(A version of this article originally appeared on BroBible)
Building muscle can be a complex process. You need to make sure your nutrition is in order, you’re training hard enough, doing enough weekly volume, and of course, performing the right exercises.
And while almost any exercise is going to help you build muscle if you’re eating enough, there are certain exercises that are going to be more efficient for hypertrophy, and give you more bang for your buck.
This article the first in a seven part series, focusing on the best exercises for mass. Today, we’re starting at the top, with the ten best shoulder exercises…
The shoulder muscles, known as the deltoids, are comprised of three main groups:
The anterior delts, which sit in the front of the shoulder, is responsible for shoulder flexion, or raising your arms out in front of you. These muscle get a lot of work through both horizontal and vertical pressing exercises.
The lateral or middle delts, which are responsible for shoulder abduction, or raising your arms out above your sides, are also worked by presssing (mostly vertical) but through lateral movements like raises and upright rows.
The posterior delts on the back of the shoulder. These are responsible for shoulder extension, or pulling your arms back and squeezing the shoulder blades together. The posterior delts are often the most underdeveloped for people because they do not get as much work through other exercises, and require more direct targeting.
The first two on the list of best shoulder exercises are really interchangeable. However, I like the seated dumbbell (or barbell) shoulder press because it allows you to overload the shoulders by isolating them more.
Plus it feels pretty badass throwing big dumbbells over your head.
Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 6 reps
Both the standing and seated shoulder press allows you to better target the medial deltoids. The advantage that the standing overhead press has is that it’s more of a total body lift by recruiting the muscles of the upper chest, back, and core. This allows you to use more weight.
Suggested Volume: 5 sets of 5 reps
While similar to the standing overhead press, the push press differs because it calls into action the lower body as well, utilizing leg drive to help move heavier weights. Since overhead pressing can be taxing on the entire body, it’s best to alternate the push press and standing overhead press every four to six weeks.
Suggested Volume: 5 sets of 5 reps
The Arnold press – popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself – is one of the best shoulder exercises for hitting the anterior deltoids. This is because the weight actually starts in front of the shoulders and goes through a larger range of motion than with your typical shoulder press.
Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 10 reps
No list of best shoulder exercises would be complete without raises.
While the anterior delts get a lot of work from other pressing exercises, front raises are a great way to isolate them.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 10
Overhead pressing is great for targeting the medial delts, but it should not be your only weapon. Like the front raise with the anterior delts, the side lateral raise is great for isolating the middle delts.
As you move up in weight, you’ll likely need to switch to single arm lateral raises to maintain proper from.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 10 reps
Because the posterior deltoids don’t get a lot of work through the first six exercises on this list, you need to add in exercises that directly target them. The rear delt raise, either bent over or lying, is a great way to do that.
Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
While not really well-known, the barbell rear delt row is one of the best shoulder exercises you can do for hitting the posterior deltoids.
While similar to a bent-over barbell row, the rear delt row differs slightly in that the barbell is brought higher up on the chest, recruiting more of the rear delts and less of the traps.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 8 reps
The face pull is one of the best shoulder exercises, period. In addition to hitting the rear delts, face pulls are also fantastic for strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.
Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 12 reps
Upright rows get a lot of hate, but when done correctly, are actually an effective shoulder-building exercise. The standard grip helps target the medial delts, while a wider grip will work the posterior delts more.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 8
While I’m not hating on any other shoulder exercises out there, if you want that wide, boulder-shoulder look, these exercises should make up a majority of your program.
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