From having the weight of the world on your shoulders, to shouldering the load, to having a chip on your shoulder, broad shoulders have always been a symbol of strength and power. While everyone wants those massive boulder shoulders, many gym-goers opt not to dedicate a whole day to working on their shoulders. As most of us are willing to commit entire days to relatively small muscle groups such as our arms or chest doesn’t it make sense to dedicate a day to a muscle group as massive as our shoulders? Stop neglecting your shoulders and give the routine below a try!
To truly grow your shoulders, you must first understand the anatomy of the muscle. I won’t get too technical, but it is important to note that your shoulders have three separate muscle heads. Each of these heads controls a different shoulder movement. The front head of the shoulders (or anterior deltoid) raises your arm in front of your body, and is heavily involved in front raises and shoulder presses. The middle head (or medial deltoid) raises the arm laterally. It can be isolated using lateral raises, and is also heavily utilized in shoulder press movements. The most neglected head of the shoulders, the rear head (or posterior deltoid) moves your arm out across your chest, and is worked by exercises like rear delt flyes and face pulls. In the following routine, we will work all heads of the shoulder allowing for a full, round shoulder.
I spent years bouncing from shoulder routine to shoulder routine, keeping elements that I liked and throwing out those that I didn’t. Eventually, I formed my own shoulder routine inspired by the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the MASSter himself CT Fletcher, the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, Musclepharm president Cory Gregory, and Dr. Jim Stoppani. Shoulders are one of those muscle groups that people will always argue about. What works better? High reps or low reps? Instead of simply hoping that I chose correctly, I mixed both high and low rep approaches into one monstrous shoulder-busting routine. (Note: I utilize a lot of pyramid sets, so if you are unfamiliar with them I recommend reading my previous article which can be found here.) I can honestly say that this is the most challenging shoulder routine that I have ever performed. In return, it has been the most rewarding and noticeably changing routine. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. First I’ll layout the routine, and then break down each exercise below. Square your shoulders, and let’s get to work.
|Internal/external shoulder rotations (Dumbbell or cable)||2 sets of 15|
|Standing Barbell Shoulder Press||10,8,6,4,6,8,10|
|Dumbbell Lateral Raises||12,10,8,dropset|
|Dumbbell Reverse Flyes||12,10,8,dropset|
|Tri-set: Cable/machine front raises, lateral raises, face pulls||25-20,20-15,15-10,dropset,dropset|
The Warm-up: Internal/External Shoulder Rotations 2 sets of 15
I personally have found it to be essential to loosen up my shoulders before a workout, really trying to open up my rotator cuff before the actual workout begins. Shoulder rotations are a great way to warm up, and can be done with a cable machine or simply with a pair of dumbbells. Remember, the goal here is not to move a heavy weight so go light! You’re just trying to get those shoulder muscles warmed-up and prevent an injury. These movements will do just that, as well as helping to get your shoulders set, providing you with a more powerful base.
Exercise 1: Standing Barbell Shoulder Press (10,8,6,4,8,10)
I go heavy on the standing barbell press focusing more on power and strength than the contraction. As the foundation of the workout, I spend the most time on this exercise. Simply start with a barbell at about your clavicle taking a shoulder-width grip. Explosively press the weight upwards, while keeping your legs stiff. Remember, this is a shoulder exercise not a leg workout. Return to the starting position and repeat. Typically starting with 10 reps, you will raise the weight each set, while dropping the number of reps by two, eventually working your way down to 4 heavy reps. It’s not over yet though; it’s time to go back up the pyramid. This way, you’ll be getting in some higher reps and force more blood to flow through your shoulders, delivering essential nutrients. (Also, you’ll get a wicked pump.) Drop the weight down after each set, trying to reach the same number of reps you hit on the way up the pyramid. You likely will not be able to get the same amount, but that is okay. Just do as many as possible, working your way down in weight until you are back to the amount that you started with. Your final rep scheme should look something like this 10, 8, 6, 4, 6, 8, 10.
Exercise 2: Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises (12, 10, 8, Dropset)
For this exercise I prefer to use heavier weights, bending my elbows so that I am able to lift more weight. Many people use straight arms, believing that it puts more pressure on the medial deltoid. However, I personally feel it just as much with bent elbows, and can use a much higher weight. To cover all of my bases though, I’ll typically keep my arms straight during the cable lateral raises later on. It’s a matter of preference, but no matter how you do it be sure to raise the weights in a slow, controlled manner and avoid swinging the dumbbells. You will increase the weight after each set much like before, however, after your heaviest set, you will perform a dropset. To successfully achieve a dropset, immediately reduce the weight by 20-30% (in this case, back to the starting weight) and complete as many reps as possible.
Exercise 3: Rear Delt Raises (12, 10, 8, dropset)
You will perform the same rep scheme as before, continuing to focus on controlling the weight. Be sure to really squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement and, as always, use good form.
Exercise 4, 5, 6: Cable or Machine Front Raises, Side Raises, Face Pulls Tri-set (25-20,20-15,15-10, dropset, dropset)
To finish off all three heads of the shoulder you will perform a tri-set, going from one exercise to the next without rest. This means that you will hit a set of front raises, a set of side raises, and then a set of face pulls before taking a rest to prepare for the next grueling rotation. (Note: If you are unable to perform these exercises as a tri-set in your gym that’s okay! Try super-setting front and side raises first, following them up with cable face pulls, or simply perform each exercise individually) I opted for a higher rep scheme on these as a sort-of burnout, really forcing the blood into the muscle. For the first set you will work in a rep range of 25-20. You should be able to get at least 20 reps, but if you can finish 25 reps with ease than you need to increase the weight. Raise the weight after each set, eventually working in a 15-10 rep range. After this, drop the weight back to what you used on the previous set complete as many reps as possible. Lastly, you will fight through one final drop set just to really finish off your shoulders. It will be worth it in the end, I promise. At this point, your shoulders should be beyond dead. May they rest in peace.
Exercise 7: Barbell Shrugs (12,10,8,6,4,2,4,6,8,10,12)
I know it’s a lot of sets, but truthfully, shrugs are one of the only movements that will help you to effectively grow your traps. If I’m only going to do one single exercise for a muscle group, you can be sure that it’s going to be a brutal one. Go heavy, but control the weight and don’t roll your shoulders. It’s a small range of motion, but it will beat you up. Kill your traps with this huge pyramid, upping the weight each set. Work your way back down the pyramid and hit the showers.
I hope you liked this article, and that the workout pays off for you as well as it has for me. Let me know if you have any questions, and I would love to hear what you think of this routine! Thanks for reading, now go get those boulder shoulders.