Boulder Shoulders: 4 Advanced Exercises to Build Bigger Delts

Take your shoulder training to the next level with these advanced shoulder exercises! Swap out basic movements for boulder shoulders and breathe new life into your delts.

There is an expression that has been around for as long as training itself: basics work best. Let’s be clear. This isn’t necessarily an argument against that point but change can be a good thing when it comes to training.

Take your shoulders for instance. You can still perform the old-school movements that we all know and love but also add some twists to them to provide a new challenge which would breathe new life into those delts.

We have three classic exercises here for shoulders as well as one for traps. If you work these suggested adjustments into the workout, what you will see is new muscular gains as well as increased strength. Perform these exercises along with the workout below every 5-7 days for eight weeks and see the results for yourself.

Standard Exercise: Seated Barbell Press

The barbell helps you lift more weight because the weight is one object that you’re pushing with both shoulders and arms. That’s a great advantage but you don’t have to worry as much about stabilizing the weight as you would with other objects like dumbbells. You’re also seated which means you can use the seat or bench to help you control the weight and press up.

Replace With: Standing Barbell Press with Plates on Bands

This version of the barbell overhead press will force you to work harder to stabilize the weight in two ways.

First, you’re standing so your legs, core, and shoulders will all be working a little harder to stabilize the weight.

Second, you’ll put your plates on bands and place the bands directly on the bar. So the plate should be hanging on the bands below the bar. Make sure you start with the bar on the rack at about shoulder height. Unrack it, set your feet, tighten your abs, and look straight ahead. This is your starting position.

As you go to press, slightly move your head back so the bar doesn’t hit your chin. Lift until the bar is overhead and your arms are almost locked out. The weights will bounce which means you’ll have to really focus on the speed of the rep. You’ll have to work even harder to lower the weight back down as well. You don’t want to let the weight drop because the whip of the bands could result in injury if you’re not careful.

You won’t be able to use the same weight as you normally would so adjust accordingly. Once you feel you got the hang of it, work to do all the sets and reps with the same weight. Once you achieve that goal, move up a few pounds.

Some guys do this with a bamboo bar or band bell but not all gyms have those. A simple barbell should work for this. If you want to work the rear delts and have healthy shoulders, you can also try doing these behind the head.

Single arm lateral cable raises

Standard Exercise: Lateral Raise

This move is most famous for its ability to target the side head of the shoulder which is what helps you create that round look that everyone likes. Having wider and rounder shoulders can also make your waist appear smaller. The traditional version has you perform the exercise with both arms at the same time which is great but devoting some extra love to each side can go a long way here.

Replace With: Single Arm Lateral Raise with Iso-Hold

Going one side at a time allows you to use a little more weight. Brace yourself against a solid object like a rack or machine with one arm while the other one is lifting. Perform your reps by lifting up and trying to hold the weight at the top. Control the negative on the way down as much as possible.

Once you achieve the desired reps, grab a weight that is at least 50% less than what you were working with. Lift it up to your side and hold it there as long as you can. If you can’t hold it for at least five seconds, go lighter and do it again. Repeat with the other side and you’ve done one set. This extra hold will really blast those side delts.

Standard Exercise: Rear Delt Fly

This is one exercise that used to be a staple but has been the subject of criticism in recent years because some trainers find that they can’t fully engage the rear delts at the top and some lifters use more momentum to lift the weight which doesn’t do much for them. Once you try this replacement, you might just keep it into your rotation permanently.

Replace With: Single Arm Face Pull

The face pull has become the most popular exercise for the rear delts because you can pull the elbows back further which helps you get a greater contraction. You’re also using a cable which helps you keep tension on the area from start to finish.

Most people do this with a rope attachment and pull back on both ends at once. You should try to do this with a shorter rope or a single handle and work one side at a time. This option provides even more isolation and you can achieve a greater mind-muscle contraction. This is vital because you can’t see the rear delts working like you would muscles like your biceps or chest.

Step to the side when you start this movement so that you can pull back in a straight line with the working arm. Pull back as far as you can and keep that elbow high so the focus stays on the rear delt. Slowly lower and repeat. Do the same thing with the other side.

If you’re a home gym person and have access to bands, you can do this exercise that way as well. Just keep in mind that as you lower the end of the band, you’ll lose tension. Cables are the best option here if possible.

Standing cable face pulls

Standard Exercise: Dumbbell Shrug

Doing shrugs with a heavy pair of dumbbells and repping them out not only looks impressive but it feels good too. You have heavy weights in your hand and can move them. Doing dumbbells is a step up from the barbell because each side has to work on its own so that is also to its credit. They are beneficial but there could be another way to train the traps that are even more effective.

Replace With: Cable Shrug

Stand in the middle of a cable station that has the individual handles on the low pulleys. Grab each attachment and return to your standing position while holding the cables. Take one step slightly forward. Doing this will make this movement feel like a behind-the-back shrug.

Perform your shrug and hold the top position for a count of three. Lower the handles back down and feel that stretch for another count of three. That’s one rep. Repeat for the desired reps.

Doing your shrugs this way hits the traps differently because the weight is away from you and being pulled away from you. Your job is not only to pull the weight up but in as well. The result is a greater contraction of the upper traps which is the part that sticks up around your neck and shoulders.

Advanced Shoulder Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Standing Barbell Press with Plates on Bands 4 6-8
Single-Arm Lateral Raise with Iso-Hold 3 8-10 each side
Single Arm Face Pull 3 8-10 each side
Cable Shrug 3 12