Here it is – the best shoulder workout for gaining muscle mass and width in the shoulders and developing overhead pressing strength to boot. In my opinion, effective shoulder training is the key to building a broad, powerful upper-body. Shoulders are pretty much the only body part that, if neglected, can ruin an otherwise well-built physique.
In the gym, you may see a guy with huge arms, thick back, and deep well-muscled chest – but if his shoulders are undeveloped, he just doesn’t look … powerful. In contrast, perhaps you’ll see a builder or manual laborer who may have never touched a barbell in his life, but just has that broad, capable look about him.
The reason? Well-built shoulders from swinging heavy bags and overhead lifting. Shoulder development can often be the make-or-break factor in whether you look “big” or not, and whether you ARE strong, or whether it’s all just for show. Contrary to popular belief, your shoulders are actually composed of three muscles. The anterior, medial and posterior deltoids. That’s front, middle and back in English.
The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, and each shoulder muscle pulls the upper arm in a different direction. The front delts pull the arm forward and up, the medial delts pull it out and to the side, and the rear delts pull it backwards.
That’s why to develop well-rounded shoulders you really do need a variety of exercises – the “shoulder” is actually three different muscles, each of which pulls in a different direction. The best shoulder workouts work the shoulder in all three directions.
The Best Shoulder workout
The best shoulder workout contains both compound and isolation exercises. As you may know, free-weights are by far and away the best choice for gaining strength and size.
Compounds are important for overall size and mass-building, as well as developing functional real-world strength. They also have favourable side effects such as increased testosterone production due to their taxing nature.
With shoulders, more than one isolation exercise is needed to really hit each part of the shoulder and stimulate growth from front to back.
Front delt training: the Standing Shoulder Press
Number of Sets: 3
This is the staple of the mass-building shoulder workout. Otherwise known as the military press, it’s a heavy compound that will hit your front-delts hard. If you only do one shoulder exercise, this is it. Not only will this build size, but significant pressing strength as well.
Make sure your form is good, and crank out 3 sets of 8-10 reps. Your range of motion is important – remember to lower the bar all the way down to your chest and full extend and lock your arms out at the top. Also, remember to breathe!
The Front Raise
Number of Sets: 2-3
You may find the standing shoulder press enough to stimulate growth in the front delts, especially if you’re doing a lot of barbell benching on your chest day.
However, the best shoulder workouts include front raises for maximum growth. The front raise is an isolation exercise that targets the front delts. 2-3 sets is enough, and reps should be kept high-ish in the 8-10 range to stimulate hypertrophy.
That’s the front of the shoulders taken care of. What about the rest?
Side shoulders: The Lateral Raise
Number of Sets: 3-4
Although the side shoulders are somewhat active in a variety of lifts, there’s only one exercise that really targets them enough to cause serious growth: the lateral raise.
Work hard on these, because they contribute more to that wide “cannonball” look than any other exercise. You can also check out the lying lateral raise for a variation on this exercise that some people find extremely effective for shoulder growth.
With lateral raises, it’s important to keep the form immaculate to make sure all the stress is on the side deltoids. Strict form with light weight is far more productive than a heavier weight that you have to cheat up.
Medial delts don’t contribute much to whole-body strength, so there’s no point cheat-lifting heavy weights via momentum on lateral raises. Focus on form and watch them grow.
The back of the shoulder: The Rear Delt Raise
Number of Sets: 2-3
This is another isolation exercise, designed to target the back of the shoulder – the rear deltoids.
Some people find that their rear delts grow just fine from heavy back work – barbell and dumbbell rows in particular. Others find that they need the extra isolation work to really trigger growth in the rear delts.
Whether you choose to do rear delt raises on the shoulder or back day, is up to you – personally, I prefer back day because like to do them right after rows, when they’re already somewhat fatigued. However, the choice is yours.
That’s it, the best shoulder workout for strength and size you’ll find, probably ever. Seriously though, the secret to big shoulders is hard work and repetition of the basics, over and over.
Like all good free-weight workouts that work, it’s short and simple. Note: Intensity not included – that’s your job!.
How to Incorporate the best shoulder workout in your training
The workout is fine on its own or as part of a split. You can use it as a stand-alone once per week “shoulders” day, or combine it with chest and triceps for a “push-pull” split that trains shoulders once every 5 days, for example. For more suggestions, have a look at the complete workout routines and find what’s right for you.