While the cold shoulder has its uses, hot shoulders are something we’re much more interested in: if you didn’t think it was possible to have a sexy shoulder, then have we got news for you.
But let’s not pretend a worked-out shoulder only has aesthetic value: giving your shoulders the workout they deserve also means important benefits for you and your body, both on the gym floor and in everyday life. “Balance and proportion creates great stability, which in turn will lower your risk to injury,” explains Kristian Phillips, a former rugby pro who’s now an elite trainer at Equinox.
“Your shoulders are conjoined of 50/50 fast and slow twitch fibres so respond best to multiple movements, shorter rest intervals and varying weights,” explains Psycle’s Ahmed Jaffer. “Consider tempos, rep ranges and range of movement when adding shoulders into the mix.”
"Put simply, your shoulder muscle – also known as your deltoid – is made up of ‘heads’ called the anterior (front), lateral (middle) and posterior (back) deltoids," adds Ross Edgley. "Gyms the world over are filled with men who tirelessly train their anterior (front) and lateral (middle) shoulder muscles with front presses and side dumbbell raises. But this is such a limited range of movement and to fully train all heads of the shoulder joint you need to work over different ranges of motion."
Luckily, we’ve considered all those things for you. We gathered together some of our favourite experts, alongside trainers at some of our favourite gyms and boutique fitness centres in the capital, to talk us through how to switch up your shoulder game. From working out your deltoids to building up some boulder shoulders, we’ve got your next shoulder sesh on lock.
© DANIEL ALEXANDER HARRIS
Joe Corrie, Head Trainer at Core Collective Exercise 1: Push Press (Barbell) After a thorough warm-up this is my favourite exercise to start a shoulder session. The slight use of your legs and hips as well as the upper body allows you to maximally put heavy loads above your head. This is therefore great for power development, building overall loading volume and athletic potential. Lately I have been performing six sets with the following rep ranges: 5,5,5,3,3,3. (Build weight when the reps drop to three.)
Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and grip the bar with your fingertips, elbows facing forward. Rest the bar on the front of your shoulders and drop down into a shallow squat, centering your weight under the barbell . Press up through your heels and drive the bar directly above your head until your elbows are locked. Control the bar back down to the starting position, using your knees to cushion if you are working with heavier weights.
Exercise 2: Strict Press (Barbell) Following performing the push press, I would then seamlessly move into strict press, which allows me to benefit more from focusing on time under tension building maximal strength and hypertrophy. The strict press employs zero lower-body assistance and movement is initiated from zero acceleration, demanding greater amounts of concentric strength. I have been performing four sets of 8-10 reps after completing the push press.
Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and grip the bar with your fingertips, elbows facing forward. Rest the bar on the front of your shoulders and taking a big breath, brace your core and press the bar in a vertical line directly above your head. Staying close to the bar while you press the weight up, shift your torso forward/punch your head through once the bar has passed your forehead. Hold the bar over your shoulders and lock your elbows before controlling the bar back down to the starting position.
Exercise 3: Single Arm Half-Kneeling Shoulder Press (Dumbbell) This is one of my top exercises for the shoulders, which complements the first two movements beautifully and gives you the added bonus of improving core and hip stability along with the other benefits associated with unilateral work. Again perform four sets of 8-10 reps.
Start by obtaining a half-kneeling position by placing one knee down directly under the hip and the other foot stepped out in front in line with the knee (making two right angles with your knees). Grab the dumbbell with the same hand as the knee that is on the floor, swing it up to rest on the shoulder. Taking a big breath, brace your core and press the dumbbell in a vertical line above your head until your elbow is locked and your bicep is next to your ear. Keep your torso as tall as possible throughout the movement. Lower dumbbell back to the starting position in a controlled manor.
Kristian Phillips, Personal Trainer at Equinox Exercise 1: Cable Face Pulls Exercises one and two are my two favourite warm-up exercises that ensure my deltoids, scapular and rotator cuff muscles are fired up and ready to go. Activating your rear deltoids, scapular and rotator cuff muscles prior to lifting is paramount to reducing the risk of shoulder injury. You certainly don’t need much weight for this exercise; instead, focus should be on developing your technique. Firstly, the cable pulley should be set to shoulder height before you begin. In this position, take a pronated (overhand) grip on the cable with your arms fully extended out in front of you. Pull the handles towards the bridge of your nose, keeping your upper arms parallel to the floor with both handles of the cable finishing each side of your face. At this point, squeeze your shoulder blades together, spend a second in this position for total activation before returning to the start position. Perform three sets of 12 reps.
