6 Exercises to Supercharge Shoulder Gains

6 Exercises to Supercharge Shoulder Gains

Who doesn’t want broader, more defined shoulders?

We may not be talking body-builder style bulging deltoids, but most of us would like to at least have  good definition in the shoulder and upper chest area. Aside from appearance, there are a number of other good reasons to give your shoulders a good workout on a regular basis.

But for some reason it’s the one thing that many people overlook when they embark on a training regime. Maybe it’s because we assume that we’re working out the shoulders in other upper body exercises, especially chest ones, so there’s no need to focus on them specifically.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The shoulders are one of the areas of the body that needs the most intense focus and neglecting them is a big mistake. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.

Why shoulder workouts are vital

When you think about it, shoulders are amazing joints. The ball and socket have the widest range of movement of any of the joints in the body and can move in almost any direction and angle, bearing heavy loads in the process.

Unfortunately, this makes them pretty unstable and susceptible to injury. That’s why it’s so important to keep the muscles that surround the joint strong and healthy, and to ensure that any intense exercise of the shoulders is carried out very carefully.

The new shoulder workout we’ve devised is specially balanced to give you the right amount of resistance and motion training to maximise muscle strength, as well as suppleness. You will feel the effects quickly as it’s a fairly intense workout, but if you follow the guidelines to the letter you will avoid injury or over-working of these all-important muscles.

The basis of a good shoulder workout

Before we dive into the exercises, let’s take a moment to look at who this workout is aimed at and the thinking behind it. Getting a basic understanding of the guiding principles will help you to do the workout properly and get the results you want.

Firstly, it’s important to say that this is NOT a beginners workout. It’s aimed at people that have been working out for a while, doing regular chest, arm and leg exercises and are looking to expand that to include the shoulders. It’s best described as an advanced-beginner to intermediate workout.

The main concepts of a good shoulder workout are:

  • Exercising the joints and shoulder muscles in various positions and angles
  • Using free weights rather than resistance machines
  • Concentrating on both quantity and intensity - i.e. increasing reps and weight over time.

Think of this workout as a way to strengthen both the joint and muscles, build mass and lay the foundations for further gains.

The other important thing is to schedule your shoulder workout into your weekly training routine. If you’re following a standard five-day exercise program, with weekends off, it’s recommended that you leave the shoulder routine until last so you get two whole rest days for the vulnerable joints and muscles to recover. An ideal five-day routine could look something like this:

  • Day 1: Chest workout
  • Day 2: Back workout
  • Day 3: Rest
  • Day 4: Arms and Legs
  • Day 5: Shoulders

Ok, so now you’re ready to get started, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the exercises.

Shoulder workouts

This workout routine features 3 distinct groups of exercises, each designed to hone and tone different muscles around the shoulder area. It’s recommended that you perform each exercise thoroughly and don’t be tempted to skip any if you want to achieve the best results.

The only equipment required is a pair of dumbbells.

Shoulder Workout Group 1 | Building Mass

3D illustration of man doing seated dumbbell press and showing the front deltoids and shoulder blade muscles being used

Seated Dumbbell Press

The first group of exercises is designed to build the overall mass and definition of your shoulder blades. It will also help to keep the joints supple and moving freely. If it’s your first time doing serious shoulder workouts, it may be better to start with one or two sets of each exercise, rather than the recommended amount for intermediates.

Front two-dumbbell raise 

2 sets of 6 reps & 2 sets of 10 reps

Method:

  1. Choose a pair of dumbbells that are a comfortable weight to hold out directly in front of you.
  1. Stand up with a straight back and torso with arms lowered resting the dumbbells on the front of your thighs. Make sure your palms are facing your thighs.
  1. Keeping your upper body perfectly still, raise the dumbbells steadily with your elbows slightly bent, exhaling as you do it.
  1. Keep raising your arms until the dumbbells are roughly at eye-level. Pause at the top of the motion for a second or two.
  1. Take a deep breath in, and lower your arms in a controlled way until the dumbbells are resting on your thighs in the start position.
  1. Rinse and repeat for the recommended number of reps and sets.

Mix it up:

Instead of moving both arms in unison, you can raise alternate arms, i.e. one rep with your left arm followed by another with the right. This may be preferable for people who have had shoulder injuries in the past.

Seated dumbbell press

2 sets of 6 reps & 2 sets of 10 reps

Method:

  1. Sit on an inclined bench with the back set to slightly less than 90 degrees, or a stool or chair with a back support. Take a pair of dumbbells and hold them upright on your thighs.
  1. Raise both dumbbells twisting them to make your palms face forward. Bring the dumbbells up until they are touching your shoulders with elbows bent and forearms in an upright position.
  1. Start the press motion by digging your heels into the floor, pushing your hips back and driving your arms upwards steadily.
  1. Continue until the dumbbells are fully vertically extended above your head. You should feel some fairly intense tension in your shoulders, as long as you’re keeping your lower body still and hips pushed back.  
  1. Bring the dumbbells back to the start position with the dumbbells touching your shoulders. Make sure you don’t cheat by stopping before this point otherwise you won’t achieve the full range of motion and your shoulders won’t get the full benefit.
  1. Repeat for the required amount of reps.

