Sports Essentials: How to Build Shoulder Muscles

Don't take your shoulders for granted! Here's a unique two-step routine using plates to bulk them up.

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Whether you're reaching for something overhead, combing your hair, or putting on a shirt, you tend to take your shoulder muscles for granted. Athletes especially should value healthy and flexible shoulders. Those muscles and joints are needed for full range of motion. You need strong shoulders for passing and shooting in basketball, blocking in football and pushing and pulling in wrestling. Imagine swimmers doing laps without powerful shoulders.

Strengthening shoulder muscles and joints is essential to help prevent injury and improve performance during the course of a long sports season, as well as to facilitate daily actions requiring shoulder movement.

Try this short but intense full-body shoulder-building routine twice weekly on non-consecutive days. (Bad shoulders? Here are three tips to maximize your workout.)

Full-Body Shoulder-Building "Descending Weight Plates" Routine

Equipment: one 45-pound plate, one 35-pound plate, two 25-pound plates and two 10-pound plates.


  • Before starting, warm up shoulders with arm circles for 30 to 60 seconds
  • Extend arms overhead, interlace fingers and hold for 10 to 20 seconds
  • Gently pull right arm across chest (left hand on right elbow) and hold for 10 to 20 seconds
  • Repeat with left arm
  • At end of workout, do static stretches for the shoulders to enhance flexibility

In the two routines described below, do the exercises in succession without pausing except to pick up plates. Rest 60 to 90 seconds after the last exercise in Routine One. This should be enough time to hydrate before moving on to Routine Two. These exercises fire up the shoulder muscles, but they also work the legs, chest, back, arms and core. Finish with cool-down upper- and lower-body static stretches, particularly the shoulder stretches outlined above.

Routine One

  • Assume athletic stance holding 45-pound plate with arms extended at chest level
  • Raise plate overhead and do 10 Squats with plate held overhead
  • Pick up 35-pound plate, hold at chest level and lunge laterally right while pressing plate out and in
  • Do five Side Lunges with five Press-Outs to right
  • Repeat on left side
  • Hold 25-pound plates at sides
  • Balance on right foot with right leg slightly bent (left foot off floor)
  • Bend over and pull plates to waist 10 times (One-Legged Bent-Over Rows)
  • Balance on left foot and repeat
  • Raise 10-pound plates to sides at shoulder level
  • Hold them in position as you perform five Forward Walking Lunges, then five Reverse Walking Lunges

Routine Two

  • Hold 45-pound plate at shoulder level
  • Squat and simultaneously press plate overhead
  • Perform 10 Squats and Overhead Presses
  • Hold 35-pound plate with arms extended at chest level
  • Lunge laterally right while simultaneously rotating plate to right
  • Do five reps, then five left side Lunges/Plate Twists
  • Hold 25-pound plates close together in front at waist level
  • Perform Forward Walking Lunge and Upright Row, bringing plates to chest while lunging forward
  • Do five Forward Walking Lunges/Rows and five Reverse Walking Lunges/Rows
  • Hold 10-pound plates at shoulder level
  • Place right foot on bench
  • Keeping foot on bench, do 10 Step-Ups, simultaneously pressing plates overhead
  • Repeat with left foot on bench for 10 reps


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