Lean, sculpted shoulders are sexy.
So sexy, in fact, that I would say they’re the most important muscle in the upper body to build.
While most guys in the gym want a big chest, there’s nothing that beats big, wide shoulders.
But, can you actually build muscle while burning fat?
Science would suggest that no, you cannot build fat and burn muscle at the same time.
So what’s with the title? Is this some friggin’ click bait or what?
Here’s the deal: you should still be hitting your shoulders as hard as you can even if you’re in a caloric deficit.
When you’re lean and ready to move into maintenance, your shoulders will be ready for maximum growth.
Remember: first you get lean. Then you add mass. That’s the best way to build a great looking body.
Let’s take a look at my 4 favorite shoulder exercises to build muscle:
1. Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Wait… why would you want to start off with dumbell lateral raises? You’ve always been told to start with the heavy compound lifts, right?
Well, while there’s nothing wrong with the military press first, I find that the lateral raises get your shoulders warmed up for the press.
I got this idea from the great Steve Reeves. He always started his shoulder workouts with lateral raises. He felt that it prepared his shoulders for the military press.
I tend to agree. Not only does it warm you up for the press, but it’s also an essential exercise that anyone can and should perform.
Dumbbell lateral raises are not difficult to perform by any means. Just make sure you’re choosing a light dumbbell if you’re new to this exercise.
It’s an important exercise because it assists in the broadening of your shoulders. Even though your delts are tiny, an increase in size increases your width. It’s all about that perception, baby!
As I said above, this exercise is extremely easy and yet gives great results. If you’re a sucker for machines, use this exercise to begin your journey into the world of dumbbells.
Yes, even if you’re a woman. Women should lift weights. Lifting free weights as a woman will build you a body that machines could never build.
I am a big advocate for women to do weight lifting because it burns a lot of calories. Burning calories means you burn fat. Burning fat gets you tone. Win!
Go ahead and start with 5 pound dumbbells in each arm. Work your way up to 12 reps per arm.
Here’s the key: you want to start with a light weight so that you are activating the delt. You do not want other muscles compensating.
If you feel your traps, back, triceps, or any other muscles firing, then you are using too much weight.
Do not extend your arms at a full 90 degrees. Bend your elbows a bit. Raise the dumbbells slowly and stop when your arms are at neck level.
You don’t need any more than 3 sets. Keep the weight light because you’re moving on to the Military Press next.
2. The Military Press
The bread and butter of a big upper body. If you’re not performing the military press on your shoulder days, you are missing out.
Not only does the press need a strong upper body, it also requires a strong lower-body. It’s an incrdible full body exercise that reveals your weaknesses.
For this reason, motivate yourself to never skip leg day bro. Give yourself a solid ab session once or twice per week. Strengthen your lower back as well.
The military press becomes incredibly difficult as you add more weight to the bar. The rest of your body will show it’s weaknesses as you lift heavier weight.
As you can see in the image, you can perform the military press while seated. However, I do recommend standing military presses.
Only perform the seated military press if you have injuries in your back or legs (or both).
Actually, now that I think of it, you should do the seated dumbbell shoulder press if you have injuries. It’s easier on your body.
For a warm up, your shoulders should be ready to go from the dumbbell lateral raises. But, it’s still a good idea to grab the olympic bar and do 5 or so reps.
If 5 reps on the bar is quite difficult for you, then this is your starting point. Don’t add any weight. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps.
If you can lift a lot more than the bar, then begin adding weight until you’re ready to start the work sets.
I would recommend 3 sets of around 6-8 reps.
Make the first set your heaviest. This is why a good warm-up is key. You want your muscles to be loose and ready, but not fatigued.
The idea with this rep range is to make your first set the strongest for 6 reps. Then, drop the weight by 10 pounds and do 7 reps. Drop the weight again and shoot for 8 reps.
Rest for a maximum of 90 seconds. The rest time is important here so don’t go over. It should be quite difficult to hit those 8 reps on your 3rd set.
Once you are able to hit all the reps with the weight, you’re ready to add 5 pounds to the bar next shoulder day.
Keep in mind you’re performing this lift after the lateral raises. This is good! Your lats will be feeling it afterwards.
The military press is a strength and size builder. Yes, you can build muscle pumping out 12 reps at a lighter weight, but Warriors are strong. Use the military press to build some solid strength.
