If you hit the gym often but can't get the V-shape you want, you're probably not paying enough attention to your shoulder muscles. And that's why it's crucial to select the best shoulder workout to fit your goals.
But exercise plans for these muscles should be about more than aesthetics. Shoulders are delicate and complex joints that are incredibly hard to target. That's why when you start lifting, there's a high risk of enduring shoulder joint problems.
If you don't really know where to start to strengthen these upper-body muscles and joints, this guide will be a great help to kick-start your shoulder workout routine.
You'll learn the basics of shoulder anatomy and what to look for when you're selecting your shoulder workout. We'll also explore six of the best shoulder exercises and their variations so you can safely and successfully develop strong, broad shoulders.
From fitness magazines to YouTube channels, blogs, personal trainers, and veteran bodybuilding athletes, everyone has an opinion on what makes the best workout plans, including those for shoulders.
While there are many different options out there, the best shoulder workouts share two common elements: a proper warm-up and a balance of exercises.
If you're a regular gym-goer, you know warming up is crucial. It may not be the most exciting part of your fitness plan, but it's an important one.
Warm-ups and stretching before exercise helps prepare the nervous system and muscle tissue for the physical activity you're about to perform.
Warming up loosens your joints and improves blood flow to the muscles. This leads to a lower risk of muscle tears or strains, thus preventing pain and injuries .
Good shoulder warm-up exercises include:
A thorough shoulder warm-up is around 10-15 minutes. Prioritize exercises that use your body weight instead of dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells, as these may be too hard on your muscles when they're still "cold."
The best shoulder workout will strengthen the rotator cuff, as this muscle group is one of the most prone to injuries.
The same goes for your deltoids. If you’re planning to lift more, strengthening these muscles is vital to add those extra weights and avoid harmful shoulder injuries.
You may be surprised to find out that your shoulder muscles (i.e., deltoid) are, in fact, comprised of three "heads”:
From all three, the rear delt is the one least used during everyday activities, so you need shoulder exercises that activate this particular area.
Surrounding your shoulder joint, you will find your rotator cuff. This is a group of muscles and tendons whose function is to keep the head of your humerus bone connected to your shoulder socket. Rotator cuff muscles allow you to do things like raise your arms over your head and rotate your shoulders internally and externally.
If your goal is to start lifting heavier weights, you'll want to engage and strengthen all the muscles of your shoulder. This will allow you to perform muscle-building weight training safely.
In the list below, you'll learn about key exercises to include in the best shoulder workouts and which muscles they activate.
When it comes to shoulder muscles, a little goes a long way. Look for quality over quantity.
Err on the side of caution and start with light weights. Once you become stronger and more comfortable with exercise technique, add more weight. If you're a beginner, it's best to focus more on form and less on intensity.
Make sure you perform the exercises using a full range of motion. You likely engage more muscle fibers when you complete exercises this way than when you only do partial repetitions . This means that going slowly and doing the full exercises fatigues your muscles quicker, leading to more muscle growth.
The following muscle-building program has every shoulder muscle covered while working other muscle groups for a comprehensive upper-body workout.
The mythical Arnold Schwarzenegger created this classic shoulder exercise, hence the name.
If you want to get wide shoulders, this exercise is a must for the best shoulder workout — it engages both the medial and front delts.
Upright rows are a functional workout that engages much more than just your shoulder muscles. When you perform this movement with proper form, you'll activate the front and middle delts as well as your trapezius and biceps.
Dumbbell lateral raises are the perfect exercise to activate the entire shoulder muscle group with a focus on the lateral delts. Keep your arms straight throughout the three steps.
Face pulls are the best exercise to develop broader shoulders and achieve a V-shape. They activate your rear delts — the ones that need extra attention — and your rotator cuff muscles and tendons. For this exercise, keep your movements slow for more control.
If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can use resistance bands to perform this exercise.
Also known as the military press, this exercise is a weight training classic that should be a part of any good shoulder workout routine. Its focus is the anterior delt, but it also engages the lateral and posterior deltoids, as well as your core and triceps.
The overhead press can be done using either a barbell or dumbbells and comes in many variations:
If you're a beginner, try the overhead press variation called the push press. Follow the steps detailed above, but slightly bend the knees for some extra force.
For a seated version, try the seated dumbbell shoulder press. The only difference is that you'll do this exercise while sitting on an upright bench.
The reverse fly or rear delt fly is the best shoulder exercise for your rear delts. It's also an excellent way to strengthen your trapezius and engage your core.
Shoulder work is an important part of your workout plan. This type of training helps shape your body, broaden your shoulders, and contribute to overall upper-body strength.
Besides that, shoulder injuries are common in people who lift, especially if they go for very heavy weights or don't focus on proper form. Adding these six simple exercises to your fitness routine can help you achieve your fitness goals and prevent painful situations.If you're interested to learn more about exercises for specific muscle groups, consider checking out this comprehensive guide on back workouts or this article on growing your arms.