Shoulder workouts – what you need to know to get broad shoulders

A shoulder girdle with rounded delta muscles and a matching well developed neck muscle results not only in a perfect athletic look but also a perfect bodybuilding-look. However, the shoulder joint is one of the most over and incorrectly stressed joints and therefore the source of frustration for many athletes. Nevertheless, there are several measures to help keep the shoulders healthy i.e. free from overuse indications, inflammations or injuries, whilst still achieving muscle growth.

The basics of the shoulder joint

In order to train the right muscles in your shoulder workout it is important to understand the mechanics of the shoulder joint.

  • The joint is formed by the upper arm and the socket at the shoulder blade, more commonly known as the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint). In this joint, the upper arm can only be lifted to approximately 90° to the side (abduction) and to about the same degree to the front (anteversion). Both these movements are largely carried out by the deltoid i.e. the shoulder muscle, with its middle part (abduction) and front part (anteversion). The deltoid actively lifts to about 90° (dynamic) and after that only holds (isometric).
  • In order for the upper arm to move for example beyond 90°, it is necessary for the shoulder blade to rotate. The shoulder blade can be moved by certain muscles (trapezius, rhomboids, levator scapulae, serratus anterior and posterior) on the upper back, bringing the shoulder joint into different planes. Training the upper back muscles builds the basis for healthy and resilient shoulders.

The shoulder joint, contrary to common belief, is however not the joint with the greatest range of movement (this in fact is the hip joint).

How is this knowledge now applied?

Because the upper back muscles, especially the trapezius and the rhomboids, are important for a healthy shoulder girdle, they should receive special attention during training. Rowing exercises, bent over lateral raises and pull ups make up the basic exercises for a healthy shoulder workout with high volume, which will lead to a pronounced musculature in the shoulder girdle area.

A complete utilisation of the shoulder muscle is achieved with movements up to approximately 90°. Therefore, variations of lateral raises move into focus for shoulder workouts, by doing this the shoulder muscle (deltoid) is optimally isolated and the full ROM (range of motion) can be utilised. There is, however, one problem: The deltoid is a relatively small muscle with a low strength development, resulting in the difficulty of progressing with lateral raises. An increase in weight by 1kg while keeping the number of reps the same can already be too much. Therefore, the following progression is optimal.

Progression of lateral raises



The following progression is easily implemented in order to get to the next heavier weight. Important hereby is: Weight and number of reps remain the same over a period of 3 weeks.

Week 1: lateral raises are performed in the desired range of reps with the matching weight.

Week 2: Lateral raises with emphasis on the eccentric part: With every rep purposefully lower the weight slowly (3 seconds), always keeping the shoulder fully under tension. The weight and number of reps remain identical to the previous week.

Week 3: Lateral raises with isometric hold and emphasis on the eccentric part: With every rep, additionally to the eccentric part, an isometric hold is added at the turnaround point. This means that the dumbbell is held briefly at the highest point of the movement before it is lowered in a controlled manner. After a few reps this will be strength wise barely doable because the shoulders will certainly be burning. Nevertheless, an isometric hold should be tried at the turning point of the movement for the remaining reps.

Week 4: In week 4 an increase in weight and/or a change in number of reps per set follows.

The mechanical drop set – perfect for shoulder workouts

A mechanical drop set is described as a combination of several exercises for the same muscle group, where you change from the heaviest to the lightest exercise i.e. from the exercise where you can use the smallest weight to the one where you can move the heaviest weight. During the set the weight of the dumbbell is neither changed nor is it put down.

Due to the exhaustion from exercise to exercise the dumbbell gets “heavier” and can still be used due to the mechanically better position. Thus, a complete exhaustion of every muscle fibre can be achieved.

A perfect mechanical drop set for the shoulder is the following succession of exercises:

Front raises with dumbbells



Side raises with dumbbells



Shoulder press with dumbbell



These 4 exercises are carried out directly one after another, in each case in the range of 5 – 10 reps with 2 – 4 sets. Anybody who has not had enough by the end, can add on shoulder presses to muscular exhaustion. Important as always is to ensure a sound technical execution.

Crazy Military Press

This exercise helps to develop a solid shoulder and ensures simultaneously a nice hypertrophy effect.

Here the weight is not loaded directly onto a barbell but more so hung onto it by elastic bands. This leads to a swinging resistance, which ensures a controlled and stable execution. Additionally, the light oscillation, due to the plates dancing in the bands, ensures a high muscular tension. Everyone who has had problems with the shoulders in the past should definitely try this variation.



The shoulders should ideally be trained twice a week. Tip: Start with two exercises per session and then gradually increase the volume. It is extremely important not to forget that many chest exercises incorporate the front and side part of the shoulder. For anyone who has many chest exercises in his exercise programme, should therefore cautiously plan explicit shoulder workouts. By placing the focus on high volume upper back training the day after shoulder workouts, there should be no problems in achieving “cannon ball like” shoulders.




Author: Sebastian Kaindl
Sebastian is a sports scientist (hons), head coach at Kaindl Athletic System, state coach for powerlifting and was an active member of the German national team. He is also a member of the Dymatize Advisory Board.

The exercises, training and/or nutritional information and recommendations presented in this article/video are to be followed at your own risk and do not substitute personal and/or individual advice. Medical advice should be obtained beforehand by anyone under 18 years of age, by individuals with health restrictions (especially orthopaedic or internal complaints/conditions), and by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If problems are encountered when applying the training and nutritional methods, a doctor should always be consulted immediately. No liability is assumed by Active Nutrition International GmbH.