Shoulders are some of the most important muscles to exercise if you are working on your overall physique. Why? Because they frame the entire body. Whether you’re wearing a t-shirt, a suit, or going shirtless, having toned shoulders will give out a commanding presence. Bold shoulders also give the look of a tapered torso, which helps you look lean.
And regardless of what your goal is, there are so many ways to work out your shoulders. But no two people can work out exactly the same. Whether it’s the sequence or choice of exercises, how heavy to go, how many sets for each move, the number of sets completed, advanced training techniques, length of rest periods, etc. every lifter has their own unique workout DNA.
Don’t get us wrong - individuality is a good thing. However, there are some principles that do make some routines better than others, especially for certain goals. So, instead of giving you thousands of different ways to train your delts which would probably make this article nerve-racking to read we’ve drawn them down to the top 10 shoulder workouts for men.
1. Push Press
Target areas: Middle and anterior deltoids
The push press is an absolute powerhouse and will appeal to the fans of heavy compound exercises. It essentially combines overhead action with enough momentum to allow for better handling of challenging weights. It’s actually a great leadoff exercise for workouts focused on mass gain, so long as you start light in order to be well warmed up before starting the poundage.
The push press is ideally a closed kinetic chain exercise, which means that your legs remain on the floor. Your motion involves multiple muscle groups, from the legs, the arms, and the shoulders, which have to work synergistically to introduce functional components to what would have otherwise been a bodybuilding workout routine. The push press movements help make sure that your muscles aren’t all show and no-go when you actually need them.
- Get into position and get a loaded barbell from the floor level to the shoulder level.
- Hold the bar in an overhand grip, with the elbows pointing forward and the palms up.
- Your upper arm should be almost parallel with the ground and the bar should be resting over your upper chest.
- From a standing position, bend your knees and lower your hips to dip down into a quarter squat. Recoil explosively upwards with your legs while you extend your arms. Lift the bar overhead until you reach a full elbow extension, and hold the position briefly.
- Now, lower the bar back to its resting position (at the upper chest area) and then move on to the next rep. Repeat until satisfied.
2. Barbell Overhead/Seated Press
Target Areas: Middle, anterior, and rear deltoids
This is ideally a big compound move that should get things going. And if you dream of having those large, barn-door shoulders and you’re yet to try a barbell press, you simply aren’t trying hard enough. The press isn’t for everyone though it’s challenging, often uncomfortable, and overall a high-intensity workout. Still, it’s one of the most effective ways of developing your deltoids.
Start with a warmup set that focuses on time under tension, which is the time you actually spend moving the weight. Aim for 4-seconds lowering and a 2-seconds upward blast. This will help strengthen your shoulders for the workout ahead.
Overhead Barbell Press
- Standing with your feet shoulder length apart, have your core set tight and hold a barbell at your shoulders with your palms facing forward.
- In that position, tense and drive the bar upwards, while you squeeze your shoulder blades together as you reach the top of the movement. Now slowly lower with control.
- Increase the weight for each set, taking a minute in between to rest. Finish up with a triple drop set, which should be the maximum weight you can do for 10 reps.
- Immediately drop 10% weight and do 10 reps without taking a break. Repeat one more time.
Seated barbell press
- Sit upright, with your lower back arched slightly and feet flat on the floor.
- Grab the bar outside your shoulders with a palm forward grip with your elbows pointing outward and down.
- Unrack the bar carefully and hold it at shoulder level. Now start pressing the bar straight up in a smooth, strong motion. Squeeze and then lower the bar toward your upper chest.
- Make sure you pull your face back to avoid getting an impromptu nose job.
3. Face Pull
Target areas: the middle trapezius and rear deltoids
It might sound like something off an ageing Hollywood star’s to-do list, but this is actually a different kind of sculpting building striated, pronounced rear delts. The face pull essentially targets multiple joints and rear delt, which sets it apart from other moves that only target the rear delts.
What makes this exercise superior to the conventional cable and bent-over dumbbell raises is that it involves the mid-trapezius and adds in some leverage, which ideally lets you handle the more overall weight. Overloading the muscles this way will directly lead to growth.
- Attach a rope to your pulldown station, making sure that you have heavy-enough weights to offset your weight.
- Standing in front of the pulley, grab each end of the rope in an overhand grip with your hands facing each other, and then lift your elbows sideways towards the shoulder level.
- To begin, lean back up to where your body makes a 45-degree angle with the floor, and then pull the rope back towards your face while keeping your elbows elevated, until your hands reach your ears.
- Squeeze a bit and then return to start, taking care not to let the weight stack touch down between reps.
4. Cable Front Raise
Target areas: the front (anterior) deltoids
With the cable front raise, you engage the frontal delt to take on the load, and your muscles will benefit from that continuous tension that the cable provides. In case you find the shoulder workout heavy on the press, consider prioritizing the rear and lateral delt raises, but from a muscle-building perspective. Raising the cable to the front is brutally effective.
The front raises eliminate the awkwardness caused by the drag due to the placement of the cable inside laterals across the body. This is because it allows the cable to remain free to roam during the range of motion. Sure, it’s a small perk, but it eliminates a possible distraction when repping.
- Holding the D-handle on one hand, stand in shoulder-width, a staggered stance with the back towards a low-cable pulley.
- Place the non-working hand on the hip for balance. With the back flat, chest elevated, and knees bent slightly, raise the cable up powerfully towards the front until the upper arm is parallel to the working shoulder.
