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How to build big shoulders!

Updated on September 28, 2015
Upper body
Upper body | Source

I'm no qualified expert, but I have experience and results on my side.

Welcome to my first article on health and fitness, and more specifically, weight training! First of all I would just like to point out that I am by no means a qualified expert in weight training nor fitness training. I am simply posting what I think will be a great article regarding the best workout (s) for the chest and shoulders. This in turn is based on my own experience in the gym and results I have achieved over a relatively short period of time.

I will now write a short paragraph on my muscle building endeavor and how I started, feel free to skip this bit to jump straight into the meat of this article. The first gym I ever entered was at the age around 15-16 and yes, I was nervous as hell, not to mention highly intimidated! So since that age till around 7 months I hadn't really taken "muscle building" all too seriously, and effectively did full body workouts every time I went to the gym! But until about 7 months, I began to take a more serious approach to it, regarding workouts, nutrition and supplements, and have seen great physical results since.

An overlook of what to find in this article:

  • Introduction to building muscle.
  • The muscles which make up your shoulder.
  • List of exercises for the shoulder.
  • My chosen workout for shoulders including sets information and rest times.
  • Summary of workout

Introduction to building muscle

I'm going to be straight with you here, building muscle is no easy task and requires determination, perseverance, genuine commitment, and above all, time! A lot of people think that in order to gain muscle mass on your frame, you simply need to attend a gym, do a few sets here and there, and that's that.


Building muscle is a complex process which you have to maintain and be consistent with if you want to see genuine results. Yes, of course you have to attend a gym and perform some sort of physical lifting, but it's also about form, which I will stress throughout this article. You need to be consistent with your lifting and continue to do so with each and every workout you commit yourself to. As well as the actual working and the tearing of muscle fibers in the gym, which is essentially what you're doing (Opportunity for another article on "building muscle" is in the pipeline) you need to pay particular attention to your recovery time and nutrition after the gym. That's when your muscles begin to repair and re-build the damaged tissue which you have carried out in your work out.

The muscles that make up your Shoulder

The entirety of the shoulder has over 10 muscles in it and associated with, however, I shall only be talking about a select few which contribute to getting big shoulders and width to your upper body. These muscles are as followed and of which most people are familiar with:

  • Trapezius or commonly known as just "traps" which is the muscle that sits on top of your shoulders and spreads down around the top of your back.
  • Deltoid which is broken down into 3 constituent parts: Anterior part of the deltoid or "front delts", Lateral or "side delts" and finally posterior deltoid, more commonly known as "rear delts"

The trap muscle
The trap muscle | Source
The 3 sections of the Deltoid muscle: Anterior, posterior and lateral.
The 3 sections of the Deltoid muscle: Anterior, posterior and lateral. | Source

A list of shoulder exercises you can do

Here's a list of the various shoulder exercises one can perform in order to develop their shoulder muscles, feel free to look up each of these exercises for information on how to actually carry out each particular one:

  • Arnold dumbbell press
  • Seated Shoulder press (dumbbells)
  • Seated Shoulder press (barbell)
  • Deltoid lateral raises
  • Seated Deltoid posterior flies (rear delt flies) (can also be performed whilst laying down on a bench.
  • Anterior (front) Deltoid raises with dumbbells or with a weight plate which is just as good.
  • Standing shrugs with either dumbbells or barbell.
  • Upright barbell row. Can also be performed with a weight plate.

The above mentioned are all performed with free weights, however, most gyms are likely to have machines that you can use which focus on specific muscles. For example, if you're working out your shoulders and find that you're not quite ready for free weights yet, you can build up some strength to begin with on machines. Although they're very good, I personally don't think they're as good as using free weights because machines don't require you to stabilize the weights which requires more muscle recruitment and there aren't as good for building muscle mass. In addition to this, most gyms will also have some sort of cable system which allows you to essentially work out your entire body with the use of resistance cables. The majority of the above mentioned exercises can all be performed on cables, typically speaking.

My recommendation for a good shoulder workout for both beginners and intermediate level gym goers

The shoulder workout which I am currently using is an excellent one which I have seen great results from, both physically and in terms of actual strength gain.

Firstly begin by stretching your shoulders - I probably don't do as much stretching as I should, but it's not rocket science to stretch, it's just to get the blood flowing and to prevent serious injury.

The stretch in the middle and just to the right of that are my favorites and useful. Pick 2 or 3 and then begin warm up sets.
The stretch in the middle and just to the right of that are my favorites and useful. Pick 2 or 3 and then begin warm up sets. | Source

My chosen workout for shoulders including sets information and rest times.

Once you have spent about 2 or 3 minutes stretching, it's time to start on your warm up sets. These sets aren't going to be taxing on your shoulders, they're purpose is to simply get the blood flowing nicely in that region so as to prevent serious injury and to perform well in your working sets.

To begin your warm up, grab 2 dumbbells weighing around 10kg-15kg (22-33lb) and sit down on a bench with the back raised. Now perform about 2 or 3 sets of shoulder press gradually increasing the weight, but not too much - You don't want to tire yourself before you've even started!

