Building Big Shoulders

By Karen Sessions

The shoulders, also known as the Deltoids or "delts", add shape and width to the upper body. The shoulder is divided into three parts, anterior, acrominal (lateral), and posterior. The shoulders are an important factor in training, as well as bodybuilding presentation, because they present the total package. Properly developed shoulders bring out the "V" shape, giving a smaller appearance to your waist and it provides beautiful symmetry. Strong shoulders are important for training since they are involved in most of your upper body movements.

Each of the shoulders' three sections contains fibers that run in different directions. Shifting resistance to the different sections depends on movement of the upper arm. To have a well-balanced and shapely shoulder, you must train all three sections equally.

The Mass Builder
Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is the mass builder of shoulder exercises and it should be incorporated first. Pressing movements to the front are the safest. The behind-the-neck press is an unnatural movement and adds stress to the neck, and if the weight is too heavy you can cause damage. You can use a machine, dumbbells, or barbells to effectively execute the shoulder press, but the barbell press will be the best mass builder.

The Sides of the Shoulder
Lateral Deltoid

Having well developed lateral deltoids will enhance your symmetry nearly 100%. However, to best build these you need overall shoulder strength, which is created by pressing movements. Basically what I'm saying is that you can't just focus on one part of the shoulder or the other. Focus and train it as a whole is it's well developed and strong.

Upright Row
A confusing lift is the upright row. Many people think it works the front of their shoulder, but nothing could be further from the truth. The shoulder is attached to the humerus, and since it is a shoulder joint, the arm goes to the side. Therefore, the upright row works the lateral deltoid, not the anterior, as many believe. To avoid rotator cuff damage when executing this movement, do not allow the humerus to elevate past what is parallel to the floor. This exercise works the same deltoid head as the next exercise, the lateral raises. Therefore, using both movements in one training session is not needed since they do the same thing.

Lateral Raises
When performing lateral raises, be sure the humerus travels out to the side of the body, not toward the front. Do not elevate the hand past what is parallel to the floor. The range of motion is from the side of the body and finished at a 90-degree angle. Some people use a slight medial, inward, rotation at the contraction, something like pouring water out of a pitcher, however if the weight is heavy this can cause damage.

The Front of the Shoulder
Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid, front of the shoulder, is stimulated a lot during chest training, especially with the incline presses, as well as with shoulder presses. No extensive training is necessary unless they are very weak in comparison to the rest of the chest and shoulder area. Even though the anterior deltoids come into play with many chest exercises- that is no reason to neglect them. Train them as any other body part.

Front Raises
Obviously, the front raises stimulate the anterior part of the shoulder. Incorporate raises to the front with either with a barbell, a dumbbell, or a plate. Bring the weight straight out until arms are parallel with the floor and return the movement.

Arnold Presses
The Arnold Press is another front shoulder exercise. Many folks tend to forget about this movement. With a pair of dumbbells, begin with your hands at shoulder height and palms facing each other. As you press upward, rotate your hands forward until your arms are straight over your head. As you lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, rotate your hands toward each other once again. After each set, say the phrase, "I'll be back". Ok, that part was a joke.

The Back of the Shoulder
Posterior Deltoid

Many bodybuilders have weaker rear deltoids because they are often neglected. Other stronger muscles will take over for them if you are not concentrating hard on the technique. Train them at a slow pace in a controlled manner.

Rear Deltoid Machine
The rear-deltoid machine is the best movement to isolate the back of the shoulders. As you contract, squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold the contraction for two seconds and return to the starting position slowly. Keep constant tension on the rear delts throughout the exercise.

Bent Side Lateral Raises
Another good exercise for the rear-deltoids is the bent-over dumbbell raises. Bend over at the hips, grasping a light to moderate dumbbell in each hand. With your upper body parallel to the floor, slowly bring each dumbbell straight out from your sides, making sure not to elevate them past your body that is parallel. Use the same contraction method and squeeze the shoulder blades together, keeping constant tension on them throughout the exercise.

Lying Incline Posterior Deltoid Raises
Lying incline posterior deltoid raises are also excellent for the rear deltoid. Simply lie on your side on a low angled incline bench and hold a dumbbell in front of you. From this position raise it up overhead, contracting the shoulder blade and lower it to a 90-degree angle in front of you. This movement also targets the lateral deltoid.

Lying Incline Posterior Deltoid Rows
Lying incline posterior deltoid rows is another awkward, rear deltoid movement. Lie face down on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand and contract your shoulder blades together. This movement will also target the "traps".

It's not necessary to do more than one lateral, front, or rear delt exercise. The object is muscle stimulation, not exaggeration. Don't make it a workout marathon. Train briefly with maximum intensity and leave. Nourish the body and let it rest. Growth will come.

Karen Sessions has been in the fitness industry since 1988. She embarked on weight training to overcome an eating disorder, Anorexia Nervosa in its early stages. She overcame the eating disorder, received her personal training certificate, competed in many local bodybuilding contests, and qualified for Nationals. Since then she's went on to write six e-books (weight loss, female bodybuilding, contest preparation, leg training, figure/fitness secrets, and cellulite removal). She writes articles for several fitness websites, as well as her own,, and also distributes a monthly e-newsletter. She has a very active and lively forum, filled with positive and supportive people with informative content. Karen's sole goal is to educate others and help them apply that knowledge.

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