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6 Most Effective Exercises For Building Massive Shoulders

Nope. This isn’t going to be another one of those run-of-the-mill “boulder shoulder” articles repeating the already nauseatingly understood exercises it takes to build big, wide shoulders. You know the ones, they go something like this: A standard press, a side lateral raise and then something for rear delts.

This also isn’t a list of some crazy-looking bosu ball balancing movements better suited for ballerinas with little to show for your efforts. I am about to list the undisputed 6 best shoulder builders.

Free Weights First

First of all, make sure to replace most of your machine-based overhead presses with free-weight overhead presses performed with dumbbells or a barbell. This will allow you to engage more muscles and strengthen your stabilizing muscles which although small or hidden, are extremely important for an injury-free and highly effective performance and ultimately for building a strong and well-balanced body.

Free weights enable your body to move in all three planes of movement, which is how your body normally moves in daily life, and this will help you increase your range of motion, target your muscles from all angles possible and build real, functional strength. Also, since you have to work to stabilize the weight while lifting it, instead of having a machine do that for you, your overall stability will dramatically increase. And stability is perhaps nowhere as important as it is for the shoulder area, which is notorious for its vulnerability.

On the other hand, machines allow you to focus more on the effort and less on the mechanics of the movement, and this can be useful for the end of your workout, when accumulated fatigue makes balancing weights over your head very difficult.

So it would be best to do the harder, free-weight variant of the exercise early in the workout, before fatigue sets in, and save the machine version for later, when you can use it to cause maximal hypertrophy and drain your muscles of any remaining strength by focusing on solely pushing the weight. Machines will also allow you to lift heavier weights and isolate specific muscle groups better, so it’s good to have a fair share of machine-based movements in your routine as well, as long as you make sure that free-weight exercises are at the center of your workouts.

1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This is a basic shoulder mass-builder that allows you to target any existing muscle imbalances between your left and right side of the body when pressing. It’s very likely that your dominant side is stronger and compensates for the weaker one during barbell movements. When using a barbell this is be hardly noticeable, but with dumbbells you’ll be able to tell the difference right away and address it properly. If you can, perform the exercise in front of a mirror so that you can keep your form in check.

Press the weight up in an explosive manner and push your head forward at the top of every rep to make sure that you’re moving the load through your shoulders and not your chest muscles. Return the weight to the starting position with a slow and controlled movement.

Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

 2. Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

Sure, the side lateral raise doesn’t hold as big a punch as the overhead press, but the benefits they provide are too good to not include in your arsenal. What other exercise isolated the side deltoid head so well? Besides, the medial head is what gives you that wide look and can make your waist line instantly look smaller as well. Side laterals allow you to push those fibers a little further and create that all-encompassing illusion of that sought-after V-taper.

Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

3. Dumbbell Bear Lateral Raise

For every action there is usually a reaction. Building a quality, balanced physique is no different. Performing the big, compound lifts such as presses and upright rows are great for adding on mass but you will eventually need a few other tools to balance things out and provide proportion and better function. Rear delt training is essential when it comes to establishing true shoulder balance not only for looks but for proper shoulder health as well.

Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

4. Arnold press

The Arnold press is a twisting variation of the standard shoulder press that targets the front and side delts as well as the rotator cuff muscle group, named after the bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In addition, many other muscles are involved in this exercise as secondary movers, which is why it works great for strengthening and stabilizing the entire shoulder complex. For example, as you move the dumbbells higher overhead and begin to rotate the forearms, the upper arms shift out to the sides, engaging shoulder abduction which incorporates the lateral delts, while the triceps assist elbow extension. The stabilization of the scapula is achieved by activating the lower and middle portion of the traps to support the movement.

To perform the Arnold press, hold the dumbbells at chest height with your palms facing towards you and your elbows bent. Keep your arms close to your torso. As you move the weights up into the standard shoulder press position (weights at shoulder level), rotate the palms of your hands until they are facing forward and drive the weight up without pausing until your arms are fully extended above you. Hold the peak contraction for a second, then slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, rotating the hands so that your palms are once again facing towards your body.

Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

5. Face Pull

It sounds like an item on the to-do list of an aging Hollywood starlet, but the face pull in this case is actually for a different type of sculpting — creating pronounced, striated rear delts. Uniquely, it’s a multi-joint rear-delt exercise, setting it apart from other rear-delt-specific moves.

Main Areas Targeted: rear deltoids, middle trapezius Strengths: The benefit of the face pull (and what makes it superior to traditional bent-over dumbbell and cable raises) is the fact that it calls the middle traps into play and incorporates some leverage, allowing you to handle more weight overall. This additional muscle overload leads directly to growth.

How-To: Put a rope attachment on a pulldown station, and make sure you select a heavy enough weight to counterbalance your weight. Stand in front of the pulley and grasp each end of the rope with an overhand grip so your palms are facing each other, then lift your elbows up to shoulder level and to the sides. Now place one foot on the kneepad, which in this case helps anchor you better than keeping both feet on the floor. To start, lean back so your body forms a 45-degree angle to the floor and, keeping your elbows elevated, pull the rope back toward your face until your hands are alongside your ears. Squeeze, then reverse to the start, not letting the weight stack touch down between reps.

Perform 4 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.

6. Upright Barbell Row

The upright row is a very effective way to target your side delts and traps as prime movers and your front delts, rhombs and teres minor as secondary muscles. It’s a compound exercise that has to be performed with proper form in order to avoid injury – many exercise experts have claimed that more than 80% of gym-goers perform it incorrectly, which is why this exercise has the reputation of a shoulder killer.

One 2011 study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that lifting the barbell too high on upright rows causes the shoulder blade to rub against the rotator cuff and create irritation and diminished range of motion, also known as shoulder impingement. However, this means that the exercise itself doesn’t destroy shoulders, but a lack of focus on maintaining proper form certainly does, and the same can be said for a long list of great mass builders. To prevent injury, all you have to do is keep the weight close to your trunk and lift it only to the collar bones or top of the shoulders.

To perform it, take a barbell or an EZ-bar and grip it with an overhand grip slightly narrower than shoulder width. Keep your back straight and maintain a slight bend in the elbows as the bar rests on the top of your thighs. Engage the sides of your shoulders to lift the bar, raising your elbows up and to the side. Keep the bar close to your body all throughout the movement and make sure that your elbows are always higher than your forearms. Continue to lift the weight until it’s slightly below your chin, then lower it down in a controlled movement.

Perform 5 sets of 8-12 reps with 90 seconds of rest in between.