercise can be done using different equipment such as straight bar, kettlebells, EZ bar, dumbbells, large plate, cables etc.
The best way to do this exercise is on a machine cable with handle using a pronated grip (palms facing down) or by using a rope attachment and a neutral grip (thumbs facing up).
These exercises are all you really need for well-rounded shoulder strength and muscle development.
Now go get those cannon balls!
Credit to Bodybuilding.com for pictures