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Shoulder Workout for Strength and to Build Mass

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Introduction to Shoulder Workouts

Shoulder training is essential for building an impressive physique that also performs the part. When developed, your deltoids contribute to the overall look and feel of your upper body. For instance, your lateral (middle) deltoids contribute to the broad shoulder appearance. In addition, your posterior deltoids accent your upper back, making it look thicker and more developed. Finally, your front deltoids improve the way your body looks from the front, making the entire shoulder look complete and the chest more pronounced.

Having strong shoulders is also essential for your athletic performance and upper body strength. Though minor, the shoulders are involved in almost every upper-body activity you can think of doing. They directly play a role in moving weights and contribute to shoulder joint stability, leading to injury-free training.

To track your workouts (weights, reps, and sets) try using Hevy.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own shoulder workouts with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own shoulder workouts with Hevy, and track your progress – for free

Shoulder Muscles Anatomy And Function: What You Need to Know

As we alluded to in the introduction, your shoulders (also known as deltoids) have three heads (1):

  • Anterior (front)
  • Medial (middle; lateral)
  • Posterior (rear; back)

The muscle group, along with the chest and back musculature, produces arm movements such as:

  • Horizontal abduction (e.g., bringing your arm from front to back at chest level)
  • Vertical abduction (e.g., bringing your arm from its natural resting position to the side)
  • Arm flexion (e.g., bringing your arm from its natural position forward and up)
  • Arm extension (e.g., bringing your arm back behind your torso)

Your shoulders also contribute to scapular protraction, retraction, depression, and elevation along with your trapezius and other upper back muscles (2).  

Three Shoulder Workouts You Can Do For Mass And Strength

Since the deltoids have many diverse functions related to arm movement, we’ve designed three workouts that feature various shoulder exercises to target the different portions. Each of these workouts is complete on its own, so you don’t have to combine them to reap their full benefits. Instead, you should pick the one that best fits your preferences and available equipment.

Workout 1 (Dumbbell Shoulder Workout)

This first workout is fantastic because all you need are a couple of pairs of dumbbells. If you’re training at home, an adjustable set will work just fine. We have designed this workout to give each shoulder region enough work and force your deltoids to perform various functions, resulting in a better growth stimulus.

  • Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Dumbbell Upright Row – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Dumbbell Shrugs – 3 sets of 8-15 reps
  • Standing Lateral Dumbbell Raises – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Fly – 3 sets of 12-25 reps

Exercise 1 – Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The standing dumbbell press is fantastic because it allows you to overload your shoulders with more weight. Also, since you’re doing these from an upright position, your core must work extra hard to keep you stable (5).

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the front and side heads), Triceps, Upper Chest, and Core
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and carefully lift them to your sides. You can use a bit of momentum if that helps. 
  2. Once in that position, bring your chest out, engage your abs, and squeeze your glutes. Your elbows should be slightly lower than your shoulders and flared to your sides. 
  3. Take a breath and press both dumbbells up and in. Go up until both dumbbells tap lightly and your elbows are straight. 
  4. Lower the dumbbells to your sides as you exhale near the bottom.

Exercise 2 – Dumbbell Upright Row

Dumbbell upright rows are a great shoulder exercise because they emphasize your lateral deltoids with more weight (6). However, they also involve other upper back muscles significantly.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mostly the side deltoid), Trapezius, Biceps, Rhomboids, and Core
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them with an overhand grip, having your palms face your thighs. 
  2. With your arms straight, bring your shoulders back, engage your glutes, and direct your gaze forward. 
  3. Take a breath and row both dumbbells up, aiming to bring them close to your chin. Go up as high as you can while keeping your elbows flared. Hold the top position for a moment. 
  4. Then gradually release the dumbbells as you exhale near the bottom. Avoid using momentum to row the dumbbells.

Exercise 3 – Dumbbell Shrugs

While not strictly a shoulder exercise, dumbbell shrugs still involve your shoulders because they incorporate scapular elevation and depression. Plus, you can overload them with a lot of weight and cause significant mechanical tension (7).

