Broad shoulders are an attractive trait of the male physique. Building muscle in your shoulders is not only great for cutting a solid frame; it’s also practical. The shoulders are responsible for so much movement and weight-bearing in your upper body, that the stronger they are, the better. Below are the best shoulder workouts for building strength and mass. These include a combination of pushing and pulling exercises, as well as isolation moves and activities that engage the entire area. By mixing things up and working the muscles from multiple angles, in various ways, you’ll achieve better, faster results.
The shoulder is a complex part of the body. It’s made up of the clavicle, scapula, and humerus bones, as well as multiple muscles that allow various movements and functions. Knowledge is power when it comes to building muscle mass. As such, knowing more about the anatomy of the shoulder will allow you to understand and improve your workouts.
The deltoid muscle is one of the most visible and wraps around the top of the arm. This muscle is responsible for both movement and ensuring the joint doesn’t dislocate. It comprises three muscle heads — the front, side, and rear.
The infraspinatus allows the arm to move outward and behind. It’s a thick muscle, at the back of the shoulder, and makes up part of the rotator cuff.
Straightening your arm happens with the help of the triceps brachii. It’s a three-headed muscle located at the back of the upper arm, attaching to multiple places in the shoulder.
Making up the bulk of the chest is the pectoralis major. This large, fan-shaped muscle extends from the armpit to the sternum and performs multiple functions in the movement of the shoulder.
Underneath the pectoralis major is the pectoralis minor. This smaller muscle attaches to the ribs and scapula, and similar to it’s larger counterpart, it allows many movements.
Tucked in beneath the arm, attaching from the lower scapula to the humerus, is the teres major. It helps rotate the shoulder joint, and raise and lower the arm.
The biceps sit at the front of the arm, between the shoulder and elbow. This double-headed muscle primarily moves the forearm — rotating the arm and flexing the elbow.
One of the largest muscles in the back is the latissimus dorsi. Commonly known as your lats, these muscles help move and rotate the arms inward and outward.
The internal rotation of your arm is made possible by the subscapularis, which is the biggest muscle in the rotator cuff.
Another rotator cuff muscle is the supraspinatus. This small muscle, sitting at the top of the back, allows the arm to lift away from the body.
Best Shoulder Exercises for Men
The best way to maximize your workout is to make your muscles work to their full capacity. You should be taking them through their full range of motion, as well as a full stretch, at some point during your workout. This includes not only the deltoids but the entire shoulder region. The exercises below are based on the perfect shoulder workout from ATHLEAN-X. All the workouts are backed by science, as creator Jeff Cavaliere has a Masters Degree in Physical Training and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He also used to be the Head Physical Therapist and Assistant Strength Coach for the New York Mets.
1. Warm Up — Band Shoulder Press
All workouts should begin with a warm-up. Rather than performing these overhead band presses by standing on the resistance band, you’ll be attaching them to a power rack pole. Doing this moves the resistance from the ground to the front, ensuring that you’re activating all of your shoulder muscles, including the rear deltoid and rotator cuff. This an effective starting exercise, as quality reps get you warm, and it engages all the muscles you’re going to be working out, ready for the heavier exercises.
- Attach your resistance bands to your power rack at around chest height. Make sure they are secure.
- Keep your core engaged and torso slightly tilted back to make sure you’re not moving your arms behind your head.
- Hold the band shoulder high and slightly wider than shoulder-width.
- Push straight up until your arms are fully extended. You should feel muscle engagement at both the front and the back.
- Hold at the top for three seconds, repeating for two sets of 15 reps.
Reps: 15, with a 3-second hold on each
2. Seated Overhead Barbell Press
Seated overhead barbell presses are a foundational shoulder exercise. These are the kinds of exercises that you can load with weight and build muscle. This exercise will engage the entire shoulder saddle, but you’ll feel it in your front deltoids as well as triceps.
- Sit with your torso straight and feet flat on the floor. Engage your core and glutes.
- Start with the bar at the top of your chest, and push the bar straight up, fully extending your arms.
- Bring the bar back down, with control.
- Repeat for four sets, decreasing from 10 to eight to six, and six. Use increased weight on each set, as they get shorter.
- Reintroduce the band that you used in the warm-up for the final set, performing this set with both the barbells and band. This will reinforce the muscle engagement.
- If you don’t have barbells at home, you can do a handstand pushup as an alternative. If you’re an absolute beast and your body weight isn’t enough, add a weighted vest.
Reps: 10/8/6/6 — adding weight each set
3. Cable Rear Deltoid Raise
The next three exercises are the same, however each target the three different heads of the deltoid. As such, the movements are very similar, but the position of your body will change. These should be performed as a tri-set, completing three sets on each head before moving on to the next. These raises should include a full contraction and extension of the muscle to work it through its full range of motion. Perform these rear to front to accommodate for fatigue.
- Stand with a split stance. You’ll want the cable pulling across the front of your body, from the opposite side to the one you’re working.
- Tilt your torso forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and core engaged.
- Holding the cable, you’ll want your arm mostly straight across the front of your body.
- Pull the cable back across your body. As you hit the top of the move, your elbow should be bent, and your arm pulled back as far as your body allows. You should feel a full contraction in your rear deltoid.
- Release the cable back across your body, with control. At the bottom of this move, your arm should be extended across your torso, and you should feel a stretch along the back of your deltoid.
Sets: 3 on each arm
4. Cable One Arm Lateral Raise
This next variation in your shoulder workout will target the side deltoid.
- Stand with a split stance. However, this time, the cable should pull across the back of your body, from the opposite side to the one you’re working.
