If you’re reading this article, we assume that you don’t have to be convinced that big, strong shoulders are one of the trademarks of a great physique. You already know that. You just need to find out how to get there in the shortest time possible.
It’s also safe to assume that you’ve already poured countless hours and gallons of sweat into shoulder workouts that promised to give you unbelievable results, but to no avail. The truth is that building massive shoulders is no easy task and there are simply no shortcuts to be taken here. But on the other hand, it can be definitely done, and it can be done a lot faster if you have the right exercises.
But why do some exercises provide amazing gains for some people but they’re pretty much useless for others? First of all, the anatomy of your shoulders is determined by genetics, so guys with more favorable shoulder genetics will reap better results faster than guys who have, for example, narrower shoulders, unfavorable limb length and “worse” muscle attachments (which define how efficient the muscles are, biomechanically speaking). This doesn’t mean that those who are ‘cursed’ by genetics can’t build great bodies – they just need to put some extra effort into concealing their disadvantages and fixing weaknesses. By training smart, most obstacles can be overcome.
Second, the efficiency of a certain exercise also depends on the rest of your program, the frequency of training and whether there is adequate recovery in between sessions. If you train too often, over-train certain muscles or don’t allow your body to rest properly after a hard workout, growth might stall. You could be performing the best exercises there is, but if you don’t provide the right supporting context, they can’t do wonders on their own. Creating the perfect training program requires knowledge and experience, but don’t worry if you’re not already there – this article was created for guys like you by guys who’ve already been there.
So let’s cut to the chase. In this article we’ll help you design a highly efficient shoulder training program by providing you the best shoulder exercises that you can use for building both size and strength. You simply cannot go wrong with these mighty moves, so read carefully and get ready to pound some heavy iron.
#1. Cable reverse fly
Intro: The reverse fly is an isolation exercise that targets the upper back and shoulders and promotes substantial growth in a number of muscles found in these two areas. It can be performed when sitting, standing or even lying face down on a weight bench. The main perk of this exercise is that it efficiently hits the rear delts, which usually don’t get much love in standard shoulder workouts, even though they’re a crucial part of achieving that thick, 3D look. So if your goal is to develop well-balanced shoulders, your rear delts size will have to match the one of your front and middle delts, so it’d be wise to emphasize reverse flies in your routine. Also, the great thing about cable-based movements it that they provide continual tension on the targeted muscles, so they never really get a break, which translates to more growth. Since the shoulders and back are one of the most injury-prone body parts, always use correct form when performing this exercise.
Targeted muscles: Posterior deltoids, rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles.
How to: Attach D-handles to the upper pulley of a cable machine. The pulleys should be above your head. Grab the left-side handle with your right hand and the right-side handle with your left hand, crossing them in front of you and step to the center. Your palms should be in a neutral grip, and your elbows should be straight but not locked out. Keeping your arms elevated at shoulder level, open your arms out to the sides and engage your rear delts as you pull each handle across to the other side. Keep your arms perfectly straight as you execute the movement. Once your arms are entirely outstretched, reverse the motion and bring the handles back to the start position.
#2. Bent-over dumbbell lateral raise
Intro: No matter how many times you’ve heard that the on-arm bent-over lateral raise is superior to its bilateral counterpart because it lets you place more stress on each side, that isn’t true. The unilateral version of this exercise increases the opportunity to cheat by allowing you to rotate more at the waist, and that easily beats all of its advantages. Performing the movement with both arms at the same time will eliminate that kind of momentum and allow you to put more pressure on your rear delts, enabling you to create a more balanced overall physique. It can be done either standing or seated at the end of a flat bench.
Targeted muscles: The rear delts and upper back muscles.
How to: Take a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other and slightly bend the knees while maintaining a flat back and upright chest. Fix your gaze on a point on the floor in front of you and bend at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor, elbows fixed in a slightly bent position. Raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides in an arc until both of your upper arms become parallel to the floor. After a one-second squeeze at the top, then reverse the motion to lower back the dumbbells.
#3. One-arm cable lateral raise
Intro: If you’re looking to carve out a set of broad, strong shoulders, lateral raises should be a staple in your routine. A properly executed one-arm cable lateral raise can be a crucial isolation exercise in your training arsenal because it helps target the side delts, i.e. the lateral heads of the shoulders, which can be often hard to hit with other exercises but are necessary if you want to maximize your delts thickness. For example, overhead presses greatly emphasize the anterior delts, but fail to adequately stimulate the side and rear heads. For developing complete shoulders, each head must be exhausted on its own – and this movement is the perfect fix for your neglected middle delts.
Targeted muscles: Middle deltoids.
How to: Set the pulleys to the low setting and select the weight you want to work with. Stand sideways to the machine with feet at shoulder width apart, grasp the right handle with your left hand and place your non-working hand on your hips. Stand straight up, keeping your abs tight and shoulders back and raise the cable out and to your side in a wide arc by moving your elbow and hand together in the same plane. Once your arm passes the shoulder level, pause for a second and squeeze the delts, then reverse the motion to lower it down. Repeat for the desired amount of reps, then repeat the exercise with your right arm by grasping the left handle with your right hand. Remember, form is more important than weight so keep your elbows high all throughout the movement and don’t flare your hands up as you move the weight to ensure maximum middle delt activation.