The Best Shoulder Exercises

Shoulders are hands down one of the hardest muscles to build, they are injury prone and require a lot of care during the workout. Here is a list of the best shoulder exercises I could find:

1. Hang Clean & Press

This is regarded as the king of all shoulder exercises that ensure greater muscle mass development apart from defining the shoulders. Hang Clean is quite similar to High Pull—a rather robust exercise that in itself resembles the Upright Row a lot. Further, if you can do the press without hesitating too much, you can use the momentum for greater stretching that is in turn needed for better reflexes to press upon more weight than that is possible from rising from a dead stop position. However, using the momentum during the Hang Clean is not easily learnt and needs some degree of training. The press is a bit hard because it also involves a bit of push that uses the legs apart from other joints that is necessary for creating the bare minimum momentum.

This exercise is not designed for any particular kind of physical training. The idea is to increase the overall gains and training intensity. The Hang Clean method is also called the Hang Clean & Press since its mixes the basics of Olympic lifting with the standard weightlifting techniques that includes a supportive form of pressing. It can be done using heavy weights that is required for developing strength or even with lightweights that is required for developing more power and speed. Please note that Hang Clean might not be recommended by every gym trainer and thus, not accepted as a part of standard bodybuilding methods but its utility for building muscle is well known.

Executing The Hang Clean & Press

Setting-up the Hang Clean & Press is undemanding. All you need to ensure is that an Olympic barbell is loaded with some weight. You need to position your feet accordingly, i.e. it should be able to support the bodyweight and the added weight. You should be standing in such a position wherein your hands are securely located on the bar and just about a bit beyond the realm of the outside shoulder width. Ensure that you keep your back flat and the chin upwards to dead-lift the weight in a standing position while the bar rests against the thighs—this is the standard starting position. Here onwards, you need to lower the bar to just about your knees, all the while maintaining minimal bending around the knees and waist.

This is just about the perfect way to execute a clean Hang Clean where you need to get the bar along your shoulders. Ideally, your ankles should be extended a bit, your knees flexed minimally, traps extended a bit and your overall body position will be something that is required when attempting the upright row, i.e. when trying to pull the bar upwards in a straight line with the goal of aligning the bar at par with your shoulders. When you have attained this stance, you have to rotate your elbows, i.e. under the bar so that they are in a catching posture in front of the shoulders, facing your chest and gripped upwards. Ensure that you bend your knees minimally to assist the catch and not fuel it.

Now, immediately press the loaded bar, attaining full extension and then lower the bar to your shoulders. Towards the end, the drop can be backed down to the thighs for completing the rep. Please note that the hang clean doesn’t offer a reverse curling option. This movement itself puts forth a combination of one-quarter squat, a bit of calf raise and some degree of shrug along with a 3/4th Upright Row. There are basic variations in this segment that include Variations: Clean & Press, Clean & Push apart from Hang Clean & Push.

2. Standing Overhead Press  (or the Military Press)

The Military Press is considered as effective as the Deadlifts, Squat and Bench Pressing in terms of one of the most effective and absolutely mandatory exercises that are recommended for all serious weight-lifters and those who want more gains in their gym routine. It is usually said that if a gym-regular is not Overhead Pressing, he/she is not ‘really lifting’—this underlines the Military Press being the ultimate Compound exercise that combines pressing and lifting for the shoulders.

Executing The Military Press Properly

You have two options for setting the bar. You either do this using the power rack or using the squat rack. The other option is to clean lift the weight from your shoulders by using a spotter for assistance. You should be gripping the bar about 2 to 3 inches a bit beyond the shoulder width. The starting stance is the weight resting on the upper chest and shoulder area. The bar should be pressed in front of the face and the elbows should be in a slightly relaxed lockout. You need to lower the weight with some degree of control, i.e. upon your upper chest for completing the rep and doing more reps. Ensure that you don’t bounce the weights off your shoulders and your legs too shouldn’t be thrusting along your legs or hips. This resembles a basic form of a Push Press that is quite good but this is the conventional Military Press.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press—Basic Variations You Should Know

Military Press presents basic variations like the:

Standing Military Press

Seated Military Press

Push Press-Type Military Press

Dumbbell Press-Type Military Press

Among these, the three most important variations are those of the Dumbbell Shoulder Press that has been explained in detail below.

Standing, One-arm Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This variation is recommended since it allows the exerciser to lift more and even alternate sides, combining speed with control. When in the standing position, you should clean raise both the dumbbells to the shoulder level. You need to lift one dumbbell at a time, i.e. the other should be resting on the opposite shoulder. When you are bringing down the first dumbbell to your upper shoulder level, your second dumbbell should have already moving in the upwards direction—there is no need to rest between the reps here.

Executing The Seated Dumbbell Press

Understand that when you are seated, you are generating more power with your legs and you are pressed against the bench which means you have added stability and strength. This means that you should be able to press more and for a longer period, doing more reps. When seated, you should rest the dumbbells on the knees so that the arms and shoulders get some recovery time. Now that you are ready, ensure that you use your legs for popping each of the dumbbells to the shoulders. Your feet should be flatly grounded on the floor for pressing both the dumbbells simultaneously. You should stop just a bit short of a full lockout of the elbows. Now, return the dumbbells to the shoulders for completing the rep. variations are rather limited here where you can try the standing version, i.e. the alternating, one-arm version that is a bit demanding for folks trying this variation for the first time.