- Keep your torso straight and core engaged.
- As you hold the cable, your arm will be slightly bent behind your back.
- Pull the cable out, and as you hit the top of the move, your arm should be straight out, perpendicular to the side of your body. You should feel a full contraction in your side deltoid.
- Release the cable back across your body, with control. At the bottom of this move, your arm should be slightly bent behind your back, and you should feel a stretch along the middle of your deltoid.
Sets: 3 on each arm
5. Cable One Arm Forward Raise
Finally, you’ll move on to your front deltoid.
- Stand with a split stance, with your back to the cable pully. This time this cable will be pulling alongside your body, on the arm you are working.
- Keep your torso straight and core engaged.
- Your arm will be straight and slightly behind your back as you hold the cable.
- Pull the cable forward, and as you hit the top of the move, your arm should be perpendicular to the front of your body, but slightly bent at the elbow. You should feel a full contraction in your front deltoid.
- Release the cable back along your body, with control. At the bottom of this move, your arm should be extended straight and pulled behind your back as far as your body allows. You should feel a stretch along the front of your deltoid.
Sets: 3 on each arm
6. Cheat Lateral Dumbbell Raise
Similar to the previous three exercises, these next two also work together. Building muscle is not just about isolating certain areas, but getting everything to work together as one. After all, teamwork makes the dream work. As such, at least one component of your shoulder workout should have all your muscles working together. This combo of a cheat lateral raise followed immediately by a dumbbell push press will be that component. For the cheat lateral raise, you want to be using a heavier weight than you would use in a regular lateral raise.
- Position yourself into an athletic stance. Your feet will be wider than hip-width apart, knees bent but shins vertical, hips moved back, torso tilted forward, and your chest up.
- Start with the weight in your hand, arm in front of your body, elbow slightly bent.
- Accelerate the weight up and out to the side, quickly, but with control. Unlike a regular lateral dumbbell raise, for this exercise, you can allow your traps to assist.
- At the top of the move, your arm should be out to the side of your body, at shoulder height, elbow still slightly bent. Freeze the movement here for a moment.
- Lower the weight, with control, back to the starting position. If you can’t control the descent, you’ll need to swap to a lighter weight.
- While you can allow your traps to help, don’t get into too much of a swinging motion when you’re raising the weight. You want your muscles to be doing the work, not the movement.
- Once you’ve completed the set, move to the dumbbell push press, before returning for the next set.
Sets: 3 on each arm
Reps: To failure
7. Dumbbell Push Press
Immediately after your first set of cheat lateral dumbbell raises, move into your dumbbell push presses. Use the same weight as the raises, even though this might be heavier than usual.
- Keep your feet in the same position. However, you’ll want to straighten up from the athletic stance.
- Shift the weight up to your shoulder.
- Press the weight up above your head. Again, because this is a heavier weight, you’ll want to be pushing explosively. Use your whole body to help, including your hips and legs, slightly squatting when you push up. Just make sure your shoulders are still doing the lion’s share of work.
- Bring the weight back down to your shoulder with control.
- Once the set is complete, return to your next set of cheat lateral dumbbell raises.
Sets: 3 on each arm
Reps: To failure
8. Cable Face Pulls
Your shoulder workouts should include pushing exercises, as well as pulling exercises, to maximize your efforts. Cable face pulls are an excellent finish for all workouts, not just for shoulder days. Not only will it work the muscles, but it will also help to improve your posture and any muscle imbalances. As this is the last exercise in your workout, half the battle will be keeping your mind in the game. Focus on the quality of each pull; don’t just smash them out to get it finished as soon as possible.
- Stand facing the cable machine, with the cable set up high. Your feet should be just wider than your hips, your torso straight, and as always, your core engaged.
- Hold the cables in an overhand grip, and pull them back towards your face. Keep your elbows down next to your body, rather than up around your head.
- As you pull, you want to rotate your hands slightly so that your thumbs are pointing back. This will fully work the rotator cuff, incorporating it with your rear deltoid. You should feel the contraction between your shoulder blades.
- Allow the cables to return, with control, to the front, and your arms extended.
How can I build my shoulder muscles at home?
There are some great exercises you can do at home to build your shoulders. Using bodyweight-only, try incline pushups, plank to downward dog, pike pushups, push-back pushups, and a YTL circuit. If you have access to weights such as bands, dumbbells, or kettlebells, you can expand your pool of moves. Add in lateral raises, reverse flyes, military presses, front raises, and seated dumbbell presses.
What is the best exercise for big shoulders?
The best way to maximize your workout for big shoulders is to take them through the full range of motion, including stretch. Combine band shoulder presses and seated overhead barbell presses before moving onto the cable machine. Here you’ll do rear deltoid raises, one-arm lateral raises, and one arm forward raises, which works each head of the deltoid. Finish with cheat lateral dumbbell raises, dumbbell push press, and cable face pulls.
How do you get broader shoulders?
Broader shoulders come from building mass in your deltoids, as well as supporting shoulder muscles like the lats, infraspinatus, and teres major and minor. To enhance that V shape that broad shoulders give, you’ll also need to work your back to create a good frame and trim down your waist and core to accentuate the form further.
How can I build my shoulders fast?
The fastest way to build strong shoulders is by incorporating exercises that target that muscle area. You’ll need to perform them regularly while gradually increasing the weight as you become stronger. This will continue to stimulate your muscles to form bulk as well as strength while they repair. Just remember, it won’t happen overnight but combined with the right diet and consistency, you can start to see results in only a few months.
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