Shoulders are one of those interesting muscle groups that are hard to place in any one category and are also treated vastly differently by many people.
Unlike chest or ‘legs’ shoulders do not always get the attention they deserve from some, but at the same time there are many who place great value and importance on them as well.
Another major difference between shoulders and some of the other muscle groups is the wide range of motions that you can do to exercise them. As well as how intricate some of the smaller shoulder muscles are and the complexity that it takes to exercise them properly.
But, fortunately (for you that is), we have compiled here a list of some of the most effective exercises to target your shoulders in all of the different ways it needs to be tackled.
And before this part drags on for too long let’s start with the list already.
The ‘Big’ Movements[Note:- The Above Image (As its Little Blurred and not high quality) is just to explain how the Shoulder Workout is to done on Squat Rack.]
Alright, now as any responsible and knowledgeable ‘lifter’ will tell you. The general ‘rule-of-thumb’ is to work on your ‘bigger’ and ‘heavier’ muscles first!
And then you want to start focusing on the smaller muscles.
So in keeping with that advice we will start with the Barbell Shoulder Press:
- Sit on a bench in a squat rack with a barbell that is positioned around your upper chest height or so.
- Grab the barbell with a pronated grip (this is where you have your palms facing forward or facing away from your face).
- Lift the bar off the rack then proceed to move it to about shoulder level and slightly in front of your face. You have now reached the initially starting point.
- Push the bar up and above your head in a straight and perfectly vertical motion until your shoulders lock.
- Slowly and in a controlled motion bring the barbell directly back down in a straight and perfectly vertical movement until you reach the initial starting point.
- That is now one rep performed…continue performing as many reps as necessary.
So the Barbell Shoulder Press is probably one of the most iconic if not the number one iconic ‘big shoulder’ exercise.
It’s a heavy/compound lift which is meant to put a lot of weight and workload on the shoulders to really help you make those mass gains. And it performs quite well at that task.
However, there are alternate variations of this ‘simple’ movement that can help change things up for when your body begins to adapt to the same old routine.
One of those variations is the Behind-the-Neck Barbell Shoulder Press:
- Begin by standing in a squat rack with the bar behind your head and at a level low enough to where you can slightly crouch down below it and allow the bar to rest/align with your lower neck/upper spine.
- Assume the same position you would if you were squatting with the bar resting gently on your lower neck/upper spine area.
- Grab the bar with both hands in a pronated grip (this time since your hands are behind your head you will technically have your palms pointed towards the back of your head).
- Stand up straight and thereby lift the bar off the rack; be sure to maintain your grip all throughout.
- Step back until you are at a distance far enough away from the rack that you do not have to worry about hitting the rack, but also not so far away that if you encounter muscle failure that you will miss the safety bars.
- Elevate the bar slightly above the part of your neck/upper spine that it is resting on until you can feel that the bar is not being held up solely by your actual muscles and not being supported passively by your neck/spine. That is your starting position.
- In a controlled and calculated move, push the bar directly and in a perfectly vertical line upwards until your elbows and shoulders ‘lock-out’. That is the ‘ending’ position.
- Now bring the bar gradually back down while ensuring that you are maintaining control and tension in the shoulder muscles while doing so. Go all the way until you reach the initial starting position.
- That is now one rep. Perform as many reps as desired.
So the purpose of this variation on the old shoulder press is to target your Rear Delts just slightly more than the ‘normal’ shoulder press. That way you can ensure that your shoulders are getting a little more ‘balance’ in them and that you are not overly focused on just the Anterior portion of your shoulders.
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Now those two ‘big exercises’ should last you a decent amount of time until you start plateauing, but in the meantime we still have to find a way to isolate and target those smaller guys.
The ‘Small Muscles’ Part
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the shoulders are a rather complex group since they have such a wide range of motion. That ‘Ball-and-Socket’ joint really complicates things.
And it is precisely because of that reason why you need to also put pressure on the smaller muscles in the shoulders.
So let’s start with some Side Lateral Raises:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells that you are comfortable with lifting.
- Stand up straight and with the dumbbells at your sides. This is your starting point.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells sideways and up until they are even with your shoulders. Be sure to not use momentum/swinging to make things easier.
- Now in a controlled motion bring the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
- That is one rep. Perform as many reps as necessary.
The idea here is to challenge and put workload on your Side Delts which is sort of a generic way of saying that we are working the ‘middle’ part of your shoulders.
The anterior and posterior parts are going to be first worked with the Front Barbell Raise:
- Grab a barbell with your palms facing down towards the ground. Be sure to keep your hands right around the width of your shoulders.
- Gradually and smoothly ‘pull’ the bar upwards until it is all the way above your head and with your shoulders locked out. The entire motion should look like a ‘vertical pendulum swinging’ if we look at you from the sides.
- Now reverse the motion and bring the weight back down in a controlled and tense movement until you reach the initial starting position.
- That is one rep. Perform as many reps as necessary.
Now let’s get to the posterior shoulder muscles with the Rear Delt Flys:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells that you are comfortable lifting.
- Assume a ‘deadlift’ position. Basically you are squatting over with your upper body/torso completely parallel to the ground.
- Take the dumbbells and let them hand directly below your shoulders with your arms straight down. Do not either ‘relax’ your actual shoulder muscles nor ‘excessively tighten’ too much. Simply, maintain tension but not tightness in the shoulders.
- Now lift the dumbbells upwards and outwards to the sides. The entire motion should basically ‘draw’ a semicircle if we were to look at you from the front. Ensure that your arms are straight and do not bend much. Also ensure that you are not using momentum/swinging to make the motion easier.
- The finish position will be once you have aligned your hands/the dumbbells with your shoulders and that your arms are now also parallel to the ground.
- Now slowly and controllably reverse the motion and bring your hands/dumbbells back down to the starting position.
- There, that is now one rep. Perform as many reps as necessary.
Alright, there you have it!
Big shoulder muscles, small shoulder muscles, anterior, lateral, and posterior all covered in one nifty article.
Good luck and have fun out there!