- Squeeze and then lower your arm slowly back to the starting position, and don’t let the stack touch down.
- Repeat this on one side for all reps and then switch to the other side.
5. Cable reverse Fly
Target areas: rear deltoids
For shoulders that will easily fill out your t-shirts, you’ll definitely need rear delts that keep up with the meaty middle and front delts. The rears actually need their own attention to thrive, while the front and middle delts get additional work during shoulder and chest presses. The reverse fly ideally comes to the rescue, by adding a dimension of balance and muscle control that the more common reverse-pec-deck fly can’t match.
- On a cable machine, attach D-handles to the upper pulley, and grasp the left handle with your right hand and the right handle in your left hand, and step to the centre.
- Keep your elbows straight, and let your palms be in a neutral grip. Open your arms out to the sides while keeping your elbows fixed and arms elevated at the shoulder level.
- Pull each handle across the other side using your rear delts. When your arms are outstretched to an open hug position, reverse the motion so that you return to the starting position.
- Keep in mind that one hand will cross the other, but it doesn’t matter which is high and which is low.
6. Smith Machine Wide-grip Upright Row
Target areas: trapezius and the middle, front, and rear deltoids
In the bodybuilding world, there’s quite a number of people who passionately hate the smith machine. To them, it’s a crime against lifting, and they’re probably wondering how it made it to our top 10 shoulder workouts for men.
And while we agree to some sense, we believe that the Smith machine can help you with strength training, learning body control, beating sticking points, and even improve the upright row version of the typical barbell.
Although the upright row is usually thought of as an exercise for the middle delt, research has shown that the wide grip can actually work out the rear delts as well. Plus, the smith machine helps to minimise unwanted stress on the shoulder and back joints, in comparison to the dumbbell or barbell upright row. This is because the bar is at the front rather than in contact with your torso.
- Stand upright with your feet about hip-width apart. Grasp the bar of the Smith machine in front of your thighs in an overhand grip at a few inches off the shoulder width.
- Release the bar from the safety latches and maintain a tight core and slightly bend your knees, while keeping your arms hung straight.
- Flex the shoulders and pull the bar to your chin, having the bar close to your body at all times.
- With the top pose, the elbows should be high out pointing out to your sides. Hold this pose for a second and return to the start position.
7. Dumbbell lateral raise
Target areas: Middle deltoids
There are a number of flaws in the dumbbell lateral raise that we could point out. However, don’t let them dissuade you from this impressive exercise. Lateral raises can actually put a good amount of tension to your middle delts, even if you cheat a little on the final reps as you approach muscle failure. This is because these raises essentially attack the target muscles as intended.
- Stand upright with your feet apart at about shoulder length. Keep your chest up, abs tight, and shoulders back.
- Keeping your head straight, hold the dumbbells at the sides with a neutral grip.
- Now raise the dumbbells with a wide arc to your sides, without using momentum.
- Keep your hands and elbows moving along the same plane as you raise the dumbbells to just above the shoulder level.
- Hold the pose momentarily and the lower them slowly along the same path.
- Repeat this for reps.
8. Bent-over Dumbbell Lateral raise
Target areas: rear delts
The bent over raise is quite a versatile exercise, and it can be performed either seated on a flat bench or while standing. Since you’re using dumbbells, it means that other muscles will inevitably come into play to help with stabilization, which may mean a lot for your rear delts, but will also help you form a more functional physique overall.
- Hold a dumbbell on each hand, with your back flat, chest up, knees slightly bent, and eyes fixed to a point at the floor.
- Now bend over at the hips level, until your torso is almost parallel with the floor.
- The dumbbells should now hang beneath you directly with your elbow in a slightly fixed position.
- Raise the dumbbells powerfully outwards and upwards in an arc until your arm is in parallel with the floor.
- Pause and squeeze at the top and lower them back slowly to the starting position along the same path. Repeat for reps.
9. Seated Dumbbell Press
Target Areas: Middle, Front, and Rear deltoids
The dumbbell version of the shoulder press beat out the barbell version, but only marginally. And while you can’t probably handle the same weights as you would with a barbell, the dumbbell press has some extra benefits. It requires a bit more coordination, and working with two separate dumbbells will prevent strength imbalances.
- Sit upright ideally on a low bench, and hold a dumbbell on each hand with a pronated grip, where the palms face forward.
- Raise the dumbbells to the shoulder level while keeping your spine aligned, head straight, and eyes forward, with the shoulders, shifted a bit towards the back.
- Press both dumbbells overhead towards each other in an arc, without letting them touch. After squeezing, reverse this motion to the start position under control and repeat for reps.
10. One-arm cable lateral raise
Target areas: middle deltoids
Similar to the cable reverse fly workout, constant tension is ideally provided by the cable, in this context right at the middle delt that splits at the centre region of the deltoid muscle. Cable lateral raises are ideal for drop sets to failure since it’s so easy to switch between resistance through the pin located at the weights stack. For a change, you can try having the cable run behind your back rather than across the front.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand sideways alongside a low-cable pulley holding the D-handle with the hand that’s opposite the pulley. You can brace the pulley structure with your non-working arm or place it on your hips.
- Keeping your chest up, abs tight, and shoulders back, raise the cable outwards to the side in a wide arc, without using momentum. Your hand and elbow should move together on the same plane.
- When you reach above the shoulder level, hold the pose momentarily as the deltoid contracts. Slowly lower down on the same path and stop just before the weights touch down.
- Do all the reps on one side before moving on to the other.