Your Guide to Killer Shoulder Workouts


killer shoulder workouts

Think about your upper body training; are your shoulders getting enough attention? Probably not. Here are some great shoulder workouts.

Because the shoulders can be pretty stubborn and can take some serious dedication to change them, a lot of people make the mistake of neglecting them. Many people get too focused on arm and chest development exercises, rather than researching shoulder workouts to get big shoulders.

Have you ever heard someone refer to their deltoids or delts?

Your shoulders are made up of three major muscles – and these muscles are called deltoids. There’s the:

  • anterior deltoid
  • the medial deltoid
  • and the posterior deltoid.

So you don’t want to just work out one of these muscles, you want to work them all out. If you don’t shape your deltoid exercise around all three, it is going to be pretty obvious.

So how do we work each set of shoulder muscles effectively?

Generally, for most people, it is the posterior deltoids and medial deltoids that require the most attention. These types of people usually have good chest muscles due to chest exercises. And this is good news because the anterior deltoids get trained (to a point) during these chest exercises. So you’re working the anterior deltoids during this time – however, posterior and medial deltoids don’t get worked at all.

What happens if your skip in these areas?

Working your shoulders should aim to achieve balance from your arms to your chest.

Without a balanced shoulder workout, your arms and your chest are going to totally overpower your shoulder. This can make your shoulders get sort of lost in between the two. You want to aim for the medial head (basically, the top of your shoulder) to protrude enough to balance out the size of your triceps. And you can do this with proper back and shoulder workouts.

Shoulder Workout Myths

When people do train their shoulders, there are two big mistakes most of them make.

The first mistake is focusing on the wrong type of exercise. This includes things like too much time on potentially dangerous isolation moves and machine exercises. These aren’t the way to go if you’re looking to build round, big deltoids.

The other is focusing too much on high-rep training. Some people think this is the best way to get cut. This can be particularly detrimental because it can actually hinder the growth of most major muscle groups in the body – however, it can be extremely damaging specifically to the shoulders.

Most people underestimate how effective bodyweight workouts can be.

Now we get that this might be a little different than what you hear. In fact, a lot of people feel the exact opposite way. Most people believe that because deltoids are considered small muscles, they must respond better to high-rep training.

But this isn’t true.

You might be focusing on the wrong types of moves during your shoulder workouts. Isolation workouts don’t allow enough progressive overload without majorly adding the risk of injury.

best shoulder workouts

Best Shoulder Workout Techniques

When it comes to most of the muscle groups in your body, your shoulders are going to respond the best to compound, heavy weightlifting.

But something else to consider is the number of androgen receptors found within the shoulders (all along the traps, upper chest and upper arms). These receptors are unique kinds of proteins found in the cells and they respond to specific hormones in the blood – like anabolic hormone testosterone.

And this is quickly why some areas of the body (parts like the traps, shoulders, upper chest, and upper arms) tend to explode when someone turns to steroids. In fact, these areas can get pretty out of balance.

You do have to have patience and dedication to getting it done.

So how do you train for size and strength?

First of all, the best shoulder workout for mass is focusing on lifting heavy weights. For solid, big shoulders, aim for a rep range of either 4-6 or 5-7. Secondly, the best shoulder workout focuses on exercises that allow for safe and sufficient progressive overload.

Of course, training in frequency and volume is also critical to your success. The best in terms of training frequency for shoulder workouts is a pretty controversial topic. Basically, what it comes down to is the intensity of volume of the workout itself.
If you decide to go with fewer sets and lighter weights for your workout, you can train that specific muscle group more often.

On the other hand, if you’re going to bump up your weights and sets, you’re going to want to make it a little bit of a shorter workout, since you’re really stressing that muscle group and will need time for optimal recovery.

Let’s say you’re focusing on lifting heavy weights. Well, with the right intensity, you’re going to want to aim for about 40-60 heavy reps every 5 to 7 days. And this isn’t just for your shoulders – this can be used as the guideline for other major muscle groups your body has as well.

If you’re a pretty hardcore weightlifter (and we define this as someone who has over 3 years of proper training) you might want to bump this number up to 70 to 80 reps.

Any more than this amount and you’re taking the risk of becoming overtrained.

One of the other biggest mistakes people make is missing the point on how to gain mass.

This requires caloric surplus, proper vitamins and understanding how much daily protein you need to grow.

The Best Shoulder Exercises

#1 Seated or Standing Military Press.

Barbell pressing is extremely effective because it focuses on all three shoulder muscles, so you’re really building up your shoulders. Plus, you can push some serious weight without worrying about getting hurt.

Some people prefer the seated military press position because when you do the standing version of it, you need to focus on a lot of balance and stability in your lower back in order to perform it properly.

If you have a lot of lower back training already, from things like squats and deadlifts, you aren’t going to need any additional lower back training.Make sure you bring the weight all the way down to your chest in a slow, controlled way. You don’t want to stop at the 90-degree point – just keep your elbows right under the bar and fight the feeling to want to flare them out.

#2 Seated Dumbbell Press

The best shoulder workouts focus on building both size and strength. And that’s what dumbbell variations of the press can do.

#3 Arnold Press

This is similar to the usual Dumbbell Press, but here’s how it’s different: this method uses a bigger range of motion in order to ward off overloading the anterior deltoid.

More Information on the Arnold Press here.

# 4 Dumbbell Front Raise.

This is one of the best ways to focus on targeting the anterior deltoid. This exercise coupled with the presses is going to give you the results you’re working so hard for.

# 5 Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise.

This is the most effective way to build up the medial (or the middle) deltoid. And you really want to focus on this, because this muscle is generally the overdeveloped area when in comparison to the anterior, since a lot of people spend their time focused on shoulder and chest pressing.

