The shoulders play a fundamental role both for the sportsman, the powerlifter, as well as the natural bodybuilder, who will look for the famous v-shape starting from the shoulders and back. Training and shoulder exercises are therefore of primary importance for a large number of subjects who go to the gym to train them, from the bodybuilder to the powerlifter, passing through the sportsman looking for a healthy, strong, resistant shoulder.
Carefully selecting the exercises and the type of work is therefore extremely important, as specificity reigns supreme in the gym. The bodybuilder will certainly need massive, large and wide shoulders, the powerlifter of strong front deltoids for the lift of the flat bench.
- 1 The best shoulder exercises
- 2 Shoulder anatomy
- 3 Shoulder training: Mass and Strength
- 4 How to shrug your shoulders?
- 5 How to stimulate the muscle mass of the shoulders
- 6 Shoulder Training for Powerlifters
- 7 Practical example of deltoid training for bodybuilding
- 8 Bodyweight back home workout
- 9 Conclusion on Shoulder exercises
The best shoulder exercises
There are really many exercises available for shoulder training that we can perform both in the gym and get it at home.
Among the many, some of the best shoulder exercises are:
· Military Press
· Presses over your head
· Pull to the chin
· Arnold Press
· Side raises
· Raise rear
· Handlebar, cable, machine variants
We should also remember that the anterior deltoids are widely stimulated in push exercises such as flat bench or dip at the parallel bars.
The posterior deltoids are often recruited in traction exercises, even if these – alone – will not be sufficient stimuli to obtain maximum development.
According to many old-schoolers, the Military Press would be enough to build strong and big shoulders. In fact, as we have seen several times, stimulating the muscles in its different parts and from different angles is always an optimal choice, in particular for the bodybuilder looking for muscle mass and symmetry. It is equally true that by using an excellent progression on the Military Press and focusing on that, we will still obtain excellent results in terms of performance and muscle mass.
By shoulder, we commonly mean that anatomical region located in the upper and lateral part of the trunk between the base of the neck and the beginning of the arm, above the chest.
The shoulder joint, or shoulder-humeral girdle, is made up of three bone structures:
It is a very complex joint, in fact, it includes 5 joints.
3 are real joints:
- the acromioclavicular (between acromion and clavicle)
- the clavicle sternum (between the sternum and the clavicle)
- the glenohumeral (between the humerus and the scapula)
The other two are called fake joints because there is no real relationship between the joint surfaces and they are:
- the bachelor-thoracic (between shoulder blade and ribs)
- the sub deltoidea (sliding plane between the head of the humerus, the subdeltoid bag, and the rotator cuff).
The shoulder muscles are divided into:
- intrinsic (i.e. that connect the humerus to the humeral shoulder girdle directly contributing to movement)
- extrinsic (connect the torso to the humeral shoulder girdle).
The extrinsic muscles are:
- large toothed
- large breastplate and small breastplate
The intrinsic muscles are:
- the rotator cuff ( supraspinatus, supraspinatus, small round, and subscapularis)
- large round
- long head of the triceps and biceps brachialis
- brachial correct
To simplify, in this guide I will use the term shoulder and deltoid as if they were synonyms, and I will talk about shoulder training in reference to the muscles:
- anterior deltoids
- lateral deltoids
- posterior deltoids
Shoulder training: Mass and Strength
The selection of shoulder exercises is fundamental, but specificity must guide us in choosing the best exercises to perform for our purposes, which can be different.
- A powerlifter, for example, will certainly have a greater need for strong anterior deltoids, compared to the posterior ones.
- A bodybuilder will instead seek muscle mass, as well as symmetry.
For this, we will see how to train the shoulders in different subjects, with different purposes. Therefore, not only the selection of the exercises will change, but also the patterns, the frequency, the intensity. However, we can fix some key concepts that can unite powerlifters, bodybuilders, power builders, and why not: also sportsmen of all kinds, who often stress their shoulders abundantly.