Muscles trained: Trapezius, Shoulders (all three heads), Rhomboids, Core, and Forearms
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells and position them to your sides with your palms facing your thighs.
  2. With your arms straight, bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath. 
  3. Shrug both dumbbells up as you keep your arms straight. Go up as much as you can. You can use the cue of ‘touching your ears with the top of your shoulders. It’s impossible, but it’s helpful. 
  4. Hold the top position for a moment and release both dumbbells as you exhale.

Exercise 4 – Standing Lateral Dumbbell Raises

Lateral raises are perhaps the best exercise you can do to emphasize the middle portion of your shoulders (3) due to the excellent range of motion and biomechanical advantage.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the side head), Upper Trapezius, and Serratus Anterior
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and position them to your sides with your arms straight and palms facing your thighs. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows. Bring your shoulders back, engage your upper and lower abs, and take a breath.
  2. Raise both dumbbells to your sides, making sure to engage your shoulders. Next, lift both dumbbells until your elbows are at shoulder level. 
  3. Gradually lower the dumbbells to the starting position as you exhale. 

Exercise 5 – Bent-Over Reverse Dumbbell Fly

When done correctly, bent-over reverse flys are great for targeting your upper back and rear deltoids. Doing these exercises will improve the way your upper back looks and prevents rounded shoulders, which often occur due to front-to-back muscle imbalances.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (posterior and side head), Trapezius, Rhomboids, and Infraspinatus (rotator cuff muscle)
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Grab a pair of light dumbbells and bend forward as much as you can. Ideally, your torso should be parallel with the floor. With the dumbbells hanging down, make sure your back is straight. 
  2. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows as you breathe and raise both dumbbells up and to your sides. Go up as much as you can – ideally until your elbows reach torso level. 
  3. Hold the position for a second and release the dumbbells as you exhale.

Workout 2 (Gym Shoulder Workout For Strength)

Unlike many workouts, this one is more straightforward. Most notably, you get to focus your efforts on fewer exercises – two strength-based movements and two accessories that aid shoulder health and growth. In addition, despite focusing on strength, this workout allows you to train all three regions of your deltoids, promoting stability and health. You must rest enough between sets to maintain good performance throughout the workout (8). That means:

  • Anywhere from two to five minutes between sets on the first two exercises
  • Up to 90-120 seconds on the latter two

Here is the workout:

  • Standing Barbell Shoulder Press – 4 sets of 6-10 reps
  • Straight Bar Upright Row – 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps
  • Cable Lateral Raise – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • Cable Rope Face Pulls – 3-4 sets of 15-25 reps

Exercise 1 – Standing Barbell Shoulder Press

The standing barbell press is the bread and butter of shoulder strength training. It allows you to overload your shoulders with a lot of weight, all while forcing your core to work hard and keep you stable.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the front and side heads), Triceps, Upper Chest, Serratus Anterior, and Core
Equipment: Barbell Stand or Rack, Barbell, and Weight Plates

  1. Position the barbell at collarbone height, walk up to it, and grab it evenly with a shoulder-width grip. Put your upper chest onto the barbell with a staggered stance and engage your upper back.
  2. Push through your heels to remove the bar from the rack and take a couple of steps back. With the bar at upper chest level, bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and squeeze your glutes. 
  3. Take a breath and press the bar up in a straight line as you bring your head back a bit to clear the path for the barbell. 
  4. Press until your elbows are straight and lower the bar to the starting position as you exhale.

Exercise 2 – Straight Bar Upright Row

The upright row is an excellent exercise because it allows you to cause significant mechanical tension and emphasize your side deltoids.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mostly the side deltoid), Trapezius, Biceps, Rhomboids, and Core
Equipment: Straight Bar and Weight Plates

  1. Grab the bar evenly with an overhand grip. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart. Stand tall, bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath. 
  2. Row the bar up and aim to raise it to chest level. Hold the top position for a moment.
  3. Then slowly lower it back as you exhale near the bottom. Always lift and lower the bar with complete control; never use momentum.

