Bodybuilding Exercises - Shoulders

Bodybuilding Exercises - Shoulders

‘Boulder' shoulders are what every bodybuilder strives for - it's where the V-taper begins, and the broader the shoulders, the narrower the waist appears. Many champion bodybuilders such as Kevin Levrone and Serge Nubret and have been known for their massive shoulders, and therefore a ‘width' to the physique that no other bodypart can provide.

The shoulder consists of joints, which rotate and move the arms laterally, and muscles which serve to stabilise the joints and power arm movements. Although there are a huge number of muscles and tendons in the shoulder region, the largest and strongest are the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids.

Anterior Deltoids

Also known as the front shoulder muscles, or front delts, these are visible from the front and serve to flex and rotate the arm at the shoulder joint. Many bodybuilders skip training the front delts altogether due to the work they get during the bench press movement, and in various other exercises such as dips and upright rows. The most common exercise used to train the front delts is the dumbbell front raise.

Medial Deltoids

These are located on the sides of your shoulders, and are most responsible for giving you the appearance of a wide upper body. Also known as side delts or middle delts, the most common exercise for the side delts is lateral raises. These are one of the most conducive muscle regions to high-rep training.

Posterior Deltoids

Also known as rear delts, these are the smallest of the three big shoulder muscles and are only visible from the back. They attach to the traps and lats and are often neglected in direct training because they can't be seen in a mirror, they are a small muscle group, and they get indirect stimulation when performing back exercises as well as side delts exercises.

The Best Bodybuilding Exercises for Shoulders

Barbell Military Press

Variations: Dumbbell Shoulder Press, Machine Shoulder Press, Seated Barbell Shoulder Press, Push Press

The Military Press, or a variation of it, is one of the most performed bodybuilding exercises in the weights room. It's probably one of the first barbell exercises ever as well - after all, once there is weight on a bar, the next natural step is to try and lift it over your head.

The Military Press is one of the major compound movements, and not only works each of the major shoulder muscle groups, but also the traps, abs, arms and upper back. It is performed by pressing a loaded barbell whilst standing to a locked-out position over your head. The bar is then controlled back to rest on the upper chest/front delts. When the movement is less strict and involves a hip-thrust, it is called a Push Press, and this allows the trainer to use much more weight than a strict Military Press. Dumbbell Shoulder Presses give an even further range of motion at the bottom of the movement and are a very effective movement for shoulder size.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Variations: Bent-Over Lateral Raise, Seated Lateral Raise, Machine Lateral Raise

Probably the best exercise for bringing up a lagging middle delt region, the dumbbell lateral raise is basically a dumbbell fly (chest exercise) whilst standing. It puts enormous strain on the medial deltoid and, when performed with control, it is difficult to use any significant weight with this exercise. Instead, many professional bodybuilders like to utilise higher reps (12-20), and Ronnie Coleman is famous for ‘running the rack' - training until failure and then dropping a weight and failing with that one until he had used all the dumbbells in the rack.

The dumbbell lateral raise is performed by standing with knees slightly bent and a dumbbell in each hand resting by your sides. With a slight bend in the elbows (keep this bend - don't extend or contract any more), raise the dumbbells up and out until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. By picturing pouring water out of a jug whilst performing the raises, you will keep focus on the side delts. It's important to be fairly strict with this movement, and not use any momentum which takes the focus off the shoulder muscles.

For a bent-over lateral raise, the exercise is performed the same, except the torso is approximately parallel to the ground the entire time. By bringing the dumbbells out to the side with the torso bent-over, the focus moves from the middle delts to the rear delts.

Dumbbell Front Raise

Variations: Seated Dumbbell Front Raise, Barbell Front Raise

A pretty self-explanatory exercise, the front raise is used to bring up the anterior deltoids. It can be performed either one-arm at a time or both at the same time, and is performed by starting in a standing position with dumbbells at the front, resting on your thighs. Either bring one or both arms up until the dumbbell/s are parallel with the ground (near your face), and control them back to the starting position. You can experiment with hand positioning at the top to get a better contraction.

Sample Workout

Some exercises lend themselves better to smaller rep ranges, whilst others work well at higher reps, but definitely mix it up to get the maximum size/strength value from your shoulder exercises!

Standing Military Press - 4 x 6-8
Dumbbell Lateral Raise - 3 x 12-15
Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise - 3 x 8-12
Dumbbell Front Raise - 2 x 8-10

Use this sample workout, and the other workouts in this series to create those ‘boulder' shoulders that bodybuilders strive for!




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