You might not be a Titan condemned to hold up the heavens for eternity but who doesn’t want bigger shoulders anyway?
That is the topic of today’s post. Keeping it simple, I am going to give you the formula to help you get there. I’m not saying it will be easy, hard work will definitely be involved but it will be simple in what you need to do.
Let’s look at shoulders. Broken into 3 muscle groups, the anterior deltoid (front of the body) the lateral deltoid (the side of the body) and the posterior deltoid (the rear of the body). I have excluded the muscles of the rotator cuff as that is a large topic in itself.
Most of us, and I do mean most, have over developed anterior deltoids. This is largely due to the lives we live. Our arms are out in front of us mostly; using a keyboard, working on things with hands in front, and also carrying heavy items. This tends to over work the anterior deltoids leading to them being stronger than the other two deltoids. I’m going to include exercises that will involve all 3 deltoid groups but you may want to check with a personal trainer to see if you fall into this group and should be focusing on the lateral and posterior delts more that the anterior delts.
Let’s get to it.
- Bent over dumbbell rows: This is a great exercise to work the back of the shoulder. Holding two dumbbells at your side, bend over at the waist keeping your back arched as to keep a good posture. move your elbows out so your arms are almost perpendicular to your torso. You should now be bent over almost to 90 degrees with both dumbbells touching just below your chest. Keeping a bit of a bend in your elbows, bring the dumbbells out and up so they are almost parallel to the ground. You should look like a giant letter T with a head on it. You may find your hands will want to fall back towards your waist. Don’t let them. Hold at the top for 3 seconds then bring the weight back towards under your chest but not all the way as you want to keep the resistance on your muscles. This exercise can also be done on a bench. Sitting on the end of a bench bring your chest to your knees and do the flies from there. Do you feel this at the back of your shoulders?You should. Don’t have dumbbells? Move onto the next exercise.
- Resistance band Rear Delt Fly: This exercise mimics the bent over dumbbell row exercise except you are standing and working only one shoulder at a time. Attach one end of the band to a stationary object that will not move at a height that just below your shoulder. Grab the other end of the band and position yourself so your hand is just on the other side of the centre of your body. So if I’m using my right hand, my hand should just be on the left side of centre of my chest. Now mimic the same motion as the dumbbell fly exercise keeping the arm slightly bent, bringing that hand to the outside of your body so your arm is almost extended but still slightly bent.
- Lateral Raise: This is kind of like the dumbbell flies in that the motion is very similar but you wont be bent over and the weights start just in front of your legs. Standing with a dumbbell in each hand, legs soft (this means you have a slight bend in the knees) the dumbbells just ahead of your centre in front of your quads, with that bend in the arms bring the dumbbells up and out so you for a big T with your arms. Resist the urge to spring into the motion using your legs to help carry the weight up. This would be cheating and you don’t want to do that, yet (we’ll talk doing negatives later). Keep the wrists soft too, almost like you are pouring out from a jug when your hands get to the top.
- Resistance Band Lateral Raise: Just like the above exercise but with resistance bands. I’m a fan of resistance bands. If you have read my article you know the benefits are constant resistance where as with free weights, or even machines, there is a point in the motion of the exercise where resistance drastically falls off. If you are using bands be sure to use ones that give you the resistance you need to keep in the range of adding muscle and strength and not endurance.
- Front Dumbbell Raise: Pretty much the same as the lateral raise except the dumbbells are brought up in front of you kind of like you are holding up your hands to push someone away from you. Keep knees and elbows soft and again, don’t bring the weight all the way down to the point the resistance is lessened.
- Resistance Band Front Raise: Again, same as above but with resistance bands.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Working the anterior delts, this also works the tricpes, the muscles in the rotator cuff, the trapezius muscles. And it helps make you stronger when lifting things overhead. Using two dumbbells, sitting or standing, start with the dumbbells at your shoulders like you are ready to press something upwards. Lift the weights up above you until your arms are almost straight (keeping soft elbows). Do not lock out your arms as we want the resistance to stay on the muscles, not the joints. Bring the dumbbells down but not too low that the resistance comes off of the muscles.
- Shoulder Shrugs: It’s like it sounds but with weights. Using two dumbbells at your side, be sure to keep your hands centered at your side, shrug your shoulders like you are bringing your shoulders to your ears. This exercise mainly works the trapezius muscles and in turn strong traps helps with improving posture as they pull your shoulders back and help to stabilize your neck and upper back. Also, you can use much more weight doing shrugs than you can doing raises so this helps in developing forearm and hand strength. Try not to use aids such as wraps to help hold the dumbbells if you are using heavy weight. In my opinion, it’s better to drop the weight and hold the dumbbells using the strength of your muscles. Think of it as putting your hands on your knees when doing lunges. You may be developing stronger legs but by putting your hands on your knees you have eliminated the stabilizing muscles, your core muscles, from working and your core will not be strong as it should be when doing this type of movement.
- Resistance Band Shoulder Shrugs: If your resistance bands have the ability to attach a grip then you can use them for shoulder shrugs. Depending on the type of resistance band, you can stand or sit and have them under your feet to make them the right length to give you the right amount of resistance.
My explanation on how to do these exercises make sense to me but maybe not to you. Check Youtube for video’s on these exercises if you need to. Or, engage a personal trainer to show you and to ensure your form is correct. Remember, incorrect form may not manifest itself in an injury immediately. It may take months before the damage done has been felt. I’m not self promoting when I recommend to hire a personal trainer. It doesn’t have to be a long commitment. It can be short term to educate yourself on proper form and then a check up or a few. It could be money well spent preventing a future injury.
Mix it up. Use various principles to add strength and muscle. Principles such as negatives, pyramids, stacking, etc.
If your goal is to add size, and with size comes strength, DO NOT DO MORE THAN 12 REPS. If you are serious about adding size, keep reps under 6. This is why you never see power lifters doing endurance sports, or lifting lighter weights to get more reps. This does not mean use the same weight you would have when doing 12 or 15 reps and do only 6, it means using heavier weights, or more resistance.
The muscles need to be stressed to the point there are micro tears for growth to happen. Stopping at 6 when you could have done 8 will not help you achieve your goal.
Stick to 2 exercises for each muscle group doing 3 sets for each exercise sticking to the appropriate amount of reps. Do this to start. If the muscles are stressed and you notice this with the normal muscle pain than great, you are doing well. If not, add another set.
Eat. Eat as much whole foods that are plant based as you want! No worrying about how much protein you are getting as you will get what you need. Did you know the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for the average woman is under 50 grams? The world we live in has us believing we need so much more. And more isn’t always better. More protein means more work for our kidneys and it’s unnecessary and if you are getting this in the form of a supplement you are just throwing your money down the toilet, literally. If you find you are not adding weight than you probably are not eating enough whole foods and may be eating too many processed foods that won’t help contribute to building muscle tissue.
Right amount of sets, reps, eating well. Listening to your body’s feedback and reacting to it. Setup a schedule and follow it. It is that simple. I know! I used to be a big guy in the sense of muscle once weighing in at 200 lean lbs and squatting over 300lbs. I was mentored years ago by a friend who went from 150lbs to 210lbs. He knew what he was talking about and he was walking proof and I took that knowledge and applied it to myself.
Do the same for yourself and you will get results. Will you have the same results as others? Not always. We have different body types and those underlying body types will always be there at the core. But you will change your body. You are sitting at the wheel, molding the clay, shaping it the way you want.
Yours in health,