No physique is complete without a solid set of boulder-shoulders. However, most guys treat it like every other muscle in their body which is completely the wrong way to approach it.
You see, your shoulder is a very special muscle and therefore needs to be trained differently.
Due to it’s location it’s pretty much used in every upper-body movement which means that it gets a lot of mileage compared with other muscle groups.
When it comes to training your shoulder muscles you need to not only focus on building muscle but also keeping the joints, ligaments and tissue around the shoulder healthy.
That way you can continue to make gains consistently. A lot of guys make great shoulder gains at the expense of the health of the shoulder muscles and rotator cuff – unsurprisingly they end up with an injury that keeps them out of the gym for a long stretch of time and they lose those gains.
Simply put, you won’t be able to build a nice set of cannonball-shoulders if you are constantly out of the gym healing from an injury.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of tips to make sure your shoulders get huge and stay healthy.
Try Press Variations that Take the Pressure off your Shoulders
If you are experiencing shoulder pain – which by the way is quite common among lifters – your overhead press might be contributing to it.
It’s mainly due to the position of your shoulder muscle relative to the surrounding joints which causes inflammation over a long period of time.
Even if you aren’t experiencing shoulder pain you might want to consider removing shoulder press and putting in something that puts less pressure on those joints.
One great exercise is the landmine press.
Because this exercise is performed on an angle it allows your shoulder to move in a much more natural arc which over time won’t have the same wear and tear as a traditional shoulder press.
Most gyms will have the equipment to perform this one and you won’t have to wait around the busy dumbbell rack.
If you are currently experiencing shoulder pain from any exercise you need to stop doing it.
Even if you are making great gains from that exercise over time it will cause the health of the shoulder to deteriorate and eventually lead to an injury.
As a result you can say goodbye to any gains you made thanks to that exercise.
Stop Fully-Extending your Elbows
One of the most common rookie mistakes made in the gym is fully extending the elbows when doing middle and rear-delt exercises like lateral raises.
When you lock your elbows you bring the tricep muscles into the exercise.
While we’re all for multi-joint movements training lat raises isn’t the time to do that – it’s a classic isolation exercise and simply is not effective when other muscles are helping out.
Similarly, if you are training with cables and doing lateral raises avoid the tendency to fully extend the elbow at the end of the exercise.
This additional movement shifts the emphasis to the bicep and – you guessed it – off the shoulder muscles.
It’s easy to forget about your elbows when you are trying to lift a heavy weight and hit those shoulder muscles so start with a lighter weight if that helps.
A lot of guys are surprised to find when they do this properly they need to reduce the weight quite a bit.
Remember, lateral raises are not the time to satisfy your ego – do that when you squat, deadlift and bench press.
Stop trying to max out every isolation machine and instead focus on proper form and working the targeted muscle.
When it comes to lateral raises keep your elbow slightly bent and locked into position.
That will ensure that only the shoulder gets worked which is what we are aiming for here.
Watch out when Pressing Behind the Head
A lot of guys think they can interchange the various types of overhead press exercises but in fact they work your shoulder muscles differently and sometimes in ways you want to avoid.
When you use a barbell and lower it behind your head you get an effect similar to using dumbbells and lowering them to the sides of your eats – your middle delts get the most work.
When you press from in front of the head, however, because your elbows are further forward you get more front-deltoid involvement.
Naturally a lot of guys figure that it’s therefore better to press from behind the head when using a barbell since they want to get that side deltoid involvement.
However as it turns out pressing heavy weights from behind the neck can be dangerous.
In this position your shoulder muscles are in a very weak position and the risk of a tear is much higher.
Therefore, when pressing from behind the head keep the weights lighter to avoid getting injured.
The same holds true for doing pull ups behind the neck.
Stallone looked pretty badass when he used to do it in Rocky but if you try and copy him you could end up with an injury that will take you out of the gym and having you look more like Jonah Hill.
Remember that your shoulders are used on every upper-body exercise so if you injure them you are essentially unable to train back or chest.
Don’t Do Too Many Reps
While training at higher volumes can definitely encourage your muscles to grow more and help break through plateaus you need to keep in mind the shoulder muscle is unique.
It already gets worked so much in chest and back day that even a moderate amount of direct shoulder training already means high volume.
As a result, it’s very easy to overtrain the shoulders and it happens all the time.
One way to avoid this is to train front deltoids on the same day as chest and triceps since many of these movements work the same muscles.
If you do them on separate days make sure you give them at least two days to recover.
The last thing you want to do is train shoulders on monday, chest on tuesday and triceps on wednesday – the shoulders are essentially getting worked three days in a row!
This surplus volume over time will wear your shoulders down and lead to injury. If you think you might be overtraining the shoulders take a step back and re-evaluate the way your split is organized.
Watch the Hand Placement on Upright Rows
When performing upright rows a lot of guys tend to put their hands too close together.
This causes the elbows to go forward and not directly out to your sides. As a result your shoulders are put in a weak position and they are more likely to get hurt.
Instead, take a slightly more wider grip and watch as your elbows go directly to your sides.
The result will be more emphasis on the side deltoids and better overall shoulder health.
Move Rear Deltoid Training to Back Day
We mentioned earlier that it might be wise to train your front delts on chest day since the exercises work similar muscle groups.
Similarly, we recommend moving rear delts to back day since rowing movements typically hit the rear delts as well as the rhomboids and lat muscles.
This is a great way to avoid overtraining the shoulder muscles if you were previously training shoulders and then back on consecutive days.
Emphasize the Rear Delts
Doing shoulder presses will definitely build mass overall but don’t assume it will be equally distributed over the three heads of the shoulder.
Similarly, doing a bunch of isolation exercises won’t ensure equal growth either.
Some parts of the shoulder grow easier than others – it depends on the person and how they respond to certain exercises. Generally speaking however, most people have underdeveloped rear deltoids.
Most guys would prefer to have big front and side delts and care very little about the rear delts.
So why is it a problem if they are underdeveloped? Having unbalanced deltoids can and will lead to injury down the road.
It will also make your shoulders slouch forward which will mess up your appearance and posture.
Depending on your particularly strength you might need to emphasize one of the heads.
If your rear deltoids are lacking train those first and give them the most attention.
Don’t hesitate to add in an extra exercise for that area if it helps them catch up.
Having well balanced, developed deltoids will help you in all exercises and give you a more aesthetic appearance.
Move Traps exercises to Shoulders Day
When training deltoids we tend to elevate our shoulders a lot – particularly on upright rows and lateral raises.
As a result, the trap muscles get a lot of work as they help perform that shrugging movement.
Therefore, make sure you are training your traps properly so they get the development they need to assist in those exercises. Add in some shrugs to your shoulder day to help them grow.
However, the lower and middle trap muscles get hit more with rows and pull-downs which can be trained with back.
Therefore, instead of having a specific day for traps try splitting them up between shoulder day and back day.
Learn More about the Rotator Cuff
We’ve mentioned the rotator cuff a few times in this article so you might be wondering what exactly it is.
Well, the rotator cuff helps support the smaller muscles and tendons and keeps the shoulder joint stable.
This is obviously a huge task particularly with the type of weight that the shoulder joint is forced to support.
As you train your delts they will become stronger however the rotator cuff might lag behind.
As the gap between deltoid strength and rotator cuff strength grows you put yourself at greater risk of injury.
That’s why you might see guys doing weird rotation exercises with dumbbells and cable machines at light weights.
It strengthens the rotator cuff and helps reduce the chance of injury over time. Look up some rotator cuff exercises online to learn what you can do to strengthen them