The 5 Best Shoulder-Building Exercises
Jan 29, 2018

The 5 Best Shoulder-Building Exercises
The road to building the powerful shoulders you want starts with the introduction of these 5 cornerstone exercises in your shoulder routine:

#1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This is a basic shoulder mass-builder that allows you to target any existing muscle imbalances between your left and right side of the body when pressing. It’s very likely that your dominant side is stronger and compensates for the weaker one during barbell movements. When using a barbell this is be hardly noticeable, but with dumbbells you’ll be able to tell the difference right away and address it properly. If you can, perform the exercise in front of a mirror so that you can keep your form in check.
Press the weight up in an explosive manner and push your head forward at the top of every rep to make sure that you’re moving the load through your shoulders and not your chest muscles. Return the weight to the starting position with a slow and controlled movement.

Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

#2. Arnold press

The Arnold press is a twisting variation of the standard shoulder press that targets the front and side delts as well as the rotator cuff muscle group, named after the bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In addition, many other muscles are involved in this exercise as secondary movers, which is why it works great for strengthening and stabilizing the entire shoulder complex. For example, as you move the dumbbells higher overhead and begin to rotate the forearms, the upper arms shift out to the sides, engaging shoulder abduction which incorporates the lateral delts, while the triceps assist elbow extension. The stabilization of the scapula is achieved by activating the lower and middle portion of the traps to support the movement.
To perform the Arnold press, hold the dumbbells at chest height with your palms facing towards you and your elbows bent. Keep your arms close to your torso. As you move the weights up into the standard shoulder press position (weights at shoulder level), rotate the palms of your hands until they are facing forward and drive the weight up without pausing until your arms are fully extended above you. Hold the peak contraction for a second, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, rotating the hands so that your palms are once again facing towards your body.

Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

#3. Upright Barbell Row

The upright row is a very effective way to target your side delts and traps as prime movers and your front delts, rhombs and teres minor as secondary muscles. It’s a compound exercise that has to be performed with proper form in order to avoid injury – many exercise experts have claimed that more than 80% of gym-goers perform it incorrectly, which is why this exercise has the reputation of a shoulder killer.
One 2011 study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that lifting the barbell too high on upright rows causes the shoulder blade to rub against the rotator cuff and create irritation and diminished range of motion, also known as shoulder impingement. However, this means that the exercise itself doesn’t destroy shoulders, but a lack of focus on maintaining proper form certainly does, and the same can be said for a long list of great mass builders. To prevent injury, all you have to do is keep the weight close to your trunk and lift it only to the collar bones or top of the shoulders.
To perform it, take a barbell or an EZ-bar and grip it with an overhand grip slightly narrower than shoulder width. Keep your back straight and maintain a slight bend in the elbows as the bar rests on the top of your thighs. Engage the sides of your shoulders to lift the bar, raising your elbows up and to the side. Keep the bar close to your body all throughout the movement and make sure that your elbows are always higher than your forearms. Continue to lift the weight until it’s slightly below your chin, then lower it down in a controlled movement.

Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

#4. Lateral raise

Mastering the lateral raise will undoubtedly help you develop your delts and build wider shoulders, as this exercise strengthens your shoulders and increases your shoulder mobility. And as with any other movement, proper form is crucial to unlocking optimal gains.
You should know that going to arms parallel will provide good overall deltoid recruitment without placing the shoulder joint under too much stress, while taking it 45 degrees past parallel will fully activate the middle delts and also bring the upper traps, rhombs, lower traps and serratus into play. You can incorporate both version into your shoulder workout by doing lateral raises to arms-parallel at the beginning and adding a few above-parallel sets with lighter weights at the end of the workout. In each variant, make sure to complete a full range of motion on each rep to make the most out of the exercise.
Pick up a pair of relatively light dumbbells and hold them in front of your thighs with elbows slightly bent. Bend over slightly at the hip and knees. Lift the weights up and out to the sides by abducting the shoulders until your elbows are at shoulder height, squeeze the muscles hard and hold for one second, then lower the weights back to the starting position. Keep your elbows above or equal to the wrists all throughout the movement. At the top of the movement, your elbows should be directly lateral to the shoulders.

Perform 5 sets of 12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

#5. Barbell/Dumbbell Shrug

By itself, the shoulder shrug is an awesome isolation exercise for the traps.
However, just because shrugs are technically an isolated movement, that doesn’t mean that their benefits are isolated to just the traps – shrugging also brings some back and muscles into play. But when paired with poor posture and sloppy form and technique, the shrug is guaranteed to do more harm than good, which is why we advise you to perform shrugs of any kind only if you intend to learn how to do it properly and always make sure to perform it with flawless form. If not, you’d be better off with some safer yet less potent shoulder moves.
That being said, we propose you to alternate between barbell and dumbbell shrugs with good form and relatively heavy weights in order to provide your traps the optimal stimulation for growth. The barbell shrugs allow you to use heavier weights, while the dumbbell variant offers a greater range of motion, so you should take the best of the both worlds for best results.
As a finisher for the workout presented in this article, perform dumbbell shrugs within a drop set. Pick a weight that’s heavy enough to make you struggle to complete one set of 15 good reps, then drop the weight by about 30% and complete another 15 reps without any rest in between. Reduce the weight again and immediately perform a third set of 15 reps, then rest for 90 seconds. Avoid rolling your shoulders forwards or backwards and refrain from trying to lift the weight by using your triceps. At the top, raise your shoulders up as far as you can go and hold the peak contraction for a second.

Perform 3 drop sets in total, with 15 reps on each intra-set and 90-second rest in between drop sets.
Perform this workout once a week and you’ll be able to notice surprising results in your shoulder development in no time.

Good luck and stay strong!



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