The Six Best Shoulder Exercises


There are about a half dozen of what may be called the best shoulder exercises.  Powerlifters, Olympic weight lifters, and bodybuilders work on their shoulders for somewhat different reasons.  Bodybuilders want to get that wide-at-the-shoulder look tapered down lats to a slim waist V shape.  The Powerlifters and Olympic weight lifters work on shoulder exercises to toughen up that part of their body so as to avoid shoulder injuries when training for and performing their major lifts.

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Shoulder Exercises Involve Complex Anatomy

The shoulders are a frequently injured area along with the lower back and knees.  There is no joint of the body that is so complex and can move in so many different directions.  It might be a good idea before exercising your shoulders if you understand a little bit about how the shoulder joint anatomy works.

Most who have weight trained for awhile are familiar with there being three heads (muscles) to the deltoids being the anterior, medial and posterior but these muscle groups belong to only the obvious exterior.  There are three bones that make up the shoulder:  The upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the collar bone (clavicle).   The humerus fits into the scapula to form what is called the glenohumeral joint.  A rotator cuff covers this joint to keep everything tight and in place preventing dislocation.  The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles with their associated tendons attaching to respective bones.  There are actually 2 or 3 dozen anatomical “micro structures” underneath what we know as the shoulder that enable it to adduct, abduct and rotate externally as well as axially.

Be Careful Doing Shoulder Exercises

If you start an exercise with a weight that is too heavy, you will surely run the risk of rotator cuff injures.  It is not good to use momentum in any shoulder exercise because the shoulders muscles are so small in comparison to other muscle groups and are easily injured.  If you are using momentum in a shoulder exercise (with the possible exception of push presses), it means the weight you are using is too heavy.  The best thing to do when starting a new shoulder exercise is to start off with a weight that you can do about 12 to 15 reps to failure.  Here are 6 great exercises for shoulders to develop the front, side and rear delts:

Overhead Press (military press)

This is one of the Big Five Lifts. It works mostly the anterior (front) deltoids but also hits the sides a little.  After either cleaning the barbell or un-racking it, stand feet shoulder-width apart.  Find the correct hand placement.  When your hands are closer together, you’ll get more of a triceps workout.  Hands farther apart will work more the trapezius muscles.  Any hand placement will work the shoulders.  A behind the neck version of the overhead press works more the side deltoids but may also cause impingement which is when the bursa (cushioning sac) in the shoulder is squeezed by too much pressure when doing overhead types of exercises.

Demonstration of the Overhead Press:

Seated Dumbbell Presses

These work the same parts of the shoulder as the Overhead Press.  Find a comfortable seating position.  Keep your feet flat on the floor.  You can either do this shoulder exercise with palms facing each other or away from you.  This one is a bit harder to do than the standing Overhead press so lighter weights are used.  Dumbbell Press can also be done standing to get better leverage.

Demonstration of Seated Dumbbell Press:

Barbell Upright Rows

This shoulder exercise almost did not make the list because of the possibility of shoulder impingement when performing it.  The exercise works the front deltoids.  With feet about shoulder-width apart and keeping a neutral back pick a barbell off the floor or a rack.  Your hand spacing should be less than shoulder width apart.  Pull the barbell upwards in the direction of your chin.  If you have any pain doing this it would be best to stop and trying doing the high pull exercise instead.

Demonstration of Barbell Upright Rows:

High Pulls

This one is great for the side and rear deltoids.  This is also an upward rowing type of shoulder exercise except that your hands are wider than shoulder width.  Start as you would do an upright barbell row with arms hanging down in front of you.  Bend forwards a bit with your knees and hips keeping your back arched.  The bar will travel some inches downwards towards your knees.  Then straighten up and pull upwards.  This shoulder exercise is fairly safe to do.  Many who have shoulder problems do only this one.

Demonstration of High Pull:

Standing Laterals with Dumbbells (side raises)

These work the front and side deltoids.  Stand up straight holding light dumbbells at you sides with arms hanging down.  Raise weights out to the sides with palms facing down.  It may take a little body English to get the weights going.  It is important to do laterals under control without using momentum.

Demonstration of Standing Laterals:

Bent (over) Laterals

One of the best shoulder exercises to develop both the rear deltoids and the upper back muscles between your shoulder blades (rhomboids).  These are basically keeping bent over and doing lateral raises with palms down.  Again, it might take a little body English to get the dumbbells moving but keep momentum to a minimum.  Bent laterals can’t usually be done with as much weight as other shoulder exercises.

Demonstration of Bent Laterals:

 

Finally

And there you are—six of the best exercises to work your delts.  As for getting bowling ball looking shoulders, the best shoulder exercises for mass you can do would be the ones you could lift the most weight with and that would probably be Overhead Press and High Pulls.  Again, remember when doing any shoulder exercises to start out light and then add weight gradually.

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