Note: Beginners, use a low weight they feel most comfortable with that's not too heavy.

Now begins the iron pumping! Once you're feeling nice and warmed up and ready to go, it's to move on to your working sets which will tear down your muscle fibers. If you wish to skip my instructions and walk through of the workout, feel free to scroll to the summary at the bottom.

Seated dumbbell shoulder press. Keep back straight against the bench with feet firmly on the ground and press the weight about your head.
Seated dumbbell shoulder press. Keep back straight against the bench with feet firmly on the ground and press the weight about your head. | Source

Exercise No.1:

Seated dumbbell shoulder press

  • Set one, select a weight that's heavy but not too heavy, you want to be able to do around 12 repetitions for you first set so weight is important as you're going to gradually increase it as you progress through the set.
  • Set 2, it's time to move up the weight which although is heavy and will be hard, you want to be able to perform at least 10 repetitions quite comfortably, but hard enough so that you know you're actually having to work to lift.
  • Set 3, again, it's time to increase the weight slightly so you can perform around 8 reps, again, fairly comfortably.
  • Set 4, this is your final set so now is the time to give it your all. Increase the weight one more time so that you can manage around 4-6 reps.

Note: It's important to note here that, as a beginner, you may struggle with some of the heavier weights, for example, moving up into the 20kg's (around 45lb) is going to take at least 3 weeks, or a month, maybe less depending on genetics and other factors. Around 7 months ago I struggled to shoulder press 17.5kgs dumbbells, that's 35kg in total. But after around a month or so, I was straight up to the 25kg's dumbbells. At present, the most I've managed to shoulder press for a full 12 rep set is 35kg each arm. So I essentially double my shoulder strength in a matter of just over half a year. Some may say that's a long time and they may have done the same in just a couple of months, but I've stayed completely natural throughout my muscle building endeavor and I'm more than pleased with my results :)

Upright barbell row. Lift the barbell up to the top of your chest, but don't rest it there, and hold for about a second and release, repeat.
Upright barbell row. Lift the barbell up to the top of your chest, but don't rest it there, and hold for about a second and release, repeat. | Source

Exercise No. 2:

Upright Barbell row

  • Set 1, again, just like with the shoulder press, you're going to start with a weight you find comfortable with and confident enough so that you can do around 12-15 reps. Aim for 15 but 12 is just fine if you can't manage it.
  • Set 2, once more, you're going to increase the weight ever so slightly, to make it that little bit harder and taxing for your muscles. If you managed 15 reps for you first set, aim for 12 for your 2nd, if not, 10 is good.
  • Set 3, increase the weight on the barbell again, but only slightly so you can manage between 10 and 8 reps. At this stage you're really going to feel it in you're shoulders, particularly your delts and traps.
  • Set 4, once more, increase the weight so as to manage either 6 or 8 reps. After this, you can rest for a good 3-5mins, but feel free to start you're next set when you feel ready.

Anterior dumbbell raises (front raises)
Anterior dumbbell raises (front raises) | Source
Anterior plate raise.
Anterior plate raise. | Source

Exercise No.3:

Dumbbell anterior raises with dumbbells or weight plate

  • Set 1, as with the other sets, start low and work you're weay up. This exercise can be quite tricky but you'll soon get the hang of it as you develop strength if you haven't already done so. This can either be done by raising 2 dumbbells in front you together, or by alternating them which I personally prefer. Start with small dumbbells and perform 12 reps each arm, be sure not to rush!
  • Set 2, increase your dumbbell weight and do the exact same thing, don't rush your sets and make sure your form is good i.e. no swinging the weights in front of you, you want to stimulate your anterior deltoid if you want it to grow! For this set, aim for 10 reps.
  • Set 3, a final increase in dumbbell weight and aim for about 8 reps, but 6 as a minimum will do the job, so long as you can feel the muscle aching and burning.

Note: At the top I've said either with dumbbells or weight plate. Either one is just as good, however, with a weight plate it can be more demanding because you're lifting it straight in front of you with both arms as opposed to alternating with 2 dumbbells. It's all about personal preference guys!

Lateral deltoid raises with dumbbells
Lateral deltoid raises with dumbbells | Source
Posterior deltoid flies, or rear delt flies.
Posterior deltoid flies, or rear delt flies. | Source

Exercise No.4:

Lateral deltoid dumbbell raises

After you have done your anterior deltoids with either dumbbells or a plate, you should then do your lateral deltoids. To do this you're essentially doing exactly the same as the anterior raise except you're raising the weights out from your side rather that straight in front of you. For this, carry out the same procedures laid out for exercise 3, focusing on your lateral deltoid by raising the weights out to your side. This can also be done with a plate but I prefer dumbbells as the choice of weight is much more varied. Typically most gyms have weight plates that go from 2.5kg,5kg,10kg,15kg,20kg and sometimes even 50kg. But again, it's down to personal preference people!