Executing The Seated Arnold Shoulder Press

This slightly-awkward but very rewarding exercise is regarded beneficial since it works the front and sides of the deltoid muscles. You shouldn’t be using very heavy weights for this. This is because this regimen is more difficult than most of the other exercises wherein regular dumbbells or barbell presses are involved. There are very few variations in this niche that include the Arnold Shoulder Presses that are considered rather demanding for first-time gym-goers. These exercises are recommended for those who are quite familiar with shoulder exercises that include some degree of pressing.

3. Upright Barbell Rows

Upright Barbell Rows might be looked upon as very demanding exercise by some gym regulars but the fact remains that this is the most effective exercise for developing the upper shoulder muscles and exercising the rotator cuffs that is needed for developing some serious bulk around the shoulders. However, you should ensure that you don’t rotate the bar than the shoulder level. This is one of the most successful exercises for working the medial and outside heads of shoulders. The best equipment for this exercise is the Straight Bar or the EZ Curl Bar. Most gym trainers tend to prefer the EZ Curl. For this exercise you should stand up and grab the bar just about an inch lesser than the shoulder width. You need to raise the barbell in front of your body, just to the level of the shoulders or at the most, an inch above the shoulder level. Bend your elbows in the most minimal manner. The elbows should be pointing straight and the bar should ideally not cross the level of the chin.

Variations in Upright Barbell Rows

There are not many variations in this niche since the idea is not to induce too much pressure on the neck. Thus, you can try the following when attempting to try-out different combinations like:

Two-arm Upright Barbell Rows

One-arm Upright Barbell Rows

Wide-grip Upright Barbell Rows

Medium-grip Upright Barbell Rows

Close-grip Upright Barbell Rows

High-pull Upright Barbell Rows

Clean dumbbell Upright Barbell Rows

The most demanding of these variations is the High Pull Upright Barbell Rows that requires you to finish upright rows using more momentum. This is the same sort of power that is required for executing the Hang Clean regimen that is needed for pulling up the bar to the shoulder level. This extra momentum is generated via the extension of the ankles that is combined with some degree of shrugging the shoulders. This involves a ¼ squat that is needed for driving the bar further. Try not to pause too much when you reach the furthest point of the barbell’s rise.

4. Overhead Squats

Overhead Squats might sound rather demanding but these are rather easy to do once you get accustomed to it. This is very awkward when first seen or tried but it is ideally suited for building the stability in the shoulders. The name ‘Overhead Squats’ suggests that you might have to do some impossible sort of posturing that includes lifting weight over your head but the reality is that Overhead Squats use the strength of the legs and use a load that is much lighter than what is normally used for squatting exercises.

Executing Overhead Squats

For getting started with Overhead Squats, load a barbell using some light weights and this is ideally done on a power snatch that makes it easier to pick the loaded bar off the rack. For positioning the bar into the appropriate position, you can use the snatch grip that is essentially a wider grip that is as much as 1.5 feet beyond the width of the shoulders. You can also bend down to grasp the bar in an extra-wide deadlift kind of stance. Now, you need to Deadlift this bar into the conventional hang position using the hang snatch.  Slowly move your hands towards the snatch lockout position for which you need to perform a quick quarter squat for generating sufficient momentum. You can use whatever kind of snatch method that you think is compatible you’re your stamina levels but the goal should be to snatch the bar overhead and then catch it in the traditional snatch position.

Ensure that throughout this exercise your shoulder blades are moving towards each other and the bar should be located over your head and your ankles should be positioned straight under the bar. As soon as you attain this stance, execute a quick squat, all the while keeping the bar in a vertical position. Ensure that the bar eventually ends behind your head, i.e. when you are in the hole of the exercise and the shoulder blades should still be pinched together. Now as you stand up you would have completed one rep but don’t dare to drop the loaded until you have finished the set. Repeatedly, dropping the bar can use more energy than what is recommended just to get positioned for a set.

5. Lateral Dumbbell Side Raises

Lateral Dumbbell Side Raises are among the best of shoulder exercises for those who want to develop some serious muscle definition among their deltoids. However, this exercise is not mean for everyone, particularly not beginners. It is more recommended for folks who are looking for ways to further carve the overall shape of their shoulders and is thus preferred by seasoned bodybuilders. This exercise is regarded as the best for further defining the deltoids and inducing caps on the shoulders. Please note that this is not a compound exercise in any way. It is more like a distant equivalent of doing dumbbell curls using the shoulder muscles. This exercise is more ideally suited for those into bodybuilding than those who are seeking to increase their power-lifting performance such as those who are into strongman training or into serious, Olympic lifting.

Executing Lateral Dumbbell Side Raises

You need to stand up, holding a pair of dumbbells in your hands, with your arms pointing straight downwards, i.e. to the side. You need to focus upon using the maximum part of the medial delts, i.e. the side portion of the shoulders. Now, slowly lower both the dumbbells, slowing backing them down but not in such a way that neither your arms touch the thighs nor the weights hit your thighs. Ensure that your arms are never perpendicular to the floor—this is central to maintaining the tension among your shoulders. There are some basic variations when attempting Lateral Dumbbell Side Raises including the one-arm and cable-side Lateral Dumbbell Side Raises.

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