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Beginner’s Guide To Building Shapely & Defined Shoulders

shoulder workouts

Are you constantly failing to build a set of shapely and defined shoulders that you can be proud of? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one, but fortunately I have some answers to your problem.

In this article, I’m going to breakdown essentials of shoulder training and how you can maximize your shoulder strength and definition.

The Deltoid Musculature

When considering manipulating any muscle in the body, it’s first important to have an understanding of all the moving parts of that muscle.

The shoulder musculature in this situation is no different, primarily because many people don’t realize that there are actually 3 distinct “heads” of the shoulder or deltoid muscle group, which are activated to different extents, by different movements.

First, you have the front deltoid, which is the front head of the deltoid. This muscle works to flex the shoulder. Essentially, if you think about putting a glass away in a cupboard, the front deltoid flexes the shoulder to increase your hand height.

Second, you have the lateral deltoid, or the fibers that appear on the side of the deltoid. When activated, this set of muscle fibers works primarily to improve abduction or movement of the shoulder away from the body. Essentially, the lateral deltoid is responsible for the ability to raise weight outwards and to the side.

Third, you have the rear head of the deltoid, which acts largely during pulling movements towards the body as well as acting as an antagonist muscle group during pushing movements.

Knowing these distinctions is very important because in any given movement, one head of the deltoid will be activated to a greater extent than the other, depending on the angle of movement.

By knowing this, you can maximize the attention you give to each head of the deltoid for the shapeliest definition possible.

Major Principles Still Apply

It’s important to remember that even though with shoulders we’re focusing on a small muscle group, all of the same principles of muscle growth still apply.

First and foremost, you need to practice progressive overload. This means that over time, you need to place new stress on the musculature via increasing weight, increase reps, increasing sets or some combination of the three.

If you aren’t actually improving, then you won’t actually see new definition.

Second, you need to use weight, even if you’re interested in improving definition or making your shoulders shapelier. Simply flexing the muscle will not improve definition.

Because of this, it’s suggested that you train even your shoulder muscles using a wide range of different weight from heavy to light, with multiple different rep ranges. Doing this will ensure that you’ve stressed the shoulder muscle enough to stimulate progress.

Lastly, just remember that as you can adapt to weight and reps, so too can you adapt to specific exercises. If you’re constantly only doing dumbbell side raises for shoulders, you can expect that your response to that exercise will diminish over time.

While it’s important to use effective exercises, it’s important to also use different movements from time to time.

Frequency Depends On Other Workouts

Keep in mind that how often you work each of the heads of the deltoid specifically, will largely depend on the other types of workouts that you’re doing.

This is because for many other movements involving the upper arms, you’re actually stimulating the heads of the deltoid to some extent. If you’re constantly indirectly activating these heads of the deltoid, direct work becomes less of a concern.

For example, upper body pressing movements, while relying on pecs and triceps, also rely heavily on the shoulders, especially the front and lateral deltoid heads.

In this case, if you bench and overhead press multiple times per week, spending specific time working on the front and lateral deltoids may not be much concern. However if you only complete one pulling workout in a week, you’ll probably have neglected rear deltoids, meaning more direct work will be required.

Essentially, since the deltoids are a fairly small muscle group, I suggest manipulating how much direct work you put them through, based on the amount of indirect work they get throughout the week.

shoulder workouts


Compound versus Isolation

With shoulder work, you can utilize both compound movements in addition to isolation movements. I suggest completing your training having a combination of both compound movements and isolation.

For example, with an overhead press, you’ll be activating front and lateral deltoids to a high extent, but to a much lesser degree with rear delts. Based on this, it makes sense to use a combination of exercises, both compound and those specifically isolating the rear deltoids.

Alternatively, if your workout included more rowing than pressing, your rear delts may get more indirect work, leaving your front and lateral delts to use isolation movements.

Any way you spin it, you shouldn’t stick to just compound or isolation movements. I suggest, with all muscle groups, and especially the shoulders, using a combination of compound and isolation movements.

Awesome Shoulder Workouts 

Workout #1 

  1. Standing Overhead Press: 3 x 12
  2. Seated Overhead Press: 3 x 15
  3. Dumbbell Side Raises: 3 x 15
  4. Alternate Dumbbell Front Raises: 3 x 15 each
  5. Bent Over, Rear Deltoid Fly: 3 x 20

Workout #2 

  1. Seated DB Press: 3 x 15
  2. Seated DB Side Raises: 3 x 20
  3. Pec Deck Reverse Fly: 3 x 15
  4. Low Cable Upright Row: 3 x 12
  5. Low Cable Single Arm Side Raise: 3 x 10 

Workout #3

  1. Dumbbell Side Raise: 3 x 20
  2. Low Cable Upright Row: 3 x 20
  3. Alternate Dumbbell Front Raise: 3 x 12 each
  4. Rope Cable Face Pull: 3 x 12
  5. Straight Arm Bar Front Raise: 3 x 10 

shoulder workots

Beginner’s Guide To Building Shapely & Defined Shoulders

If you’ve been struggling to improve the shape and definition of your shoulders, then you’re in luck – with these tips, you can put yourself on the fast track to success.

Remember that training the shoulders follows the same principles as all of the other muscle groups. You just need to know how to manipulate those principles for your benefit to obtain shapely and defined shoulders.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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