The best gym exercises for building bigger shoulders
There's more to shoulder training than just pressing a pair of dumbbells above your head
Your shoulders (deltoids to give them the Latin name) are made up of three heads:
- Anterior (front)
- Posterior (rear)
- Lateral (side)
While many exercises work multiple shoulder heads at once, most still put a predominant focus on one single area. Most pressing movements will hit your front delts quite well and side raises (cable or dumbbell) are your best best for the lateral deltoid.
Each head of the shoulder is built for a slightly different purpose.
The anterior head flexes your shoulder joint so you can lift your arms up in front of your body. The lateral / side head abducts your shoulder, so you can lift your arm up and to the side.
The posterior / rear head is responsible for extending your shoulders, allowing you to bring your arm behind you. A good exercise regime develops all three heads.
These are some of the best shoulder exercises for each particular head.
Anterior (Front) Shoulder
The front head of your shoulder is arguably the easiest to target, so you should place less of an emphasis on this when destroying your delts in the gym.
Some of the most effective exercises for the anterior shoulder include:
- Overhead Press
- Cable Front Raise
The front portion of the shoulder can easily become tight - particularly where the rotator cuff attaches. Sitting at a desk all day can lead to internal rotation of the shoulders, making you tight in the front region. For this reason, put the side and rear shoulder exercises first.
The Z-Press was developed by Lithuanian strongman Žydrūnas Savickas. It works both the front and side heads of the shoulder.
Lateral (Side) Shoulder
Lateral training for the shoulders is the kind you're probably most familiar with. Building size to the sides of your shoulder is associated with that '3D' look a lot people opt for.
- Cable Lateral Raise
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Lu Xiaojun Plate Raise
Cables are particularly effective for maintaining constant tension on the shoulder muscle at all times. You don't even need to use that much weight, either.
Lu Xiaojun is a Chinese Olympic weightlifter capable of insane feats of strength. He conditions his shoulder muscles by performing a variation of the lateral raise with weight plates.
Posterior (Rear) Shoulder
If you do live a desk-based lifestyle, you can counter the tightness felt in the front shoulder by working the rear delts to a greater degree.
Stronger and more developed rear delts will help to pull your shoulder blades back and into external rotation.
Among the best lifts are:
- Reverse Flye
- Face Pulls
- Prone Row
You might be surprised to see a prone row inserted in here - after all, it's a back exercise, right?
Many back exercises work the rear shoulders simultaneously as they too are involved in 'pulling' movements.
The prone row will build a bigger back, but also more developed rear delts.