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The shoulder joint is made up of a ball and socket and this means it has a very wide range of motion allowing you to move the arms with a significant amount of freedom. The shoulders are made up of three primary sets of fibers, the anterior, posterior and lateral deltoids, and each serves a different function.
The anterior deltoid, located to the front of the shoulder, is connected from the clavicle to the humerus bones and its primary action is to raise the arm up in front of you, also referred to as shoulder flexion.
The lateral deltoid is located to the centre of the shoulder and connects the scapula (shoulder blade) to the humerus and is responsible for shoulder abduction, which is to raise the arm out to the side.
The posterior deltoid is located to the rear of the shoulder and connects from the back of the scapula to the humerus. The primary function of this muscle is horizontal shoulder abduction. Movements such as moving the arms apart in a horizontal plane or out behind you.
Aside from the three primary muscles mentioned above, the shoulders are also made up of the rotator cuff which consists of four smaller muscles. The rotator cuff muscles are responsible for keeping your shoulder joint in place and aid with overall shoulder movement.
Having well developed shoulders is key to not only a pleasing physique, but strong shoulders will also help with everyday activities such as lifting and carrying. They even offer support to other muscles that form the trunk, helping to assist with good posture.
What Is The Best Way To Build Shoulders?
The best way to build strong and healthy shoulders is to include a variety of different exercises which target the different muscles that make up the shoulder. This would include the muscles of the deltoids and the rotator cuff.
- Recommended Reading – Rotator Cuff Tendinitis Exercises – Avoid These 8 Damaging Movements
As the shoulders are made up of both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, a combination of high reps, low weights and low reps, high weights would be beneficial for complete muscle development.
Whilst increasing the size and strength of the deltoids contribute to the outward appearance of the shoulders, it’s still important to work on strengthening the rotator cuff for optimum shoulder health.
Best Shoulder Press Exercise Variations
Below we list a number of variations on the traditional shoulder press that will help you to target each muscle that make up the shoulders.
Anterior Shoulder Exercises
Dumbbell Front Raise
The dumbbell front raise is an exercise that will work the entire shoulder with the emphasis on the anterior deltoids as well as the upper chest muscles. It can be done using both arms at once or one arm at a time.
How To Perform The Dumbbell Front Raise:
- Stand upright, knees slightly bent for stability with feet shoulder width apart.
- Hold each dumbbell down by your side.
- Keeping your core engaged, slowly raise one arm up and twist so that the palm of your hand is facing the floor.
- Make sure there is a slight bend in the elbow as this will limit stress on the joints.
- Stop once your arm is parallel to the floor. Hold for a couple of seconds and slowly return back to the start. Repeat with the other arm.
Seated Barbell Overhead Press
The barbell overhead press is a compound exercise that will work the front and mid delts and, as it’s a multi muscle movement, the triceps, upper chest and core. Good mobility is required for this exercise and it’s important not to arch the lower back to prevent injury.
How Execute The Seated Barbell Overhead Press Movement:
- Rack a barbell so that it sits at around chest height.
- Load on some weight but don’t go too heavy as this could affect your form.
- When you’re ready, grab the bar with your hands around shoulder width apart and un-rack.
- Press the barbell up towards the ceiling keeping your hands, elbows and shoulders in a straight line.
- Keep your core and glutes engaged throughout to provide stability.
- At the top of the movement push your head forward slightly.
- Slowly return the bar back to the starting position
Dumbbell Arnold press
The Arnold press is a variation on the more traditional shoulder press exercise with the primary difference being the wrist rotation required during the movement. This means that all heads of the shoulder muscles are worked at the same time.
How To Do The Arnold Press:
- Seat yourself on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Hold the dumbbells up at around chest height with palms facing towards you.
- Keep your elbows tucked in.
- Begin by pressing the dumbbells up towards the ceiling.
- As you press up, rotate the dumbbells so that by the time your arms have locked out, your palms now face away from you.
- Return back to the original position and repeat.
Medial Shoulder Exercises
Behind The Neck Overhead Press
The behind the neck overhead press is a variation on a standard overhead pressing movement but with no engagement of the upper chest muscles.