Exercise 3 – Cable Lateral Raise

Doing lateral raises with cables is excellent for shoulder growth because the movement allows you to maintain constant tension. Your shoulders have to work hard from the start until the end of each repetition (9).

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the side head), Upper Trapezius, and Serratus Anterior
Equipment: Cable Station and Handle Attachment

  1. Set the cable pulley to the lowest position and select your load. Grab the handle with your right hand and turn sideways, having your left side face the pulley. 
  2. Take a couple of steps away to lift the weight from its stack. Your right arm should be to your side with the handle in hand and palm facing in. 
  3. Bring your shoulders back, take a breath, and raise your right arm to the side and up as you keep your elbow slightly bent. Go up until the elbow is at shoulder level, hold for a moment, and release slowly. 
  4. Once finished with your right side, grab the attachment with your left hand, rotate at 180 degrees, and repeat.

Exercise 4 – Cable Rope Face Pulls

Often deemed fantastic for shoulder health, face pulls emphasize the rear deltoid and promote shoulder stability. Plus, many people find this exercise easier to learn than alternatives like bent-over reverse fly and reverse pec deck fly. 

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mostly the rear deltoid), Trapezius (upper and middle portions), Rhomboids, and Biceps
Equipment: Cable Station and Rope Attachment

  1. Set the cable pulley to a high position and select your load. Grab the rope evenly with both hands and have your thumbs face the ceiling. Extend your arms and take a couple of steps back to lift the weight off its stack. 
  2. Bring your shoulders back, take a breath, and pull the rope toward your nose or forearm area slowly, making sure to engage the back of your shoulders. 
  3. Hold the contraction for a moment and release it as you extend your arms and exhale near the end.

Workout 3 (Home Shoulder Workout)

Shoulder training at home can be a bit tricky. Given that our shoulders are relatively small and difficult to isolate, we need to put effort into each repetition we do, making sure to engage our deltoids as best as we can. The workout below is fantastic if you’re bound at home and don’t have much equipment for your shoulder exercises.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own shoulder workouts with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own shoulder workouts with Hevy, and track your progress – for free

  • Pike Push-Ups – 3-4 sets of 6-20 reps
  • Plank-Up – 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
  • Band Face Pulls – 3 sets of 15-25 reps

Exercise 1 – Pike Push-Ups

Pike push-ups are a few exercises that get close to the overhead press, even if you don’t have any equipment on hand. The best part is, you can make the movement more challenging by elevating your feet on increasingly higher objects like chairs, stools, the kitchen counter, and other elevated surfaces.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the middle and front head), Triceps, Upper Chest, Serratus Anterior, and Core
Equipment: None

  1. Begin in a high plank position with your palms and toes firmly planted – your body should be straight. 
  2. Engage your core muscles and lift your hips toward the ceiling until your body folds into an inverted V. Keep your upper and lower body in a straight position. 
  3. Take a breath and bend your elbows slowly, lowering yourself toward the ground. Go down as much as you can – ideally until your face is a couple of inches away from the floor. 
  4. Press up to extend your arms, exhale near the top.

Exercise 2 – Plank-Up

Though not as popular as other shoulder exercises, the plank-up is another excellent full-body and bodyweight exercise that keeps constant tension on your shoulders.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the front and middle deltoid), Triceps, Chest, Serratus Anterior, and Core
Equipment: None

  1. Begin in an elbow plank position with your toes planted, elbows directly below your shoulders, forearms flat, and palms facing down. Your shoulders, hips, and ankles should be in a straight line. 
  2. From this position, take a breath and press through your right forearm, extend the right elbow, and support yourself on the palm. 
  3. Then, repeat the same motion with your left forearm to transition into a high-plank position. 
  4. Next, bend your right hand, placing the forearm flat on the floor again, and follow that with your left hand. 
  5. Keep alternating from elbow to high plank position and alternate with the forearm you start each repetition.

