A Lean Life

Shoulder Workout to Build Lean Muscle and Broad Shoulders

Shoulder Workout

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

A great shoulder workout is the foundation to building a lean, muscular physique with broad, developed shoulders.

Whether you’re at the beach or at the mall, if your mid-section is wider than your shoulders, chances are things won’t be pretty…and you may be fine with that.  But if you’re not, we can reverse this picture.

If you are trying to build an impressive physique and create lean muscle and broad shoulders, than an effective shoulder workout is a must.  Lean, toned shoulders are also a great look for women, and these exercises below are great for women too.  And it’s probably not as complicated as you think to build lean muscle on the broads.

Shoulder Workout

Upper Body Width

Even slight gains in your shoulder muscles can have a big impact on your broadness, or width.  If you can shrink your mid-section oh-so slightly at the same time, then the gains are compounding and now you’re really on a great trajectory!

Remember, with shoulders, only slight gains can have a big impact, and this shoulder workout should help you achieve this.

Below are my Top 5 Shoulder Exercises to build strength, mass, and hardness, without building the muscle head look that just doesn’t appeal to most eyes.

Let’s first understand shoulder basics…

Shoulder Structure and Function

Shoulder Muscles

Shoulder Muscles

The shoulder muscle, or deltoid (commonly called “delts”), forms the rounded look of the shoulder.  The deltoid takes its name from the Greek letter Delta, which is in the shape of a triangle (Δ), as the shoulder muscle is triangular-shaped.  The average deltoid muscle weighs ½ to ¾ of a pound.

The deltoid is composed of 3 separate heads:

  • Front deltoid – The front head.  Provides rotation of the arm.  Front deltoid is worked during pressing exercises (push-ups, bench press).
  • Lateral deltoid – The side head.  Abducts the arm (lifts the arm away from the body).  Think dumbbell side raises.  Worked with side raises.
  • Rear deltoid – The rear head.  Mainly exercised with back pulling exercises (rows, pull-ups), as well as bent-over raises.

The deltoid muscle spans from the clavicle (collarbone) and scapula (shoulder blade) to the humerus (upper arm bone).

The function of the deltoid muscle:

  • Shoulder movement and rotation
  • Arm abduction (lifting arms to sides)
  • Lifting and pressing motions

Top 5 Exercises for Your Shoulder Workout

First, remember these basics for shoulder workout routines:

  • To stimulate the muscle for growth, you have to lift heavy.
  • Vary the reps to achieve sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (mass/size) and myofibrillar hypertrophy (strength/density) – see below details on the reps and sets for the various exercises.
  • Focus on maintaining good form during your shoulder workout.  OK to cheat a little with leverage swings when lifting heavy, but never out of control.
  • Make sure muscles are properly warmed prior to lifting – a few minutes of light cardio (jumping jacks) and some dynamic stretching.
  • Work your delts from different angles to fully develop the entire muscle – all 3 heads.

#1  Military Press

Military Press

Military Press

Probably the most respected exercise for developing chiseled shoulders in your shoulder workout.

  • Start Position:  Sitting on a military bench (back support) with back straight and feet firmly on the floor, lift the barbell above your head with arms fully extended up.  Your grip should be slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Technique:  Slowly lower the barbell to should width as you inhale, then press the barbell straight up returning to the start position.  Exhale as you raise the bar.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Strength and Density:  3-4 / 3 to 6 / 90 seconds
    Combine Mass and Strength: Mix reps between 3-6 and 6-12
  • Primary:  Deltoids
    Secondary:  Triceps
  • Variations: This exercise can be performed standing, but if you have lower back problems, be very careful with the standing exercise.
  • Caution:  Shoulders can be vulnerable – maintain control of the weight.
Seated Dumbbell Press

Seated Dumbbell Press

#2  Seated Dumbbell Press

  • Start Position:  Sitting on a military bench (back support) with back straight and feet on the floor, lift two dumbbells and rest them on your thighs.  Using your thighs for leverage, lift the dumbbells to shoulder height with your palms facing forward.
  • Technique:  Press the dumbbells above your head as you exhale until they nearly touch, hold for 1 second, then return to the start position as you inhale.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Strength and Density:  3-4 / 3 to 6 / 90 seconds
    Combine Mass and Strength: Mix reps between 3-6 and 6-12
  • Primary:  Deltoids
    Secondary:  Triceps

