Heavy or Light: Shoulder Workout 101

shoulder workout 101

Just like you should not skip leg day, you definitely shouldn’t go easy when it comes to your shoulder workout. Not that you need a dedicated “shoulder day” but at least try to hit them from all directions with proper intensity.

Properly building shoulder size and strength makes for a vital part of that lusted-after “V-Shape” body physique. That physique starts with a wide top, and big shoulders make up a wide top.

But despite the importance of training shoulders, they are often done wrong, which makes you vulnerable to injury and a frustrating lack of growth. It is very easy to stumble into a pretty severe injury if you train shoulders wrong.

The main rule across all forms of weight-lifting holds true – go slow, master the form, and don’t go too heavy. But, while this is a good rule of thumb for everything involving weights, it is imperative with your shoulders.

Often, your bis and tris are much stronger than your shoulders, especially if you’re just starting out. Because of this, you might be tempted to use the same weights with your shoulders that you use when curling or extending. 

Unless you are looking for an injury, you should probably avoid that. If you’re using a good set of adjustable dumbbells, which, if you’re working out at home, you should be, simply lighten the load when it comes to the shoulders.

Regardless of your level of shoulder-related experience, everyone can benefit from a few pointers.

Tip #1 – Just Keep Pressing

Your average shoulder workout probably looks something like this: Shoulder Press of some form (barbell, dumbbell, Arnold, etc. etc.), Side Lateral Raise (seated or standing), Front raise (barbell or dumbbell), Upright Row (again, barbell or dumbbell), and Rear Delt Raise (lying or bent over). 

This is not a bad full shoulder workout – it hits all three muscles in your shoulder, the anterior, posterior, and medial deltoids. However, this routine, like with most shoulder routines, leads with shoulder presses and then ignores them once you’re finished. 

The reason for this is that presses take the most strength and energy, and so it makes sense to get them done with at the beginning of the workout – before your muscles are too fatigued. But, if you want to get really powerful shoulders, try incorporating another set of presses at some later point in the workout. 

On your second time, maybe use a machine instead of a bar, or use dumbbells instead of a machine – mix it up, but maintain that same motion – it will be tough and beyond exhausting, but it will be worth it. 

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor workouts are one of the best for shoulders, as do include multiple sets of shoulder presses. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be easy to be the God of Thunder.

Tip #2 – Hit Those Laterals as Often as Possible

thick shoulder bodybuilder

Even if you are not doing shoulders, try to get at least one set a day in of side-lateral raises. Mix in cables with dumbbells, and definitely start at a low weight, especially if you’re a beginner to the whole ‘working out’ thing. 

But, if you keep at the lateral raises, your shoulders will become rounded and strong, as lateral raises tone the medial deltoid, which provides more specific training than overhead presses do, as those are more of an overall-strength-builder. 

If you really get at those laterals, you’ll find, pretty quickly, that your shoulders are becoming much, much stronger. 

Tip #3 – Don’t Forget About the Rear Delts

Have you ever seen a guy at the gym who clearly skips leg day? Their upper-body is beyond toned – their arms are thickly muscled, their pecks are large, you know they have one of those massive 6-packs beneath their loose tank. 

But their legs look as though they were transplanted from a chicken, and onto this halfway-body-builder’s body. With the rear delts, you could very easily run into a similar issue. They are all too often ignored, as many shoulder routines focus firmly on presses and lateral raises. 

If you do ignore the rear delts, you will suffer from mismatched shoulder strength, which will affect your training in addition to making your shoulders look a bit funny. Do your best to incorporate multiple rear-delt exercises into each shoulder workout, and try to do them first, to make sure you won’t forget them.

Now that you have some solid tips to go by, don’t think we’re just going to leave you hanging. You have the tips, you have a few routines (definitely check out the Thor one), but you’re missing one thing. The exercises themselves. 

So here are a handful of the best shoulder exercises that you need to implement into your shoulder routines. 

rear delt shoulder workout

#1 – Arnold Press

Named for the one and only, the legend himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold Press is a cruel take on the regular dumbbell shoulder press and is a completely different movement from the standard overhead press.

While the standard dumbbell press is a great shoulder-workout staple, as it exercises your entire shoulder cap, what Arnold added makes it hit even harder. 

To perform an Arnold Press, sit on a bench with your back straight and your feet planted on the ground. Hold your dumbbells in front of your chest, with your palms facing your body. 

To perform the motion, twist your hands so that your palms face away from your body, and, at the same time, press the dumbbells over your head. 

Re-twist your hands as you lower your arms, returning to the starting position. These are really tough, good luck!

#2 – Lateral Raises

I mentioned this one a lot earlier. Lateral raises are a great way to really slam your medial deltoid, resulting in stronger, and better looking, shoulders. 

To perform the exercise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the dumbbells at your side, with your palms turned into your thighs. When you perform the motion, remember to go extra-slow, to get a better workout and to really master that form. With a slight bend in your elbow, raise your arms as though you are flapping wings. 

Once you reach the top of your range of motion, slowly, return to the starting position. This is one repetition. 

#3 – Bent-Over Rear Delt Fly

Here’s one for those oft-forgotten rear delts. Take a bench and sit down on the edge. Bend at the hips so that your body is folded in half over your knees. Pick up your dumbbells, and hold them with your palms pointed in towards your body. 

Then, and again, do it slowly, perform the same motion that you did for your lateral raises. These are a great way to build rear-delt strength. 

Shoulders are not easy to get right. The key thing with shoulders is to be patient, do it slowly, and master that form. 

Don’t try to show off; respect the weights, respect the workout, and you won’t get hurt. Go slow, stay in your own head, and above all, focus on that form. Before long, your V will be complete. 

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