How to shrug your shoulders?
The shoulders grow like any other muscle in the body, therefore thanks to:
- mechanical tension
- metabolic stress
- muscle damage (although it has now been greatly scaled according to the latest scientific research)
Of particular interest is the mechanical tension, especially for the powerlifter. In order to increase the muscle mass of the shoulders and their strength, we must stimulate them sufficiently, give them time to recover, and then induce adaptation, for the SRA process: Stimulus, Recovery, Adaptation. Without this sequence of events, regardless of which shoulder and pattern exercises we use, the deltoids will NOT grow.
If the stressor isn’t significant, your shoulders won’t grow. If recovery is not properly manipulated, the muscles will not have the necessary resources to grow.
How to stimulate the muscle mass of the shoulders
As I mentioned in the article on the best exercises for triceps, the volume of training is the factor most associated with muscle hypertrophy, and will therefore also be essential in the case of shoulder training.
Over the weeks, the training volume on the shoulders must necessarily increase, as the body gets used to the stressor, if kept constant, and stops adapting.
Just as there must be progressive overload:
- shoulder training must be harder and / or more voluminous
- for muscle mass must increase series and / or repetitions
- to increase the strength of the shoulders, the intensity must be increased (understood as a percentage of the ceiling, in short, the kg on the barbell/dumbbells).
Some key points to consider when training your shoulders to grow muscle mass are:
- The training sets must be mainly between 60 and 80% of the ceiling
- The most comfortable rep range for hypertrophy is between 8 and 20 repetitions
- We don’t necessarily have to work hard, but get close
- We can train the shoulders directly 1-4 times a week
Why such a wide range?
It depends on the programming and how much flat bench and push exercises you do, and which portion of the shoulder we want to work on.
The anterior deltoids, in fact, are already particularly stimulated in a flat bench, for example. If you are a powerlifter or a bodybuilder who prefers multi-frequency training, you probably don’t even need to train in isolation of the front deltoids, or you can limit yourself to a few weekly series and even just one session of direct work per week.
Lateral deltoids, on the other hand, can be stimulated a certainly greater number of times, pushing us up to 3-4 weekly sessions.
How many sets and how many reps to do to train your shoulders?
It is impossible to answer such questions. It depends on your starting level, your goals and a thousand other variables in play, as well as which shoulder exercise we are using. A military press is not a side elevation, and certainly, different set x reps schemes are used. It is more logical and widespread to use medium-low ranges of repetitions in heavy multi articular such as the military press, and high repetitions in isolation exercises, such as training the shoulders to the cables or with dumbbells.
To leave you something practical on which to structure a shoulder workout, however, we can keep in mind some basic guidelines, while aware that each of us holds a different training volume.
Let’s see the number of seats to be performed within a week to stimulate the best shoulders:
- minimum of 6-10 training series
- maximum of 15-25 training series
And the recommended rep range is from:
- 3 to 6 to stimulate strength
- 8 to 20 reps to stimulate mass
Combining different rep ranges and exercises is always better than focusing excessively on a single specific rep range. We can, therefore, periodize the training of the shoulders and work, in the individual weekly microcycles, on different intensities and ranges of repetitions, to obtain an optimal stimulus. Combining heavy multiarticulate and light insulation at high repetitions, whether this occurs in the single microcycle or in the different training mesocycles, will guarantee us a complete development from practically every point of view.
Shoulder Training for Powerlifters
A powerlifter mainly seeks strength in the shoulders, especially in the anterior deltoids, as these muscles are of primary importance in the flat bench.
For this reason, the focus of the work of powerlifters in search of strength and mass of the shoulders are:
- Military Press
- Flat bench
- Dip to Parallels
If we want to induce an increase in muscle mass of the shoulders, then add more specific isolation job as side risers, rear risers, Arnold press, etc. it can be a valid solution. This is provided that attention is not taken away from the fundamental exercises and from the military press, which remains the exercise par excellence in the construction of strong and rocky shoulders, useful in powerlifting.
