Do you want big, full, and rounded shoulders? Deep and muscular six-pack abs? Sure you do! These muscles are essential for an aesthetic physique, and both play critical roles in bodybuilding success.
This article gives you a complete overview of StrengthLog’s shoulders and abs workout routine for bodybuilding. It is one of many premium workouts in our workout tracker, and you can download it for free using the links below.
The Importance of Big and Balanced Delts in Bodybuilding
If you’re a bodybuilder, the importance of well-developed shoulder muscles can’t be overstated. Massive delts give your upper body a 3D look that stands out on a bodybuilding stage, in the gym, or on the beach.
Strong shoulders are essential for performance and looks, and they deserve special attention in your workout plan. In addition, they play a crucial role in almost every upper body exercise. If your shoulder muscles are weak, they limit your chest, back, and arm development as well.
Even if you’re not naturally endowed with a bone structure for broad shoulders, building bigger delts will make your upper body look impressive from every angle.
The Importance of Awesome Abs in Bodybuilding
Everyone has abs, but you need to treat them like any other muscle group to get the chiseled abs of a bodybuilder. Thick, chunky abs result from specific ab training and heavy weights, not endless sit-ups and cardio.
For a bodybuilder, the abs are the center of the total package. Rock-hard, massive abs are an eye-popper. If your abs aren’t up to par, your physique as a whole does not make the impression it should.
Well-developed abs are critical for bodybuilding success, but they also stabilize your body and improve athletic performance. Your abdominal muscles transfer power from your upper body to your lower body, and vice versa. Strong abs allow you to perform compound mass-building exercises without your core muscles being the limiting factor.
Shoulders and Abs Workout: The Basics
This workout combines high-volume delt and abdominal training into a hypertrophy-specific session that will force both muscle groups to respond with muscle growth. You’ll start with shoulders, then finish the workout with abs. Starting with abdominal training is not recommended, as your core is involved in keeping your body stable, and you’ll want your abs to be fresh when doing your shoulder exercises.
The workout is intended for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders looking to build muscle. If you’re new to bodybuilding, a training program like StrengthLog’s Barbell Training Program for the Beginner or StrengthLog’s Upper/Lower Body Split Program is a better introduction to strength training. You’ll want some training experience under your belt before tackling the shoulders and abs workout.
The shoulder workout targets all three heads of your delts with both compound and isolation exercises. You start with an overhead pressing exercise using heavy weights and a low-to-moderate number of reps, then move to isolation exercises with lighter weights and a focus on getting a good pump.
You then attack your abs with a superset approach of four exercises. The result is a great workout for maximum burn in minimum time.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 5 sets x 6–10 reps
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 5 sets x 10 reps
- Dumbbell Front Raise: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Reverse Machine Fly: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Hanging Knee Raise: 3 sets x max reps
- Cable Crunch: 3 sets x 12 reps
- Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Out: 3 sets x max reps
- Oblique Crunch: 3 sets x 20 reps
You’ll perform a total of 30 sets in the shoulders and abs workout: 18 sets for your delts and 12 for your abs. The ab workout is done in a super-set style, meaning you’ll get a terrific burn in a time-efficient manner.
A recent scientific analysis found that 12–20 weekly sets per muscle group may optimize muscle growth.1 As you can see, the shoulders and abs workout gives you the training volume you need for the best results, even if you only perform it once per week. If you are an experienced bodybuilder, who has built up a greater tolerance to high-volume training, you can do it twice weekly if you desire, as long as you’re able to recover properly.
Rest 2–3 minutes between sets during the shoulder part of the workout. That’ll ensure you recover enough to perform your best without sacrificing the amount of weight you can use. The ab workout is based on supersets, so you’ll be moving from set to set without resting, only taking a breather between supersets.
Warming up your body before tackling the heavy weights improves your flexibility and focus. You increase the blood flow to your muscles and increase your overall body temperature, which allows you to perform your best.
Five to ten minutes of low to moderate-intensity cardio gets your heart pumping and blood flowing. While not strictly necessary, it helps your body prepare for the high-intensity work to come. Since you’re doing shoulders, consider doing cardio involving your upper body. Using the cross-trainer or rowing machine instead of the stationary bike or treadmill is suitable. Keep in mind that your goal is only to get warm and ready here, so don’t go all-out on your cardio.
