The shoulder muscles are one of the most important muscle groups to train when aiming to both posses an impressive physique and look big when wearing clothes. This article is the perfect resource for men learning how to get big shoulders and finding out what are the best shoulder exercises for building mass.
The shoulder muscle group consists primarily of the deltoid and trapezius muscles. The rhomboid major and rhomboid minor are smaller muscles connecting the scapula with the spinal column. The deltoids are separated into 3 heads. These are called the front, side and rear deltoids.
When searching for the best training routine for shoulders emphasis should be placed on targeting each deltoid head in addition to targeting the upper and lower trapezius muscles. Through being a small muscle, the rhomboids typically get trained to a sufficient extent through the action of training trapezius muscles.
Most people will find lower weight and higher volume tend to work better for developing the size of each deltoid head. This means no ego lifting and instead aiming to hit a minimum of 10-12 reps for each set.
The trapezius (traps) muscles on the other hand tend to respond positively to higher weight. Shrugs are the most effective method to train traps. Although shrugs utilise all of the trapezius muscles, the upper traps tend to get hit to the greatest extent. The middle and lower traps are hit particularly on back day with rowing movements like single arm dumbbell row or cable row.
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Best Shoulder Exercises
Below I discuss some of the best exercises to get big shoulders. I would recommend guys to hit a minimum of 10-12 reps for the majority of sets to really force muscle hypertrophy within both the deltoid heads and trapezius muscles. Some people might prefer 5-8 reps on the shoulder press however this comes down to analysing how your body responds.
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The shoulder press is an effective exercise to build mass and usually the first exercise within most gym goers shoulder routine. The shoulder press primarily targets the deltoid heads with emphasis on the front deltoids.
Most people will prefer the exercise being done using dumbbells rather than barbells. Using dumbbells avoids your stronger side from taking over and leading to a muscular imbalance. Dumbbells also recruit more of the stabiliser muscles than the barbell press. Due to the elbows pointing out to the side more muscle fibres are recruited from the side and rear deltoids than when using barbell press.
On the other hand, more weight can be lifted using barbell press which can lead to more muscular hypertrophy however this can also cause people to use a shorter range of motion which has a negative impact on form and can potentially cause injury.
- While holding a dumbbell in each hand, sit on a military press bench or utility bench that has back support. Place the dumbbells upright on top of your thighs.
- Now raise the dumbbells to shoulder height one at a time using your thighs to help propel them up into position.
- Make sure to rotate your wrists so that the palms of your hands are facing forward. This is your starting position.
- Now, exhale and push the dumbbells upward until they touch at the top.
- Then, after a brief pause at the top contracted position, slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position while inhaling.
Dumbbell Front Raise
The front raise is an isolation exercise which isolates the front deltoids. Front deltoids are a small muscle which in a lot of men can be overdeveloped due to extensive chest press in addition to being worked out in their shoulder routine. This can lead to a muscular imbalance which can cause injury and/or pain.
The best way to avoid this is to use either not both the shoulder press and the dumbbell front raise. Using both the shoulder press and front raise in your shoulder routine long term could lead to the front deltoid being trained too extensively.
- Hold the dumbbells in front of your thighs, palms facing your thighs.
- Keep your arms straight with a slight bend at the elbows but keep them locked. This will be your starting position.
- Raise the dumbbells in a semi-circular motion to arm’s length overhead as you exhale.
- Slowly return to the starting position using the same path as you inhale.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The lateral raise is an excellent training option for isolating the side deltoids. The advice here would be to use a low weight and really focus on form in order to get the most out of your shoulder routine.
4-6 sets of lateral raises can be typically done in quick succession which is recommended due to the lower weight used. Each rep should be done slow and controlled with tension being placed on the side deltoid throughout the movement.
- Pick a couple of dumbbells and stand with a straight torso and the dumbbells by your side at arms length with the palms of the hand facing you. This will be your starting position.
- While maintaining the torso in a stationary position (no swinging), lift the dumbbells to your side with a slight bend on the elbow and the hands slightly tilted forward as if pouring water in a glass. Continue to go up until your arms are parallel to the floor. Exhale as you execute this movement and pause for a second at the top.
- Lower the dumbbells back down slowly to the starting position as you inhale.
Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
As you can guess from the title this exercise focuses on the rear deltoid head of the shoulder muscles. A significant number of people undertrain their rear deltoids which is inexcusable due to the positive effect large rear deltoids can have on looking big whilst wearing clothes.
Rear deltoids are my favourite deltoid head to train and emphasis should be placed on developing the rear deltoids so the front deltoids do not overpower the rest of the deltoid heads.
- Place a couple of dumbbells looking forward in front of a flat bench.
- Sit on the end of the bench with your legs together and the dumbbells behind your calves.
- Bend at the waist while keeping the back straight in order to pick up the dumbbells. The palms of your hands should be facing each other as you pick them. This will be your starting position.
- Keeping your torso forward and stationary, and the arms slightly bent at the elbows, lift the dumbbells straight to the side until both arms are parallel to the floor. Exhale as you lift the weights. (Note: avoid swinging the torso or bringing the arms back as opposed to the side.)
- After a one second contraction at the top, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Shrugs are the most effective method of getting large and impressive trapezius muscles. Look at Tom Hardy in Warrior or Bronson to see the impact of shrugs on developing huge traps. The upper traps are targeted to a greater extent than the lower traps. The lower traps do tend to get hit sufficiently through rows and pulldowns on back day so this is not a problem.
Some people might prefer to do shrugs seated with most people preferring dumbbell over barbell. Dumbbell shrugs are also a fantastic method of hitting the forearm muscles and developing grip strength.
- Stand erect with a dumbbell on each hand (palms facing your torso), arms extended on the sides.
- Lift the dumbbells by elevating the shoulders as high as possible while you exhale. Hold the contraction at the top for a second. Tip: The arms should remain extended at all times. Refrain from using the biceps to help lift the dumbbells. Only the shoulders should be moving up and down.
- Lower the dumbbells back to the original position.