Few men relish shoulder workouts, but neglect them at your peril. Failure to broaden out up top will mean that no matter how many sit-ups you do and how slim your waist is, you're not going to be able to carve out that coveted V-shape. To get that, you'll need shoulder exercises.
But working your shoulders isn't all about gains. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy patients with rotator cuff related shoulder pain saw significant improvements in pain and function thanks to a three-week home programme of a daily shoulder exercise.
So for the good of your health, and to get you the best pump up top, we asked PT and osteopath James White for some of his best exercises and fashioned them into an intense workout that builds muscle fast. If you've never properly tested your shoulders before or if your gains have begun to plateau, you'll find the information you need to carve defined shoulders. Better still, if you've never really tested your shoulders before, gains will come quicker than anywhere else on your body.
Prepare to be top heavy.
Ok, so we can't start to build up the muscles in your shoulders without knowing what muscles make up your shoulders. Bascially, the shoulder is made up of two groups of muscles: extrinsic muscles, which originate from the torso, and attach to the bones of the shoulder, and intrinsic muscles, which originate from the scapula and/or clavicle, and attach to the humerus.
Your trapezius is the triangle-shaped muscle that runs down along your spine and across your shoulder blade. You have both a right and left trapezius; these muscles support your arms and shoulders, and are needed to raise your arms.
The latissimus dorsi muscle is one of the largest muscles in your back, and is partially covered by the trapezius. Developing your "lats" will make it easier for you to manage your own bodyweight.
Your levator scapulae muscle is located at the side and back of the neck. Its primary function is to lift the triangle-shaped bone located at the back of the shoulder (scapula) that connects your upper arm bone (humerus) with the clavicle (collarbone).
The rhomboids are the muscles at the top of the back and middle of the shoulder blades. When they contract, they pull your shoulder blades together.
Your deltoid is made up of three main sets of muscle fibres: anterior, lateral and posterior, which are connected by a very thick tendon and are anchored into a V-shape. The deltoid muscle is primarily responsible for arm rotation, but it is also responsible for stopping dislocation and injury to the humerus when carrying heavy loads.
Teres major is a small muscle that's located on the underside of the upper arm. It's sometimes called "lat's little helper" because of its partnership with the latissimus dorsi.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons, including teres minor, that surround the shoulder joint. They keep the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder.
With so many muscles to work, no one exercise will work them all, so we've put together a list of seven exercises that target different shoulder muscles. According to White, no shoulder session is complete without these moves, but if you're wondering how to put these into a routine, check out the ultimate shoulder workout below.
Barbell Standing Press: This bodybuilder staple targets your shoulders, but also works your whole body. "It's a great overall mass builder," says White. "These are really good for strengthening your core and increasing overall strength due to the stability aspect of this movement." Start with your hardest move to ensure you've got the core strength to maintain perfect form.
Seated Dumbbell Press: Re-rack your barbell and grab a pair of dumbbells, because they're all you'll need for the rest of the workout. Next grab a bench; sitting down helps isolate the shoulder motion. "These are really good for not only handling a lot of weight, but also having the freedom of using dumbbells," White tells MH. "You can bring them nice and low to get a really full range of motion." Take a load off your feet and put a load on your delts.
Arnold Press: Named for their Mr Universe-winning, Predator-killing inventor, the rotating motion at the end of this exercise hits more than the standard press to fill out that v-shape. "It's nice way to do a conventional press while adjusting position to target the anterior deltoids," says White.
Lateral Raise: The slower you can perform these raises, the more they'll hurt – and the better you're going to look. "Lateral raises are perfect for isolating the medial part of the deltoid," White explains. "They're more commonly used with a lighter weight and higher reps." You'll still be gritting your teeth by the end of the third set.
Half-kneeling Archer Row: While kneeling with only your left knee on the ground. grasp a light resistance band in both hands and engage your glutes and abs. Straighten your right arm and look at it. Tighten your back muscles and keep your right arm straight. Bring your left hand close to your right elbow. Pull the band apart with your right hand, as if pulling a bow, squeezing your back and shoulder muscles and bending your elbow as you do this.
Bent over reverse fly: This lateral raise variant will hit you where it hurts, working both shoulders and back. White loves them. "It's one of the best exercises for targeting the posterior deltoid. For more focus on the movement and less on stabilising things, try placing a bench at 45 degrees and perform this movement lying face down on it." Atlas-level shoulders are on the way.
Upright row: Another great mass builder," says White. "Get your elbows higher than your hands for a peak contraction of the deltoid. The upright row also targets the traps." Compound moves like this benefit from heavier fare than the raises, allowing for less reps and bigger weights to keep your delts in shock.
Incline Bench Combo L-to-Lateral Raise: Holding light dumbbells at your sides, lie down on an incline bench set to a 45-degree angle. Tighten your core, glutes, and shoulder blades. Raise both arms out to the sides explosively, then lower. Repeat the sequence, this time pausing for a second at the top of the motion. Lower. Now raise one arm toward the front, taking care to keep your thumb pointed upward just slightly, and the other out to the side. Lower, then repeat, this time pausing at the top. Lower, and repeat the sequence on the other side.
