One of the most commonly neglected body parts by novice gym goers (and some more experienced trainers!), your shoulders deserve more time in your workout than you probably give them. Unlike the more common ‘glamour’ muscles that people look to add mass to in the gym, the shoulders tend to be overlooked in favour of a big chest, strong back, big biceps and 6-pack abs.
Well, enough is enough! It’s time to start adding some size and definition to those delts, so we’ve compiled a list of the best shoulder exercises for mass, as well as a few tips to help accelerate the process.
Understanding the Shoulder Muscles
Your shoulders are made up of 3 deltoid heads, as well as the upper section of the traps.
The anterior deltoid is at the front of your shoulder and is connected to the upper part of the chest. If you’re looking to develop that separation between the shoulders and the pectorals and get those high, cannonball looking shoulders then this area is key.
The lateral deltoid is on the outside of your arm and connects to your biceps and triceps. Developing this area helps add width to your physique and definition to your upper arms.
The posterior deltoid are at the back of your shoulder and can help to add width to your upper body, helping to create that V taper that most lifters are looking for. Developing your posterior deltoids can also help improve posture, so if you work a desk job or have perhaps prioritised chest training over back training (for shame!) then you’ll benefit from some additional focus on this area.
The upper trapezius run between the neck and the shoulders, and developing them effectively can add considerable size to your upper body. Proper trap training can make your delts really stand out and can help frame the chest nicely too.
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Preparing for your Mass Building Shoulder Workouts
If you’ve been keeping up with our mass building series then you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth reiterating. You’re not going to get bigger shoulders, or bigger anything, if you’re not eating at a caloric surplus, getting plenty of protein and getting plenty of good quality sleep.
Track your calorie and protein intake with an app like My Fitness Pal, and aim to eat over maintenance by a few hundred calories each day. Your target protein intake should be 1g of protein per pound of lean body weight, but you can play it safe and aim for 1g per pound of overall weight.
Get some good sleep too – so many positive things happen to your body when you sleep that you’d be crazy to not try and optimise this part of your life. I’ve mentioned Shawn Stevenson’s Sleep Smarter book before, if you don’t have it already you need to go get it now.
Aim for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps, and choose 2 or 3 of the exercises at a time. The shoulder can be more vulnerable to overtraining than some other body parts, so try not to nuke it too often.
With that said, let’s get to the exercises!
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Sit on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, keeping good posture and a tight core with your palms facing forward
- The starting position is with your arms at the height of our shoulders
- Raise the dumbbells above our head by extending our arms
- Bring your arms closer together at the top of the movement
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement before lowering the weight to the starting position
- This movement can also be performed on an incline bench
Barbell Shoulder Press
- Set up on a bench with a barbell rack, gripping the bar a few inches outside shoulder width
- Lift the bar off the rack and set up in the starting position at the height of your shoulders
- Keep your core tight and maintain good posture
- Raise the bar over your head by straightening your arms
- Pause for a moment at the top of the movement before returning to the starting position
Lateral Dumbbell Raises
- Grasp a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing inward towards your body and the dumbbells at your sides.
- Standing with your feet shoulder with apart, draw your abs in and bend your knees slightly.
- While keeping your torso still, raise the your arms up to the sides keeping your arms straight with a slight bend in the elbows.
- Raise your arms up until in line with your shoulders, your palms should face the floor.
- Hold the position for a moment then in a controlled movement lower your arms to the starting position.
One Arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Stand with a straight back and a tight core, feet shoulder width apart
- Take a dumbbell in your hand and lift it with a bent elbow to shoulder height
- Push the dumbbell overhead until your arm is fully extended overhead
- Lower the weight to the starting position
- Repeat the movement for both arms
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, core tight and your back straight
- Take a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip
- The starting position is with the weight at waist height with elbows very slightly bent
- Raise your left arm until the weight is in line with your shoulder, keeping the arm straight
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, before lowering the weight to the starting position in a controlled manner
- Repeat the movement with your right arm
- Stand upright with a straight back and a tight core, with feet shoulder width apart and a slight bend in your knees
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip just in front of your thighs
- Raise the weight either side of your ribs in a rowing motion, bending your elbows and moving them outwards
- Lower the weight to the starting position and repeat the movement
Front Dumbbell Raise
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip, feet shoulder width apart and your core tight
- Raise your left arm to shoulder height, keeping your arm straight
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement before lower the weight in a controlled manner back to the starting position
- Repeat with your right arm
Rear Deltoid Barbell Row
- The barbell should begin on the floor
- With a straight back, bend your knees and grasp the bar with a double overhand grip
- Keep your chest steady and keep your arms perpendicular to your chest
- Pull the bar up to your chest in a controlled manner
- Pause at the top of the movement for a moment before slowly moving the bar to the starting position
Seated Military Press
- Sit on a bench with our back straight, core tight and your feet facing forward
- Grab the bar around shoulder width with your palms facing outward
- With the bar in front of your head, push the bar upwards by straitening your arms
- Pause slightly at the top of the movement (without locking your arms) before lowering the bar to the starting position
- Set up on a flat bench with your feet facing forward and your core tight
- Take a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your body
- Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise your arms to the starting position, in line with your shoulders
- Raise the weight in a controlled manner by straightening your elbows, rotating your forearms so that your palms now face away from your body
- Bring the dumbbells closer together without fully extending your elbows
- Lower the dumbbells in a controlled manner back to the starting position
Upright Barbell Rows
- Stand up with a straight back, tight core and feet shoulder width apart
- Set up the bar on the rack at a height where your arms are extended in front of you with your elbows slightly bent
- Grab the bar around shoulder width and lift it towards our chin in a controlled manner
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement to squeeze your shoulder blades together
- Return the bar to the starting position
Dumbbell Upright Rows
- Hold your dumbbells with a palms-downward overhand grip in front of your thighs
- Your feet should be shoulder width apart, your back straight and your core tight
- With the dumbbells at your thighs, bend your elbows to slowly raise them towards your shoulders
- Pause at the top of the movement and pull your shoulder blades together
- Lower the dumbbells to the starting position in a controlled manner
Front Cable Raises
- The pulley should be set just about the floor
- Feet should be shoulder width apart, your knees should be slightly bent and your core should be tight
- Take the pulley in your left hand at around waist height with your palm facing the floor
- Keeping your arm straight, raise the pulley up towards shoulder height
- Pause at the top of the movement before returning to the starting position at waist height
Upright Cable Row
- Set up the floor pulley with a straight bar
- Set up with your feet shoulder width apart, your back straight and your core tight
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip and pull it up to the starting position at your waist
- Raise the bar up until it’s in line with your shoulders
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement and push your shoulder blades together
- Slowly lower the bar to the starting position
Cuban Dumbbell Press
- Grab your dumbbells with your palms facing backwards and your shoulder rotated forward
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart, with a slight bend in the knees and a tight core
- Lift your arms slowly, bending the elbows until they are parallel to the floor and squeezing your shoulders together
- Rotate your arms to bring the dumbbells forward until they are above the shoulder and in line with your elbows
- Lower your arms and return to the starting position in a controlled manner
Front Barbell Raises
- Hold the barbell with a double overhand grip, with palms facing downwards
- Stand up straight, with a tight core and your knees slightly bent and feet around shoulder width apart
- Keeping your arms straight, raise the barbell up to shoulder height in a controlled manner
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement before carefully lowering the bar to the starting position
Seated Rear Lateral Cable Raise
- Set up on a flat bench with your feet on the floor
- With your back straight, rest your chest on your thighs and grab the pulleys with your opposite hands
- Raise your upper arms to shoulder height, pausing briefly at the top of the movement
- Lower your arms to the starting position in a controlled manner
Lying One Arm Rear Lateral Raise
- Set up on a flat bench, lying face down with your arms hanging towards the floor
- Set up dumbbells either side of the bench
- The hand not using the dumbbell can be used to stabilize your body
- Grab the dumbbell with your left hand and raise your upper arm to shoulder height
- Your arm should be straight and perpendicular to your chest, with a slight bend at the elbow
- Lower the weight to the starting position in a slow, controlled manner
Lying Rear Lateral Raise
- Set up with your dumbbells at the end of the bench
- On a flat bench, lie face down with the height set height enough that you can move your arms freely underneath
- Put your toes on the floor to help stabilize your body
- Hold the dumbbells with your elbows at around a 30 degree angle
- Raise your arms up to around shoulder height in a controlled manner
- Slowly lower the weight to the starting position
Internal Cable Rotation
- Sit on the floor beside the low cable pulley
- With your elbow bent at a 90 degree angle grab the pulley with your left arm
- Pull the cable towards your body and rotate your shoulder until your forearm is across your abs
- Return to the starting position in a controlled manner
- Repeat for your right side
Bent Over Lateral Cable Raises
- Take hold of the low pulley with your right hand
- Bend at the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor
- Your knees should be slightly bent and your left hand should be placed on your left thigh
- Your tight arm should hand down from your shoulder with your elbow slightly bent
- Raise your right arm while keeping a slight bend in your elbow
- Continue this movement until your arm is parallel with the floor and is in line with your right ear
- Bring the weight back to the starting position in a controlled manned
- Repeat the movement for your left side
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The Best Shoulder Exercises for Mass
By Stuart Young
One of the most commonly neglected body parts by novice gym goers, your shoulders deserve more time in your workout than you probably give them.