This bodybuilding shoulder workout routine gives you the tools to add muscle to all deltoid heads and get boulder shoulders that stand out anywhere!
Introducing StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout
Well-developed shoulders are essential for a stand-out physique, whether you are a bodybuilder or want to look your best with or without clothes.
Symmetry is a fundamental aspect of bodybuilding. While balanced muscle development is essential for achieving a symmetrical physique, you don’t hear many bodybuilders complaining about having too wide shoulders.
Instead, well-rounded, muscular deltoids help create harmony between upper and lower body muscle groups. Broad shoulders contribute to your overall aesthetics by creating a V-taper appearance, making your waist appear smaller and your upper body wider.
This shoulder workout is one of many premium workouts in the StrengthLog workout log app, which you can download for free using the button for your device:
Basic Shoulder Anatomy
The deltoid muscle is a triangular-shaped muscle located on the outer part of the shoulder. It comprises three distinct sets of muscle fibers or heads that form one of the most sizable muscle groups in the upper body.
Anterior Deltoid: This front part of the deltoid originates from the front of the collarbone and inserts into the upper part of the humerus (the bone of the upper arm).
Lateral Deltoid: The middle part of the deltoid originates from the outer edge of the shoulder blades and also inserts into the upper humerus. Many people refer to them as the medial deltoid, which is incorrect. Medial means close to the midline of your body, not “middle.”
Posterior Deltoid: The deltoid’s rear part originates from the shoulder blade’s lower edge and inserts into the upper humerus.
Function of the Deltoid Muscle
The deltoid muscle is responsible for various movements of the shoulder joint. Its primary functions include:
Shoulder Abduction: When you raise your arm out to the side, as in a lateral raise, the side delt is the primary muscle responsible for this movement. It allows you to lift your arm away from your body.
Shoulder Flexion: The front delts assist in lifting your arm forward, as in front raises or when you lift your arm in front of you.
Shoulder Extension: The rear delts help with movements where you extend your arm backward, such as pulling your arm back from an overhead position.
Transverse (Horizontal) Abduction: When you move your arm away from the body horizontally, the posterior deltoid comes into play. It is involved in movements like swinging your arm backward during athletic activities.
Transverse (Horizontal) Adduction: When you bring your arm back in from a horizontal position toward your body, the anterior deltoid helps with this motion.
Benefits of Strong Shoulders
The benefits of having strong, well-developed shoulders go beyond physical appearance. They are vital for athletic performance, posture, and everyday muscle and joint health.
Strong shoulder muscles are essential for excelling in a wide range of physically demanding sports, such as football, basketball, and swimming. In strength-based activities, the power generated by these muscles plays a crucial role.
Robust deltoid muscles are indispensable whenever you need to push objects away from you or engage in throwing motions.
A well-balanced chest and shoulder development positively impacts your posture by pulling your shoulders back and promoting an upright stance.
Tight pecs and deltoid muscles can cause your shoulders to slouch forward, leading to poor posture. A well-designed shoulder training routine not only builds big shoulders but enhances flexibility and increases your range of motion, much like stretching exercises do.
Enhanced Physical Appearance
Well-defined, broad shoulders significantly enhance your overall physical appearance, bestowing a more muscular and sculpted upper body.
In addition, for a bodybuilder, developing broad, rounded shoulders is vital for success.
StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout: Overview
This bodybuilding shoulder workout combines the best shoulder exercises for all parts of your deltoids into the ultimate package for muscle growth, even if your bone structure doesn’t allow for the greatest natural shoulder width.
You’ll do five exercises, including both isolation exercises and compound movements, to hit your delts from all angles.
In total, you’ll perform 18 sets. That might seem like a lot, but you must consider that the deltoids are a complex muscle group. You have to give each head of the muscle the attention it needs for complete development. For example, many bodybuilders “forget” the rear delts, even though they are essential for that rounded, 3D look.
This bodybuilding shoulder workout leaves no deltoid head behind.
One session of the bodybuilding shoulder workout per week is enough training volume for great gains, but you could perform it twice weekly if your workout split calls for two days of delt training. Be careful not to overdo it, though. Even the best shoulder workouts require rest and recovery to be optimally effective.
Who Is StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout For?
StrengthLog’s bodybuilding shoulder workout is intended for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders who want to add size and build muscle.
