When you look in the mirror, do your shoulders look more like tiny pebbles you could use to skip across a lake?
You’ve tried to build bigger shoulders for years, and yet you’ve never developed those superhero-sized delts that Thor, Captain America, or Superman have on screen. Why?
Because you’ve been only ever done the same three shoulders exercises: overhead press, lateral raise, rear delt flys.
Thanks to our technological and sedentary society, you’re constantly internally rotated. This does two things: gives you the posture worse than Quasimodo, and it kills your shoulder strength. Building shoulders like Chris Hemsworth’s that turns heads everywhere you go isn’t impossible.
Accomplishing your heroic task to build bigger shoulders requires that you begin to view training your shoulders in all three dimensions.
Build Bigger Shoulders the Size of Boulders
If overhead pressing causes you pain, don’t “push through it.” Looking better naked and building a lean and muscular physique, doesn’t need to come at the expense of your body.
Here’s a quick test you can do right now to see if your shoulders are healthy enough to continue overhead pressing.
Lay down on the ground with your knees bent and arms at your side. Make sure to keep your back flat and in contact with the ground the entire time. Now, engage your core to maintain contact with the ground, and then slowly raise your arms overhead, until your arms are fully extended behind you.
If you can touch the back of your hand to the ground without arching your upper back, then you have the mobility to safely overhead press without any issues.
While you do this, if you arch your upper back and your arms aren’t flat on the floor, stop overhead pressing for the next exercise for 4-6 weeks. The exercise below, though, will help you continue to build bigger shoulders while promoting a better movement pattern for your scapula.
The landmine press helps you maximizing tension one arm at a time, and over time, that excess tension will help you build bigger shoulders—without pain.
Landmine Shoulder Press
Your gym may not have a landmine machine. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, you’re not out of luck. All you have to do is wedge a barbell into the corner of a wall.
To perform this exercise, you’ll start with one end of the barbell resting on your shoulder, while maintaining a slight bend in your knees, or assume a split stance, press the barbell forward and overhead. Complete 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.
As a bonus, not only will you build bigger shoulders with this exercise, but your core will also engage while you maintain balance to press the barbell overhead.
Dumbbell Y-(wing) Press
When it comes to challenging muscles to grow, you don’t always have to hit them from the same angle. You can incline bench press instead of flat bench pressing. And both target your pecs. But to build bigger shoulders, you can’t stick with the same tired strategies.
Tension builds muscle. One way to increase tension is to change the normal angle at which the exercise is performed.
This exercise places your shoulders in a weaker position, forcing your body to fight gravities downward pull. To maintain the Y-shape that your pushing shoulders into, your small stabilizer muscles are under more tension. So don’t be an asshat and try and do this with heavy weight. Keep it light and try to complete 12-15 reps for no less than 2 sets.
If you’re looking to improve shoulder stability or you want an exercise that will help you burn out your delts at the end of a workout, this is what you want.
Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Remember how I told you that you’ve been screwing up on your quest to build bigger shoulders by focusing on only three exercises? And one of those exercises I mentioned was the lateral raise. Well, here’s the thing: there really is no better way to train your middle delts.
Still, traditional lateral raises suffer from a shortcoming: the first 15-30 degrees of the movement uses your supraspinatus and not your middle delt. So how do you eliminate the supraspinatus? The best way to prevent your supraspinatus from engaging in the lateral raise is to do a Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise.
By eliminating the supraspinatus, you increase the amount of time your middle delt is under tension, plus, you increase your range of motion. Increase range of motion and extra tension is the goddamned Golden Ticket that will help you build bigger shoulders.
To perform this exercise: Grab a dumbbell, find a stable post, and place your hand around shoulder height, then lean away from the post until your arm is fully extended. Perform a side lateral raise the same way you would while standing.
Perform these at the end of your workout. Aim for sets of 3 with 8-12 reps per set.
