Do you want bigger shoulders? Then try these shoulder workouts and exercises to add mass to your delts.

Massive cannon ball delts are one of the most impressive body parts a man can possess. They give him that ultra-wide look that accentuates the ‘V’ taper and look damn good in everything from a suit jacket to a t-shirt. Combine that mass with the definition that shows the separation between all three heads of the delts, as well as the biceps insertions and you have shoulders that are the real deal. Getting them isn’t easy – but it is achievable. In this article, you will find out what to do to develop delts that deliver.

Deltoid Anatomy

The deltoids are a fan-shaped muscle. They cap the shoulder and run down to insert into the biceps.

The delts consist of three segments, each with a specific function:

deltoid anatomy

  • Anterior or Front Deltoid – raises the arm to the front.
  • Lateral or Middle Deltoid – raises the arm to the sides.
  • Posterior or Rear Deltoid – draws the arm backward when the arm is perpendicular to your body.

The deltoids are quite possibly the most used muscle group in the body. They possess a near 360 rotational ability and are involved in all upper body exercises. The front delts, in particular, are heavily involved in all of your chest pressing and your back pulling work. In fact, a lot of guys are hitting their delts more than their pecs on presses because they have the bench angled too high. The net result is that there are a lot of over-trained front delts out there. Remember that this portion of the delt is a relatively small strip of muscle. Make sure that its development is balanced with that of the middle and posterior portions of the muscle.

Training For Shoulder Mass

When it comes to packing mass onto your shoulders, you need to focus on going heavy with a pressing movement. This will work all three deltoid heads, with an emphasis on the middle and front delts. In the gym you’ll find various options for shoulder pressing, including plate loaded machines, cables, barbells and dumbbells. In the interest of developing functional strength, we recommend using free weights instead of machines. Free weights allow you to recruit the tiny stabilizer muscles that are used for balancing the weight. Because you are going to want to go heavy on your pressing movements, you should perform them inside a power rack or a weight stand. This will mean that you don’t have to clean the weight from the floor for each set.

Let’s take a look at the two key free weight mass builders.

Barbell Military Press

You should perform the military press seated on a flat bench. This takes your legs out of the movement, meaning that you can’t cheat the weight up with a push from the thighs. You should also not sit on a bench with a vertical back support. When you do, you are able to push your back into the seat, which actually helps with the upward lift. Your goal is to isolate the delts and not have your back doing half the job!

Technique: Sit with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Lift the bar off the rack and rest it across the front of your shoulders, lightly resting on your collar-bone. Your grip should be at slightly wider than shoulder width (too narrow a grip transfers the emphasis to the triceps). You should have an over-hand grip. Keep your back in it’s natural alignment and maintain a tight core.

Press the bar in a shallow arch around your face to just short of a fully extended position directly above your head. You do not want to achieve lock out at the top of the rep as this relieves the pressure on your delts (you want to keep them on fire the whole time). Do not allow the bar to either drift back or forward. The bar should, rather, stay over your center of gravity throughout the movement. Now, slowly lower the bar back to the start position, following the same shallow arc that you used on the way up. Avoid the tendency to bounce the weight off your chest between reps!

Timing: You should take between one and two seconds to raise the weight, with a slower descent and consciously fighting gravity to take about two seconds to bring the weight back to the start position.

Warning: Do not round your back when pressing overhead. If you do you will not only be taking the emphasis off your delts and onto your chest, triceps, and lats, you will be opening yourself up to some serious lower back problems. You should also make sure that you have an experienced spotter standing by on your overhead pressing work. A little assistance, evenly distributed by placing his palms on your elbows, will allow you to push out those last couple of money reps at the end of the set.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

When you use dumbbells you are working each individual shoulder muscle more intensely. You are also using more stabilizer muscles to balance the weight in place. An additional benefit is that, with dumbbells, each deltoid must do all of the work itself. When you use a barbell, however, your stronger side will take over.

When you use dumbbells, you’ll have to clean them from the floor. This can be a challenge as you start using heavy weight. If you grip them on the floor with an over-hand grip and lift them to rest on your knees, you’ll be able to swing them up into position, using a mix of momentum and lat power.

Technique: Sit on a bench and grasp a pair of dumbbells with a closed, pronated grip. Your head should be up and your upper back and hips should be pressed against the back pad of the seat. Move the dumbbells to position them at shoulder level with your palms facing forward. The dumbbell handles should be in line with each other and parallel to the floor.

Push the dumbbells up until your elbows are fully extended. Keep your wrists straight and directly above your elbows. Make sure, too, that you maintain your erect position. Do not lean back or lift off the bench as you press the dumbbells overhead.