If you’re new to strength training, it is likely too much for your current fitness level. Take a look at the Beginner Barbell Workout Plan or Bodybuilding for Beginners, both excellent programs that incorporate shoulder training and prepare you for a dedicated bodybuilding split.
Warming Up for StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout
Warming up before a workout is essential to prevent shoulder injury, improve flexibility, and ensure you’re prepared for the demands of the training session.
The shoulder joint is particularly susceptible to injury due to its complexity and wide range of motion. A thorough warm-up can help increase blood flow, prime the muscles, and prepare the joints.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to warming up before your bodybuilding shoulder workout.
General Cardio Warm-Up
This part of the warm-up is optional but is a great way to raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to your muscles.
Begin with 5-10 minutes of cardiovascular activity, for example:
- Jogging or brisk walking
- Jump rope
- Stationary biking
- Rowing machine
Dynamic stretching is controlled movement through a joint’s full range of motion. For the shoulders, these exercises are beneficial:
- Arm circles: Start with small circles and gradually increase the size. Perform both clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations.
- Arm swings: Swing your arms forward and backward.
- Cross-body arm swings: Swing your arms across the front of your body and then open them wide to the sides.
- Shoulder shrugs: Raise your shoulders towards your ears and then lower them.
Perform movements similar to what you’ll do in your workout but with lighter weights and higher reps. This is to prime the muscles further.
- Lightweight shoulder presses: Use a barbell or a set of dumbbells.
- Upright rows: Pull the weight up to chest level using a barbell or pair of dumbbells.
- Band pull-aparts: Use a resistance band and pull it apart with straight arms.
- Listen to your body: If something feels off, take extra time to warm up or consider adjusting your workout.
- Keep the warm-up dynamic: The aim is to prepare your body for activity, not exhaust it before the main workout.
StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout: The Exercises
Let’s take a closer look at the exercises of the bodybuilding shoulders workout, with detailed instructions on how to perform them with proper form and with some pro tips on how to get the most out of them.
You can see the recommended number of sets and rep ranges in StrengthLog.
Rest Between Sets
You don’t need to precisely time your rest intervals, but rest until you feel ready for your next set.
Standard recommendations that work great for most lifters are 2–3 minutes for compound exercises and 1–2 minutes for isolation movements.
Even if you want to keep things going, go for at least 60 seconds of rest between sets to perform your best.
Reverse Machine Flyes
Many lifters, including competitive bodybuilders, half-heartedly tack on a few sets of rear delt training at the end of the workout—no wonder their posterior delts are often underdeveloped compared to their front and middle delts.
Instead of training your rear delts when running out of steam after a hard training session, you’ll hit them right away with the first exercise of the bodybuilding shoulder routine: machine reverse flyes.
Using a machine instead of a pair of dumbbells maximizes the tension on the muscle throughout the movement. It removes the stability requirements and makes engaging and isolating your rear delts easier.
How to Perform Reverse Machine Flyes
- Set Up the Machine: Adjust the machine to your body size. Ensure that the seat and chest pad are positioned so you can sit comfortably with your chest against the pad and your feet flat on the ground. The handles should be at shoulder level.
- Select the Weight: Before you begin, select an appropriate weight for the exercise. Choose a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with good form while challenging your muscles. Adjust the weight stack on the machine accordingly.
- Seating Position: Sit on the machine’s seat with your back straight, chest against the chest pad, and feet flat on the floor. Hold the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
- Starting Position: Your arms should be fully extended in front of you, and there should be a slight bend in your elbows to avoid locking them.
- Execution of the Exercise: Here’s how to perform the reverse fly:
- Inhale and engage your core for stability.
- Exhale as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the machine’s handles backward and outward. Your goal is to bring your arms out to your sides in a controlled motion.
- Keep your chest against the pad throughout the movement and maintain a slight bend in your elbows. Your arms should move in an arc-like motion.
- At the peak of the movement, when your shoulder blades are squeezed together, and your arms are in line with your shoulders, pause briefly to feel the contraction in your rear deltoids.
- Return to the Starting Position: Inhale as you slowly reverse the motion and bring the handles back to the starting position with your arms extended.
- Repetitions: Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.
Alternative Exercise: Reverse Cable Flyes
If you don’t have a dedicated machine for reverse shoulder flyes, you can do reverse cable flyes instead. The only difference is that you use a standard cable machine and perform the exercise in a standing position instead of seated.
