1. Seated Barbell Shoulder Press
The seated barbell press is definitely a high-intensity, heavy-load workout, but it is also one of the most efficient ways to get your delts developed.
Instructions: Sit on the press with your feet flat on the floor and your lower back slightly arched. Grab the bar outside of shoulder width with your palms facing forward and your elbows pointed out and downward. Hold the bar at shoulder level, then press it up in a strong motion. Squeeze for a moment, then lower slowly to upper chest level.
Extra tip: Since it is a challenging exercise, do it first in your workout. You can also use a seat back for support.
2. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Compared to the barbell press, the load in this shoulder workout is lesser. However, since the two separate dumbbells require extra coordination and equal strength on both sides, the seated dumbbell press offers other benefits.
Instructions: Sit on a bench, holding the dumbbell above shoulder level with your palms facing forward. Make sure your head is straight and your spine aligned. Shift your shoulders back and press the dumbbells over your head in a wide arc. Stop at the top before the dumbbells touch each other. Squeeze for a second, then return to the starting position.
Extra tip: If you’re going heavy, use a spotter to help you get the dumbbells into starting position.
3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Even though there are several flaws in this shoulder exercise, when done right, it results in super-wide delts.
Instructions: Stand with the feet at shoulder-width. Keep your head straight, shoulders back, chest up, and the abs tight. Hold the dumbbells at your sides. Raise them to the sides in an arc, making sure you aren’t using momentum. Once the dumbbells are raised above the shoulder, squeeze for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position.
Extra tip: Lateral raises are commonly used with a lighter weight and more reps. The slower you perform them, the more they'll hurt and the better your shoulders will look.
4. Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The rear delts are often underdeveloped because most shoulder workouts focus on the front delts. The bent-over lateral raise is a great way to solve this problem because it directly targets the posterior deltoids.
Instructions: Holding a set of dumbbells, allow your arms to hang directly beneath you with your palms facing each other. Bend your torso until it is almost parallel with the ground. Your knees should be slightly bent, your back flat, and your chest out. With the elbows slightly bent, raise the dumbbells to the sides until your upper arms reach shoulder level and are parallel with the ground. Pause for a moment to flex your delts, then slowly return to the starting position.
Extra tip: You can perform this exercise standing or seated. There is also a one-arm bent-over lateral raise variation which allows you to focus all the effort on one side at a time.
5. Cable Reverse Flye
Here’s another exercise which targets the rear deltoids. In addition to helping maintain proper posture, these muscles also provide extra shoulder stability during overhead and pressing movements.
Instructions: Position the cables at chest height and attach D-handles. Grab the handles reaching across your body (the left-side handle should be in your right hand and the right-side handle in your left hand). Step at the center and slightly bend the knees. Straighten the arms at shoulder level, keeping the elbows slightly bent. Open out your arms to the sides. Once your arms are fully outstretched, return the handles slowly to the starting position.
Extra tip: If cables aren’t available, use dumbbells as an alternative.
6. Cable Front Raise
Just like in the previous workout, the cable here provides continuous tension, but this time you’re working the anterior (front) delts.
Instructions: Stand in a staggered stance (shoulder-width), turning your back to a low cable pulley. Hold the handle in one hand and place the other hand on the hip for balance. Your back should be flat, your chest elevated, and your knees slightly bent. Raise the cable in front of you upward and out. Once your upper arm is parallel with the shoulder, squeeze for a moment, then return to starting position (make sure the stack doesn’t touch down). Once you’re done with all reps, switch to the opposite side.
Extra tip: If your shoulder workout routine is largely based on presses, make sure to give priority to the rear-delt and lateral raises.
7. One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise
When it comes to the middle deltoid, the lateral raise is your best choice.
Instructions: Stand in front of a low cable pulley turned sideways. Hold the handle with the hand opposite the pulley. The other arm should be on your hips or holding the pulley structure. Make sure your chest is up, your abs are tight, and your shoulders are back. Raise the cable away from the pulley until your elbow reaches shoulder height. Hold it for a brief moment as you contract, then slowly return to the starting position. Make sure the weight stack doesn’t touch down. Once you’re done with all reps, switch to the opposite arm.
Extra tip: Don’t start with your weak side and avoid doing more reps with your strong side. This way you’ll make sure your both sides are equally developed.
8. Cable Face Pull
Besides the rear delts, this exercise also involves the middle traps. By incorporating some leverage, the cable face pull allows you to handle more weight overall, which leads directly to growth.
Instructions: Stand in front of the pulley in a split stance, with the arms straightened out in front of you and your palms facing each other. Pull the cable towards your face keeping the elbows elevated. Squeeze for a second, then slowly reverse the cable to the starting position, without letting the weight stack touch down.
Extra tip: If you start arching your back or leaning back while pulling, stand in a half kneeling stance.
9. Push Press
This heavy-compound shoulder workout is great for gaining mass. The push press involves multiple muscle groups and since you use full-body momentum, it allows you to handle more weight.
Instructions: Hold a barbell at shoulder level with the palms turned upwards and the elbows pointing forward. Make sure your upper arms are parallel with the ground. Squat with your knees slightly bent. Lift the bar over your head by fully extending your arms. Hold for a moment, then lower back to upper-chest level.
Extra tip: If you’re a beginner, make sure to start lighter and warm up thoroughly before moving up to heavier poundage.
10. See Saw Press
The see-saw press is basically a standing dumbbell shoulder press, the only difference being that you alternate between reps instead of pressing both dumbbells simultaneously.
Instructions: Stand erect holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lift the dumbbells to shoulder level, then rotate your palms towards you. Start by extending your right arm overhead, rotating the palm so that it faces forward and bending from your hip to your opposite side. Stop for a second when you reach top position, then slowly reverse the movement keeping the weight fully extended overhead. Repeat with the other side.
Extra tip: You can also perform this exercise seated.
Shoulder Training Tips
The number of sets and reps, as well as the weight and rest periods, depends on the individual. However, there are some general shoulder workout guidelines that’ll help you maximize the results.
Start with moderate weight and perform a warm-up set of the chosen exercise with about 10-15 reps. For the second set, you can increase the weight (by about five pounds) and do the desired number of reps.
The best way to determine how much weight you need is through trial and error. Try several different workouts with different weight to see what works best for you. As a rule of thumb, the weight you lift should be enough to allow you to do the desired number of reps. It’s normal to struggle a bit by the last repetition, however, if you feel like you can do more repetitions, try increasing the weight.
Beginners should also start with a full-body workout routine and then focus on the shoulders. Bear in mind that you might need a spotter for many of the exercises.
For experienced lifters
Once you have enough experience, you can start including multiple compound shoulder exercises in combination with isolation exercises. In general, experienced lifters can do three or more sets with 6-8 reps.
You should be aware that, in time, the same effort and weight will no longer produce the same results (this usually happens after six to eight weeks). That’s why you need to cycle the shoulder routine by combining light, moderate, and heavy workouts or introducing different exercises.
Make sure to pair your shoulder workout plan with proper nutrition based on enough calories, proteins, and carbs in order to maximize the benefits.
Since shoulder workouts require lifting heavy weights, make sure that your clothes don’t inhibit you in any way. We recommend our men's tank tops paired with form-fitting leggings or joggers.