Building my shoulders have always been a love hate relationship when it comes to my own training. Even with clients I tend to favor my own personal style of training with shoulders then anything else. There is a lot of noise when it comes to “the best exercise for xyz”. If your moving/using your shoulders in a natural way and carrying a challenging weight then your shoulders will grow. Where people get confused is what I mean by “natural”. If you think about it we do more pressing (with heavy weight) above our heads then raising lateral or to the front. So with that statement, what’s more natural a neutral grip shoulder press or a front shoulder raise?
I hope you said shoulder press
I have seen more shoulder injuries from guys or girls who made a habit of doing shoulder raise exercises then anything else. This could be from a number of things but guys want to lift heavy so they grab weight and start flapping their arms thinking they are going to get big. This is where the injuries come in. The actual shoulder raise is not the issue, the weight and form they are using is. They go too heavy too fast and end up hurting something. So lets just take them out altogether and focus on only the movements that are going to give you stronger, more powerful shoulders.
1) D. B Shoulder Press (neutral grip): What I mean by neutral grip is instead of having your shoulders turned out at a 90 degree (traditional shoulder press) I turn my elbows a bit more to the midline of my body and press from there. This feels way better on my shoulders and gives me more room for error. Pressing in that 90 degree position with heavy weight can get risky. All it takes is that DB to get off balance and fall back and you over externally rotate the shoulder and POP! I have come close myself! Using DB’s also give you a little more control as to the angle its putting on the shoulder. Barbells are awesome but they are not first on my list when it comes to presses.
2) Barbell Press: Barbells are second though My next best mass building shoulder exercise is variations of the barbell shoulder press. Whether you’re sitting or standing these are pretty dope. When it comes to my bar presses when sitting I never have the bar sitting straight above my body. Most benches allow you to set the bench one click away from being straight up and down. That’s where I am at 90% of the time. If I can’t get a dominate shoulder press with my bench angle then i’ll have the seat straight up and down and position my arms in that neutral grip position. Again, I’m looking for a natural feel to my press with as much weight as possible.
3) Barbell Push Press: One of my new favorite additions to my press days!!. Not only are you getting great shoulder work but your core is working over time. Especially when dealing with heavy weights. You have to make sure you’re keeping a rigid midsection when you go into the dip portion of the press. That transition between the dip and the drive is going to be drastically affected by the structure of your core. I always recommend training 85-90% belt free but personally I have been strapping on the belt when attempting new PR’s due to my lower back. That’s your call…lift heavy to get stronger but also lift in a way to preserve the ability to continue lifting into old age! We all pay later for the hobbies we do now.
4) Handstand Push Ups: The best bodyweight exercise for building strong shoulders! Problem is people hurt themselves more attempting to start doing them then anything else. You can do these two ways. Say Eff it and jump right into a full standing HSPU (which for a beginner is the dumbest thing in the world to do) or you can work your way into a full standing HSPU. You can start from a box with your legs or knees on the box and your hands on the ground and work on getting your legs higher and higher until you can work yourself onto a wall. If you have them available then use Jump Stretch Bands to progress into a full on body weight HSPU.
Bonus: Shoulder Conditioning: Sometimes its not about the size of the shoulders but the performance on an endurance level. Well if you’re into that then start crawling. Bear crawls being the most popular. These build overall structure, stability and strength. Anything that puts a consistent and constant load on the shoulders (handstands, crawls or walks) are going to build endurance as well as strength in the overall shoulder. Be sure to rock these out as often as you can. They are a great finisher move on a press day!