In this post, I will be talking about the best shoulder exercises and the best shoulder workouts. I have noticed a problem that a lot of people are having. They’re just not feeling the shoulder muscles when doing the exercises, you might even be able to relate to this.
Most Exercises for Shoulders Don’t Actually Workout the Shoulders Well….
The key is having the right form. The lateral shoulder raise for example, is the best exercise to build shoulder ‘width’ (there is a very interesting study on this, I talk about it in the section on ‘The Best Shoulder Exercises”).
You will see a lot of guys doing lateral raises at the gym, the only problem is that most of them are doing it sub-optimally. In this post, I will talk about the best exercises for each part of the shoulder and then describe the key points of ‘form’ when you’re performing them.
There are actually 3 parts that make up ‘shoulder muscles’. Once you understand this, you will know what you should be feeling while working out. If you’re not feeling it in the right area, it means that your form is off and that it should be fixed.
You need be aware of the purpose of each exercise and which part of the shoulder it’s targeting. For optimal growth, you will need to workout all 3 areas of the shoulders. But first, let’s take a look at the anatomy of your shoulder muscles.
3 Parts That Make Up The Shoulder
Here is how your shoulder is made up:
As you can see, the ‘shoulder muscle’ is made up of:
- Front Deltoids
- Middle/Outer Deltoids
- Rear Deltoids.
Best Shoulder Exercise For Shoulder Width
In this interesting book, it describes a series of experiments where the subjects (10 males in their 20′s that are resistance trained with 13% body fat) were measured by EMG while performing various exercises.
With the EMG, they were able to measure which parts of the shoulder muscles had the most activity during the various exercises. For a more in-depth analysis, check out this post on SuppVersity.
Through this method, they discovered that the Lateral Raise caused the middle/outer deltoids to do the most work. This is why it is the best isolation exercise to build shoulder ‘width’. Video demonstrations are included below.
To my surprise, the second best isolation exercise for the Middle/Outer Deltoid is the Reverse Fly, which is also the best isolation exercises for the rear deltoids.
The best exercises for the anterior deltoids is the military press.
Shoulder Workout Strategy: Short Term Vs Long Term
If you want your shoulders to ‘pop’ out and you only have a short time frame, focus on the lateral raise.
However, if you want to keep developing them over the long term, compound exercises are the best way to achieve this. Compound exercises are the best way to increase your strength, which is the foundation of better gains over the long term.
I recommend that you structure your shoulder workouts like this:
- Military Press 3×5
- Lateral Raise 4×8
- Reverse Fly 4×12
It hits all parts of the deltoid and it also starts with a compound movement for shoulder strength gains. Compound movements should be done relatively heavy and low volume. Isolation movements like the Lateral Raise should be done relatively light with higher volume.
Below are video demonstrations of how to do each. Remember that having great form is key, it allows your muscles to work and grow optimally. So pay close attention to the details.
- Inside of your hand is slightly more than shoulder width apart.
- Forearms are perpendicular to the ground. Stand next to a mirror with a light weight so you can see yourself from the side.
- The bar needs to travel up in a straight line. If the bar path isn’t straight, you’re doing it wrong. Use a light weight and watch yourself in the mirror for a few reps.
- Don’t let the elbows flare out during the lift.
- Start with the dumbbells touching for the greatest range of movement.
- Keep the elbows slightly bent.
- When you’re raising the dumbbells, imagine you’re holding 2 bottles and you’re pouring out water. The hands turn inwards as you raise. This is the difference that makes the difference. It is the only way to get maximum tension on the whole range of movement.
- Don’t swing the weight, control the movement on the way up and down.
- You can’t see it well in the video, but keep your elbows slightly bent. Less bent than the lateral raise.
- This is a movement where you can’t use too much weight. This is why I recommended 4 sets of 12 reps. Keep the weight manageable and the form strict.
- With lighter weights, you can focus more on squeezing the muscle that is working.
No Behind the Neck Press?
I don’t recommend the behind the neck press because it puts you at a higher risk of injury than the regular press. Not to mention that it is inferior to the regular press for anterior deltoids and also inferior to the lateral raise for outer deltoids.
When it comes to strength gains, the regular press is also better for building strength than the behind the neck press.
The Visual Importance of Each Part
The front deltoids and middle/outer deltoids are the most visually important.
Having well developed front deltoids increase the definition between the chest/biceps and shoulders. The ‘crease’ between these muscles become deeper and it makes your shoulders, chest AND biceps stand out more.
The middle/outer deltoids make up the shoulder ‘width‘, which can help create a more optimal shoulder to waist ratio. The ideal shoulder to waist ratio is 1.61. Having the right ratio will make you appear to be taller and bigger.
If you want to learn more about creating the right physique ratios and the right definition in the right places, check out my post Best Workout Routine To Get Ripped Fast. I break down various ‘Hollywood Physiques’ and talk about the ratios and developments that they aim for.