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Bodybuilding Training Principles For Creating Shoulder Routines

Get Bigger & Wider Shoulders With These Bodybuilding Shoulder Training Routines


Hugo Rivera's Shoulders and Triceps.

Hugo Rivera's Shoulders and Triceps.

The shoulders are a muscle group that consist of the deltoids and the trapezius muscles.

The deltoids function is to move the arm in all directions. It is a complex muscle, and as a result has three main heads:
  1. The anterior deltoid, which is the front head that raises the arm to the front.

  2. The lateral deltoid, which is the side head whose function is to lift the arm to the sides.

  3. The posterior deltoid, which is the rear head, that enables you to raise the arm to the rear.

No physique is complete without a nice set of properly developed shoulders. Great bodybuilders that come to mind with unbelievable shoulder development are Larry Scott, Dave Draper, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. More recent champions with awesome shoulders are Kevin Levrone, Flex Wheeler, Lee Labrada, Darrem Charles, and David Henry. By the way, if you are a figure girl, then shoulders are of utmost importance as well since that is one of the muscle groups that the judges look at the most. And if you are not looking to ever compete, well built shoulders will just make you look good.

How To Achieve Powerful Looking Shoulders

To have a powerful looking shoulders, the size of all three heads needs to be maximized in order to attain a wide and three dimensional thick look. In addition, training all three heads prevents shoulder injuries due to strength imbalances.

The trapezius muscles are also part of the back muscle complex as they start at the base of the neck and go all the way to the middle of the back. Their function is to lift the shoulders up. One needs to be careful in not overdeveloping the trapezius (traps) as overdeveloped ones give the optical illusion of having a narrow physique.

Good Shoulder Exercises

Like any other list of bodybuilding exercises, shoulder exercises are divided in compound, multi-jointed movements and isolation movements. The compound movements will activate more than one head of the muscle and often involve the trapezius as well. As I mention in my article Choosing The Right Exercises for Maximum Results, compund movements with dumbbells will give you the most stimulation followed by compound movements with barbells. Isolation movements with dumbbells then come in 3rd place followed by those performed with a machine.

Compound Basic Shoulder Exercises

  1. Front and lateral head emphasis

    These exercises emphasize the front and lateral heads of the deltoids with secondary stimulation on the rear head and trapezius.

    • Dumbbell Shoulder Presses

    • Barbell Shoulder Presses To Front

    • Barbell Shoulder Presses To Rear (not an exercise I like to use as it hyperextends the rotator cuff and puts you at risk for injury).

    • Smith Machine Presses (which gives you less stimulation than the exercises presented above, but can be useful at times when you want to introduce variety in the program).

  2. Side, rear delt and traps emphasis

    These exercises emphasize the side, rear delts and trapezius muscles with secondary emphasis on the front delts.

    • Dumbbell Upright Rows

    • Barbell Upright Rows (medium shoulder width grip or wider grip for more side head stimulation)

    • Cable Upright Rows (provides a different feel from the dumbbell and barbell versions due to the tension that the cables provide).

  3. Rear head and traps emphasis

    These exercises emphasize the rear delts and traps with secondary emphasis on the front and side delts. The trick to make them work on the rear delts is keeping your upper arm away from your torso. As you go up, the elbow should bend and the forearms should always face down to the floor. The final position of the movements below places your upper arm parallel to the floor and perpendicular to the torso (there should be a 90 degree angle between the upper arm and your torso). The forearms should be perpendicular to the floor as well as they should always be facing down.

    • Rear Delt Dumbbell Row

    • Rear Delt Bent Over Row

    • Rear Delt Rows on T-Bar Row Machine

    • Cable Rear Delt Low Pulley Rows With A Rope (here you use a rope on the low pulley machine and bring it towards your neck as the elbows and arms are kept to the side parallel to the floor).
Isolation Exercises

For the shoulders, isolation exercises will be of extreme importance in order to dial in each specific head. The following are my favorite isolation exercises.

  1. Front head emphasis

    For the front head, any variation of front raises is a good one.

    • Front Raises With Dumbbells

    • Barbell Front Raises

    • Front Raises With A Weight Plate

    • Cable Front Raises (one arm at a time or at the same time).

  2. Side and traps emphasis

    Lateral Raises are the king of isolation exercises to target the side head.

    • Dumbbell Lateral Raises

    • Incline One Arm Dumbbell Laterals.

    • Lying Dumbbell Laterals (performed lying side ways on an incline bench).

    • Cable One Arm Laterals.

  3. Rear head

    The rear head gets targeted well with bent over lateral movements. However, this is one muscle group that benefits a lot from the direct stimulus that a rear delt machine provides.

    • Bent Over Lateral Raises

    • Bent Over Lateral Raises Facing Down On An Incline Bench

    • One Arm Bent Over Lateral Raises With Low Cables

    • Rear Delt Machine

  4. Trapezius Muscles

    The best isolation exercise for the trapezius muscle is the shoulder shrug. There are many variations of this valuable exercise.

    • Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug

    • Barbell Shoulder Shrug To Front

    • Barbell Shoulder Shrug To Back

    • Cable Shoulder Shrug (to front or back)

    • Smith Machine Shoulder Shrug (to front or back)

    • Machine Shoulder Shrug (some machines are designed to mimic the dumbbell shrug movement)

Now that we have presented several exercises for the shoulders, lets take a look at some effective bodybuilding shoulder routines.

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