THE BEST EXERCISES TO BUILD BIG SHOULDERS

Ask most muscle building experts how to build round shoulders that really “pop” and you’ll usually get the same basic answer…

They’ll tell you to put your primary focus on compound overhead pressing movements (such as barbell military presses or seated overhead dumbbell presses) since these exercises allow you to handle the most weight and target the entire shoulder complex for overall mass.

Now, I certainly don’t discount the value of an overhead press as part of a well-balanced training plan. It’s a highly functional exercise, it has its own unique muscle building benefits, and I do believe that it should be included in your overall training routine.

However, if we’re talking specifically from a hypertrophy perspective about increasing the width and roundness of your shoulders, overhead presses are definitely not the most important exercise in your arsenal.

Why?

Well, your shoulders are actually broken up into 3 main heads: the anterior head (the front), the lateral head (the middle) and the posterior head (the rear).

While development of the anterior head is certainly important for overall shoulder balance, it actually contributes the least to the appearance of wide, round shoulders since this head sits directly in front of your body and does not “pop out” like the other two heads do.

And guess which head is primarily stimulated when you perform an overhead pressing exercise? You guessed it – the anterior head.

You can shift a bit more emphasis onto the lateral head by using dumbbells and by lowering the weights closer to shoulder level, but nonetheless, the anterior head will always be taking the brunt of the load.

So, what’s the real key to building round, “3-D” shoulders that give your upper body that wide, powerful look?

Focus primarily on building up your lateral head, with secondary focus on the posterior head.

The lateral head is the slab of muscle that hangs directly off the side of your shoulders, and the larger this head is, the rounder your delts will appear and the wider you’ll look overall.

The posterior head also plays a role (though not quite as noticeable) and lays directly beside the lateral head on the back side of the shoulder.

How do we target these heads with maximum effectiveness?

Aside from all of the indirect stimulation these heads receive on other compound exercises (such as overhead presses, bench presses, pull-ups, rows etc.) it’s actually pretty simple…

Use side lateral raises to target the lateral head. These can be performed using dumbbells or a cable, seated or standing.

Use bent over rear lateral raises to target the posterior head. These can also be performed using dumbbells or a cable.

“But Sean, I already perform these two exercises and my shoulder development is still not where I want it to be!”

Don’t feel bad, as this is the case for most average lifters.

See, it’s not the mere inclusion of these lifts in your routine that is the real answer here, but rather, the specific form that you utilize. And the plain fact is that the vast majority of trainees do NOT execute these exercises in the proper way to optimize their gains.

Perform these lifts improperly, and you’ll actually end up shifting the focus off of your delts and onto other surrounding muscles that you aren’t even trying to target.

Your side lateral raises will end up involving your traps and spinal erectors to an excessive degree, and your rear lateral raises will end up involving the muscles of your mid/upper back to an excessive degree.

You’ll still be hitting that lateral and posterior head with some decent stimulation, but you won’t be maximizing your gains in the way that you could be if you just employed a few simple tweaks to your form.

And what specific form tweaks do you need to make?

This is best demonstrated through video, so I would strongly recommend watching the following two clips that I recorded a little while back. One focuses on side laterals, the other on rear laterals.

It’ll only take a few minutes of your time but will make a world of difference in your shoulder training moving forward. Here they are…

Proper Side Lateral Raise Form
Proper Rear Lateral Raise Form

Start employing those changes to your form and I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference in your ability to maximally stimulate the lateral and posterior heads, and that you’ll start building rounder, thicker shoulders as a result.

I’d recommend performing these lifts 1-2 times per week each for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

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