Over the past 28 years, I must have tried literally thousands of ways to build strong, jacked shoulders. Along the journey I’ve learnt a few lessons – some of them more painful than others. After years of trial and error, and in-the-trenches experience working with athletes, I’ve managed to build an arsenal of exercises that are guaranteed to take your gains to the next level. Strong, well-developed shoulders are awesome for many reasons but two of the most important are:
For a Dramatically Improved Physique
Well-developed shoulders are a tell-tale sign of a great physique. From an aesthetic standpoint, shoulder development will enhance your V-taper, making your waist appear smaller (helping you to look like an action hero). As a secondary benefit, powerful shoulder muscles have direct transfer to countless athletic activities.
Increased Resilience to Injury
Shoulder injuries can be extremely debilitating. A big reason for this, besides a lack of mobility, is a lack of strength. Besides having the aesthetic benefits of well-developed shoulders, staying injury free should be a high priority for you.
Here are my all-time favorite exercises for strong, jacked, bulletproof shoulders:
Standing Military Press
Go into any commercial gym at any time of day and you will be guaranteed to see several people doing bench presses. This exercise has become the universal standard of upper body strength. Unfortunately, far too many people focus on bench presses while excluding shoulder work. This leads to imbalances and eventually injury. To ensure complete upper body development, including a heavy shoulder press in your training is a must. And it doesn’t get better than the Standing Military Press. Click here for a video demonstration of this foundation exercise.
Dumbbells are a personal favorite of mine for shoulder training to ensure balanced development between the right and left sides. The Arnold Press, popularized by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, is one of the best exercises to build the front and side (anterior and medial) of your shoulders. Check out the video here for a demonstration of proper technique.
The Y-Raise is essential for all athletes who love to go heavy on exercises like the bench press. This movement develops the shoulders and lower traps and helps to maintain structural integrity throughout the upper body. Holding the weight at the top for a 1-2 count (or longer) is a great way to challenge yourself with this exercise. Check out Coach G demonstrating optimal technique by clicking here.
One of the best variations to develop the rear delts is the T-Raise. These are also great for overall shoulder health. Positioning the upper body on the incline bench (as shown here) requires you to be very strict with the movement and helps to keep the tension on the rear deltoids. Avoid using momentum to lift the weight and strive to hold the weight in the finish position for a 1-2 count.
Dead Stop Lateral Raises
This variation of dumbbell side raises is excellent for shoulder width and development of the medial deltoids. The “dead stop” technique forces you to be extremely strict with the movement, which places all the emphasis on the medial deltoids. For increased time-under-tension, pause each rep at the top of the movement for 1-2 seconds. Check out the video demo for proper technique here.
Rope Pull to the Face
I do a variation of Rope Pulls (using a rope or bands; standing or seated) at least three times per week. They are without a doubt one the most important upper body exercises I do (especially as a competitive powerlifter). Rope Pulls are an awesome exercise to start your shoulder workout in preparation for heavier pressing movements like the Standing Military Press. They’re also amazing as a finisher at the end of your session. Rope Pulls are also an ideal high-rep movement and will give you an incredible pump. Check out the video demo for proper technique here.