The 8 Best Shoulder Exercises of All Time
The 8 Best Shoulder Exercises of All Time
If you’re reading this article, we assume that you don’t have to be convinced that big, strong shoulders are one of the trademarks of a great physique. You already know that. You just need to find out how to get there in the shortest time possible.
It’s also safe to assume that you’ve already poured countless hours and gallons of sweat into shoulder workouts that promised to give you unbelievable results, but to no avail. The truth is that building massive shoulders is no easy task and there are simply no shortcuts to be taken here. But on the other hand, it can be definitely done, and it can be done a lot faster if you have the right exercises.
But why do some exercises provide amazing gains for some people but they’re pretty much useless for others? First of all, the anatomy of your shoulders is determined by genetics, so guys with more favorable shoulder genetics will reap better results faster than guys who have, for example, narrower shoulders, unfavorable limb length and “worse” muscle attachments (which define how efficient the muscles are, biomechanically speaking). This doesn’t mean that those who are ‘cursed’ by genetics can’t build great bodies – they just need to put some extra effort into concealing their disadvantages and fixing weaknesses. By training smart, most obstacles can be overcome.
Second, the efficiency of a certain exercise also depends on the rest of your program, the frequency of training and whether there is adequate recovery in between sessions. If you train too often, over-train certain muscles or don’t allow your body to rest properly after a hard workout, growth might stall. You could be performing the best exercises there is, but if you don’t provide the right supporting context, they can’t do wonders on their own. Creating the perfect training program requires knowledge and experience, but don’t worry if you’re not already there – this article was created for guys like you by guys who’ve already been there.
So let’s cut to the chase. In this article we’ll help you design a highly efficient shoulder training program by providing you the best shoulder exercises that you can use for building both size and strength. You simply cannot go wrong with these mighty moves, so read carefully and get ready to pound some heavy iron.
#1. Cable reverse fly
Targeted muscles: Posterior deltoids, rhomboids and middle trapezius muscles.
How to: Attach D-handles to the upper pulley of a cable machine. The pulleys should be above your head. Grab the left-side handle with your right hand and the right-side handle with your left hand, crossing them in front of you and step to the center. Your palms should be in a neutral grip, and your elbows should be straight but not locked out. Keeping your arms elevated at shoulder level, open your arms out to the sides and engage your rear delts as you pull each handle across to the other side. Keep your arms perfectly straight as you execute the movement. Once your arms are entirely outstretched, reverse the motion and bring the handles back to the start position.
#2. Bent-over dumbbell lateral raise
Targeted muscles: The rear delts and upper back muscles.
How to: Take a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other and slightly bend the knees while maintaining a flat back and upright chest. Fix your gaze on a point on the floor in front of you and bend at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor, elbows fixed in a slightly bent position. Raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides in an arc until both of your upper arms become parallel to the floor. After a one-second squeeze at the top, then reverse the motion to lower back the dumbbells.
#3. One-arm cable lateral raise
Targeted muscles: Middle deltoids.
How to: Set the pulleys to the low setting and select the weight you want to work with. Stand sideways to the machine with feet at shoulder width apart, grasp the right handle with your left hand and place your non-working hand on your hips. Stand straight up, keeping your abs tight and shoulders back and raise the cable out and to your side in a wide arc by moving your elbow and hand together in the same plane. Once your arm passes the shoulder level, pause for a second and squeeze the delts, then reverse the motion to lower it down. Repeat for the desired amount of reps, then repeat the exercise with your right arm by grasping the left handle with your right hand. Remember, form is more important than weight so keep your elbows high all throughout the movement and don’t flare your hands up as you move the weight to ensure maximum middle delt activation.
#4. Cable front raise
Intro: The cable front raise is a brutally effective shoulder movement which allows you to isolate the anterior deltoid head while requiring minimal dynamic assistance from other muscles. While both dumbbells and cables offer the benefit of working the shoulders in a unilateral way that ensures equal resistance and reverses any muscle imbalances, the use of cables for the front raise brings another benefit to the table – continuous resistance throughout the movement. Besides working the anterior delts, the exercise also requires the activation of a number of stabilizing muscles such as the trapezius, erector spinae, biceps, rotator cuff and serratus anterior.
Targeted muscles: Anterior and medial deltoids.
How to: Select the weight you would like to use on a low pulley machine and grab the single hand cable attachment with your left hand. Stand in a shoulder-width stance and place the non-working hand on your hip for better balance. Your torso should be stationary all throughout the movement, while the knees should be bent slightly. With the hand cable attachment in front of you at arm length, powerfully raise the cable up and out in front of you until your upper arm becomes parallel with the working shoulder, maintaining a flat back. To ensure maximum safety and avoid injuries such as shoulder impingement, slightly turn your thumbs in the air as you approach the high point of the movement, instead of keeping your palms facing down. Exhale as you execute this portion of the movement and pause for a second at the top to squeeze the working muscles. As you inhale, lower the arm back down to the starting position and repeat for the number of desired repetitions, then switch arms and perform the exercise with the right arm.
#5. Push press
Targeted muscles: Deltoids, traps, triceps.
How to: Stand with feet at shoulder width apart, grab a barbell and hold it with an overhand grip that is a little narrower than shoulder width apart, palms up and elbows pointed forward. Your upper arms should be almost parallel to the floor. Pull the barbell just above your shoulders with elbows close to your body, then lower your hips and bend your knees in a half-squat position. Explosively drive your legs and hips upward and extend your arms to press the weight over your head with a full elbow extension. Make sure you don’t hyperextend the lower back at the lockout position and maintain a neutral arch in your spine throughout the move. Hold for a moment at the top, then lower the bar back to its resting position on your upper chest area.
#6. Wide-grip smith machine upright row
Targeted muscles: Anterior, middle and rear deltoids and trapezius muscles.
How to: Set the bar on the Smith machine to a height that’s approximately the middle of your thighs. With feet at shoulder width apart, position yourself in the middle of the smith machine and grasp the bar with a pronated grip that is a few inches wider than shoulder width apart. Flex your shoulders and lift the bar straight up toward your chin, nearly touching it, while keeping it as close to your body as possible. There should be a slight bend at the elbows, which should be higher than the wrists at all times, and the back should remain straight. However, if you want to emphasize the side delts, pull the bar up until your elbows and forearms are almost parallel to the floor. Hold the top position for a second, then slowly lower the bar down to the starting position. Always use proper form, avoid jerking and swinging and be careful with how much weight you use – using too heavy weight will harm your form and increase the risk of shoulder injury.
#7. Face pull
Targeted muscles: Rear deltoids, middle trapezius muscles.
How to: Set a rope attachment up around head-height on a pull-down station and select a relatively heavy weight. Facing the pulley, grasp each end of the rope with an overhand grip and lift your elbows up to shoulder level to both sides. Place one foot on the kneepad to better anchor yourself and lean back slightly. Keeping your elbows elevated, retract your scapula and pull the rope directly towards your face, separating your hands as you do so, until your hands are alongside your ears. Keep your chin tucked and don’t allow your neck to reach forward, and remember that your elbows must be elevated and in-line with your shoulders throughout the entire movement. Pause for a second and squeeze hard, then reverse the motion to lower the weight down without letting it touch down. It’s crucial to keep your elbows elevated throughout the entire movement.
#8. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Targeted muscles: Anterior, middle and rear deltoids.
Find a low-back bench inside a power rack and position the dumbbells at a height that is just above your head. Sit straight with your feet flat on the floor, maintaining a slight arch in your lower back, and grasp the dumbbells firmly outside of shoulder width with a pronated grip, elbows pointing down and outward. Unrack the bar and bring it at about shoulder level. This will be your starting position. Using a slow, controlled motion, press the dumbbells straight up to just short of elbow lockout as you inhale and squeeze the working muscles hard. Lower the bar under control back to the starting position as you exhale and repeat. Avoid flaring the elbows and keep your back straight throughout the movement. Also, make sure to use a full range of motion.