Because the shoulder joint is complex and with a unique range of motion, you might want to do some shoulder-specific dynamic warm-up movements first.
- Arm circles, going from small circles to a full range of motion.
- Shoulder rolls, both forward and backward.
- Overhead pressing movements without any external load.
You’ll also want to do a couple of ramp-up sets using progressively heavier weights before your work sets. Once your muscles are warm and prepared, head to the dumbbell rack for your first exercise of the shoulders and abs workout: the dumbbell shoulder press.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Selecting a compound movement as the first exercise of your workout is always a good idea. It allows you to use heavy weights to maximize muscle growth while your muscles are as strong and fresh as possible.
The compound exercise of choice in the shoulders and abs workout is the standing dumbbell shoulder press, one of the best mass builders at your disposal. Research shows that the standing overhead press using a set of dumbbells produces the highest neuromuscular activity of the deltoid muscles, greater than when using a barbell or sitting down while performing the exercise.2
Observe proper form, brace your abdominal wall to stabilize your body, and use a full range of motion. Perform five sets, increasing the weight with each set. You can see the exact set and rep configuration in the StrengthLog app.
Muscles Worked in the Dumbbell Shoulder Press
How to Dumbbell Shoulder Press
- Grab a pair of dumbbells, and lift them up to the starting position at your shoulders.
- Inhale and lightly brace your core.
- Press the dumbbells up to straight arms, while exhaling.
- Inhale at the top, or while lowering the dumbbells with control back to your shoulders.
- Repeat for reps.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Lateral raises primarily target the outermost head of your delts, a crucial area for developing round and full 3D-looking shoulders.
The most important thing to consider when performing the lateral raise is to leave your ego outside the gym. Using too much weight is very common. Doing so transfers the work to the wrong part of your shoulders and completely defeats the purpose of the exercise.
Also, avoid using momentum to raise the dumbbells. You’ll want to focus on your lateral delts, and that means using relatively light dumbbells and doing the work with the intended muscles, not your legs, back, and traps. No swinging!
Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Lateral Raises
How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises
- Hold a pair of dumbbells, in almost straight arms hanging by your sides.
- With control, lift the dumbbells outwards to your sides, until your upper arm is horizontal.
- Lower the dumbbells with control.
- Repeat for reps.
Five sets of ten reps will leave your lateral delts crying for mercy. Take a 2–3 minute break, then switch to the dumbbell front raise.
Dumbbell Front Raise
Time for a frontal assault – on your front deltoids, that is. Pressing exercises for your chest and shoulders work your front delts as well, but this isolation exercise puts the burn directly on them.
Using an overhand grip, bring the dumbbells forwards up in a straight line to shoulder height while focusing on doing the work with the front deltoids. Much like with side laterals, it’s easy to pick too heavy a weight in the front raise. Avoid swinging the dumbbells to get the most out of your front raises, and use a strict, controlled motion throughout.
Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Front Raises
How to Do Dumbbell Front Raises
- Hold a pair of dumbbells in straight arms, in front of your body.
- With control, lift the dumbbells forward with straight arms, until the dumbbells are at shoulder height.
- Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells with control.
After four sets of front raises, you’re almost done with shoulders, but there is still one part to go: your rear delts. Rest for 2–3 minutes, then prepare for some reverse flyes.
Reverse Machine Flyes
Your shoulder workout isn’t complete without some rear deltoid work. The posterior deltoid is often neglected, a mistake that makes your entire shoulder area look underdeveloped. You’re not letting that happen with the shoulders and abs workout. Instead, you’re targeting your rear delts directly with isolating reverse flyes.
The reverse machine fly is the optimal choice for hitting the rear deltoids. Unlike free weights, using a machine allows you to keep constant tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion. Try to establish a mind-muscle connection with your rear delts, and be sure to contract them fully. If your gym doesn’t have a rear delt machine, dumbbells will do.
Muscles Worked in Reverse Machine Flyes
How to Do Reverse Machine Flyes
- Adjust the the chest support and handles, so that you can grip the handles in shoulder height, and get a long range of motion.
- With just a slight bend in the arms, pull the handles backward by bringing your arms out to the sides.
- Reverse the movement and let the handles go back to the starting position.
By now, your delts are filled with blood and probably feeling ready to burst. Your workout isn’t over yet, though. It’s time for a superset-based ab workout, starting with hanging knee raises combined with the cable crunch.
