Shoulders are one of the most important muscle groups for those of us looking to improve our physiques. For men, big broad shoulders are a sign of strength and are critical to the entire arms-shoulder-chest tie-in area which makes a man’s upper body look great. In women, bigger strong shoulders are highly desirable as they make the upper body look wider which creates the illusion of a smaller waist. And how many women – and men for that matter – wouldn’t want the appearance of a slimmer waist?
The shoulders, knows as deltoids, are made up of three “heads”:
1. Anterior deltoid – front shoulder
2. Middle deltoid – side shoulder
3. Posterior deltoid – rear shoulder
While these three parts work in unison, it is ideal to target each head separately as well as one compound exercise that targets them as a group working together. The single best exercise for building broad shoulders is the Military Press-Overhead Shoulder Press as it is ‘the’ mass builder for deltoids and can be performed with the heaviest weight. If you can only do one shoulder exercise this must be it.
There are different philosophies to training the shoulders – one idea is to train each of the three heads individually to exhaust them first and then move to the Overhead Press. The other train of thought is to work the heaviest exercise first (the Shoulder Press) while you have the most energy and can lift the most, then move to isolating each head once the group has already been worked as one.
My preferred shoulder program differs from the above, slightly, in that I prefer to pre-exhaust the shoulders with Dumbbell Lateral Raises (working the lateral or side deltoid), rest for 30 seconds, and then move to the Barbell Shoulder Press (overhead) and then resting 2 minutes before performing the next set. I will do these exercises in this exact manner for 3 sets of 8-10 intense reps.
Tip: For Lateral Raises the dumbbells should be lifted parallel to the shoulders, not above, and I use a grip that leaves both my pinkie fingers free. At the top of the movement I tilt the dumbbell downward slightly (as if I were pouring from a pitcher) before lowering the dumbbells in a controlled manner.
Secondly I will work the Rear and Front heads individually. For the Anterior (front) deltoid I like to go with the Front Cable Raise for 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
Tip: Some hardcore bodybuilders will say “no” to cables but it is my belief that, in many cases, weighted exercises with cables actually provide more constant tension on the targeted muscle as compared to free weights.
The Rear (posterior) head is worked using the Bent-Over Lateral Raise. Each of these is performed for 2 sets of 10 repetitions as well, 2 minutes rest between sets.
Each rep in all exercises should have a 2 second up, 2 second down cadence and really concentrate on the lowering portion of the movement. Remember to never lockout your elbows during any part of the exercise. If you perform your shoulder routine in this manner, train with intensity, perform each set as if it was your most important, and execute each rep with good form, your shoulders will grow.
The added width to your upper body will make your arms and chest look better, waist seem smaller, and add strength your ‘pushing’ exercises such as the bench press.