For most guys, the biceps are the undisputed king of muscle! But what good is a king without a crown? If you want GUNS that get respect at the beach and on the street, you’ve got to crown them with cannon ball deltoid development! For big, muscular shoulders that’ll produce personal pride and physical power, keep reading because I’ve got the 10 best beginning exercises for you right here.
1. Seated Front Military Press
Your shoulders consist mainly of 2 muscle groups, the trapezius and the deltoids. The trapezius or “traps” are the two large triangular shaped muscles that run across each shoulder from the back of your neck. Your deltoids or “delts” are the thick, triangular shaped muscles that cover your shoulder joints at the top of each arm. The deltoids consist of 3 sections known as the anterior, medial and posterior heads. For balanced deltoid development, you must train each section equally.
The front military press is a great starter exercise for building the anterior or front section of your delts. You can perform this exercise from a standing or seated position. For beginners, I recommend the seated position, preferably in a chair that has low back support to prevent arching or hyperextension of your spine. With proper technique, this basic military press will add thickness and power to the front of your shoulders. As you advance in your training, you should eventually graduate from this exercise to the dumbbell shoulder press.
2. Barbell Front Raises
This exercise is great for building shape and endurance in your anterior delts. Since barbell front raises put tremendous resistance on the front of your shoulders, you should not attempt to do this exercise with heavy weight. Moderate poundage with strict technique (i.e., no bouncing or jerking the weight with your body) is sufficient to add strength and shape to your anterior delts. For variety, you can also do this exercise with a straight bar attachment to a low cable apparatus.
Whether you use a barbell or low cable machine, you must stand with your arms straight as you raise the bar forward from the front of your thighs to a position parallel to the floor at about shoulder height. To put secondary resistance on your rear delts and traps, raise the bar slightly above shoulder height. It won’t take long to feel the burn from this exercise, but the payoff in deltoid development is well worth it.
3. Seated Reverse Dumbbell Press
The reverse dumbbell press, aka the “Arnold Press” is another terrific shoulder builder for your anterior delts. When done properly, this exercise also puts concentrated resistance on the upper portion of your traps. You can do the reverse dumbbell press with both arms pressing the weights simultaneously or by alternating each arm. In either event, I suggest that you do this exercise in a seated position with good back support to avoid injury.
To do this exercise, hold 2 dumbbells at shoulder height with your palms facing you. Keep your back straight and don’t bounce or jerk your body as you slowly press the dumbbells overhead. As you press the weight upward, rotate your wrists so that your hands face forward at the top of each lift. Return the dumbbells to the starting position as you lower them after each rep. If you’ve never done this exercise before, start with weight that you can easily balance and control and progress to heavier poundage when you’ve mastered your training technique. Take my word, the results will be awesome!
4. Dumbbell Front Raises
Like barbell front raises, the dumbbell version of this exercise puts extreme resistance on the front of your shoulders. In addition to building the anterior deltoids, front dumbbell raises put secondary but significant stress on the medial deltoid head. The mechanics of this exercise are basically the same as with barbell front raises. You must stand with your arms straight as you raise the dumbbells forward from the front of your thighs to a position parallel to the floor at about shoulder height. Again, due to the extreme level of training resistance that front raises produce, you should not attempt to do this exercise with heavy weight. Moderate poundage with strict form will give you great results.
5. Behind-The-Neck-Military Press
The “behind-the-neck” or rear military press is a solid mass builder for the medial deltoid or middle shoulder area. Like the front military press, you can perform this exercise from a standing or seated position. Again, I recommend that you do your military presses in a chair with lower back support to avoid arching or hyperextension of your spine. The seated position also helps to stabilize your torso so you won’t jerk the weight upward and cheat on technique. As with all overhead lifting, go slow, master your training technique and the rear military press will add mass, power and symmetry to the middle portion of your shoulders.
6. Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Nothing beats dumbbell lateral raises for targeting the medial head of your delts. And this is another shoulder exercise that provides great results without using excessively heavy weight. With your arms at your sides, grasp a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly raise your arms outward and upward until the dumbbells reach shoulder height in a position that parallels the floor. Return to the starting position. To work the medial delts from every possible angle, vary your workouts by doing some sets with your hands at your sides, some sets with your hands slightly in front of your thighs, and some sets with your hands behind your hips. This exercise is great for adding the shoulder girth necessary to beef up your V taper.
7. Single Arm Cable Lateral Raises
This exercise is a good substitute for dumbbell lateral raises for variety or when dumbbells may not be available to you. Except for the fact that you alternately train each shoulder, the mechanics of this exercise are basically the same as with the dumbbell version. With your arm at your side, simply grasp a low cable handle and slowly raise your arm outward and upward until the handle reaches shoulder height in a position that parallels the floor. Return to the starting position. For maximum effectiveness, you should vary your workouts by starting some sets with your hand at your side, some sets with your hand in front of your thighs, and some sets with your hand behind your hips.
8. Seated Two-Armed Dumbbell Rows
Unless you focus on training your rear delts, it’s easy to forget about them and end up with unbalanced shoulder development. This happened to me years ago when I was still more or less in my infancy when it came to serious bodybuilding. At the time I was living and training in Montreal at “Winston’s Gym,” a bodybuilding powerhouse then owned by Canadian bodybuilding great, Winston Roberts. So one day I asked Winston what I should do to build mass into my rear delts.
Without hesitation he told me to sit on the edge of a flat bench, grab a dumbbell in each hand, lean forward to about 45 degrees and pull the dumbbells toward my torso as though to touch my elbows behind my back. Wow, did this work! My rear delts responded almost immediately to this new workout, and the “Seated Two-Armed Dumbbell Row” was born! To make sure that you fully develop each section of your deltoids, you’ve got to include this rear delt builder in your shoulder workouts.
9. Bent-Over Lateral Raises
This exercise also isolates the posterior deltoid area for full, symmetrical shoulder development. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent. Bend forward at the waist but keep your back straight and your head facing forward. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with your elbows bent slightly and raise your arms outward and upward until the weight reaches shoulder height. Return to the starting position. For variety or if dumbbells aren’t available, you can also do this exercise with a low cable machine.
10. Upright Rows
Finally, one of my all time favorite shoulder shapers, the upright row builds the entire deltoid area and I love the secondary biceps pump I get whenever I do this exercise. Just grab a barbell with an overhand and slightly wider than shoulder width grip. If you’re using a cambered or EZ Curl Bar, use the wide grip hand position. Raise your arms and pull the bar upward until it nearly touches your chin. To put more resistance on your traps, try pulling your elbows up a little beyond shoulder height as you complete each rep. Return to the starting position. I’m continually amazed at how seldom I see anyone doing this exercise. But you’ve got to do upright rows if you’re serious about building big, muscular shoulders.
Well, that’s it – my Top 10 list of shoulder-building exercises for beginning bodybuilders. Try them, have fun with them, and make sure that you use safe amounts of weight and proper training technique with every exercise.