Superset One: Hanging Knee Raise + Cable Crunch
This combination of exercises hits your upper and lower abs for both muscle growth and overall core strength. Move from the hanging knee raise to the cable crunch with as little rest as possible, only taking a proper 2–3 minute rest between supersets.
Hanging Knee Raise
While you can’t isolate your lower abs, you’ll feel muscle soreness in that same area the day after performing hanging knee raises, especially if you haven’t done them in a while. The hanging knee raise works both your abs and your hip flexors, making it a great overall core exercise.
Be sure to avoid swinging your body; you want to localize as much of the work as possible to your abs.
If the hanging knee raise is too easy for you and you can perform more than 15 reps, try the hanging leg raise instead. Performing the exercise with straight legs is significantly more challenging.
Muscles Worked in Hanging Knee Raise
How to Do Hanging Knee Raises
- Jump up and grab a bar, placed high enough that you can hang from it with straight legs.
- Without swinging and with bent legs, lift your knees as high as you can in front of you.
- Lower your legs again, with control.
Head straight to a cable pulley machine for some cable crunches without any rest.
The cable crunch is a weighted crunch variation that allows you to overload your abdominal muscles in an extended range of motion. Cable crunches isolate your abs effectively and are an excellent complement to the knee raises.
Muscles Worked in Cable Crunches
How to Do Cable Crunches
- Fasten a rope handle in the upper position on a cable pulley. Sit down on your knees a few feet away, facing the pulley.
- Bend your upper body forward by contracting your abs. Hold the ropes on either side of your head throughout the movement.
- Reverse the motion and return to the starting position with control.
Rest up and get ready for your second round of ab supersets!
Superset Two: Kneeling Ab-Wheel Roll-Out + Oblique Crunch
This superset will leave your abdominal muscles screaming for help, in a good way. It strengthens the entire core with two bodyweight exercises: the kneeling ab-wheel roll-out and the oblique crunch.
Kneeling Ab-Wheel Roll-Out
The ab-wheel roll-out involves your entire core musculature, effectively strengthening both your 6-pack muscles and the deeper abdominal muscle called the transversus abdominis. It acts like a corset and can help you keep your gut in check and prevent it from protruding when you don’t want it to do so.
Start the exercise in a plank position, keep your back straight and maintain a tight core throughout. Pro tip: if you find it hard to keep your lower back from sagging, don’t roll out all the way until you’ve built up the strength to do so.
The kneeling ab-wheel roll-out is challenging enough for most, but you can perform it on your feet for added resistance if you find it too easy. If you don’t have an ab wheel, using a barbell is a good alternative.
Muscles Worked in Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Outs
How to Do Kneeling Ab Wheel Roll-Outs
- Sit on your knees, or stand up on your feet for increased resistance.
- Roll out as far as you can, and maintain a straight back throughout the movement.
- Reverse the movement with control, and return to the starting position.
After a set of roll-outs, switch to the oblique crunch without any rest.
The oblique crunch is a classic bodyweight exercise that works your obliques and abs. The obliques are the muscles on the sides of your torso that look like fingers when you’re shredded. Well-developed obliques give a classy look to your upper body, and this exercise helps you target them directly.
You can perform the oblique crunch on an exercise ball for variety.
Muscles Worked in Oblique Crunches
How to Do Oblique Crunches
- Lie on your back, with your hands on the side of your head and your knees bent to about 90 degrees.
- Contract your abs and lift your upper body diagonally, so that the elbow and shoulder on one side of your body move towards the knee on your other side.
- Bend as far as possible and then return to the starting position.
Track the Shoulders and Abs Workout Routine in the StrengthLog App
Whew! You’re done, and so are your shoulders and abs! Give yourself a pat on the back for a work well done, but don’t forget to log your workout.
If you want to grow bigger and stronger, the key to fast and consistent gains in strength and muscle is to increase the weight you use in your training or to do more reps.
It’s almost impossible to keep track of your progress without a workout log. Our workout log app StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever.
You’ll also find a bunch of training programs and workouts in the app. Many are free, but our more advanced programs and workouts (such as this one) are for premium users only.
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.
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- J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 7 – p 1824-1831. Effects of Body Position and Loading Modality on Muscle Activity and Strength in Shoulder Presses.