Exercise 2: Weighted Plate Halo Primary goal: increase range of motion (ROM). A no-brainer, right? This specific movement actually strengthens your mind to muscle connection to another level. That’s because it requires a team effort from your shoulders, triceps, back and core to manoeuvre the weighted plate around your head in the shape of a halo. A simple yet very effective exercise that simultaneously improves shoulder mobility, thoracic mobility and core stability.
With two hands, take a firm grip on the weighted plate (5-10kg). Stand tall and stabilise your body. Remember, we’re going to need a team effort to perform this exercise. Engage your core and front raise the plate so the centre circle is directly in your eye line. Here, your arms should be fully extended in front of you. From here, you are going to manoeuvre the plate around your head in the shape of a halo. The plate should remain as close to your head as possible, with your arms circulating your head. Note: your neck and head should stay in a nice stable neutral position throughout the entire movement. Ensure you perform this exercise in a slow and deliberate manner to maximise your mobility. Perform three sets of 12 reps each way.
Exercise 3: Alternating KB Z Press Exercises three and four are to be performed as a superset.
It’s time to target a great deal of muscle in the upper body and core. For this exercise, you will be seated in an upright position on the floor, taking away the usage of your legs for added stability and base of support. Simply, isolating your shoulders and trunk to challenge your strength and postural control to an even greater degree.
Maintain an upright posture, no slouching. Legs should be fully extended and separated at shoulder width apart. Hold two kettlebells in the front rack position at shoulder height. Get ready. Press one kettlebell vertically into the air whilst keeping the opposite kettlebell in the rack position. Lower the kettlebell and repeat on the opposite side. Notice the demand on your core and obliques? Great, now maintain the same intensity for all repetitions. Remember, no slouching.
Exercise 4: Chin-Ups A test of character. I completely understand not everyone is able to perform a chin-up. That being said, surely if you can’t, your aim is to do so? So, let’s throw you in the deep end and see how we get on.
Get a firm grip on the bar with a supinated (underhand) grip, set at roughly shoulder-width apart. In the hang position, stabilise your body and bend your knees. Now it’s time to work. Vertically pull yourself upwards by pulling your elbows downwards towards the floor. Keep pulling, all the way up until your chin passes the bar. Lower yourself down in a slow and deliberate manner, focusing on elongated muscular tension until your arms are fully extended. Then repeat.
If you are new to the gym and a chin-up is a good few months away then the best place to start would be the “lat pull-down machine”. Here you can vary the weights and concentrate on building your foundation.
If you are almost there, then why not try and attack the bodyweight challenge with the assistance of a band? Use a resistance band to develop your technique and confidence before you progress to the next step. If a bodyweight chin is comfortable for you, it’s time to get some extra KGs on that weighted belt. Do four sets of 8-12 reps.
Exercise 5: Plate Front Raise Exercises five, six and seven should be performed as a tri-set. The following three exercises are put together for you to attack your shoulders from three different angles. Remember the importance of balanced muscles.
The plate front raise is specifically designed to target your anterior and lateral deltoids. The anterior deltoids function is to elevate the arm forward. The front raise exercise simulates this motion.
Stand tall, with a neutral grip on the weighted plate. I’d recommend using an Olympic bumper plate for this exercise, if you can: this will instantly set your arms at shoulder-width apart. With a very minimal bend of the elbow, elevate the weighted plate from hip level to eye level. This will isolate your anterior deltoid. If you want to engage your traps, I’d recommend elevating the weighted plate slightly higher than eye level for added burn. Slowly and deliberately, lower the weighted plate in the same fashion down to hip level, then repeat this process.
Exercise 6: Bent-Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly Next up, it’s time to hit your rear deltoids. Strengthening these muscles using the reverse fly exercise will help improve poor posture, promote an upright stance, and improve balance. Firstly, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with the dumbbells by your sides. Secondly, push your hips backwards and in the hip hinge position, bringing your chest forward almost parallel to the floor. Allow the weights to hang straight down, with your palms facing each other. Maintain a tight core, neutral spine and a slight knee bend. Exhale and raise both arms out to your side laterally squeezing your shoulder blades together. Keep a soft bend at your elbows as you pull your shoulder blades towards your spine. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells back to the start position. Reset, and go again.
Exercise 7: Barbell Shrugs Nothing is better for building big traps than heavy weight. So, as long as you use good form during the movement, then the heavier the better! Your upper trapezius controls the movement of your shoulder blades as well as your upper back and neck. When these muscles are strengthened through exercise, you will have an easier time maintaining proper posture.
Stand up straight with your feet at shoulder-width apart as you hold the barbell with both hands in front of you using a pronated grip (palms facing the thighs). Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart on the bar. Elevate your shoulders as high possible, exhale and hold the contraction for a second. Refrain from trying to lift the barbell by using your biceps. From there, slowly return to your starting position and inhale. Get ready to go again. Perform four sets of 12 reps. As mentioned above, perform these three exercises as a tri-set.
Kristian is an elite trainer at Equinox and looks after many of the club’s high-profile members bringing his experience as an ex-rugby pro to the gym floor.
Josh Silverman, Head of Education at Third Space Exercise 1: Landmine Press This is a great overhead exercise that is shoulder friendly. Most people don’t have the range in order to get the arms extended over their head with muscle tension.
Slot one end of the Olympic bar into a floor anchor and add weight to the other end. Pick up the weighted end of the bar and position it over your left or right shoulder, feet shoulder-width apart (staggered if you like). Slight bend in your knees, engage your core and glutes, back straight, shoulder blades contracted back. Push the weight directly upwards.
Exercise 2: Bottoms-Up KB press This is an excellent exercise that challenges the whole muscle. Due to the kettlebell being unstable both your rear and front delt needs to contract in order to prevent the kettlebell from falling down. Start in a split stance with one knee on the floor and the other foot planted in front of you. Hold a kettlebell in the same side hand that you have your knee on the floor. The kettlebell should be held with the bottom facing the ceiling. In a controlled fashion, press the kettlebell in the air ensuring it does not fall.
Exercise 3: Cable lateral raise Ditch the dumbbell for a cable when doing a literal raise. The reason being is that the resistance profile of the cable perfectly matches our strength profile in this movement. A dumbbell is light when we are string and heavy when we are weak in this move so you will not get the desired tension.
Start with the cable at its lowest setting and attach a D handle. Standing side on to the cable machine, grab the handle with your palm facing down with the opposite hand. Have a slight bend in your knees and keeping your arm straight lift the cable in a flying motion to bring your palm in line with your shoulder.
Ahmed Jaffer, Strength Trainer at Psycle London Exercise 1: Eccentric Push Press The weight should be heavier than your strict press. Starting with the usual push press to overhead. Once the bar is at its peak height, pause at the top for a second and slowly lower the weight down to the chest for 3-5 seconds and repeat. The heavy controlled negative movement will spur growth and strength in a short matter of time over the shoulder region including your delts and traps. I'd aim for 5-8 reps per set. If you can achieve a higher rep range, I'd say it's time you increase weight. For the remainder of the exercises, I'd recommend controlling the movement as much as possible as opposed to lifting heavier and super-setting. I'd recommend 2-3 supersets of 8-12 reps.
Exercise 2: Dumbbell/Cable Lat Raise With a dumbbell in either hand and standing upright, lift the dumbbells laterally up to shoulder height by lifting through the elbows. This way, your arms should have a slight bend to avoid any rotator cuff strain and instead you'll be focusing on your delts.
Exercise 3: Frontal Plate/Dumbbell Raise Firmly grip a plated weight and raise the plate in front of you up until the centre of the plate reaches shoulder level, ensuring an ever so slight bend in the arms (avoiding rotator cuff strain).
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Ross Edgley Exercise 1: Behind The Neck Press Try adding supersets into your shoulder routine. This is where you perform multiple exercises within one set. This is particularly good for shoulders that by their anatomical nature work over many ranges of motion. These three exercises are one example.
This is just a conventional barbell press, but performed behind the head. Resting the bar behind your neck and on the tops of your traps during the downward phase forces the shoulders to work over a different range of movement to the traditional military press. Perform eight reps.
Exercise 2: Incline Reverse Fly Lie on an incline bench (facedown) so that your stomach is resting on the bench and your head can see over the top. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other. Whilst keeping a slight bend in the elbows raise the dumbbells until level with the shoulders. Pause then lower to the start. Perform eight reps.
Exercise 3: Upright Row Stand upright and hold a barbell in front of you. Using an overhand grip next raise the bar up to a point just below your chin. The entire time keep your palms facing your body. Pause and return to the start position. Perform 12 repetitions in total.
© Andy Lovelee
George Palmer, personal trainer and fitness instructor Exercise 1: Single-arm kettlebell Arnold press Hold a kettlebell by the inside corner of its handle and come into a clean to bring it up to the torso – rack it tight towards the chest at shoulder-height. The kettlebell should be gripped with the handle resting diagonally from just above your thumb, down across your wrist joint – this hook-like grip will help keep your wrist neutral rather than having it dangerously extending. If done correctly, you should now have a straight line from the knuckles through to the elbow. Keeping shoulders pushed down and back and your gaze forwards, you are now in your starting position.
Exhale as you extend your arm above you, simultaneously rotating the palm of your hand from an inwards-facing position into a forward-facing position at the top.
Pause here for a second before you inhale and slowly reverse the motion to bring the kettlebell back down to a racked position.
Repeat the desired amount of reps and repeat this exercise evenly on the other side of your body now.
Exercise 2: Kettlebell upright row Standing with feet hip-distance apart and holding the kettlebell handle with a firm grip in both hands, pull the shoulders down and back. This is your starting position.
Breathe out as you lead with the elbows to raise the kettlebell along the line of your body until it is level with the sternum – you do not need to go higher than this. Avoid rounding of the shoulders throughout by keeping shoulder blades pulled towards each other.
Pause at the top for a second or two and breathe in as you begin to lower the kettlebell down towards its starting position. Keep the movement controlled.
Exercise 3: Dumbbell lateral raises Stand tall as you grip a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. With palms facing inwards, bring your feet to be hip-distance apart. Keep your core muscles solid and pull shoulders down and back.
Exhale as you simultaneously raise your arms out to each side, leading with your elbows and with just a slight bend at the joint – keep your wrists below the elbows throughout the movement.
Once elbows are shoulder-height, pause at the top for a second and inhale as you slowly lower the arms back down to your starting position.
Exercise 4: Dumbbell reverse flys Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders pulled back and down as you hinge at the hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Keeping your shoulder muscles engaged, allow your arms to hang straight down towards the ground with a neutral grip, palms facing inwards.
Now in your starting position, keep your spine neutral and torso still as you exhale and raise your arms out to your sides, leading with your elbows. Have a just a slight bend in the elbow and keep the same angle throughout the motion.
Pause at the top for a second before you inhale and begin to lower the arms back down to your starting position.
Exercise 5: Dumbbell internal rotation Lie on your side on an exercise mat. Position your upper arm on the mat and close to the front of your torso. Bend your elbow 90 degrees with the dumbbell gripped facing towards your torso and held directly above the elbow joint.
Breathe in as you rotate the shoulder to lower the dumbbell away from you and towards the floor, until you feel a slight stretch in the shoulder – you should keep a 90-degree angle in the elbow throughout the movement and the dumbbell shouldn’t touch the floor.
Pause for a second before you exhale and begin to internally rotate the shoulder to lift the dumbbell back towards your torso until its back in the starting position.
Do the desired number of reps on this side and then repeat the same exercise on the other side of the body.
Exercise 6: Dumbbell external rotation Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms by your side and feet firmly planted on the floor approximately shoulder-distance apart. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees and bring your arms up so that elbows are at shoulder height and forearms are pointing towards the ceiling – dumbbells are held directly above the elbow. This is your starting position.
Now inhale as you rotate the shoulders to lower the forearms in front of you until they are parallel with the floor – you should go no further than parallel. Avoid rounding of the shoulders by keeping them pulled back and down throughout the movement.
Pause at the bottom of this motion before you exhale and externally rotate the shoulder to bring the dumbbells back to their starting position.
How to turn these into a workout Try doing three or four sets of each exercise. Do ten to 14 reps on each movement and where you can increase the weight of your equipment as you progress through the reps during each set. Keep rest time to 60-90 seconds between each rep.
You can also pair up exercises as “supersets” to increase the intensity, not to mention save time. So, for example, supersetting exercises “1 & 2”, “3 & 4” and “5 & 6” – each pair of exercises will be done with little or no rest time in between the two movements and then you will get rest time after the superset.
Learn more about training with George on his Instagram or website .
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