Shoulders are the unsung heroes of an impressive physique, aesthetically, functionally and in terms of sheer strength. In short, you really can’t go wrong with building better shoulders. Building better shoulders will benefit you in many ways, including:
- Improving your mobility and range of motion
- Enhancing your performance on exercises like the bench press that also engage the shoulder muscles
- Bettering the aesthetics of your physique by adding size to your traps and width to your shoulders (see blog about building the coveted v-taper for more details)
- Giving you the perfect excuse to go sleeveless
Now that we have your attention, we encourage you to read on to equip yourself with the know-how to build boulder shoulders.
Dissecting the shoulder
Like most muscles in the body, there are different parts that come together to make up the shoulder. What’s more, while the go-to exercise for shoulders is usually the military press, it only really targets one part of the shoulders – the anterior deltoids. Naturally, for fully developed, strong and complete shoulders you need to ensure each part of your shoulders is getting its due attention. The three parts in question are:
The front (anterior) deltoid
Often overemphasised, the anterior deltoid gets plenty of attention, particularly because it is activated during a lot of upper chest exercises. It originates from the lateral end of the clavicle and is involved in many movements that revolve around the pec such as the standard and reverse flies.
The middle (medial) deltoid
According to Jim Stoppani, Ph.D., the medial head accounts for most of the deltoid’s mass, giving your shoulders both width and the distinct cannonball shape we all aspire for. The medial or lateral head’s fibres originate at the acromion process of the scapula (shoulder blade).
The medial head is involved in moving the upper arm up to the side away from the body (abduction), moving the upper arm upward to the front and moving the arms away from your chest with your elbows facing down.
The rear (posterior) deltoid
The rear deltoid seldom gets the spotlight it deserves and why not, we hardly see it anyway – out of sight, out of mind. However, this doesn’t make it any less important. Located at the back of the shoulders (specifically the scapula or shoulder blade), it is primarily responsible for moving your upper arms away from your chest as in a reverse fly (transverse extension).
Another group of muscles involved in forming an enviable set of shoulders are the trapezii. They are located on the back, covering most of the upper back and back of the neck. They are responsible for rotating the shoulder blade (scapula) and for those who don’t skip leg day, can be the perfect cushion for the barbell to rest on during your barbell squat session.
Five exercises for boulder shoulders
Dumbbell lateral raise
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your side and palms facing towards your body. While keeping your torso stationary raise the dumbbells maintaining the same slight bend in the elbow throughout the motion and tilting your hands slightly so that your pinky finger is higher than your thumb. Lift the dumbbells until your arms reach a point where they are parallel to the floor, pause for a second and then slowly return to the starting position with the dumbbells at your side.
Reverse cable fly
Once you’ve adjusted the pulleys to the right height (above your head) and weight, take hold of the left one using your right hand and the left one using your right hand. This will effectively make one cable cross over the other. In order to perform one rep, pull back on the pulleys keeping your arms as straight as possible. Pause for a second at the point you can go no further and then return to the starting position to complete the rep.
Incline bench rear delt raise
This exercise is essentially an inverted fly performed on an incline bench. First set up your bench to an incline that allows you to lay chest down on it reasonably comfortably. Do so, holding dumbbells at either side of the bench with your hands facing inwards towards your body. In order to perform a rep, lift your arms to shoulder height, maintaining only a slight bend in the elbow. Pause at the top for a second and then control the weight back down to the starting position to complete a rep.
Seated dumbbell military press
This exercise needs to be performed on a bench that has a back support. Once seated, the starting position of this exercise is arms raised to shoulder height with elbows parallel to the ground, dumbbells in hand and palms facing forward. Your upper and lower arm should form a right angle with your elbow being where the two sides meet. To perform one rep push the dumbbells upwards until they touch then control the weights back down to the starting position.
Stand upright with your feet are shoulder width apart. Hold the barbell in front of you with your arms fully extended and palms facing inwards towards your thighs. Using only your shoulders, raise the weight as far as possible then hold for a second and return to your starting position – that completes one rep.
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