Practical example of shoulder training in the Powerlifter
Let’s try to see how programming could be structured that includes work aimed at increasing the strength and mass of the shoulders for the powerlifter.
Frequency of 2 direct training sessions per week, designed for intermediate level athletes, to be added to the work out on the flat bench (2-3 times a week).
- Military Press 3 × 8 with 1 or 2 reps in reserve
- Side raises 3 × 10 with 1 or 2 reps in reserve
- Military Press 3 × 5 with 2 reps in reserve
- 3 × 10 rear risers with 1 or 2 reps in reserve
As you can see, few exercises, little total volume, precisely because of the stress already induced by the frequent flat bench to the deltoids. Over the weeks, if we are in a training block dedicated to hypertrophy we could especially increase the number of training series, or the repetitions, or both. If, on the other hand, we are in a block dedicated to the specific increase in strength in terms of powerlifting, we could increase the intensity and, when necessary, decrease the total repetitions.
Deltoid Mass Training for BodyBuilders
A bodybuilder needs to increase the muscle mass of the shoulders, and also a certain symmetry and proportion between the anterior, lateral and posterior deltoids, and will, therefore, direct most of his work on medium-high rep range, aware that the Military Press does, however, a primary role in shoulder training. We must always remember that in this discipline it remains fundamental to have broad shoulders and a narrow waist.
The best exercises to stretch your shoulders in bodybuilders are:
- Military Press
- Relaxation with dumbbells
- Flat bench
- Side raises for dumbbells and cables
- Rear risers
- Pull to the chin
- Face pull
- Variants with handlebars, cables, machines
In the bodybuilder, using all these exercises in rotation, over various ranges of repetitions, will ensure optimal shoulder development.
In the old school bodybuilding, the most praised Military Press played a primary role in the training of the deltoids, and should still do so today in the natural athlete. It is rare to see huge, rounded shoulders natural subjects with a cheap military press. However, reserving exercises with higher repetitions to the cables and dumbbells is a great way to increase the total training volume of the deltoids. Like other small muscles, in particular, the lateral and posterior deltoids can be stimulated several times a week. Why limit yourself to only one direct training per week, when such small muscles totally recover in a few hours, more than days?
Practical example of deltoid training for bodybuilding
Let’s try to see how a board for bodybuilders that focuses precisely on the development of deltoids could be structured.
Frequency of 3 workouts with direct focus per week, designed for bodybuilders who have been grinding cast iron for a few years.
- Military Press 3 × 5 with 2 reps in reserve
- Arnold Press 2 × 6 with 2 reps in reserve
- Arnold Press 2 × 12
- 3 × 12 lateral risers to failure
- 3 × 12 rear risers to failure
- Military Press 3 × 8 with 1 rep in reserve
- Face pull 3 × 12 to failure
Over the weeks there must necessarily be progressive overload, with particular emphasis on increasing the total volume of work. An advanced level bodybuilder can also use intensity techniques such as drop-sets, stripping, giant sets, to which small muscles as in particular so the lateral deltoids respond particularly well.
Bodyweight back home workout
The shoulders, unfortunately, are complex muscles to be trained even at home, free body, at least for those who start. The bending vertically is definitely the exercise par excellence, in this case, but far from simple for beginners.
The bends on the traditional arms on the arms can instead at least stimulate the front deltoids until we are able to do those vertically.
For these muscles, at least the exercise of elastic bands, bands, and light dumbbells would be really useful for a direct training of the muscles in question.
Conclusion on Shoulder exercises
At this point, it seems clear that there is no single way to train the shoulders, one exercise, one range of repetitions, but countless exercises, patterns, schedules.
Deltoids are important muscles for powerlifters, for bodybuilders, for sportsmen of all kinds. We can train them, directly and indirectly, several times a week since they are small muscles, which recover very quickly, and which respond particularly well to medium-high rep range and total training volume.