Lifting a weight that’s too heavy for you is a mistake regardless of the part of the body you’re working, but it can be truly disastrous when performing shoulder exercises. The shoulders are delicate and complicated joints that are not especially easy to target, and if you do put them under too much pressure before they’re ready you can end up with injuries that put you out of action for months.
It is also, however, absolutely essential to schedule some shoulder-specific exercises into your workouts, because without strong Noddy Holders, you’re going to come up short when attempting all sorts of other lifts, especially when training your chest and back.
The shoulder is made up of three heads – the anterior (front delt), medial (side delt) and posterior (rear delt) – and you need to work all three of them, along with the trapezius muscle in the upper back, for a truly satisfying shoulder session.
If that sounds like a lot of planning, we have some good news – we have a workout that works all those muscles right here!
The workout below is broken down into a pair of tri-sets, making six exercises in total, all of which do a sterling job of working all three heads of the shoulder and the trapezius muscle. To get the most out of it make sure you stick to the sets, reps, tempo and rest detailed, and don’t go too heavy with the weight to start with. If you start to find any of the rep counts too easy, add a little weight. Do this workout twice a week for a month and watch your shoulders turn into boulders.
You’ll need a barbell, dumbbells and a weights bench for these workouts. If you can’t get to a gym and don’t have the weights at home then we also have shoulder workouts that can be done without equipment, or using cheap bits of home kit like resistance bands. Jump to more shoulder workouts.
How To Get The Most Out Of This Shoulder Workout
Move through a full range
Moving your muscles through their full range of motion will engage far more muscle fibres than doing partial reps or cheat reps (where momentum moves the weight). The more fibres you fatigue, the faster your muscles grow.
Stick to a strict tempo
Tempo – the speed of each rep – is indicated by a four-digit code. The first number is the time in seconds you take to lower the weight; the second is the pause at the bottom; the third is the time you take to lift it; the fourth is the pause at the top.
Keep your rest periods brief
In each tri-set you rest for 10sec after the first and second moves, and 90sec after the third move. Stick to these rest periods to subject your muscles to accumulated fatigue, which will damage more tissue to elicit more growth.
How To Avoid Injury
The strain of a tough workout can increase the injury risk in every part of the body, but the shoulder joint is one area where you need to be especially careful. That means you need to prepare for a shoulder workout meticulously to reduce your risk of picking up a problem that could keep you out of the gym for weeks or months.
That prep starts with mobilising the shoulder joints. Before you touch a weight, spend five to ten minutes gradually mobilising the joints to activate the rotator cuff muscles and allow you to increase your range of motion during the workout.
This mobilisation is part of your warm-up, but not all of it. Before you start your workout proper you should do some high-rep sets of the exercise you are about to do using very light weights, or even no weights at all. This will get the shoulder used to the movements it is about to do with weights so you’re not starting your first set cold.
Then, once you’re into your workout, it’s vital not to push it. If you start struggling with a weight, end your set or reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting. You might be accustomed to pushing yourself to the max to get through the final few reps of a set, but when training your shoulders it’s just not worth it. The benefits of forcing out those final reps are far outweighed by the risk of injury.
Two Moves To Mobilise Your Shoulders
This warm-up drill is a particular favourite of Chinese Olympic weightlifter Lu Xiaojun, who places huge demands on his shoulder joints by performing elite-level clean and jerks. Using a resistance band, broom handle or similar, adopt a wide grip above your head. Lower the band or stick behind your body, keeping your palms facing outwards, until your hands are in line with the hips. This puts your shoulders in external rotation, which you should find extremely useful if you work at a desk or perform a lot of pressing exercises.
Cable Rotator Cuff Extensions
Set a cable pulley to chest height. Standing side-on, pull the cable outwards with your outside arm, keeping your elbow tucked in. This effectively warms up your rotator cuff muscles, which can take a battering from excessive pressing movements.
Shoulder Workout Routine
1A Overhead press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2010 Rest 10sec
Stand tall with a barbell across the front of your shoulders. Brace your core, then press the bar directly overhead. Lower it slowly back to the start.
1B Push press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 20X0 Rest 10sec
Using the same weight as in move 1A, bend your knees to create power to press the bar overhead. Then lower it slowly under complete control.
1C Barbell shrug
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 1111 Rest 90sec
Lower the bar to thigh level then, keeping your arms straight, shrug the bar up so that your shoulders reach your ears. Hold this top position for a second, then lower it back to the start.
2A Seated Arnold press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2111 Rest 10sec
Sit holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing you. Press them up overhead, rotating your wrists as you go, so you end with straight arms and palms facing away.
2B Seated lateral raise
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2111 Rest 10sec
Switch to lighter dumbbells then, leaning forward slightly, raise them to shoulder height, leading with your elbows. Pause at the top, then lower back under control.
2C Bent-over reverse flye
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2111 Rest 90sec
Stand up and, using the same weights as 2B, bend forwards from your hips. Lead with your elbows to raise the weights to shoulder height. Pause, then lower back under control.
More Shoulder Workouts
Supersets shoulder workout
Perform this 45-minute workout if you’re chasing the broad, strong shoulders of a swimmer. You’ll need to hit the gym to do it because it requires a barbell, dumbbells and a cable machine. The workout consists of two straight sets and then two supersets that work the shoulders from all angles. See the workout
Gym rings shoulder workout
Hit the rings for this bodyweight workout that will help you build stronger, more injury-resilient shoulders. Using rings also lessens the strain on your wrists in common moves like dips and pull-ups. See the workout
Home shoulder workout
You don’t need huge weights to build big shoulders. In fact, given that it’s an easy joint to overwork and injure, most of us could perhaps stand to use lighter weights in our shoulder workouts. You can do this effective session at home using just light dumbbells and it’ll help you fill out your T-shirts in no time. See the workout
Resistance band arms and shoulder workout
Grab a set of resistance bands and get ready to feel the burn in your upper arms and shoulders. This workout uses the 21s approach, in which you do 21 reps of each exercise – seven reps of the bottom half of the move, seven of the top half, and then seven of the full range. See the workout
30-Day Press-Up Challenge
If you’re after something a little different to challenge your shoulders, then try our press-up challenge. You’ll be building up to completing 100 press-ups in one go, which will result in incredibly strong shoulders, as well as terrific triceps and popping pecs. It’s a good option for people without access to weights who just want to spend a few minutes working out each day, rather than committing to several long workouts each week. See the workout
Dumbbell Shoulder Workout
This three-move workout is designed to work your shoulders from multiple angles, and includes the exercises that helped Arnold Schwarzenegger put the finishing touches to his magnificent deltoids during his bodybuilding days. If it’s good enough for Arnie, it’s good enough for you. See the workout