Developing muscular shoulders-through resistance training

It has always been a fascination of mine to build barn door wide deltoid’s. Having those wide shoulders and a narrow waist line I have found to be a manly attribute, it even creates the appearance of looking taller. Many men over the years have sought out ways to create the appearance of being broader in the shoulders. Cartoon characters are even depicted as having huge shoulders that over power the rest of their mildly built physique.

There are a lot of great exercises that you can incorporate into a shoulder workout, compound movements like shoulder presses and upright rows are great for building size, lateral moves are great for working each individual head. Today I will be talking about developing muscular shoulders through resistance training and the exercises that train each head of the shoulders for a well rounded training program.


Barbell presses, or another name for them, (military presses) are when you hold the barbell at your shoulders and press the weight overhead, this is a good  combination move that for the most part works the front head of the shoulders, (the anterior head) there is also some triceps and chest that come into play when performing this move.

Another exercise similar to the barbell presses is the press behind the neck, this exercise is performed in the same fashion except you lower the weight to the back of the head. Lowering the weight to the back of the head stresses the shoulder at a different angle, this is good to switch exercises around so your workout dosen’t become stale. Another variation you can do in place of barbell presses are dumbbell presses.

Upright rows

The upright rows is another great combination move, this one stresses the side head of the shoulders, (medial head) with a little bit of biceps and traps involved. Start with holding the barbell in front of you, shoulder width grip, slowly raise the weight up to your chin, elbows out, then slowly lower and repeat. Another variation to this is the narrow grip upright rows, these stress the trap muscles. And again, instead of using the barbell for upright rows, you can use dumbbells for upright rows, this makes for more of a variety for your shoulder workout.

Side lateral’s

The side lateral’s are an isolation move good for isolating the side head of the shoulders, (medial head) start by holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, with a slight bend to your elbows, slowly raise the dumbbells to your sides so that the dumbbells are at an even plain with your head, and while raising the weights, slightly tilt your thumbs downward as though you were pouring a pitcher of water.

YOU can also do a variation of this move with a low pulley. Using cables is a great way to mix up your workout so you can get a wide variety of exercises to stress your shoulders from all different directions.

Rear lateral raises

Rear lateral raises work the rear deltoid, (posterior head) you can do these either standing or sitting, I prefer to do them in the seated position. Start by learning forward, grabbing a pair of dumbbells, you raise the weights to the rear, keeping a slight bend in the elbows. When raising the weights to the rear, you want to make it a slow deliberate motion, not jerking the weights back or using the lower back to hoist the weights back.

Raise the weights back as far as you can go while squeezing the rear deltoid flexing the muscle then lower the weights slowly until you are back to the starting position. Another variation in place of dumbbells are the low cables.

If you have access to, two pulley machines, one on each side of you, you can do rear laterals with both arms, crossing cables at the bottom position. Some gyms have machines that are designed to do the same function as rear laterals.

Designing a shoulder routine

When designing a shoulder routine, you will want to make sure you cover all three head’s of the shoulder, the front (anterior head) the side (medial head) the rear (posterior head). It’s best to start out with a combination move, one that has more than just the direct muscle coming in to play, for instance a good one to start with is the shoulder presses because other than the front head of the shoulders, you are getting some triceps and chest involvement, combination moves take more energy so it’s best to do these when you have more energy.

After finishing with a over head pressing move, you can fit into your training program upright rows with a shoulder width grip, these work the side head of the shoulders. For extra wide shoulders I like to do a second exercise for the side head of the shoulders, so I do side lateral’s, then I finish of with rear lateral’s for the rear delts.

For shoulders I always push for 8-12 reps each set and 4 sets for each exercise totaling 16 sets for shoulders. I don’t always do each exercise in the same order, sometimes I do rear lateral’s right after shoulder presses, frequently I may alternate dumbbell presses or Smith machine presses for barbell presses.

You can choose which exercises you like to use the best and mix them around how you choose, the choice is yours, as long as you hit each head of the shoulders and rest for one minute between each set.

For beginners I would recommend that you do three exercises, one for each head of the shoulders at two sets each. For intermediate trainers (six months of serious training) four exercises at three sets each. For advanced trainers (one year of serious training) four exercises at four sets each.


Now that you have the basics down you should be ready to start hitting the weights in the gym, train hard but train smart, if you’re doing any over head presses you should always have a spotter. Let your muscles do the work, not your lower back, always perform each exercise with complete control never let the weights control you.

Give your shoulders 72 hours of rest before you work them again. Keep your diet high in protein and carbs for a solid muscle building foundation and make sure you get plenty of sleep every night, it’s when your muscles are at rest is when they do their growing. I hope that this information I have laid out for you can get you off and running. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

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8 thoughts on “Developing muscular shoulders-through resistance training”

  1. I workout regularly and I am glad that I came to your article. I like to change my workout routine and workouts more often. I think you have a  good shoulder workout here. It looks very promising. I will definitely be trying this out next week. I think resistance training is more effective than the normal workouts. Thank you for sharing this article.

  2. Thanks for these tips about shoulder workouts, am really going to try them out on my next workout. You have come with incredible set of workout list as it can be frustrating for beginners want or need alternatives to shoulder workout and at the same time get new tips to boost their body building speed. 

  3. I didn’t know that rear laterals and side lateral raises worked out different parts of the shoulder. I always thought they worked the same part of the shoulder.

    Do you think it’s a good idea to work out your shoulders even if they are getting worked out on other exercises like the bench press for example? 

    Also, what about adding some shoulder shrugs? Are they effective exercises?

    • Thanks for your feedback, there are three head’s to the shoulders, it’s best to do exercises for each head for even development. As with benches work chest, it’s only right to work shoulders as well so that one muscle isn’t getting worked more than another. Shoulder shrugs are an excellent exercise for the trap muscles, you can pair shrugs for traps up with shoulders or back training.

  4. Hi Neil,

    Thank you for this shoulder workout, I needed some information on working shoulder muscles.But, I am not a bodybuilder.

    I am a senior, and believe me, I could never do anything close to the amount of sets and complete workout you are doing. So, understand I am probably not even a beginner. I do a once or twice a week workout, of just one set on my total gym at home. I used to just jump on and race through a workout, until I developed a rotor cuff injury. Looking back on it, I think it was my technique. I didn’t try to protect my shoulder, and I curved my back instead of keeping it straight. Anyway, I avoided surgery thru rehab and now I need to keep it strong. I just want to know, first, I am not bodybuilding, and I just want keep my shoulder strength, some muscle mass and mobility. So, would one set of each of these exercises be sufficient? Also, since I am not as hard on the muscles with one set, do I still have to wait 72 hours before working them again? I am 67yrs old.

    Thanks for such a great article, this was just what I needed.


    • Thanks for your feedback, for strengthening and mobility, I would suggest maybe two or three sets of any of those exercises with a pair of light dumbbells three times a week, any more than three sets isn’t really necessary. When I say light dumbbells would be something that you feel comfortable with for 20 repetitions, I hope this helps out.


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