It also takes away much of the stress from the front delts and places it on the medial delts. It can be done either seated or standing but be aware this can cause issues with the rotator cuff
How To Do The Behind The Neck Press:
- If standing, rack a barbell at around chest height.
- Grab the barbell with a wide grip and position yourself as thought you are about to perform a high bar squat.
- Un-rack the bar. The barbell should be positioned at the top of your rear delts.
- Keep your elbows tucked underneath the barbell, this will keep the tension on the mid delts.
- Drive up the barbell taking care to avoid your head.
- Return back to the start and repeat.
Incline W Raise
The incline W raise is a shoulder dominant exercise that effectively works the mid and rear deltoids. So called, because at the top of the movement your arms are forming a ‘W’ position.
How To Perform The W Raise:
- Set an incline bench to around 30 degrees and grab a pair of dumbbells.
- Position yourself by placing your chest on the incline pad with feet firmly on the floor.
- Holding a dumbbell in each hand, perform a lateral raise making sure to keep a slight bend in the elbows.
- Bring your arms up until they are parallel to the ground.
- Slowly return your arms back to the starting position.
Cable Lateral Raise
The cable lateral single arm raise exercise will target the medial and anterior deltoids as well working the traps. It can be done with the arm positioned either in front of behind you. Good flexibility is required to pull the cable behind you but you should notice a better stretch to the shoulders.
How To Do A Cable Lateral Raise:
- Position the pulley on a cable machine so that is it located at the bottom of the machine. Select the desired amount of weight and fix a rope attachment.
- Stand sideways on from the machine, bend down and grab the rope.
- Brace your core for stability and keep a slight bend in the knees.
- Pull the rope up in front of you until your arm is parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your shoulders at the top before returning to the start position.
Poterior Shoulder Exercises
Seated Dumbbell Reverse Fly
As well as working the posterior delts, the dumbbell reverse fly will also target muscles in the upper back. Avoid lifting a weight that is too heavy as this will impede form and you will likely only work the lats.
How To Do A Seated Dumbbell Reverse Fly:
- Sit yourself at the end of a weight bench with a dumbbell either side of you on the floor.
- Bend forward at the hips until your chest is parallel to the ground.
- Take a dumbbell in each hand and bring them up towards the ceiling.
- Try and keep the dumbbells in line with your shoulders to properly hit the rear delts.
- Once your arms are parallel with the floor, hold for a second or two before slowly lowering back down
Cable Rope Face Pull
The face pull exercise is an isolation movement that targets the rear shoulders as well as the traps. You will need access to a cable machine and a rope attachment.
How To Do A Cable Rope Face Pull:
- Set up the pulley so that it is above head height and select the desired weight.
- Ensure the rope attachment is connected to the pulley.
- Stand with feet either together or brace yourself by placing one foot in front of the other.
- Grab the rope with one end in each hand.
- Leaning back slightly, pull the rope attachment towards your face whilst keeping your elbows out.
- Keep your elbows high and squeeze the shoulder blades. Return back to the starting position.
The inverted row is a compound bodyweight exercise which targets the upper back, rear delts and arms as well as boosting grip strength. It’s one of the more challenging exercises to execute but definitely worth the effort.
How To Do An Inverted Row:
- Set up a barbell to around waist height in either in a smith machine or squat rack.
- Sit on the floor, just under the barbell. You should be able to reach up and hold the barbell without stretching.
- Grab hold of the bar at around shoulder width apart. You can use either an overhand or underhand grip.
- Your arms should be fully extended with your heels being the only body part resting on the ground. Your body should be forming a straight line.
- Driving your heels into the ground, begin to pull yourself up towards the bar until your chest reaches the barbell.
- Hold for a couple of seconds before lowering back down slowly.
As we’ve covered, the importance of healthy shoulders is paramount to be able to undertake everyday activities that you probably don’t give too much thought too. By improving the strength to your shoulder muscles will ensure that the joints are protected and function as they should.
The above stated exercises are not exhaustive, but give an example as to how different variations of the shoulder press can effectively hit all the muscles and joints that make up your shoulders.