You’ve got legs like tree trunks, a barrel-shaped chest, bulging sleeve cannons and a back so wide it blocks out the sun. So what’s missing? A broad set of strong shoulders. Despite impressive Bench Press numbers, a Squat personal record equivalent to a school bus, and a Deadlift rivaling the weight of a small cow, a set of puny shoulders can ruin your physique and deflate your ego.
The search for more muscle leads many guys to try dozens of exercises, few of which actually yield results. The best shoulder exercises, like those for other muscle groups, vary for each individual. However, the following three exercises should be staple movements in any shoulder training routine.
Neutral Grip Overhead Presses
The Neutral Grip Overhead Press variation, ideally performed with a Swiss bar, offers two main benefits. First, it allows lifters to get a good range of motion. Second, the neutral grip is more natural than a traditional grip for a lifter’s wrists, forearms and shoulders—which translates to less stress on the joints and decreased chance of injury. The variation is specially good for anyone who struggles with straight bar Shoulder Presses.
To remove the temptation to lean back or use leg drive and for an added shoulder shock factor, perform the exercise sitting down. Another tactic for increasing intensity is to try “one and a half reps.” This involves lowering the bar to your shoulders, pressing it up to eye level, lowering it back down again and then pressing it all the way up. The shoulders are most active in the initial phase of the move, and this challenging variation gives them twice as much work to do as normal presses. It also minimize triceps recruitment, which occurs at the top, during the lockout portion of the movement.
Behind-the-Back Lateral Raises
Why do so many guys who perform Lateral Raises with 30-, 40-, or even 50-pound dumbbells have shoulders that resemble billiard balls more than bowling balls? The answer: they use terrible form. Anyone can swing a pair of heavy dumbbells up from their sides using momentum, but that doesn’t work the shoulders effectively.
To remove the temptation to cheat, perform lateral raises on a cable machine with one hand behind your back. The Behind-the-Back Lateral Raise is more difficult than a regular Lateral Raise because the position virtually eliminates the ability to cheat. To start, you’ll probably have to use less weight than you normally do, but you will be rewarded with a much more effective exercise.
Rear Deltoid Raises
Rear Deltoid Raises are pretty common on the gym floor. However, if lifters perform them while leaning over or with their chest supported on a bench, the desire to lift more weight takes over, and form typically takes a backseat.
For most lifters, the chest-supported version of the Rear Deltoid Raise is superior to leaning forward, because it places less stress on the low back and allows for better technique. To maximize each rep, stay under control, squeeze your deltoids at the top of the movement and lower the weight slowly.
To maximize the set, keep moving—and when you get close to failure, perform partial movements. At first, you’ll probably move the weights around 10 to 12 inches, but after 15 partials, you’ll be down to a 5- or 6-inch range of motion. Although you usually want a full range on every exercise, rear deltoid raises are slightly different. Your deltoids will be burning from these small, speedy partial repetitions.
Drop sets are another tool you can use to completely fatigue your deltoids. Start with a weight that allows you to complete 10 full reps and 20 to 30 partials. Drop the load by 50 percent and go to failure again. Finish by simply lifting your arms up in the same fashion. You’ll get some weird looks as your fellow athletes wonder why you’re lifting with no weight, but the burn is so intense, your shoulders will respond with a huge jump in size.
Training for Shoulder Size
If your shoulders aren’t up to par with the rest of your body, train them more often. Advanced lifters can attack their shoulders twice a week—once at the start of the week with a dedicated shoulder session and again after a chest or back workout. The above exercise variations are great for providing a huge stimulus for growth. Combined with proper nutrition, they will quickly make your shoulders bigger.