22 Exercises to Build Boulder Shoulders

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YOUR SHOULDERS ARE more involved in your workout sessions than you might think. Whether you're focusing on specific muscle groups to anchor your training plan (think leg day, back day, chest day, etc.) or you depend on more of a total-body approach, your shoulders are (probably) going to be involved in some way. Yes, it's probably obvious that chest movements that feature pressing like the bench press use your shoulders—but even barbell squats, which require you to create a ton of shoulder tension to bear the weight safely on your back, depend on the muscle group as well. Ditto for total-body movements like farmer's carries, which depend on the shoulders to help stabilize the load.

Does that mean that you don't need any focused shoulder training in your workout program? Absolutely not. The muscles that make up your shoulders, the deltoids (among others), can still benefit from targeted exercises. You can and should give your shoulders some individualized attention to build muscle and strength.

That said, you'd be best served if you don't plan out an entire split focused on pounding your shoulders with heavy weights, as you would for other muscle groups like your legs. Since you accumulate so much volume doing other exercises throughout your workout week, the delicate muscles and joints of your shoulders would be better served with specific exercises performed with good form on days that you're training other muscle groups. "We want to be super bang for your buck [when training the shoulders]," says MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. "You don't need to kill your shoulders."

What Are the Shoulder Muscles?

Your shoulders are one of the most complex joints in your entire body. The ball-and-socket joint allows you to move with a 360-degree range of motion, but can be delicate when compared to other joints (hence the concerns about training volume).

The muscles that most people usually think of as being the main shoulder muscles are the deltoids, which are responsible (along with your rotator cuffs and other parts of the larger shoulder structure) for moving your arms and stabilizing the shoulder joints.

The delts have three distinct heads: the anterior (front) delts, the lateral (a.k.a. medial or side) delts, and the posterior (rear) delts. Front delts help to move your arms forward, lateral delts help to move your arms to the side and up and down, and rear delts help to move your arms backwards.

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Benefits of Shoulder Exercises

As we've established, you're likely getting plenty of shoulder work via traditional strength training routines. But focusing on the muscles directly with targeted exercises will allow you to build strength and mass to your deltoids, which will help your performance in these more general movements (like the bench press) while also rounding out your physique. Certain parts of your shoulders, specifically your rear delts, are sometimes underdeveloped through more general training, so some focused work can be especially beneficial.

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The Best Shoulder Exercises

Since your shoulders can be delicate, remember that your best approach won't be dedicating a whole day's worth of training to nothing but shoulder exercises. You can also back off on the weight for many of these exercises, especially when you're performing raising movements. You don't want to train your way to shoulder pain.

Instead, MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel says to add shoulder movements to your workouts while you're training other muscle groups or as one part of full-body workouts.

Use these exercises to develop shoulder strength and size. You can build boulder shoulders, starting here.

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