12 Exercises to Develop the Best Looking Shoulders You’ve Ever Had

female strength training

Most people have lopsided shoulder development.

It stems from the belief that the only shoulder exercises you need are pressing variations. Unfortunately, all those years of pressing have made your front delts huge and your side and rear delts nonexistent.

To help you balance out your physique and give you shoulders that’ll turn heads, use the 12 exercises below to improve your training.

Training All 3 Heads Is a Must

When we’re talking about training the shoulders, we’re primarily concerned with the deltoid muscle. The anterior (front delts), lateral (side delts), and posterior (rear delts) deltoid make up the rounded structure of the shoulder.

Image courtesy of Anatomography

The front delts are trained with pressing variations and front raise variations. Overhead press variations are the primary method of training the front delts and front raises are included as well. Many people forget that they receive a ton of front delt stimulus when they do any chest work such as barbell benching, DB benching, incline pressing and similar variants.

And, since most people are training their chest muscles a lot anyway, an excess of shoulder pressing and front raises are simply not needed.

The lateral delt, or side delt, is best trained with side raises and upright row variations. This part of the deltoid is very important to train because it provides the ‘capped’ look that many people strive for.

Ever heard of boulder shoulders?

The side delt is what gives the wider upper body look that is appealing to many people.

The posterior delt, or rear delt, really doesn’t get enough stimulus, unless trained directly. The rear delts are best trained with bent raises, face pull variations and swings.

12 Exercises You Need to Be Doing

(For the Side Delts)

Lateral Raise

I love lateral raises. The main problem is *most* people use way too much weight on them. Below is how I perform them:

I find that keeping a slightly looser grip on the dumbbells helps me to ‘feel’ my shoulders doing more of the work, rather than my biceps and forearms.

Helpful tips:

-lean forward slightly, with a bit of a hip hinge

-keep arms slightly bent, but none of that elbow at 90 degrees stuff

-raise explosively and control the lowering

-raise to the side and to the front very slightly. I find this hits them a bit better.  Experiment with where you raise the dumbbell’s so you can get the best feel

DB Upright Row

It seems that upright rows are frowned upon because of the idea they will impinge your shoulder. One way to get around this is to use DB’s so you have a bit more freedom of where you raise your hands. By raising up and out slightly, you keep the shoulder in a good position and are less susceptible to any impingement on the front of the shoulder.

Helpful tips:

-Start the DB’s from a dead hang

-Raise your elbows up and out as seen in the video. This will feel more natural on your shoulder and still allow you to target the lateral deltoid

-Return slowly and always use a full range of motion

Barbell Upright Row

With a slightly wider grip than you’ve probably seen before, I think these become a very effective exercise that most people can do without pain.

Too many people stick to a super narrow grip which will force their shoulders to ‘dump’ forward as they bring the bar up.

Try them like this:

Helpful tips:

-use a slightly wider grip, probably around shoulder width or so

-like the DB upright row, imagine pulling the bar apart as you raise up

-try keeping your elbows close to in line with your shoulders when you’re at the top part of the movement. This will lessen the chance of you feeling any impingement on the front of the shoulder

Cable Upright Row

Another great variation is using the cable for upright rows. This one also gives you a bit more freedom with where your hands go so that you can do them with the most comfortable and effective technique possible.

Helpful tips:

-use a long rope if possible

-stand back away from the cable station just a bit so that you have a slight backward lean

-pull up, out and back as seen in the video

-use a full range of motion

(For the Front Delts)

Standing Overhead Barbell Press

The overhead barbell press is a staple shoulder exercise. Because the front delts receive stimulus from other pressing movements, it’s unnecessary to include 36 different variations of overhead pressing into your routine.

Here’s how to properly do the standing overhead press:

Helpful tips:

-start with your hands about shoulder width or so and the bar at the top of your chest

-use a false grip (if you’re comfortable with it) or wrap your thumbs tightly around the bar

-press up and back slightly so the barbell finishes at the top directly in line with the center of your body (so you aren’t pressing forward on the way up)

-keep your butt and stomach flexed the entire time

Seated DB Overhead Press

Another useful pressing variation is the DB overhead press from a seated position. I like them seated because it allows you to focus more on the shoulders and less on worrying about balancing as you press up. For heavier loads, I suggest using the barbell overhead press.

Helpful tips:

-use an upright seated position or slightly leaned back bench

-start the DB’s so they’re touching your shoulders

-press them all the way up and back down to the shoulders

-you don’t need to go super heavy on these, especially since the overhead position is pretty unstable as is

-keep the chest up and use a full range of motion

(For the Rear Delts)

Seated Cable Face Pull

These are not only great for developing better-looking rear delts, but they’re also phenomenal for shoulder health.

Helpful tips:

-set the height around chest level or slightly below

-grip the rope so your thumbs are pointing towards your face when you pull

-initiate by squeezing your shoulder blades together, and driving your elbows back (don’t pull with your biceps)

-aim to externally rotate (so finish in a goal post position at the end range)

-allow your shoulders to move forwards and backward with every rep

-keep the weight light enough that you can use perfect technique

DB Face Pull-chest supported

A slight variation on the face pull, you’ll perform these with your chest supported on a slight incline bench.

Helpful tips:

-start with the DB’s hanging straight down from your shoulders

-pull up and back as you would on the cable version

-aim to keep your chest up just a tad so your shoulder’s stay in a good position

-squeeze hard at the top and then return slowly

-use a full range of motion and allow all the motion to come from the shoulders

Bent Rear Delt Raise

These are a staple exercise for training the rear delts. Here’s how to perform them:

Helpful tips:

-DON’T go super heavy on these

-get into a bent over position with your hips back, stomach braced, and your chest up

-start with the DB’s directly underneath your shoulders

-with the arms straight or slightly bent, raise your elbows back

-give it a nice squeeze at the top and then return slowly to the start position

-limit swinging the DB’s and use a controlled motion

Chest Supported Rear Delt Raise

Similar to the above, this is a good variation if your lower back is fatigued or if you want to change the angle slightly.

Helpful tips:

-position yourself on an incline bench at about a 20-30 degree angle or so (note–the higher the angle the most involvement you’ll get from the side delts)

-raise up explosively and return slowly

-use a full range of motion

DB Swings

I first learned about these from the Mountain Dog himself, John Meadows. Used sparingly at certain times, these can be a great way to trigger new shoulder growth and to shake things up a bit. They’re best done at the end of a workout because they will absolutely fry your rear delts.

Helpful tips:

-use straps if you have them because you’ll want to use pretty heavy DB’s on these (note–you won’t be raising the DB’s up very far)

-let your shoulders kind of hang down and keep the arms straight

-‘swing’ your arms out and back, controlled, and only raising up about 1/3 of the way

-use sets of 25+ reps on these

Band Resisted Rear Delt Raise

This one is good as a finisher at the end of a workout and can be used to get a bit of extra rear delt work in.

Helpful tips:

-use a light enough band that allows you to raise your hands at least to shoulder height

-do them explosively and a bit faster than you would with other rear delt variations

-use for higher reps 20+

Want Some Killer Shoulder Workouts?

Simply opt-in below to join my exclusive community. Once you’re in, email me at ryanwoodtraining@gmail.com with the subject line ‘shoulder workouts’ and I’ll send you some workouts over right away.

You’ll be on your way to bigger, stronger and more defined shoulders.

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