Weak shoulders are the curse of the beginning lifter. For whatever reason, definitely not fate, new and undereducated lifters are drawn to the bench press and curl as their first loves in the gym. Think about it. How many guys do you know that got into lifting by learning squats? Or pull-ups? Or deadlifts?
Finding a beginning lifter obsessed about his squat total is about as rare as finding someone with developed shoulders. Even then, these guys with the best shoulder development are often clearly injecting muscle altering substances. It is exceedingly rare to find a natural lifter with a nice pair of boulder shoulders, supported by equal trap development.
The reason behind this lack of development is because of the shoulder girdle, which includes all three sides of the delts and the traps, is undertrained. Even when it is trained, it is trained incorrectly. Throwing in some half-assed side raises and shrugs at the end of a bench workout is not even close to the amount of stimulation needed for growth.
The shoulders need to be treated like every other muscle group; hit them with heavy compound exercises and then finish them off with some isolation work. There is no other way to build muscle. Training only with compound lifts will never give you the correct mind-muscle connection to equally develop all your muscles, and pumping away endlessly on isolation exercises will only make you better at getting a pump…and maybe jerking off.
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To save your shoulders from further shame, SpotMeBro has constructed a program to pump some gains into your T-shirt size. The goal of this program is to make you too wide for doors; the looks you will get from the opposite sex will be worth having to walk through doors sideways.
Jump on a cardio machine and peddle away until you sweat. It should take about 10 minutes, and do wonders for the health of your joints. If you have any mobility issues with your shoulders, do your mobility work after the cardio. Everything is easier once your core temperature has risen and your joints are warm.
After you are warm and loose, you can start lifting. Be smart about your lifting warm-up, and don’t hit any heavy weights until your target muscle group is fully primed from your warm-up sets.
Superset One: Military Press w/ Dumbbell Shrug 4×4
The first superset of the workout contains the heavy hitters; load up the weight and hit some heavy sets of four. Use the heaviest weight you can without your form deteriorating. For the military press, keep your torso vertical and resist the temptation to lean back and turn it into a standing incline press.
Explode the bar off your shoulders and jam it upwards; make sure your lifts are powerful, as the more force you use to move the bar, the more muscle fibers you recruit. With the dumbbell shrug, shrug the weight backward, as if you are trying to fold your traps together. Rolling your shoulders when shrugging, or shrugging your shoulders to your ears are not ideal because of the stress they put on your shoulders.
Superset Two: Arnold Press w/ Cable Face Pull 4×8
After waking up your central nervous system with the heavy sets of four, it is time to start focusing on specific muscles within the shoulder girdle. The Arnold press is a great exercise because it includes a twisting motion that allows the movement to hit more than just the front delt. Four moderately heavy sets of eight should do some serious damage to your front and side delts.
The face pull is fantastic because it keeps your shoulders healthy by strengthening your low traps and rear delts. If possible, use the rope attachment on a cable machine as this gives the largest range of movement. Focus on the stretch and on the contraction; try and hold the top portion of the rep for two seconds. Remember that these exercises should be used to train the target muscles and not break new PR’s. Your concern is growth.
Superset Three: Cable Lateral Raise w/ Rear Delt Fly 3×12
This is pure pump work; strengthening your mind-muscle connection should be the goal of this superset (along with a crazy pump). The better you develop your mind-muscle connection through isolation work, the more muscles and therefore muscle fibers you are able to recruit when you are doing a compound lift.
Instead of just going through the motions, you will be able to feel all your different muscles working and pinpoint any weakness you may have. The biggest return on your training investment will be from getting stronger on your compound exercises. Isolation work is like the salt on your plain chicken breast; you would still get your protein without it, but makes your life a whole lot easier.
Continue to the next page for the most alpha shoulder exercises!