A good, long-term goal would be to military press your lean body mass. You would be a strong Warrior at this point, and I urge you to continue your strength gains.
You will be strengthening your entire upper body with this exercise over time. This will benefit you much more than strong bench presses. The bench press is secondary to the military press.
And, it’s a great exercise for women as well. Yes, you should be getting strong if you’re a lady baby.
3. Rope Face Pulls
Easily one of the most important exercises for the upper body and shoulders. This exercise will keep your rotater cuff healthy for the long haul.
This is my favorite exercise for the rear delts as well. I like bent over lateral raises, but I’ll pick this one every time if I had to choose.
If you were to google image search this exercise, you’ll notice that most pictures look the same. They form they show you is not what I recommend.
Therefore, I’ve found a video which shows the form that I recommend. The video explains the form correctly, but I’ll write about it as well.
Watch the whole video? Most of it? See how he performs the facepulls differently from all those google images?
This is called a Facepull with external rotation. As you pull the rope towards your forehead, you want to rotate your arms outward.
You should look like you’re flexing your biceps at the top of the move. The end of the rope will actually be above your head slightly. That’s how high you’re pulling the rope.
It’s important that you perform the facepull this way in order to target your rear dealts. You want them to fire.
You’ve hit the side delts with the laterals. You blasted the bulk of your upper body with the Military Press. And you’re ending with Facepulls as the finisher.
That’s a very solid shoulder routine! You don’t need anymore than this in order to keep your shoulders strong and healthy during a cut.
I recommend that you keep the reps high for this exercise. You can do anywhere from 15-20 reps per set on this one.
Keep the weight light. No reason to go heavy here since you’re doing high reps. The rear delt is small. Hit it with light weights and hold each rep for a second at the top of the move.
4. Barbell Shoulder Shrug
This exercise is entirely optional. If you don’t feel like hitting your traps, then head on home because you’re done.
However, if you want to build your traps, then the barbell shoulder shrug is the best (you can use dumbbells as an alternative if you wish).
Let me first clear the air when it comes to the shoulder shrug: you do not need heavy weight.
You often see guys shrugging 200+ pounds on the barbell. I find this silly because you don’t need ridiculously strong traps.
All you need is hypotrophy for growth and your traps will look amazing. This can be accomplished with lighter weight.
Head on over to the rack and place the barbell around the height of your knees. It’s important that I explain the form to you before you start shrugging away.
When you grab the bar, let weight of the bar pull your arms down. Relax your arms. Feel that stretch in your traps.
This is the starting position for each shrug. Lighter weight allows you to shrug using just the trap muscles. Heavy weight uses other upper body muscles to compensate.
Slowly shrug the bar as high as your traps will go. Hold the rep at the top for a second or two. Get a feel for the movement. Feel your traps firing.
Then, slowly lower the bar back to starting position.
It’s important that you do not roll the shoulders at all with this movement. I see a lot of people make this mistake. Don’t be one of them.
When you shrug with a barbell, keep the arms and shoulders in the same position. You shrug upwards, hold, and then lower the weight again.
As you can see in the image, his arms and shoulders are not pulled back at all. Bring your shoulders straight up and then back down.
Lighter weight allows you to perform full, concentrated shrugs. You’re not compensating with other muscles. You’re not jerking the weight up.
Performing 12-15 reps like this per set is ideal. You only need 2 sets with this many reps to get results, but feel free to do more if you insist.
Nothing Looks Better Than Strong, Developed Shoulders
These 4 exercises shoulder exercises will build muscle if you’re on a caloric surplus. Stick to the sets and reps and you’ll build size.
If you’re currently in a leaning phase, I still recommend that you hit your shoulders hard on shoulder day. Not only will you keep them healthy, but they will be prime for growth when you transition to a lean bulk.
Aim to get stronger each and every week. The Military Press will be your main strength and size builder.
If you plateau at a certain weight, get creative. Lessen the rest time by 10 seconds, shoot for one more rep, add an additional set, perform slower reps, etc.
Changing the exercise while keeping weight the same will “shock” the muscle to improve.
I recommend all beginner and immediate lifters to hit the shoulders twice per week. You can hit the chest afterwards if you want.
If you’re a woman, don’t avoid lifting weights. Compound exercises and dumbbells will make you lean and sexy.
And, Bulgarian Split Squats are a great way to build dat ass.
Over and out. Comment below if you have any questions or would like to add to the discussion.