Keeping strong and well-defined shoulders is the gold standard to allow the other muscle a proper development. The shoulders consist of 3 major muscles: anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid and posterior deltoid. They play an important role in almost every exercise of the upper body and are the last place where the body stores fat, so they’re the easiest muscle group to define. That said, your workout should include varied exercises so you can work these three areas.
There are specific exercises to develop each muscle more efficiently. Front raises are good for the anterior deltoid, whereas lateral raises are good for the lateral deltoid. The posterior deltoid is worked with precision when you do raises with your body leaned forward. However, each exercise should always be performed carefully, because this area of you body can easily be affected by any inadequate movement.
Three fundamental exercises:
1. Dumbbell raise (body leaning forward)
Muscle you’ll work out the most: posterior deltoid
Other muscles: lateral deltoid, trapezius, rhomboid, infraspinatus, teres major, teres minor
How to perform?
Hold the barbells with your arms extended, leaning your body forward. Keep your back straight and your head high. Focus the movement on the posterior area of the shoulder. With the palms of your hands facing inwards, raise the dumbbells ‘till they reach the level of your ears, maintaining your elbows slightly bent, and slowly lower them, getting back to the initial position. The way you hold the barbells will affect the area you’ll be working. If you hold them with your thumbs facing forward, you’ll be allowing an influence on the lateral deltoid. If you hold them with your thumbs facing outwards, you’ll be emphasizing the posterior deltoid. Perform three sets of 12-10-10 reps each.
2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Muscle you’ll work out the most: lateral deltoid
Other muscles: anterior deltoid, posterior deltoid, trapezius and supraspinatus
How to perform?
Standing, hold the barbells with your arms extended. The barbells should be on the sides of your body. Raise your arms outwards until they reach the level of your shoulders. Slowly, get back to the initial position and repeat the movement. When you’re performing the raise ‘till the level of your shoulders, you’ll be working the lateral deltoid, but if you lift them higher, the trapezius will cooperate in the exercise’s execution.
If your thumb points upwards while you’re performing the exercise, you’ll be promoting the external rotation of the shoulder, allowing the anterior deltoid to contribute to the movement. If the thumb points down, you’ll be promoting the internal rotation of the shoulder, allowing the contribution of the posterior deltoid. Perform 3 sets of 12-10-10 reps each. Contract the abdominal and keep you back straight during the execution of the movement. The raise should last at least 2 seconds.
To defy the forearms and the shoulder’s stabilization muscles, perform the same exercise, replacing the barbells with kettlebells. Instead of allowing an impulse in the execution of the movement, it is important to focus your strength on the deltoids.
Grab a pair of kettlebells and hold them on the sides. With your elbows slightly bent and your fists closed, raise each kettbell up and to the sides until your arms stay completely parallel to the floor. To get a bigger concentration peak over the lateral deltoid, face your thumbs down. Perform the exercise with a hanging weight, directly grabbing the kettlebell’s handle. Take a short break on top of the movement before you allow your arms to get back to the initial position.
3. Dumbbell/Bar Front Raise
Muscle you’ll work out the most: anterior deltoid
Other muscles: lateral deltoid, trapezius and upper pectoral
How to perform?
Hold a bar with the palms of your hands facing inwards and shoulder-width. The arms should be completely extended. Raise the bar forward and up ‘till it reaches the level of your shoulders (90º angle). Slowly, get back to the initial position and repeat the movement. Contract the abdomen and keep your back straight during the exercise. Do not raise the bar beyond the neck. Two seconds to raise it, two more seconds to lower it. Perform 3 sets of 12-10-10 reps each.
You can also perform a frontal raise with only one barbell to work the anterior deltoid. You should grab it with both hands, intertwining them with the fingers.
1. Don’t work your shoulders and chest two days in a row, because while performing some exercises, you’ll be demanding indirect effort from a few secondary muscles that are included in your shoulder workout plan. Ideally, you should do a chest workout on one day and work your shoulders three days after that. For instance: if you do a chest workout on Monday, train your shoulders only on Thursay so you have time to completely recover and to avoid overtraining.
2. Choose weights so you can perform between 8 – 12 reps slowly (2 seconds raising, 2 seconds getting back to the initial position). At the end of the exercise, stop the movement completely so you can start each rep without using an impulse.
3. Focus on the muscle you’re stimulating and not on the weights. After reaching a plateau on the exercise, perform drop-sets, forced reps or use the rest-pause technique (choose one of these, not all of them).
4. It is true that bars and barbells are the best way to increase muscle mass, but you can easily fall into a routine because you’ll always be performing the same exercises, week after week. You should vary the exercises. You can also do exercises with cables, machines or barbells (unilaterally).
5. Work every part of your shoulder with the same intensity so you can prevent muscle imbalances.
6. Two shoulder workout sessions per week are enough to get you the results you want.
7. Boxing is the best sport for those who want to develop and define the shoulders. By keeping your hands in a combat position, you’ll constantly pressure the shoulders and when you jump and make circles with your arms in a horizontal position, you’ll also be doing that. If you have the chance of practicing box at your gym, do it every 3 weeks so you can break with your workout routine. Instead of performing chest and shoulder exercises, chose a boxing workout to shock the muscles and provoke new stimuli.
N/d, Plano de Treino – Ombros, 17th of December 2010, translation and adaptation of the original version
Greg Merritt, Os 5 Maiores Erros no Treino de Ombros e Como Corrigi-los, 8th of March 2012, translation and adaptation of the original version
Gabriel Bau, Sequência de exercícios para Ombros, 29th of November 2012, translation and adaptation of the original version
David Robson, Training Strategies For Massive Shoulders!, 22nd of March 2004, translation and adaptation of the original version