Here’s the downside – as your shoulders get bigger and stronger, you’re going to find it hard to keep the proper form as you’re attempting to lift both of the dumbbells at the same time. You can always try a hanging variation of this exercise to keep doing it without cheating.

#6 Rear Dumbbell Raise.

Your posterior deltoid is actually not only the weakest but also the smallest muscle in this group. Regardless, this little guy still needs his fair share of attention so you aren’t completely flat in the back.

The most important thing to remember is the progression is the most important aspect of growing your muscles. You can’t just do these exercises – you have to keep progressing and pushing yourself. Part of that process requires refueling for muscle growth with ample, lean protein.

You don’t want you or your body to get too comfortable with a specific routine or weight. Rather, you want to increase the amount of weight you can push and see how far you can go.

We’ve said it before – if your body doesn’t get any stronger, you are not going to get any bigger. But focusing on building your strength through these exercises and eating healthy is going to give you what you want – big, strong shoulders.


#1 Seated Dumbbell Press

Sets: 3-4

Reps: 4-8

Rest Time: 60-90 Seconds

#2 Standing Barbell Military Press

Sets: 3-4

Reps: 5

Rest Time: 75-120 Seconds

#3 Side Lateral Dumbell Raises

Sets: 3-4

Reps: 6-10

Rest Time: 90 Seconds

#4 Arnold Press

Sets: 3-4

Reps: 8-12

Rest Time: 60 Seconds

Pace: 2:2

#5 Rear Dumbbell Raise

Sets: 3-4

Reps: 8

Rest Time: 90 Seconds

#6 Dumbbell Front Raise

Sets: 3-4

Reps: 8

Rest Time: 90 Seconds

This should be a killer shoulder workout!

There are always more shoulder tips and tricks you can add to the mix to change it up and optimize the effectiveness of the workout! 

Tips and Tricks For Bigger Shoulders

So as you probably know why now, the best shoulder workout is the kind that trains all three heads in the muscle. And of course, keeping it heavy with the weights. Much like every other muscle group your body has, higher reps will work, but you really want to dedicate your time to heavy lifting in order to see them explode.

Mixing in ultimate bodyweight workouts can also do a great deal for your definition.

You should try to focus on shoulders training once every 5 to 7 days. You will be well on your way to bigger and stronger shoulders with this routine or one similar to the one below.

For the seated/standing military press, give yourself some time to warm up and then shoot for 4 to 6 reps for 3 sets. Next, go to the dumbbell side lateral. The key here (and with every other exercise here) is maintaining your form. So if you can maintain the proper form, you want to try to go for 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps. If you feel like your form is slipping, go for 4 to 6 reps. Next comes the rear dumbbell raises. Again, if you can keep the form, go for 3 sets of 6 to 8. If you can’t 4 to 6 is fine.

Got some energy left?

Okay, go for some more. You can do the dumbbell front raise with 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps or bump it up to 6 to 8 reps.

If you take a look at that workout, it’s probably doable – after all, at the very least it’s 9 heavy sets and at the very most, it’s 12. If you’re on the more advanced/experienced level, you can definitely do these last 3 sets, but like we said, don’t overtrain yourself!

As soon as you tip the top of your rep range for the set you’re working on, step up the weights. Let’s say you’re able to get out 6 reps of that military press. Try to add 5 pounds to both ends of the bar and use that weight until you’re able to get out 6 reps.

Then step it up.

See where we’re going with this?

And another important step – take a few minutes to rest in between each and every set. It’s imperative to give your muscles the time they need to get their strength back. Consider adding a safe, effective pre-workout formula to your regimen. This way, you can give every single set all the effort you have and push it through.


Our final words of advice on shoulder workouts – train heavy, eat clean and get enough protein to support growth. Combining the right shoulder workouts with smart nutrition will help in terms of both strength and appearance of your shoulders. Focusing on heavier weight, without losing focus on your form, will build the size you want on your shoulders.

At the end of the day, how hard you work during shoulder workouts and what you put in your body to refuel (and whether you get enough sleep) will all impact your success. Push yourself and be accountable! Have a great workout and enjoy your new, bigger, stronger delts.

-Terry Asher

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Terry Asher

Owner & Founder at Gym Junkies LLC
After changing his best friend’s life by helping him lose over 70lbs, dropping him down to an amazing 7% body fat, Terry was inspired to be a full-time internet trainer knowing he could do the same for many more. In 2010, Terry published his own diet and fitness e-book that can be purchased on this website. Let Terry help you change your body for the better!
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  1. Hey Terry,

    I am 23 and have been weightlifting for a couple of years now, when do you actually do your shoulder workouts? I mean what day of the week?

    Do you workout your shoulder with other muscle groups or alone?

    Thanks man!

    • Frankie,

      I personally my shoulder workouts on Thursday, and I do dedicate one full day to shoulders.

      If you’re doing a true split routine like found on this muscle building post, I suggest the same.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hey Terry,

    So out of the exercises given in the shoulder workout would you say some are better than others or would you recommend to do all of them?

    thx bro

    • Hey Jared,

      Honestly, I would focus more on the fact of hitting all parts of your shoulder. For example, make sure you hit anterior (front part), lateral(top area) and rear delts(back of shoulder).

      Some of the listed exercises are better at hitting certain parts of your shoulder, hope this helps!

      Terry Asher

  3. Hi Terry really good article you have written here a lot easier to read and digest than a lot of the other stuff you find online.
    I’m looking for your weekly plan of what body parts you train on what days. I read above that you train your shoulders on Thursdays, where can I find your weekly training plan?
    If not yours I am looking for one to increase my size and mass I am an experienced gym user.

    Thanks for your time!


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