Shoulder Workout Group 2 | Front Deltoids

3D illustration of man performing arnold dumbbell press and front deltoid muscles being used

Arnold Dumbbell Press

Group 2 is all about the front delts, the shoulder muscles that give your upper chest and neck area a toned look and strengthen the joint.

Arnold dumbbell press

2 sets of 6 reps & 2 sets of 10 reps

Method

  1. Sit on an inclined bench with the back set to slightly less than 90 degrees, or a stool or chair with a back support.
  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells directly in front of your upper chest with palms facing you and with your elbows bent. The dumbbells should be slightly elevated above your shoulders with your upper arms pushed in next to your torso.
  1. Exhale as you press the dumbbells up above your head, rotating your palms as you do so until they face forwards. Keep going until full arm extension is achieved. You should feel tension in the front part of your shoulders.
  1. Pause at the top for a second or two, then steadily lower the dumbbells back to the starting position as you rotate your hands until your palms are facing you.
  1. Rinse and repeat for the required amount of reps.

Mix it up

This exercise can be performed in a standing position, but don’t attempt it if you have lower back problems.

One arm side laterals

1 set of 10 reps & 1 set of 12 reps

Method

  1. Start in a standing position, with a dumbbell held firmly in one hand. With the other hand, hold onto something to steady yourself such as a table, bench or weight machine. To stay balanced, shift your body weight into the arm with the dumbbell, rather than leaning on the steady object.
  1. Make sure your upper body is straight and let dumbbell hang at your side, arm extended fully with your palms facing your body.
  1. Exhale and without swinging your upper body at all, raise the dumbbell forwards as if putting an object on a shelf in front of you. Keep your elbow slightly bent and your hand tilted slightly to one side in a pouring motion. Make sure this is a steady movement, no jerks or swings.
  1. Continue until your arm is completely parallel with the floor. Pause for a moment at the top of the motion.
  1. Begin to lower the dumbbell slowly, inhaling as you do so. Return to the starting position.
  1. Repeat for the required number of reps.

Shoulder Workout Group 3 | Middle (or lateral) and Rear Deltoids

3D illustration of man performing Bent-over Rear Deltoid Raise and working the rear and side deltoids

Bent Over Rear Deltoid Raise

The final group in the workout sequence will help to build and tone the middle and rear delts. When toned, the middle delts will give you that broad shouldered look with a defined V-taper and the rear delts will give you a chiseled upper back.

Dumbbell Upright Row

2 sets of 6 reps & 1 set of 10 reps

CAUTION: Before starting this exercise we need to stress the importance of selecting an appropriate weight. If you try to maximise the weight too soon, you risk shoulder injury due to swinging or jerking the weight rather than lifting it steadily.

Method

  1. In a standing position hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing forward. Rest the dumbbells on the top of your thighs, arms extended with a slightly bent elbow and your back perfectly straight.
  1. Exhale and begin to lift the dumbbells straight up your body towards your chin, bending your elbows further as you do so. Your shoulders should be doing the work. Make sure your elbows stay higher than your forearms at all times throughout the motion.
  1. Keeping your back and torso still, continue until the dumbbells almost make contact with your chin, but not quite. Pause for a moment and begin to inhale.
  1. Begin to lower the dumbbells in a slow, steady motion.
  1. Repeat for the required number of reps.

Mix it up

You can substitute dumbbells for a barbell, but don’t load it up too much at first. It’s better to start with an easy weight and add in small increments. Alternatively, a straight bar and pulley may also be used.

Bent Over Rear Deltoid Raise 

2 sets of 6 reps & 2 sets of 10 reps

Method

  1. With your legs kept together, sit on the end of a flat bench with two dumbbells placed on the floor behind your calves.
  1. Bend over while keeping your back straight and grip the dumbbells with both palms facing each other.
  1. Keep your upper body and torso perfectly still, exhale, and slowly lift both dumbbells out to the side, with your elbows slightly bent. Keep going until your arms are parallel with the floor. Remember to keep your torso still - no swinging or jerking. If you find yourself doing this, substitute for lower weights.
  1. Pause for a moment at the top of the motion, inhale, then steadily lower the dumbbells back to the floor.
  1. Repeat for the required number of reps.

Mix it up

You can also do a standing variation, but don’t attempt it if you have any kind of back or shoulder problems.

Final Thoughts

Ok, you’ve now got everything you need to get buffed and defined shoulders muscles.

Just remember not to overdo it. Unless you’re an advanced bodybuilder you should be using light to medium weight dumbbells and don’t exceed the recommended reps and sets in this guide. Unfortunately, shoulder injuries are all too common for those who ignore this advice. Believe us, the last thing you want is a torn rotator cuff or something similar.

Stick to the instructions laid out in this guide and you’ll have a fine pair of shoulders to show off in no time!