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
No bodybuilder shoulder workout is complete without some form of overhead presses, be it the standing barbell military press, the dumbbell press, or the Smith machine shoulder press.
The seated dumbbell shoulder press is one of the best exercises for adding mass to your delts.
- The seated position allows you to focus on your shoulders without worrying about balance and stability while still using heavy weights for maximum overload.
- By using dumbbells instead of a barbell, you extend the range of motion which can be beneficial for muscle growth.
How to Perform Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Presses
- Setup: Begin by positioning an incline bench so the back support is almost upright, providing adequate support to your upper back and head. Select a pair of dumbbells you can press overhead for your desired number of repetitions.
- Positioning: Sit down on the bench with the dumbbells resting on your knees. Grasp each dumbbell with a closed, neutral grip (palms facing forward). Carefully kick up one dumbbell at a time to shoulder height using your knees to assist.
- Starting Position: With the dumbbells at shoulder height, your elbows should be bent and positioned slightly in front of your body. This is the start position. Your feet should be flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Keep your back flat against the bench’s back support and your chest up. Your head should be in a neutral position, looking forward.
- Performing the Movement:
- Take a deep breath and brace your core. Press the dumbbells overhead by extending your arms fully. As you do this, the dumbbells will naturally move toward each other but don’t have to touch at the top.
- Keep your wrists straight and ensure your elbows track in a natural arc. They shouldn’t flare out too widely or tuck in excessively.
- At the top of the movement, your arms should be fully extended, and the dumbbells positioned directly over your shoulders.
- Lowering the Dumbbells: Begin lowering the dumbbells slowly and under control to the starting position. The descent should take slightly longer than the ascent. Maintain the same elbow trajectory as on the way up.
- Repetitions: Once the dumbbells are back at shoulder height, you’ve completed one repetition. Continue for the desired number of reps.
- Finishing the Exercise: After completing your set, carefully bring the dumbbells back to your knees, then place them on the ground.
Alternative Exercise: Arnold Press
For variation in your bodybuilding shoulder workout, try the Arnold press, popularized by – you guessed it – Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is a unique variation of the traditional dumbbell press. A small study suggested it might be an even more effective way to engage the lateral and anterior delts.3
Begin by grasping a set of dumbbells at the front of the shoulder with your palms positioned toward you. Rotate your palms to face forward as you push the dumbbells overhead. Return to the starting position by turning your palms toward you again as you lower the dumbbells.
The upright row is a unique exercise because it is the only open-chain compound exercise focusing on the side delts. It’s a fantastic addition to your shoulder routine for building your shoulder and neck muscles. This movement is critical for weightlifters, especially for mastering the high pull part of the clean.
Some people are wary of upright rows because doing them wrong might lead to shoulder injury, especially if you lift your arms too high and place your shoulder joint in an internally rotated position.
But, if you’re careful not to raise your arms too far up – only to the point where your upper arms are parallel to the floor – the upright row can be a safe and terrific way to bulk up your shoulders.
How to Perform Upright Rows
- Setup: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip a barbell with both hands using an overhand grip with your palms facing towards you and your hands positioned slightly closer than shoulder-width apart.
- Positioning: Hold the barbell at waist height with your arms extended and elbows straight.
- Execution: Pull the barbell straight up towards your chin, keeping it close to your body as you lift it. Your elbows should be pointing outwards to the sides. Focus on lifting the barbell with your shoulders, not your biceps.
- Contraction and lowering phase: When your upper arms are parallel to the floor, focus on contracting your shoulder muscles as much as you can, then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
- Repetitions: Repeat the movement for your desired number of repetitions.
Alternative Exercise: Monkey Rows
If upright rows feel uncomfortable, give the monkey row a look. This golden-age exercise has unfortunately disappeared into the annals of bodybuilding history, but it is a tremendous alternative to the upright row.
It might look like glorified dumbbell shrugs, but the monkey row is highly effective for your side delts rather than the trapezius muscle.
Cable Lateral Raise
After two compound movements, it’s time to isolate your side delts and chase the pump with the next exercise of the bodybuilding shoulder workout: the cable lateral raise.
Using a cable instead of dumbbells is one of the best ways to create constant tension on the muscle at all times. With dumbbells, there is little to no resistance at the bottom of the movement.
When doing lateral raises, focus on form and control over all else. Use a relatively light weight that allows you to raise the weights without momentum.