Kettlebell Single-Arm Press : Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a kettlebell in front of your shoulder with your palm in, elbow tucked, and the weight resting on the top of your forearm. Press it straight up, rotating your arm so your palm faces forward. Do the same number of presses for both arms.
Front raises: White recommends front raises for anyone those that have gone through the routine and feel short-changed in the front. "It’s unlikely that your anterior delts need extra work, so spend more time on your lateral and posterior deltoids. However, if you feel you want to hit your front deltoids harder, then a front raise is the one for you." Again, low weight and high reps help you maintain form for shirt-busting gains.
We get it, you're not always looking to build lean, muscular physiques, sometimes you just want to get bigger and look badder. If that's the case and you're looking to build shoulders that the Rock would be proud of then check out these shoulder workouts that build mass, including a workout that "the hardest worker in the room" uses himself.
If you can't make it to the gym and all you have is a set of dumbbells to work with then don't worry, we have a set of exercises that are perfect for you too.
Two Arm Dumbbell Upright Row: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting in front of your thigh. Lift the dumbbells vertically until they're in line with your collar bone, with your elbow pointing towards the ceiling. Lower the dumbbell back down and repeat.
See Saw Press: Hold two dumbbells just behind your shoulders, palms facing forward. Look up and tilt your body to the left, extending your right arm straight above you. Lower the dumbbell and repeat on the other side to create a see-saw motion.
Military Press: Position your feet close together and lift the dumbbells up to your shoulders, palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells above your head explosively until your arms are fully extended, then lower the weights under control.
Seated Lateral Raise: Sit on a bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand by your side. Raise both dumbbells to your side until they're shoulder height. Lower under control and repeat.
Shadow Boxing with Dumbbells: Stand holding two dumbbells at shoulder height with an underhand grip. Adopt a fighting stance and bounce on your toes as you shadow box. Dip and weave to your heart's content. Just don't drop the weights on your toes.
Arnold Press: Sit on a bench with your dumbbells held out in front of you. Your palms should be facing your shoulders as though you've just finished a bicep curl. Push the dumbbells up over your head while rotating your arms until your palms face away from you. Straighten your arms, pause, then reverse the movement.
Lying Rear Delt Fly: Lie on a bench, chest facing down, with a dumbbell in each hand underneath your shoulders. Slightly bend your elbows and raise your arms to the side until they're in line with your body. Lower the dumbbells to the floor and repeat.
One Arm Dumbbell Swing: Hold a dumbbell at arms length between your legs. Sink into a squat and swing the dumbbell through your legs before immediately driving yourself forward, bringing the dumbbell up towards your head as you straighten your legs. Repeat this movement, then swap sides.
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Sit on the bench holding two dumbbells at shoulder height with an overhand grip. Press the weights up above your head until your arms are fully extended. Return slowly to the start position.
Spellcaster: Hold a dumbbell in either hand and stand with your legs wide, knees slightly bent. Swing both dumbbells to one side and lift them up as though drawing a circle from hip level to above shoulder height. Swing the weights to the other side, dipping down to your hip before raising them again. Keep repeating this motion.
What good are exercises without a routine to put them into? Check out this dumbbell shoulder workout from PT Alex Isaly and start crafting your bolder shoulders.
Rest: 60 secs
Grab a barbell and hold it at shoulder height with palms facing forwards. Set your feet shoulder width apart and slightly bend your knees to inititate the move. Push up with your legs to explosively press the barbell straight above your head. Return under control to the start position.
Rest: 60 secs
Sit on the bench holding two dumbbells at shoulder height with an overhand grip. Press the weights up above your head until your arms are fully extended. Return slowly to the start position.
Rest: 60 secs
Sit on a bench with dumbbells held in front of you, palms facing your shoulders as though you've just finished a bicep curl. Push the dumbbells up over your head while rotating your arms until your palms face away from you. Straighten your arms, pause, then reverse the movement.
Rest: 60 secs
Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting in front of your thigh. Lift the dumbbells vertically until they're in line with your collar bone, with your elbow pointing towards the ceiling. Lower the dumbbell back down and repeat.
Use lighter weights for the raise techniques than the shoulder press.
Rest: 60 secs
Pick a couple of dumbbells and stand with them by your sides, palms facing your body. Keeping your upper body still – that means no swinging – lift the dumbbells out to your side with a slight bend at your elbows. Lift until your arms are parallel to the floor then slowly lower to the start position.
Rest: 60 secs
Sit down, lean forward and hold a dumbbell in either hand so that they're resting above your feet. Stay bent forward as you raise your arms to the side, lining the dumbbells with your shoulders. Bring the weights back down and repeat.
Rest: 60 secs
Hold the end of a dumbbell with both hands and let it hang between your legs, positioned shoulder width apart. Lift the dumbbell directly above you, keeping your arms extended, then lower it back down and repeat.