A strong and aesthetic physique always comes with large, defined shoulders. Along with you latissimus dorsi, they work to “enlarge” your physique and give you that famous V taper shape.
In this article we will go over the best shoulder exercises for mass that you can do with your limited material, and how to use them to maximum extent to boost your muscle and strength gains.
Some of my exercises will be based on knowledge that has been around for centuries and have helped built the physiques of some of the very first strongmen that began sharing their knowledge on how to develop an aesthetic pleasing, and strong physique. one of these strongmen is the man represented in the picture to the left; Eugen Sandow was a pioneering German bodybuilder, now known as the “father of modern bodybuilding”.
As much as having a pair of well developed shoulders is pleasing, working on the deeper muscles of the shoulder which promote internal/external rotation, stabilization, and of course , the rotator cuffs, should also be of concern.
These very muscles that you can’t see are the one’s responsible for the fantastic range of movement that your shoulders are capable of. If you do not train with the right approach, or are too careless, you will easily damage them and hinder your capacity to train, recover, and progress. You can find more on this further down in the article.
The shoulder is composed of 3 heads. Dues to it’s ball and socket joint it has a very high degree of freedom in terms of range of movement, but if we were to break it down to it’s primary joint actions, we may define three main roles:
- anterior delt = shoulder flexion ( raising arm in front of you )
- lateral deltoid = shoulder abduction ( raising arm laterally )
- rear delt = horizontal shoulder abduction
There are also an additional 4 muscles in the rotator cuff which primarily act as stabilizers and internal/external rotators.
It is primordial to keep your rotator cuff healthy and strong to promote longevity in both your shoulder health and training.
The deltoids being an even split in fats twitch and slow twitch fibers, a mix of high rep low intensity training and low rep high intensity training is ideal to develop strength and size. For example; you could split your shoulder workouts into two different push or shoulder sessions.
Training session A would involve heavy compound work for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 6 reps, followed a a few lighter isolation exercises, and training session B would be the opposite of that with lighter compound movements for something like 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps. You can find the best shoulder exercises for mass to use in these routines below.
The overhead press is one of the most effective shoulder exercises from the arsenal of other exercises out there. It’s a full body compound exercise, that requires you to use your legs and core for balance, whilst your shoulders, triceps and other muscles work in conjunction to press the weight over your head.
To avoid injuring your shoulders, opt for a narrower grip; that way your elbows won’t flair to the sides and put your rotator cuff in a mechanically disadvantageous angle. You want to perform this movement first in your routine, when you are completely fresh, and properly warmed up. If you get strong on the overhead press, you will develop impressive shoulders.
handstand push ups
Handstand push ups are with the barbell overhead press the kings of shoulder pressing. Being able to do a full handstand push ups, whether free standing or against a wall can prove harder in terms of first approach, than the regular over head press. Some people find it intimidating to do pressing movements upside down, and are often afraid of falling and hurting themselves. If you learn the movement trough gradual, harder progressions ( just like you would with a barbell by gradually adding weight ), you will get there safely.
Handstand push ups against a wall already being very effective for shoulder development, the ultimate goal here is to be able to perform them freestanding. Check out the video for the 3 best exercises you can use to obtain your first handstand push ups, and then 5 more reps, too.
pike push ups
If you can’t yet perform handstand push ups, or want an exercise that you can do higher volume with, pike push ups are also an effective mass and strength builder. To do perform the movement correctly and efficiently, focus of these cues:
- Anchored on the tip of your toes
- Focus on forward lean, head further than your hands
- Elevate the shoulders at the top
- Elbow stacked vertically over wrist joint
As you get stronger and this movement becomes easier, further increase the difficulty by placing your feet on a gradually higher , and higher platform. You may eventually also use a weight vest, or dip belt to add difficulty through extra weight.
pseudo planche push ups
Studies have shown that your anterior deltoids do not need further emphasis as they are sufficiently trained through pressing movements such as push ups, bench press, and also but to a lesser degree, the overhead press. If however you do wish to to develop this specific part of your shoulder through extra work, pseudo planche push ups are highly recommended.
To increase difficulty, just work on gradually increasing your forward lean. You aren’t likely to run out of resistance any time soon.
dumbbell side raises
If you have access to dumbbells, giving you medial deltoids extra work through dumbbell side raises will benefit you greatly in developing large shoulders from all angles. They recruit the medium deltoids to a greater degree than the overhead press and can be done towards the end of the work out as an accessory, isolation movement.
Be very diligent with this exercise and learn how to perform it properly to avoid shoulder pain. Once mastered, it will certainly help you in building up that muscular density your are looking for in your shoulders.
Rear delt flies – rings or dumbbells
Bodybuilders have an average of 5 times the front delt development than that of an untrained person, 3 times the side delt, but just 10 to 15% more rear deltoid size. This shows that the rear deltoids are clearly under worked in compound exercises and need to be isolated to some extent in order to see growth and limit muscular imbalances.
See the video below for the best bodyweight exercise you can use to target your rear delts.
You can also do this with dumbbells, depending on your preferences.
Warming up and rotator cuff work
As I mentioned above, taking care of the deeper non visible muscles in your shoulders is just as important if not, more. Always be sure to warm up efficiently before you pressing movements and anything else you will be doing for that shoulders in that training session. Due to the ball and socket nature of the shoulder, it leaves it very vulnerable to shoulder impingement and other problems that can come with training the shoulders with poor form, or too little time for recovery.
Accessory rotator cuff strength work:
Remember; the right training, and diet is only half of the work, proper recovery is extremely important and how you gauge this, is what determines how long you will be training for.
Shoulder exercises for mass – The routine
As mentioned above, you should split your training into a heavy and lighter session for optimal muscular development. You also want to do this because certain exercises such as the overhead press are hard on the CNS and body, and are best to be kept for the start of your week when your body is well recovered. That being said, what would the exercises illustrated above look like when integrated into a complete delt building routine ?
Exercise 1: Overhead press/ Handstand push ups – 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps
Exercise 2: Pike push ups – 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Exercise 3: Dumbbell side raises – 3 sets of 10 reps
Exercise 4: Rear delt flies – 2 sets of 15 reps
Now of course, you do not have to follow this exact exercise routine; feel free to take exercises out, or add some in, and use it to complete your own current routine. Prepare yourself for some soreness though, because these exercises, especially used together in this routine, will blast your shoulders and provide you in time, with some impressive size and strength improvements.
Shoulder Exercises for Mass – Conclusion
We have gone over the anatomy of the shoulders, their function in your body and how they work to move your arms in different planes. We have also been over some of the 6 best exercises you can do for your shoulders, and included them in an applicable workout routine for you, as well as a short but important warm up you should be doing beforehand.
Which exercises here are you already doing? Which exercises do you intend to try out yourself? Comment below and we can get a conversation going!