The Dumbbell Y-Press will challenge the stabilizer muscles of your shoulders, but if you’re looking for an exercise that challenges not only your shoulders but your core, then look no further than the Javelin Press.
Like the Y-Press, you’ll have to start this exercise with a lot less weight than you think. For those who can’t balance or push a standard barbell overhead, you can always use the smaller barbells (the ones that are usually racked together and range from 20-100 pounds). Once you move up in strength, then you can challenge yourself with a standard 45-pound barbell.
While performing this lift, not only will you feel like Thor thrusting Mjollnir to the heavens above, but you’ll place your shoulders in their most powerful mechanical positioning possible.
This lift forces you to pack your shoulder blades down and back to prevent the bar from tilting. And by getting your shoulder into this position, you take the stress off your joints and force the muscles of your shoulder to take the brunt of the weight. That places tension where you want it: on the muscles you’re looking to build.
What makes this exercise phenomenal in regards to helping you build bigger shoulders, is that it forces you to control the lowering (eccentric) portion of the lift. And it’s during the eccentric portion where you want to control the weight as it’s this part of the lift where you’re the weakest, and thus, can create more stimulus for muscle growth.
If you have pain overhead pressing, the first two exercises listed above are a good place for you to start in regards to helping you build bigger shoulders. They’re also excellent exercises that will help you do more pain-free overhead pressing.
Now, if you have no pain overhead pressing and you’re looking for a way to build bigger shoulders, then look no further than The Bradford Press.
There are two ways I like to approach The Bradford Press: as a moderate weight, moderate rep hypertrophy exercise, or, as a low weight, high rep shoulder day finisher.
If you decide to go with number one: choose a weight that’s about 50-60% of your one rep max. Keep your reps between 8-10 reps and stay around three to four total sets.
Now, if you finish your shoulder workout with The Bradford Press, keep your reps high(er), 12-15+ per set and keep your sets to only one or two shoulder swelling sets.
Tip: if your form begins to break down and you hyperextend your lower back — end your set. Don’t try and push it for a few more reps. Keep your form solid throughout.
So far I’ve covered exercises that can help you build bigger shoulders that target the anterior and middle deltoids. But there are three primary muscles of the shoulder. And the third one is often the most overlooked or undertrained. And when it comes to creating three-dimensional shoulders, you need to give more time and attention to your rear delts.
Don’t Let the Posterior Become Inferior
Your posterior, or rear delts, have a few important functions:
- Shoulder extension
- External shoulder rotation
- Transverse extension (think ripping apart a phone book)
- Transverse Abduction (think hugging)
The bench press, dumbbell flys, and rows all use your rear delts to assist in the movement of your shoulder. Do you spend a ton of time sitting at a desk all day? Well, due to your hunched posture, your rear delts are (likely) stretched and weakened.
You’ve been doing rear delt raises for years. But now it’s time for something new.
Face Pulls are my go-to exercise, not only for building bigger shoulders but for improved movement of your scapula. Still, there’s one problem you run into with traditional Face Pulls: people use too much weight. And instead of isolating their rear delts, I see people all the time rocking their hips back and forth to lift the weight.
Here’s how you fix this issue:
Grab a bench or lay on the ground and perform this exercise supine. This forces you to 100% isolate your rear delts and even provides a bit of an extra stretch on your muscles.
*Side note: larger rear delts create an optical illusion that makes your triceps look bigger. So not only will the rear delts improve your strength on pulling and pushing exercises, but they help your arms look larger than life.*
Super Shoulder Serum to Help You Build Bigger Shoulders
Captain America went from a scrawny pipsqueak to sporting the body of the ultimate soldier. Thor has shoulders strong enough to fight demons and Frost Giants. And Superman, well, we can’t all be an alien from another world. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build superhero-sized shoulders.
And when it comes to sparking new growth in your shoulders, sometimes you need to approach their training a bit differently. Give these shoulder exercises a try and shock your shoulders with a new stimulus.