Now lower the dumbbells back to the start position. Keep your wrists straight and directly above your elbows.

Mass with Class

The two mass exercises described will bulk up your shoulders. Now its time to focus on working the individual heads and bringing out the detail. Once we’ve given you the best exercises for each head, we’ll put them together in a series of workouts that will guarantee overall development.

Front Deltoid

Arnold Press

The Arnold Press is a modification of the standard dumbbell shoulder press that moves the focus to the front delts. Start with the weights at chest level and with palms facing in. This is the same as the top position of the seated dumbbell curl. Now press the weight overhead. As your arms ascend, turn your wrists so that, in the top position, the palms are facing out. Reverse this movement on the way back down.

Front Raise

Grab onto a barbell with a shoulder width, palms down grip. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Your core should be tight and your knees slightly bent. You should also have a slight bend in the elbows. Keep your arms locked so that the only movement comes from your shoulder joint.

Lift your arms directly up to shoulder level. In the top position, the bar should be parallel to the floor. Hold for 2 seconds, then lower.

Front Deltoid Raises

Hold a dumbbell in each hand with feet shoulder width apart and the dumbells in front of your body. Lift one of the dumbbells in front of your body to face level. Then while lowering the dumbbell, simultaneously raise the other dumbbell to face level.

The Middle Deltoid

Cable Lateral Raise

Using a cable allows for a more circular motion to more effectively hit the middle delt. Make sure that when you do this movement, your arm goes out in a direct plane with your body. If you move it forward, the emphasis will shift to your front deltoid. You should also have the cable moving behind your back. This also avoids placing tension on the front delt by pulling in front of the body.

Stand alongside a pulley cable machine and grab the handle with your outer hand, standing in front of the cable. With a slight bend in your elbow, raise the cable out and up to shoulder height. The arm should now be locked so that the only movement is through the shoulder joint. Use the same pouring motion as in the previous exercise to recruit as much mid delt activation as possible. Return to the start position and repeat.

Seated Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise

Sit with a pair of dumbbells at your sides with an overhand grip and your elbows slightly bent. Bend slightly forwards at the hips, keeping your lower back in its naturally arched position.

Raise your arms up and out to the sides until they’re parallel to the floor, keeping the same bend in your elbows. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

The Rear Deltoid

Bent Over Lateral Raise

Position yourself on the edge of a bench, bending forward with a pair of dumbbells held behind your ankles. Bending at the waist, ensure that your back is arched and shoulders up. Your palms should be facing each other. With your elbows slightly bent, and your arms locked in position, raise your arms directly to the sides from your shoulder joint. Come up to shoulder level. Hold the contraction at the top for a second and then lower to the starting position.

Face Pull

Stand facing a high pulley with a rope handle attachment. Hold the rope at arms length and pull the weight directly toward your face. Separate your hands as the rope comes back. Keep your upper arms parallel to the ground.

The Workouts

To maximize your body’s adaptability and limit the opportunity for getting your muscles into a rut, you should change up your delt training every 4 weeks. Here are three programs that will see you through a full 3 months of delt work.

Note: Do not over train your front delts. Your chest and back work give them a lot of stimulation already. For that reason, you only need to do heavy shoulder pressing once per week. When you do that pressing, you should take it to failure with drop sets on your last set. Drop sets involve starting with your heaviest weight for 6 reps, then reducing the weight by a few pounds and banging out another 3-4 reps. You keep dropping weight for another 2-3 mini sets without rest until you can’t go any further. Your front delts will be on fire and 20 pounds will feel like a hundred!

Delt Program A

Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 4 sets of 8-12 (last set is a drop set)
Seated Side Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 12
Face Pulls: 3 sets of 12

Delt Program B

Arnold Press: 4 sets of 8-12 (last set is a drop set)
Cable lateral Raise: 3 sets of 12
Bent Over Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 12

Delt Program C

Barbell Military Press: 4 sets of 8-12 (last set is a drop set)
Seated Side Lateral Dumbbell Raise: 3 sets 10-12 reps
Bent Over Lateral Raise: 2 sets of 15 reps

Remedial Front Delt Program

Some people find that their front delts are actually their weak point. That weakness is holding them back from achieving the bench press poundages they need to build their chest. If that sounds like you, here’s a shoulder routine that you should work with twice a week for six weeks in order to get your front delts up to par.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 2 sets 6-8 (to failure)
Smith Machine Press: 2 sets of 6-8 (drop set on last set)
Front Raise: 2 sets of 12-15
Front Lateral Raise: 1 set of 20

You were wanting to build monster delts, and now you have the shoulder workouts for mass laid out for you. All you need to do is get to the gym and eat to grow!

Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think of the shoulder workouts.