A good pair of shoulders makes a huge difference to a persons physique. Having broad shoulders is attractive because they make you look strong, and your waist appear smaller – ideal for the V-Taper look (broad shoulders and back, with a small waist).
In this post we’re going to focus on the following question…
What’s the best way to add size to your shoulders?
#1 Heavy Presses
The single best way to add mass to your shoulders is to get strong on a bunch of pressing movements. Pressing movements include:
- Bench press (incline, flat, decline)
- Close grip press
- Machine press (incline, flat, decline)
- DB shoulder press
- Military barbell press
- Landmine press
- Arnold DB press
I wouldn’t recommend doing all of the above exercises, that would be too much, but choose a handful each week. For example, for your chest… choose an incline DB press, for the shoulders pick a Military Barbell press, and for the triceps… a close grip press. All of these exercises will hit the shoulders to a certain degree, and make them bigger, especially the front portion of the shoulder muscle.
Make these lifts your main one’s, and do them early on in your session, maybe after a 5 minute cardio warm up, and after you’ve done your foam rolling and mobility work – then do 1-2 warm up sets before going into your heavy pressing sets.
In terms of rep ranges for your presses? I’d recommend sticking to between 6-12 reps. Go heavy and give 100%. Take 90-120s rest in between each set, and go for 2-3 working sets.
#2 Choose A Variety of Exercises
There are lots of exercises which you can do to hit the shoulders, some of the best exercises are:
- Presses – already mentioned them in the previous chapter (see above!)
- Raises – side raises, front, rear
- Upright rows – with dumbbells, barbell, or a cable machine
- Shrugs – DB shrugs, barbell shrugs, machine shrugs
- Machines – shoulder press, side raise machine, rear delt fly machine
- Cables – for a variety of raises, presses, etc
If you really want your shoulders to grow, then I’d recommend picking 3-4 different shoulder exercises in each workout. For example…
- 1 pressing movement e.g. Landmine shoulder press
- 1 lateral movement e.g. cable side raises
- 1 rear delt movement e.g. bent over DB raises
- 1 trap focused movement e.g. upright rows or a shrug variation
#3 Different Rep Ranges
Shoulders, like lots of muscles in the body respond really well to varying rep ranges, here’s a good guide for shoulder exercises…
- Heavy pressing movement – ideal rep range = 6-12 reps
- Isolation exercises – ideal rep range = 12-50 reps
Whilst it’s good to go heavy on your presses, with other isolation exercises, it’s wise to go for lighter weights, more reps, and overall volume. The aim with isolation exercises is to get a good pump – filling your shoulders up with blood.
Here’s an example shoulder workout you could do with varying rep ranges…
- Exercise 1 – DB shoulder press – 3 sets x 6-12 reps (2 mins rest in between each set)
- Exercise 2 – DB side raises – 3 sets x 10-15 reps (60s rest in between each set)
- Exercise 3 – Rear cable fly – 3 sets x 20-25 reps (60s rest in between each set)
- Exercise 4 – Barbell shrug’s – 3 sets x 10-15 reps (60s rest in between each set)
The above is a great example of how to get your shoulders bigger, and stronger. You’ll also leave the gym with an insane shoulder pump, and feel like the Incredible Hulk! lol!
#4 High Frequency
If you want to prioritise your shoulders, then hit them more frequently e.g. 2-3x per week. For example, you could do shoulders on…
For each session pick a slightly different focus, and mix up the exercises. One thing I like to do is focus on a different part of the shoulder for each workout, for example…
- Shoulder session 1 – front shoulders: a pressing movement + a front raise variation
- Shoulder session 2 – side shoulders: 2- 3 lateral exercises
- Shoulder session 3 – rear shoulders and traps – 1 rear delt exercises + a shrug movement
The other way you could set up high frequency shoulder sessions, is to hit the entire shoulder in each session, BUT do low volume weight training. If you train the shoulders 3x per week, you’ve got to be careful not to overtrain them. So the more you train them, the less sets you should be doing.
Here’s an alternative 3 day per week shoulder routine…
- 1 x pressing movement (2 working sets)
- 1 x lateral movement (2 working sets)
- 1 x rear movement (2 working sets)
- 1 x trap focused exercise (2 working sets)
So for each session you are doing 8 intense sets. Do this 3x per week and your shoulders will balloon up!
Here’s how it could look in your weekly set up…
Shoulder session 1
- Military barbell press x 6-12 reps (2 sets)
- DB side raises x 10-15 reps (2 sets)
- Rear cable fly x 20-25 reps (2 sets)
- Barbell shrugs x 10-15 reps (2 sets)
Shoulder session 2
- DB Arnold press x 6-12 reps (2 sets)
- Cable lateral raise x 15-20 reps each arm (2 sets)
- Bent over rear raises x 15-20 reps (2 sets)
- DB upright row x 10-15 reps (2 sets)
Shoulder session 3
- Landmine shoulder press x 6-12 reps (2 sets)
- Side raise machine x 10-15 reps (2 sets)
- Bent over row (wide grip for rear delts) x 10-15 reps (2 sets)
- DB shrugs x 15-20 reps (2 sets)
#5 Time Under Tension (TUT)
For those who aren’t sure of what TUT stands for…
Time Under Tension.
This is the amount of time your muscles are placed under tension for each set. For example, let’s say you go for 10 reps on a shoulder press, instead of just pressing up and down, you opt for a slow eccentric e.g. taking 3s on the lowering phase, and then take 1s on the concentric part of the lift (pressing the weight up), so each rep takes you 4s to complete. You do this for 10 reps, so the set lasts for 40s.
TUT is what most bodybuilders do to get amazing looking muscles, and it’s a great way to make your shoulders burn, and gain overall size. As a general rule of thumb a 2-3s eccentric and 1-2s concentric is a great place to start. Then you can mix it up, it all depends on the exercise. For some bodybuilders they will perform a 5-10s eccentric. There’s lots of variation BUT to begin with aim for a tempo of 3s lowering (eccentric) and 1s lift (concentric).
Thanks for reading, here’s to BIGGER shoulders!