“Shoulders make the man” or so the old expression goes. I’ve tried in vain to find out who uttered these words or why but it’s definitely true that a broad and well shaped pair of boulder shoulders can really separate the men from the boys!
Strong shoulders also offer more than simple aesthetic appeal – these essential muscles are responsible for connecting your arms to your torso and are involved in just about every movement you make with any part of your upper body. Strong shoulders are healthy shoulders so it makes sense to spend some time and effort making yours as good as they can be.
Broader shoulders also make your waist appear smaller by comparison – a trick not unknown to bodybuilders. That’s not to say that shoulder development is the reserve of muscle men – good shoulder development is also important for women too.
Unfortunately, many weight trainers have overdeveloped anterior deltoids – the muscle on the front of the shoulder. The reason for this is simple – this muscle is involved in all chest exercises as well as many shoulder exercises.
In essence, the anterior deltoid is usually trained at least twice a week by most people. This in itself is not really an issue, it’s more the fact that the side and rear parts of the shoulders are often neglected by default. Don’t worry though; this will be addressed in this article’s “Boulder shoulders” program!
How to develop strong and balanced “boulder” shoulders
Some people suffer problems with the deep muscles of the shoulder – the rotator cuff. Consisting of small muscles that criss-cross the shoulder joint and control rotation, shoulder pain can often be attributed to the rotator cuff. An over reliance on pressing movements can unbalance the deep rotator cuff muscles but again, we’ll make sure we balance your shoulders and work to prevent this happening to you.
An unbalanced shoulder workout can also have an unfortunate effect on your posture. Focusing too much on the front of your shoulders can result in an inward rotation of the upper arms. If, when you stand relaxed in front of a mirror, you can see the backs of your hands, chances are you have internally rotated arms and this needs to be addressed.
To prevent this from happening, you will be performing exercises that involve external arm rotation. This will correct any medial rotation and also prevent it from happening in the first place.
So, without further ado, here’s your prescription for developing boulder shoulders – or, at the very least, balancing your shoulders so they are both strong and healthy!
Boulder Shoulders Workout
Perform this workout twice a week on non-consecutive days e.g. Monday and Thursday for four weeks and once a week thereafter. Once you have reached the desired level of development, train your shoulders in a more general way but make sure you focus on all the possible shoulder joint movements to ensure your shoulders remain in balance.
During this period of shoulder specialization, it’s a good idea to back off your chest training a bit as there is a lot of crossover between chest and shoulder exercises.
1. STANDING OVERHEAD PRESS – Sets: 4, Reps: 12, 10, 8, 6, Rest: 60-90 seconds, Training System: Pyramid
2. SIDE LATERAL RAISES – Sets: 3, Reps: 8-12, Rest: 60 seconds, Training System: Straight set
3a. REVERSE CABLE FLYES – Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15, Rest: 60 seconds, Training System: Superset
3b. FACE PULLS – Sets: 3, Reps: 12-15, Rest: 60 seconds, Training System: Superset
4. CUBAN PRESS – Sets: 3, Reps: 6-8, Rest: 90 seconds, Training System: Straight set
5. DUMBBELL SHRUG – Sets: 2, Reps: 8-12, Rest: 90 seconds, Training System: Drop set
Exercise one is a pyramid. Perform the 12 reps using a relatively light weight, 10 using a slightly heavier weight and so on. Increase the weight as the reps decrease, resting for the prescribed period between sets. Exercises 3a & b to be to be performed as a superset. Perform the first exercise in the pairing and then move immediately to the second. Only rest on completion of the second exercise.
Exercise Instructions and Tips
Standing Overhead Press
Targets: Whole shoulder complex especially anterior or front part of shoulder plus triceps
How to Perform: Position a barbell in a squat rack at shoulder-height. Grasp the bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Unrack the bar and hold it at shoulder height with your chest up, knees slightly bent and elbows pointing slightly forwards. From this position, press the bar up and over head to arms’ length. Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
Tips: Do not use your legs to help jerk the weight up – focus on just using your arms. Keep your chest lifted and full of air and do not lean back any further than you need to. The bar should just skim your chin and nose.
Side Lateral Raises
Targets: Medial or side deltoids
How to Perform: Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and let your arms hang down by your sides with your palms turned towards your thighs. With a very slight bend in your elbows, lift your arms out to your sides until your elbows are raised to shoulder-height. Pause for a second and then lower your arms back to your sides. Continue in a smooth non-stop movement.
Tips: Do not use a heavy weight and turn this into a weight swinging exercise. Instead, use moderate weights and use very strict form. Keep the tension on your shoulders!
Reverse Cable flyes
Targets: Posterior or rear deltoids, middle trapezius and rhomboids
How to Perform: Stand in between two shoulder-height pulleys and take the left handle in your right hand and vice versa. With your feet a comfortable distance apart, your knees slightly bent and your elbows soft, spread your arms and draw your arms back as far as possible without over extending your spine by leaning back. Slowly return to the starting position but stop just short of letting the weights touch. Continue in a smooth non-stop movement.
Tips: As with the side lateral raises, use a moderate weight and focus on good technique. Any swinging or swaying will merely detract from the benefits of the exercise. Move straight onto the next exercise without resting…