The shoulders have a dramatic impact on the silhouette of the body. Strong, broad shoulders are universally respected as a symbol of power and authority. If your chest and arms are gigantic and your shoulders are under developed and narrow, you are still going to look weak. A lot of women’s clothes have shoulder pads built into them, and some men’s clothes too, so achieving broad, sleek shoulders can be beneficial to both sexes.
Strong shoulders will help improve the form of other exercises involving the arms, such as bench presses and deadlifts. If you are a professional fighter, well-conditioned shoulder muscles will help you keep your stance together longer and avoid injury. A strong shoulder girdle, including the rotator cuff, will vastly improve the chances of avoiding weightlifting and other sports injuries.
The Anatomy of the Shoulder
It is vital to understand the interactions of the different muscle groups in the shoulder. The shoulder is built as a ball-and-socket joint which provides incredible range of motion, but very poor stability. The rotator cuff, possibly the most frequently injured portion of the shoulder, is made up of many smaller muscles that can easily become injured if over used, or used improperly. The deltoid of the shoulder is the muscle group that covers the exterior of the joint, and is divided into three separate heads:
- Anterior Deltoid:The front head of the shoulder muscle flexes and rotates the arm inward. The anterior delts are important in bench pressing, other chest training, and are usually also stimulated from triceps and biceps exercises. It can be very easy for a traditional bodybuilder to over develop this muscle, leading to a muscular imbalance that can cause injury and posture difficulties.
- Medial Deltoid: Is the side head of the shoulder, and acts to abduct the arm, which means it brings the arms out and away from the midline of the body. This muscle activates most during isolated shoulder abduction movements, such as dumbbell side raises. Development of this muscle brings width to the upper torso.
- Posterior Deltoid: Extending and rotating the arm outward is the function of the back deltoid. Back exercises such as rows, chin ups, and pull ups work the rear delts more than most other exercises. Isolating the posterior deltoid can be done with reverse flyes.
The Top 5 Exercises for Increasing Shoulder Muscles – The Breakdown
Almost every arm exercise works the shoulder muscles to some degree. When you are trying to isolate the shoulders, remember that other exercises may have already put some strain on them, so it is important to balance your workout to include the portions of your shoulders that might not already be worked out. Plan all training carefully, to engage muscle groups evenly.
Top Shoulder Exercise #1 – Hang Clean and Press
Possibly the best shoulder exercise ever invented. The hang clean is often compared to the high pull, or upright row, and if you can flow through with the momentum, you can press much more weight than you can from a dead stop. To set up, stand with your feet just outside of shoulder width apart and put both hands on your bar at just about the same place as your feet are on the ground. While holding your back flat and your chin up, deadlift the weight into the standing position with the weight against your thighs for the starting position.
From the starting position, you should lower the weight down to just above your knees, bending at both the knees and the waist. To perform the hang clean, you must extend your ankles, flex your knees and traps, and perform a ¾ upright row to bring the bar up in a straight line in front of your body until it reaches your shoulders. From here, rotate your elbows and arms under the weight, catching it in front of your shoulders with upward facing palms. Bending slightly at the knees can assist with the catch. Then lower the bar back down to your shoulders and then down the thighs to complete the rep.
Top Shoulder Exercise #2 – Military Press
Often referred to as a standing overhead press, this is a monstrous training exercise that can add great size and definition to your shoulders. Many trainers consider it to be one of the mandatory exercises for all serious weightlifters, in league with the squat and bench press.
Ideally you would set up your bar on a rack of some kind, but if you are able to clean the weight from the floor, more power to you. Starting with the weight resting on your upper chest press the bar upwards, directly in front of your face to the point just before your elbows lock. While maintaining control, bring the weight back down to the chest. Do not use your legs at all during this exercise, or it will be a push press, which is still effective for building overall strength, but is a different exercise and utilizes leg drive as well.
Top Shoulder Exercise #3 – Dumbbell Shoulder Press
This exercise can make your shoulder muscles practically explode under the skin, and should be a part of any serious lifter’s regimen. There are many variations on the principle movement, standing or seated, for instance, but the main focus of the workout is the same, more strength and bigger shoulder muscles. It is very important to remember not to over exert yourself or try to lift more than you can safely.
A typical dumbbell shoulder press begins with a dumbbell in each hand, cleaned to rest on the shoulder. Starting with the left side first, lift the dumbbell to full extension and return the weight back down under control, as the left weight is coming down, the right weight should be going up in an alternating motion.
Top Shoulder Exercise #4 – Upright Barbell Rows
The upright barbell row can be very difficult for a person with under-developed shoulder muscles, especially the rotator cuffs, but it can have a great impact on the medial head of the deltoid. Careful application of training and weight can quickly increase the strength of these muscles.
A barbell row begins by gripping the bar roughly inch inside of shoulder width. Bring the weight up just in front of the body, only bending at the elbows. As the motion reaches completion, your elbows should both be pointing away from the body, and the bar should be just below your chin. Return the weight to finish the rep.
Top Shoulder Exercise #5 – Overhead Squat
This exercise can be awkward at first, but with some practice it can become second nature. Despite the name, this squat does very little for the legs. The weight used is often far less than what would be chosen for standard squat exercises. The main goal is to increase stability in the shoulder muscles and the surrounding tissues, creating better control and definition.
To accomplish this, begin by snatching your barbell into an overhead position. How you get it there is a matter of personal preference, but once there it is important to maintain the snatch position with your shoulder blades pinching together and the weight directly above your head and ankles. While holding the bar steady, do a squat. The bar may end up behind your head as you reach the bottom of the squat, but as long as you hold position utilizing outward force of the hands against the bar, you should be in good shape to stand back up and finish the rep.
What you have to watch out for when specifically targeting the shoulders, is that the area isn’t receiving too much attention. It is all too easy to overdevelop the front deltoid in the shoulder, which can create posture problems. A good guideline is to hit your back muscles as hard as you hit the arms and chest combined; this method can help prevent disproportionate muscle growth, while also working to minimize the chance of injury.