When it comes to creating the classic Alpha male physique, well developed shoulders are essential. Your shoulder creates the width that makes the V shaped upper body so impressive. When all three deltoid heads are fully developed, you’ll look huge whether you’re in a tank top or wearing a suit.
Shoulder Structure & Function
The main muscle responsible for moving the shoulders is the deltoid. This is the muscle that wraps around the shoulder from front to back and gives the shoulders much of their shape. Other muscles help to stabilize the shoulder joint. These include the teres major, teres minor, supraspinatus and subscapularis.
The main role of the deltoids in training is to help raise or extend the arms. There are three primary divisions of the deltoid muscle:
- The front (anterior) head
- The medial (lateral) head
- The rear (posterior) head
The front delt enables flexion, raising your arm up in front of your body. The medial delt enables abduction, raising your arm away from your body. The rear delt enables extension, rotating your arm behind.
Unlike another three headed muscle which is close by, the triceps, the three heads of the deltoids have different insertion AND origins points. The deltoid is also a ball and socket rather than a hinge joint. These factors mean that you can and should do different exercises to preferentially target each of the different heads of the deltoid muscle.
You use your delts repetitively in your day-to-day life and in training, so it is important to train them with a range of loading methods and rep counts. When pressing, the shoulders integrate with the triceps and the muscles of the upper back to help in driving the weight up as the deltoids bring the arm closer to the midline.
When raising, the shoulders work almost in total isolation, although there is some assistance from the traps. When doing exercises that involve raising a weight, don’t just think about getting the resistance to a certain destination; remember the function and anatomy of the portion of the deltoid you are trying to target and move appropriately through the full range of motion.
Use pressing and raising movements to target the front and middle delts and rowing and flying exercises to work the rear delts.
Home Workout – Shoulders Beginners:
Banded Shoulder Press
- Stand with a resistance band under your feet and feet hip width apart. Hold the band handles in your hands in a palms forward grip at shoulder level.
- Press your arms directly overhead to full arm extension.
- Lower and repeat
Banded Front Raise
- Stand with a resistance band under your feet, which are shoulder width apart.
- Hold the band handles in front of your body at arm’s length with your palms facing in toward your body.
- Without bending your elbows, lift your up to shoulder level.
- Pause in the top position for a second and then lower under control.
Banded Rear Delt Flye
- Place a resistance band under your feet, with your feet shoulder width apart. Hold the band handles in your hands in front of your body.
- Hinge at the hips and bend your upper body at a 30-degree angle.
- Pivot from the shoulder joint to bring your arms out to the side until they are at shoulder level.
- Hold for a second then lower under control.
- Banded Shoulder Press – 3 x 12
- Banded Front Raise – 3 x 12
- Banded Rear Delt Flye – 3 x 12
Home Workout – Shoulders Intermediate
Handstand Push Up
- Stand in front of a wall, facing away from it. Bend down to place your palm on the floor at shoulder width apart. At the same time begin to walk your feet up the wall until your body is vertically up against the wall.
- From a starting position with your arms fully extended, lower down by bending at the elbows until your head is about six inches from the floor.
- Push back to the start position.
- Lie face down on the floor with your feet together and arms out to your sides with elbows bent and arms at 45 degree angle.
- Arch your body up to form a banana shape with your body. At the same time pull your elbows back and pull your shoulder blades together.
- Hold for a second then lower to the start position.
Band Side Lateral Raise
- Place a resistance band under each foot and hold them with the opposite hands. Lean your torso slightly forward to line up the delts with the line of resistance.
- Without bending at the elbow, raise your arms out to the side to shoulder height. The movement will only involve pivoting from the shoulder joint.
- Hold for a second then lower under control.
- Handstand Push Up: 3 x as many as possible
- Reverse Superman: 3 x 12
- Band Side Lateral Raise: 3 x 15
Gym Beginner Shoulders Workout
Machine Shoulder Press
- Sit on the shoulder press machine station and adjust the settings for your height. Grab the handles with your elbows flexed out to the sides and hands in a pronated position (palms facing forward).
- Drive your arms upward, stopping just short of lockout.
- Lower under control and repeat.
Cable Lateral Raise
- Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine at the level of your hip. Stand side on to the machine and grab the handle in your outside hand.
- Pivot from the shoulder joint to lift your arm out to the side until just short of shoulder height.
- Hold for a second then lower under control. Do not allow momentum to do the work for you.
Dumbbell Front Raise
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a pair of dumbbells in your hands, held at arm’s length against your thighs.
- Without bending your elbows, rise your arms up in front of your body to shoulder height.
- Pause for a second then lower under control; resist the pull of gravity on the way down.
- Machine Shoulder Press: 3 x 12
- Cable Lateral Raise: 3 x 12
- Dumbbell Front Raise: 3 x 12
Gym Intermediate Arm’s Workout
Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press
You can do this exercise by sitting on a bench with a back support or by standing. Keeping your head in a neutral position, rest a barbell under your chin and against your chest using a thumb-over grip. Engage your glutes and core to help stabilize your upper body.
Tuck in your chin to avoid the bar hitting your face and to maintain a neutral head position and neutral spine. Breathe out as you press the barbell smoothly straight up above your head, extending your arms at the elbows.
Lower the bar back to the starting position.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart. Let your arms hang naturally with the dumbbells securely in your hands. Depending on your structure, you may need to rotate the dumbbells inward slightly, to better match up with the middle of your delts.
Breathe in and engage your abs to stabilize and tighten the core. Breathe out as you use your deltoid muscles to raise the dumbbells away from your body. Stop when your arms are parallel to the floor and pause for a second.
Lower under control, resisting the pull of gravity.
Single Arm Cable Front Raise
Set the pulley on a cable pulley machine at hip height. Stand away from the machine, facing away from it.
Grasp the handle in your right hand and hold it at your side at arm’s length.
Pivot from the shoulder to lift your arm up to shoulder level.
Pause for a second then lower under control. Resist the force of gravity on the way down.
- Barbell Overhead Shoulder Press: 4 x 12/10/8/6
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 4 x 12
- Single Arm Cable Front Raise: 4 x 12
Shoulder Press Notes
The shoulder press is a vertical pressing movement that trains the muscles of the shoulders and the triceps, while also targeting the upper back and challenging core stability. The overhead press can be performed seated or standing; keep the barbell even and the movement controlled.
This exercise places tension on the muscles of the front and medial parts of the shoulder as well as the triceps. The core is important to ensure the torso and the pelvis remain stable, helping to prevent injury to the spine or lower back.
When doing the seated version, your knees should be bent at 90-degrees, so adjust the seat of the machine accordingly. Most machines set the bar just above and behind your head so you can easily reach and then lift the bar off to bring it into position. If you experience any joint discomfort, try switching to the dumbbell variation.
You now have access to a range of shoulder workouts to suit every training situation. Make use of them as the foundation of your delt training over the next few months. Schedule a shoulder workout every 5 days to provide yourself the time you need to recover and grow.