Shoulders define a physique more than you know. Nicely capped deltoids give the entire upper body instant width whether you're poolside or in a T-shirt. Coupled with a tight waist, well-built shoulders are an integral piece to the V-taper. Sure, it's great to be strong in the shoulder press, but what good is all that strength when you can't look the part. You want to look strong too, right?
But how does your current shoulder routine stack up concerning your results? Has progress stalled? Are you tired of the same old exercises? Let me go out on a limb and guess what it consists of: Dumbbell or barbell shoulder press, dumbbell side laterals, and some sort of posterior (rear) deltoid exercise.
The short list below will hopefully shine some much-needed light on your monotonous shoulder routine. Yes, some of these may seem a little odd. With a little experimentation and an open mind, you may actually inject some new growth in your shoulders and get a few steps closer to achieving a wide look.
1. Barbell Side Lateral Raise
Dumbbell side laterals are a mainstay for anyone wanting to build a wider upper body. This particular exercise targets the medial or middle deltoid head giving you a wider, more V-tapered appearance. But are you burnt out on dumbbell laterals and need to add something to the mix? Try barbell side laterals on for size. Performed one side at a time, the barbell version will add some creativity to your boring routine.
Why it works: By using a barbell instead of the traditional dumbbell, balance becomes a major factor. Why is this important? By adding an imbalanced load, you make the targeted muscle work over time.
Additionally, the surrounding deltoid heads (anterior and posterior) have to step in and get to work as well. Your best bet is to start by using a light prefabricated barbell (the ones you usually use for arm curls). Grip it toward the middle of the bar and go slow, control the weight and avoid swinging or heaving the barbell up. Go for 4 to 5 sets per side of 10-15 strict reps. Your balance and control will improve over time.
2. Around the World
Normally, shoulder work is done in one plane of motion at a time. Whether it’s side laterals, presses, or rear delt work, your joints move from point A to point B. This is limiting in more ways than one. First, you limit the range and ability for your shoulders to recruit more muscle fiber. Second, you limit the time under tension for the muscle which is crucial for growing new muscle. Around the worlds will take care of both.
Starting with a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, slowly raise the weights to your sides as if you are performing a side lateral raise. Without stopping the motion, raise the weight in a large arc overhead. Rotate your arms so your palms end up facing forward. Pause for a brief second and then slowly return the weights to your sides by reversing the motion.
Why it works: Keeping your deltoids under constant tension with a slow and controlled movement will tax their endurance and recruit new fibers for growth.
3. Face Pull with External Rotation
Cable face pulls are great as an alternate exercise for rear delts, namely bent-over lateral raises. Perfect for strengthening part of the posterior chain such as your traps, posterior delts, and upper back (AKA your yoke), the face pull is the ultimate equalizer.
It strengthens all those weak points to counteract bench pressing and shoulder pressing. Let’s go a step further and really fry those deltoids. Adding in external rotation (raising your arms up at the end of the movement) will pulverize those shoulders even more.
Why it works: Pulling to your face and then bringing the rope further up over your head will contract more muscle fibers, namely the rear and middle deltoid heads. This added motion will do wonders for more shoulder width. A word of caution: Be sure to go light at first and stay in a high rep range such as 15 -20. Once you build more strength and stability in your shoulder joints, you can begin to add more weight.
4. Straight Arm High Lateral
Single-arm side laterals are effective when it comes to isolating one side at a time (AKA unilateral exercises). They allow you to use somewhat heavier weight and increase focus. High laterals put a nice little burn on those stubborn middle deltoids. Starting from your side, raise the dumbbell until it has cleared the height of your head. Your arm should angle around 45 degrees in reference to your head.
Why it works: Lifting the dumbbell hits the deltoids in two main ways. One, it utilizes a fuller range of motion. Since the shoulder joint doesn’t stop when the arm achieves parallel, why should you? Second, since you’ve increased the range of motion to an extreme extent, you will experience more time under tension resulting in more fatigue and more muscle fibers recruited.
5. Ketllebell Lateral/Press
This one is a combination exercise requiring you to use a pair of kettlebells. For this delt destroyer, perform kettlebell side laterals as you would with a pair of dumbbells. Once you are at the top of the movement (shoulder height), bring in the weight close to your shoulders in a forward rack position. Now you will be in a pressing posture. Press the kettlebells up overhead as you would when performing a dumbbell shoulder press. Reverse clean the weight back down to your sides before the next rep.
Why it works: Again, this is an issue of time under tension. It also takes advantage of a temporary pre-exhaust effect. The side lateral motion focuses on the middle deltoid head while the press stimulates all deltoid heads. This one may take some time to master so start light. Why kettlebells? Kettlebells provide an unstable distribution of weight forcing you to work overtime to control. The more control required, the more muscle is stimulated.