The shoulders are the key to unlocking upper body strength. They are used in all pressing and pulling movements, so if you can improve the strength of your deltoids you will also see your numbers go up in movements like the incline bench and pull-ups.
In addition, the shoulders, along with the latissimus dorsi, are largely responsible for the appearance of a wide upper body. If this is combined with a 6 pack it gives the appearance of what is known as the “V-taper”.
There are a variety of exercises you can use build bigger shoulders, but the key with all of them is to follow a progressive training program that allows you to consistently improve. Only by improving will your shoulders get bigger. These improvements can come in the way of more weight, more volume, or decreased rest periods. As long as you are improving (and eating) the mass will come.
So with that, let’s take a look at some of the best exercises for building bigger shoulders!
This movement is named after a 1930’s Olympic lifter named Sam Bradford.
Start with a weight that is about 20-25% lighter than what you can military press. Take a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip on the bar. You will begin in the traditional military press position with the bar in front you. From this position you will press the bar until it is just above the top of your head. Once you get to this height you will bring the bar over your head and lower it down behind your head into the behind the neck press position. From the position you will again press the bar to a height just over your head and then lower it back down in front you back to the position in which you started.
This is one rep. Complete 6-8 reps for 3-4 sets.
One important technique point is to make sure that you keep looking straight ahead throughout the movements. Resist the desire to duck your head down, which will not only make the exercise easier, but can also lead to some pretty severe neck and upper back injuries. Don’t do it!
This movement will really blast your deltoids and will also greatly improve your serratus anterior strength which will help your starting strength in all pressing movements. If you are someone who struggles to get the bar off your chest during a bench press, this exercise is for you!
Front Plate Raise
This movement is a simple one. All you need is a weight plate. The beginning lifter will start with a 25 pound plate, while advanced lifters can use a 45 pound plate, or even a 100 pound plate.
Grab the plate with your hands at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions, just like you are holding a steering wheel. With your elbows straight, raise the weight up in front of you and continue until it is all the way over your head. Many lifters stop the movement once they get to eye level, but you are losing a lot of the benefit by doing so. From this position simply lower the plate back to the starting position.
This movement is a great finisher for the front deltoids after a pressing movement like Bradford presses. Because your hands are in a neutral position (thumbs towards the ceiling) it also puts the shoulder joint in a much healthier position than barbell front raises.
Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps here.
Lean-away Lateral Raises
Now that your front delts are toasted from the first two exercises, it’s time to move on to finishing off the medial deltoids (outer shoulders). This is the part of the shoulder muscle that really contributes to your upper body width.
Lateral raises are a great way to target this area. So, let’s look at how to do this unique lateral raise exercise.
You are going to start with just one dumbbell in your hand. Your free hand should hold on to something sturdy like a power rack at shoulder height. You will then shift your feet so that they are directly under your free hand. At this point you should lean away from your free hand so that you are holding yourself up with the power rack. From this position you will simply perform a lateral raise.
This variation really targets the top half of the movement, while the bottom half will be very easy. Make not to use too much momentum in the bottom half of the exercise, or you will short-change the muscle building tension in the top-half.
Complete 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps per arm.
So there you go! A great shoulder workout that shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to complete. Remember, the key with any workout is consistent progression.
Eat big, train hard, rest long. Repeat this process month after month and you will have a muscular body you will proud of!