Did the sight of Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) being ripped and having bulging shoulders in “Wolverine” give you that much needed kick to focus more on shoulders in the gym? Sure good movie lighting and shadow gimmicks helped him out, but nevertheless it left some of us (including myself) envious and staring at our own shoulders with discontent.
Our deltoids are one of the most noticeable muscles clothed and unclothed. Their ripped definition stands out in singlets complementing the biceps whilst their width stretches the boundaries of t-shirts and polos.
Good news is that getting those dream shoulders is not so hard at all and with all the different types of dumbbell and machine exercises out there, you’ll be on your way in no time – not to mention many other exercises like pull ups and dips work out the shoulders inadvertently so that’s always a bonus!
Here is the shoulder workout I smash every week, works for me and will work for you!
(I have created a video since first posting this article, it is at the bottom if you don’t like to read)
Your main shoulder builder is the shoulder press. I find doing the barbell version most effective but there are the dumbell and incline hammer strength versions (further below) if you’re not comfortable with the barbell or want to alternate. This exercise is where you can and should go your absolute hardest, so smashing this first up is ideal. This exercise works primarily on the front (anterior) and middle (medial) deltoid.
Barbell Shoulder press:
- Standing up hold the bar lightly resting on the top of your chest. Best held cupped in between thumb and first finger as overhand grip.
- Chin up and with your back naturally straight push straight up, if you are in front of a mirror check that you’re not going slightly diagonally forward. Don’t explode upwards as this will make you feel unbalanced and is potentially dangerous with all that weight overhead, instead push up controlled and medium pace. Also careful not to lock your elbows as this puts strain on the joints.
- Once up, slowly bring back down to starting point on top of your chest. Breathe out on the push; although everyone might be different on their breathing pattern just remember to breathe!
- When your arms start to wobble and your back is struggling to stay straight on lift, you know you have given it all you’ve got, do not attempt anymore to prevent injury.
Goal: 15kg+ a side which is about 37kg total weight.
Next is another trak-life favourite and a must do, focusing more on the middle than the front deltoid. Also does some nice work to your traps.
Side Shoulder Raises:
Warmup (optional): 6kg dumbells x 10 reps
Reps: 90% MAX @ 3 x 10
Beginners: Aim for 8-10kg dumbells
You can do this seated but standing up also helps train your core as you have to maintain a straight posture throughout the exercise.
- Hold dumbbells in front of you with your chest out, back straight, shoulders slightly rolled back and arms at 90 degrees.
- Your grip has to be very tight so that your forearm/wrist doesn’t get too tired on lift and let down.
- Lift both arms up same time focusing on pushing upwards with your elbow. Wrist and forearm must stay unchanged from original position; from your shoulder to elbow think of it just an arc (like the chicken dance).
- Do not push up higher than shoulder height. Once the dumbbells are level with your shoulders you can drop them quickly back to initial position but maintain the form.
- This is a quick exercise as your wrist and forearm get tired easily so once the dumbbells return to starting position burst up again breathing out.
- You should be able to pump out 10 reps each set, you will know you’re almost at failing point when you’re using a bit of your back and bouncing up with your feet to get the height on the lift (good for the last 2 reps).
Goal: 14kg+ dumbells
Even if you aren’t feeling it, your shoulders should be annihilated after the first 2 exercises. The last shoulder set is more of a cooldown burn set that does the front deltoid, top pectoral and a bit of lats.
Front Shoulder Raises:
Reps: 8-10kg dumbbells – 3 x 10
- Which way you hold the dumbbells is completely up to you however we are fans of palms underside and knuckles facing outwards. The alternate is the hammer curl grip which is the palms facing the body.
- Again, form is of utmost importance. Stand firm with shoulders rolled back, chest out and back straight. Be careful not to slouch your shoulders forward for risk of injury.
- This is a slow movement exercise so with dumbbells clenched firmly and hanging at your sides, lift up slowly. Your arms should not be locked or dead straight, a little bent is ideal. Additionally your arms should not be too far apart, just shoulder width and parallel to each other.
- Raise as high as your head and then slowly down again to starting position and repeat.
- If your posture is right you will feel your chest and lats tighten throughout the exercise as you struggle to maintain the perfect straight form.
- Once you start doing the pogo (bouncing to lift) you know it’s time to finish up.
Warmup: 15-20kg a side x 10
Reps: 90% MAX @ 1x 10, 8, then 5
Beginners: Aim for 20-30kg a side
Being seated and a machine, the risk of injury is much lower here so you can test your max much more safely here. Slowly add more weights to test your max, you might realise you can do more than you thought!
- Find the right seat height, the top of your shoulders should be about level with the grips.
- Again cup in between thumb and first finger, this helps isolate the shoulder even more as the wrist and forearm comes less into play.
- Push up and let down slowly, breathe in/out accordingly. Your back should flat against the padding as your bum is all the way to the rear end of the seat, also legs spread and feet comfortably flat on the ground.
Goal: 40kg+ a side.
Seated Dumbell Shoulder Press
Warmup: 8kg a side x 10
Reps: 90% MAX @ 1x 8, 5 then 5
Beginners: Aim for 15kg each side
Great if you have trouble with your standing barbell shoulder press form and also great deltoid isolation to make sure both arms are developing equally.
- Sit with your bum as far back to the seat and feet planted firmly on the ground. Your back needs to be flat against the back of the seat.
- Raise dumbells onto shoulder level palm facing outward, arms should be straight with your chest.
- Push up and breathe out simultaneously, make the sides of the dumbells touch at the top.
- Return to number 2 position
Goal: 24kg+ each side
You might have noticed rear deltoids wasn’t covered in any of these exercises, this is because most back exercises such as rear flyes and bent over rows do this part of the shoulder well enough. Sure you could incorporate that or more exercises in this session, but chances are you have had more than enough as you’ve grouped shoulders with another muscle group like triceps, biceps, back or chest.
Working out efficiently is the key, you don’t want to strain or overwork yourself. We’ve hit the important target areas and your muscles are torn and need to rebuild so now it’s time for a good quality protein shake, good food and good rest!
If you love shoulders as much as we do be sure to let us know below!
Be fit and be awesome!
I have created my first workout video based on this workout, enjoy: