Lifting a weight that’s too heavy for you is a mistake regardless of the part of the body you’re working, but it can be truly disastrous when performing shoulder exercises. The shoulders are delicate and complicated joints that are not especially easy to target, and if you do put them under too much pressure before they’re ready you can end up with injuries that put you out of action for months.
It is also, however, absolutely essential to schedule some shoulder-specific exercises into your workouts, because without strong Noddy Holders, you’re going to come up short when attempting all sorts of other lifts, especially when training your chest and back.
The shoulder is made up of three heads – the anterior (front delt), medial (side delt) and posterior (rear delt) – and you need to work all three of them, along with the trapezius muscle in the upper back, for a truly satisfying shoulder session.
If that sounds like a lot of planning, we have some good news – we have a workout that works all of those muscles right here!
The workout below is broken down into a pair of tri-sets, with the six exercises you’ll do in total doing a sterling job of working all three heads of the shoulder and the trapezius muscle. To get the most out of it make sure you stick to the sets, reps, tempo and rest detailed, and don’t go too heavy with the weight to start with. If you start to find any of the rep counts too easy, add a little weight. Do this workout twice a week for a month and watch your shoulders turn into boulders.
How To Get The Most Out Of This Shoulder Workout
Move through a full range
Moving your muscles through their full range of motion will engage far more muscle fibres than doing partial reps or cheat reps (where momentum moves the weight). The more fibres you fatigue, the faster your muscles grow.
Stick to a strict tempo
Tempo – the speed of each rep – is indicated by a four-digit code. The first number is the time in seconds you take to lower the weight; the second is the pause at the bottom; the third is the time you take to lift it; the fourth is the pause at the top.
Keep your rest periods brief
In each tri-set you rest for 10sec after the first and second moves, and 90sec after the third move. Stick to these rest periods to subject your muscles to accumulated fatigue, which will damage more tissue to elicit more growth.
How To Avoid Injury
Follow these three rules before the workout to limit your risk of injury
- Mobilise the joint: Before you go near a weight, spend five to ten minutes gradually mobilising the joint. This will increase your shoulder’s range of motion and activate the rotator cuff muscles.
- Warm up right: Do some sets of the first tri-set moves, starting with light weights and high reps, and increasing the weight and lowering the reps until you get to your work-set weight.
- Don’t push it: If you struggle with a weight don’t try to force it. End the set or reduce the weight. Your shoulders are very delicate and it’s not worth risking injury.
Two Moves To Mobilise Your Shoulders
This warm-up drill is a particular favourite of Chinese Olympic weightlifter Lu Xiaojun, who places huge demands on his shoulder joints by performing elite-level clean and jerks. Using a resistance band, broom handle or similar, adopt a wide grip above your head. Lower the band or stick behind your body, keeping your palms facing outwards, until your hands are in line with the hips. This puts your shoulders in external rotation, which you should find extremely useful if you work at a desk or perform a lot of pressing exercises.
Cable Rotator Cuff Extensions
Set a cable pulley to chest height. Standing side-on, pull the cable outwards with your outside arm, keeping your elbow tucked in. This effectively warms up your rotator cuff muscles, which can take a battering from excessive pressing movements.
Shoulder Workout Routine
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2010 Rest 10sec
Stand tall with a barbell across the front of your shoulders. Brace your core, then press the bar directly overhead. Lower it slowly back to the start.
1B Push press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 20X0 Rest 10sec
Using the same weight as in move 1A, bend your knees to create power to press the bar overhead. Then lower it slowly under complete control.
1C Barbell shrug
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 1111 Rest 90sec
Lower the bar to thigh level then, keeping your arms straight, shrug the bar up so that your shoulders reach your ears. Hold this top position for a second, then lower it back to the start.
2A Seated Arnold press
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2111 Rest 10sec
Sit holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing you. Press them up overhead, rotating your wrists as you go, so you end with straight arms and palms facing away.
2B Seated lateral raise
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2111 Rest 10sec
Switch to lighter dumbbells then, leaning forward slightly, raise them to shoulder height, leading with your elbows. Pause at the top, then lower back under control.
Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 2111 Rest 90sec
Stand up and, using the same weights as 2B, bend forwards from your hips. Lead with your elbows to raise the weights to shoulder height. Pause, then lower back under control.