Exercise No.5:

Posterior deltoid dumbbell flies

I'm going to repeat exactly what I've just mentioned above in that, for this set you're going to want to stick to exactly the same instructions I set out for the initial delt raises. Posterior delt flies, or rear delt flies are typically perform whilst sitting down, so this give you an opportunity to perhaps increase your weight range ever so slight. You may also want to stand up if you prefer to do so, each method is just as effective.

Dumbbell shrug. Hold shrug for at least a second 2.
Dumbbell shrug. Hold shrug for at least a second 2. | Source

Exercise No.6:

Shrugs, either with dumbbells or barbell

  • Set 1, with shrugs, it's not a big movement and so you'll be picking up either heavy dumbbells or a heavy barbell, so for this, I recommend you invest in some weightlifting gloves to prevent your skin from tearing. For this set, aim for about 16-18 reps with fairly heavy dumbbells, even for a beginner!
  • Set 2, increase your dumbbell weight and shrug away. With this particular exercise, it may take several weeks to master the technique so that you're actually working your traps properly. Aim for 12-14 reps.
  • Set 3, again, increase your weight with each dumbbell and perform around 8-10 reps. If you've done your sets properly and kept good form, your traps should be burning away and should feel quite achy.

Fresh Ploons Top Tips

  • With each and every set, be consistent with your lifts and keep your movement the same with each lift.
  • Don't swing your weights with the rest of your body or other muscle groups, this is just making it easier for you, which can be very tempting, and you can sometimes start to kid yourself. So concentrate your efforts on the muscles you want to work.
  • Rest is essential because this is your recovery time.
  • Ensure you get a good amount of sleep each night, around 8 hours.
  • Increase your protein intake and make sure you incorporate some form of protein with each meal you have.
  • Beginners may find it hard at first but stick at it guys, it's worth it in the end!

Summary of Workout

*Gradually increase weight

Exercise No.1:

Seat dumbbell shoulder press*

  • 4 x 12/10/8/6 (4 sets in total)

Exercise No.2:

Upright barbell row*

  • 4 x 15/12/10/8 (4 sets in total)

Exercise No.3:

Anterior deltoid dumbbell raise (front raise)*

  • 3 x 12/10/8 (3 sets in total)

Exercise No.4:

Lateral deltoid dumbbell raise (side raise)*

  • 3 x 12/10/8 (3 sets in total)

Exercise No.5:

Posterior deltoid dumbbell raise (rear raise)*

  • 3 x 12/10/8 (3 sets in total)

Exercise No 6:

Dumbbell shrugs*

  • 3 x 16/14/12 (3 sets in total)

In terms of resting, there is no magical equation or formula to tell you how long to rest in between sets, but as an intermediate gym goer, I personally rest on average between 45 and 90 seconds between sets. Beginners will need to rest more, maybe 2 minutes at a time, but the shorter your rest periods in between sets ( not too short) the less time you have to fully recover between sets, which I find good because it puts my muscles straight back under tension.

So there it is, my complete ultimate shoulder workout. This is the workout that I am currently using and sometimes I'll change it up every now and then, but remember people, it's all about personal preference as to how you perform your sets. But the thing to always remember is, keep your form consistent and make sure you can actually feel the muscles you are working on, been stimulated. You'll know this because after each set and exercise, you'll feel a burning sensation in that muscle, that tells you you have done a good job.

Remember also, with determination and commitment, you will, I guarantee, see results week on week and month on month, you just have to stick to it and have to want it. So good luck people and happy iron pumping! :)


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    • Fresh Ploon profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Bradford - Uk

      Hi Kathryn,

      I certainly did put a lot of effort into this article, as I do with all of my articles. I tend to start it then save unpublished and come back to it a couple hours later, really helps :)

      Ahh, good to hear you're making a nice recovery, I would recommend not using too much weight though as you want to build up your strength progressively to what it once was (if possible) so don't cause too much stress for it, but over time, hopefully it will be back to the strength it used to be.

      Thanks for the comment, much appreciated :)

    • Kathryn Stratford profile image


      5 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

      Fresh Ploon, this is a well-written article, full of detail. I can see you put a lot of work into this hubs about working out.

      I will keep some of these exercises in mind. I'm not trying to get all bulky, but I am working on my arms and shoulders a bit. My shoulder area on the right side has been weak for a while due to breaking my collarbone (which required surgery) several years ago, and recently I decided to strengthen it up. I'm gradually getting to the point where I can lift slightly more weight, and it feels good!

      I am going to share this hub.

    • Fresh Ploon profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Bradford - Uk

      Thank you! :)

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Detailed, well constructed and nicely worded article - good work!!

    • Fresh Ploon profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Bradford - Uk

      Thanks you very much easyleaningweb, I appreciate the feedback and welcoming hugely so :)

    • easylearningweb profile image

      Amelia Griggs 

      6 years ago from U.S.

      This is a very detailed and organized hub article and you're off to a great start!

      Welcome to Hubpages. :-)


      Team Welcome Wagon

      P.S. Be sure to check out information in hubpages help about using images from other websites.


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