 

Bent-over Dumbbell Side Raises

Bent-over Dumbbell Lateral Raises

#3  Bent Over Dumbbell Lateral Raises (Rear Delts)

  • Start Position: Bend over from the waist so your upper body is parallel to the ground.  Let your arms hang straight down with palms, and hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other.  Keep your torso steady.  Shoulder workout for the rear deltoids.
  • Technique:  Lift the dumbbells straight out to your sides as you exhale until your arms are parallel to the ground.  Hold this position for 1 second, then return to the start position as you inhale.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Strength and Density:  3-4 / 3 to 6 / 90 seconds
    Combine Mass and Strength: Mix reps between 3-6 and 6-12
  • Primary: Rear Deltoids (Isolation)

 

Upright Barbell Rows

Upright Barbell Rows

#4 Upright Barbell Row

  • Start Position:  Standing tall with your feet shoulder width, hold a barbell with an overhand grip slightly less than shoulder width.  Your elbows should be slightly bent.
  • Technique:  Lift the barbell straight up to chest level as you exhale, as your elbows bend to your sides.  Keep your bodystable during the movement.  Hold the position for 1 second, then return to the start position by lowering the bar as you inhale.
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Strength and Density:  3-4 / 3 to 6 / 90 seconds
    Combine Mass and Strength: Mix reps between 3-6 and 6-12
  • Primary: Shoulders
    Secondary:  Traps
  • Variations:  Use a low pulley attached to a straight bar (gym equipment), and perform the same motion.  An EZ bar can also be used, which is my preferred way to do upright pulley rows.
Iron Cross Shoulder Workout

Iron Cross Shoulder Workout

#5  Front to Side Lateral Raises
(Iron Cross Workout)

  • Start Position:  Standing tall with your feet shoulder width, hold a dumbbell in each hand as your arms hang straight down in front of you.  Your palms should face your body, and your elbows slightly bent.
  • Technique:  Lift the dumbbells straight up in front of you with your arms extended until your arms are parallel to the ground.  Then rotate the dumbbells to your sides forming an iron cross with your body, keeping your arms parallel to the ground.  Hold the iron cross for 5 seconds.
    This is called static hold, and it is the reason gymnasts have great upper bodies.  Slowly return the dumbbells to your sides and then to the start position (your front).
  • Sets / Reps / Rest:
    Mass and Size: 4-5 / 6 to 12 / 30 seconds
    Strength and Density:  3-4 / 3 to 6 / 90 seconds
    Combine Mass and Strength: Mix reps between 3-6 and 6-12

A Few Close Seconds

Actually, these are not really even “close seconds” for a complete and well-rounded shoulder workout…they are Top 5 material:

Arnold Presses – Presses named after the Legend himself…rotate the dumbbells from palms facing your face (and directly in front of your face) as you press straight up.

Front Dumbbell Raises – From a standing position, dumbbells at your side palms facing the rear, lift the dumbbells directly in front of you until arms are parallel to the floor.

Avoiding Injury

Shoulder Injury

Shoulder Injury

The shoulder can be a sensitive muscle and joint.  I have suffered 2 shoulder injuries – separated shoulder blade (clavicle) in Ranger school, and a slight muscle tear lifting a few years later.

So…my shoulders are very susceptible to injury, so I focus on near-perfect form and do not go too heavy.  When I go too heavy, the clavicle injury starts to bother me (mainly doing bench press).  My point…be very careful with shoulder exercises, even if you have very healthy shoulders.  A strain or tear can happen in a blink and nag you for months…or longer.

Always make sure you workout with warm muscles, so prior to any workout…always:

  • Do light cardio for a few minutes – jog in place, jumping jacks
  • Perform some dynamic stretching to loosen your muscles

Always be careful when resistance training.  It is so easy to believe “it won’t happen to me,” but it can and will if you are not careful.  Safe training always!

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