There is a lot of noise on the Internet when it comes to what "the best exercise is for X, Y or Z." If you're moving/using your shoulders in a natural way and choosing a challenging weight than your shoulders will grow. Where people get confused is what I mean by natural.
If you think about it, on a day to day basis we "naturally" do more pressing (with heavy weight) above our heads than we do raising laterally or to the front. So with that in mind, what’s more natural: a neutral grip shoulder press or a front shoulder raise?
I hope you said shoulder press.
I have seen more shoulder injuries from guys or girls who made a habit of doing shoulder raise exercises more than anything else. This could be caused by a number of things, but generally guys want to lift heavy so they grab heavy dumbbells and start flapping their arms thinking they are going to get big. This is where the injuries come in.
The actual shoulder raise is not the issue; the weight and form they are using is. Lifters go too heavy, too fast and end up hurting something. So let's just take them out of our programming altogether and focus on only the movements that are going to give you stronger, more powerful shoulders.
5 Top Shoulder Building Exercises
#1 - Seated Dumbbell Press
Seated Dumbbell Press (neutral grip). What I mean by neutral grip is instead of having my shoulders turned out at a 90 degree (traditional shoulder press), I turn my elbows a bit more to the midline of my body and press from there. This feels way better on my shoulders and gives me more room for error.
Pressing in that 90 degree position with heavy weight can get risky. All it takes is that dumbbell to get off balance and fall back and you over-externally rotate the shoulder... and POP! I have come close myself. Using dumbbells also give you a little more control over the angle and stresses placed upon the shoulder. Barbells are awesome but they are not first on my list when it comes to presses.
#2 - Barbell Press Variations
Barbell Press. My next best mass building shoulder exercise is variations of the barbell shoulder press. Whether you’re sitting or standing, these variations are all pretty dope. When it comes to bar presses when sitting, the bar never moves straight above my body.
Most benches allow you to set the bench one click away from being straight up and down. That’s where I am at 90% of the time. If I can’t get a dominate shoulder press with my bench angle than I'll position the seat straight up and down and place my arms in a neutral grip position. Again, I’m looking for a natural feel to my press with as much weight as possible.
#3 - Barbell Push Press
Barbell Push Press. This is one of my new favorite additions to my press days. Not only are you getting great shoulder work in, but your core is working over time - especially when dealing with heavy weights.
You have to make sure you’re keeping a rigid midsection when you go into the dip portion of the push press. That transition between the dip and the drive is going to be drastically affected by the rigidity of your core.
I always recommend training belt free 85-90% of the time, but I have been strapping on the belt to protect my lower back when attempting new PRs. A belt is optional and your call…lift heavy to get stronger, but also lift in a way to preserve the ability to continue lifting into old age. We all pay later for the hobbies we do now.
#4 - Handstand Push Ups
You can do these two ways. Say forget it and jump right into a full standing handstand push up (which for a beginner is the dumbest thing in the world to do), or you can work your way into a full standing handstand push up. You can start from a box with your legs or knees on the box and your hands on the ground and work on getting your legs higher and higher until you can work yourself onto a wall. If you have them available, use Jump Stretch Bands to progress into a full on body weight handstand push up.
#5 - Shoulder Conditioning
Bonus: Shoulder Conditioning. Sometimes it's not about the size of the shoulders but rather their performance on an endurance level. If this is of interest than you need to start crawling - bear crawls being the most popular option.
Crawls build overall structure, stability and strength. Anything that puts a consistent and constant load on the shoulders (handstands, crawls or walks) is going to build endurance as well as strength in the overall shoulder.
Be sure to rock these out as often as you can. They are a great finisher move on a press day!