Exercise 3 – Lateral Raises

No matter where you train, lateral raises will always be a fantastic exercise for emphasizing your lateral deltoids. If you don’t have a dumbbell for this exercise, you can use other types of weight, such as a jug full of water.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mainly the side head), Upper Trapezius, and Serratus Anterior
Equipment: a Dumbbell or other type of weight

  1. Hold the weight in one hand and have your arm straight and to your side. Bring your chest out, take a breath, and engage your abs. 
  2. Next, raise your arm to the side and up as you maintain a slight bend in your elbow. 
  3. Raise it until your elbow is at shoulder level, hold for a moment, and lower the weight to your side, exhale on the way down. 
  4. Once finished, grab the weight with your other hand and repeat.

Exercise 4 – Band Face Pulls

Face pulls are fantastic for shoulder stability and growth. Thanks to the unique movement pattern, the exercise emphasizes your rear deltoids without involving too many other muscle groups.

Muscles trained: Shoulders (mostly the rear deltoid), Trapezius (upper and middle portions), Rhomboids, and Biceps
Equipment: Resistance Band

  1. Attach your resistance band on something – for example, a specialized door anchor. 
  2. Grab the band evenly with both hands and have your thumbs face the ceiling. Extend your arms forward and into the direction of the band and take a step back to create some band tension. 
  3. Bring your shoulders back, take a breath, and pull the band toward your face or nose. 
  4. Pull it slowly and hold the position for a moment, making sure to engage your upper back muscles. 
  5. Release the band slowly, exhale on the way back.

It’s good to have a band with less tension for this exercise. You should feel somewhat even resistance from start to finish. Thick looped bands won’t work here because you’ll have to use lots of momentum to lengthen them on each repetition.

Famous Training Splits that Include Shoulder Workouts

  • Three-day split is one where you hit the gym three times per week. There are many ways to schedule such a split, with common examples being the classic push-pull legs, a bodybuilder split, and full-body training.
overhead push workout barbell
  • Bodybuilder or push-pull legs split. This split would mean you have to do your entire week’s worth of shoulder training in a single day. This training split means more exercises and more sets. It’s also worth noting that you might want to consider rotating your shoulder and chest training with such a split. Strictly speaking, the push-pull legs can be a three-day split or a six-day split with one day off.

Conclusion

The deltoids are relatively small muscles, but this doesn’t mean we are limited in our training. As you saw, there are plenty of fantastic workouts, splits, and shoulder exercises you can use. What matters most is that you enjoy your training, can adhere to it, and see progress.

Whether you choose to train in a traditional gym setting or at home, there are always ways to organize practical exercises into sound workout plans. For example, you can pick from particular activities and train at home with little to no equipment. You can also combine unique exercises and take advantage of various repetition ranges to emphasize strength or muscle growth in the gym. Create your own personalized workout routine with Hevy.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own shoulder workouts with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own shoulder workouts with Hevy, and track your progress – for free

Beyond that, you can also organize your shoulder workouts in many ways, including through the three-day split, push-pull legs, and bodybuilding bro split. Depending on what your schedule allows, you can choose to train anywhere from two to six days per week and always fit in shoulder exercises intelligently. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

I always feel my traps taking over during lateral raises. What should I do about that?

This problem typically occurs when the trainee tries to lift more weight than they can handle. Therefore, the first and most effective fix you can implement is lowering the weight and focusing on raising your shoulder.

Can’t I just overhead press for good shoulder development?

Technically, you can. Overhead pressing alone is a great exercise. But, as with most muscle groups, a varied approach and attack from multiple angles will result in the best and most balanced development.

How to work out with a shoulder injury?

No two situations are precisely the same, and you should always consult with a professional, especially if you feel pain while training. But, so long as you’re careful, avoid ego lifting, and don’t feel pain while training (or afterward), you can get away with some shoulder training while dealing with an injury.

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