How to Perform Cable Lateral Raises
- Setup: Set the pulley on a cable machine to the lowest setting. Attach a single handle to the pulley.
- Starting Position: Stand side-on to the cable machine, with the pulley to your right or left side. With your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the handle with the opposite hand (i.e., if the machine is on your right side, grab the handle with your left hand).
- Movement: Here’s how to perform the cable lateral raise:
- With a slight bend in your elbow, raise the cable handle out to the side.
- Ensure the movement comes from the shoulder joint, not from using momentum or swinging.
- Raise your arm until it is parallel to the ground or slightly above.
- At the top position, your hand, elbow, and shoulder should form a straight line. Keep your wrist neutral; it shouldn’t bend backward or forward.
- Lowering Phase: In a controlled manner, lower the handle back down to the starting position.
- Repetitions: Perform the desired number of repetitions for one side. Once complete, switch sides and repeat the exercise for the other shoulder. That is one set.
Alternative Exercise: Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The dumbbell lateral raise is a great alternative if you prefer free weights or don’t have a suitable pulley machine.
The face pull is a popular and effective exercise that primarily targets the rear deltoids, the trapezius muscle in your upper back, and the rotator cuff muscles that provide strength and stability to your shoulder joint.
Face pulls help develop the rear deltoids, neglected in many workout routines. In addition, they help balance the muscles around the joint, potentially reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.
How to Perform Face Pulls
- Setup: Attach a rope handle to a cable pulley between chest and eye level.
- Grip: Stand a few steps back from the machine, grasping each end of the rope with an overhand grip. Your palms should be facing each other.
- Starting Position: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent for stability. Your arms should be extended out in front of you, with tension on the cable.
- Movement: Begin the movement by pulling the rope towards your face. As you pull, separate your hands and try to pull the rope apart, aiming to bring your hands beside your ears or even a bit behind. Your elbows should flare out and up during the pull. Think about pulling with your rear deltoids and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- End Position: The end position should have your hands beside (or just past) your ears, with your elbows pointed out and up. This position will ensure you’re really targeting those rear deltoids.
- Return: Slowly return the rope to the starting position, maintaining control and muscle tension. Continue for the desired number of repetitions.
- Keep your shoulders down and back throughout the movement. Avoid shrugging.
- Use a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form. Going too heavy can cause you to use momentum or engage the wrong muscles.
- Keep the movement controlled, particularly on the eccentric (return) phase.
- Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together at the peak of the movement.
- Keep your spine neutral with your chest up, and avoid arching your back excessively.
How Do You Fit the Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout into Your Training Split?
You can incorporate this bodybuilding shoulder workout into the bodybuilding split of your choice. Combine it with a chest, back, or arm workout in a 3-,4-, or 5-day split. Or train it as a standalone workout on a dedicated shoulder day if you prioritize bringing your delts up.
Here are three examples of how you can fit this shoulder workout into your training routine.
- Day one: chest and shoulders
- Day two: back
- Day three: quads and hamstrings
- Day four: biceps and triceps
- Day one: chest
- Day two: back
- Day three: quads and hamstrings
- Day four: StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout
- Day five: biceps and triceps.
3-Day PPL Split
If you don’t mind long workouts, you could also implement it into a push/pull/legs split:
- Day one: chest, StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout, and triceps
- Day two: back and biceps
- Day three: lower body
And these are just a handful of examples. Feel free to include this versatile shoulder workout in any training split you enjoy.
Track the Bodybuilding Shoulder Workout in the StrengthLog App
Give this workout a go, and you’ll be on your way to building the delts you want.
It’s available exclusively in our workout tracker.
A workout log is the best way to keep track of your progress.
Remember that progressive overload is the key to consistent gains over time. To continue making progress, you must gradually increase the demands on your muscles.
A training log helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals.
While this workout requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.
Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout.
Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.
For more stand-alone bodybuilding workouts like this, check out these great resources:
- PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50601. What is an attractive body? Using an interactive 3D program to create the ideal body for you and your partner.
- PLoS One. 2016; 11(6): e0156722. The Body and the Beautiful: Health, Attractiveness and Body Composition in Men’s and Women’s Bodies.
- Indian Journal of Public Health Research and Development 8(4):653. Comparison among the EMG Activity of the Anterior Deltoid and Medial Deltoid During Two Variations of Dumbbell Shoulder Press Exercise.