Today's world is full of big-shoulder wannabes.
Walk into the men's department at Sears or Nordstrom's or Macy's, and try to find a suit coat, overcoat, or leather jacket without built-in shoulder pads. You can't do it because every clothing manufacturer out there knows the ideal man has broad, masculine shoulders. If you don't have them, heck, add some fake ones! Personally, I take great pleasure in buying those jackets and tearing out those shoulder pads because I don't need 'em; my shoulders are big enough on their own, thank you, because I know how to train them.
Unfortunately, for most novice bodybuilders, the shoulders are among the most difficult of body parts to train. For one thing, the shoulder, or deltoid, is comprised of three heads: the anterior (front), the medial (middle), and the posterior (rear). As such, there's no single exercise that optimally works the entire shoulder. Shoulder trainees need to use a variety of exercises combined with correct body positioning, and the latter is where a lot of people miss the shoulder boat.
Injuries are another problem that often seem to come hand in hand with shoulder training. The shoulder is used in so many different exercises and so many sports and activities that it's a likely candidate for a host of overuse injuries. Using good form is very important in avoiding shoulder injuries.
Here's how I work the shoulders...
The Shoulder Workout
Overhead dumbbell presses Wide-grip upright rows Lateral dumbbell raises Seated rows (on a machine)
| overhead dumbbell presses
Most people seem to favor the military press as their number one anterior-deltoid exercise, but I prefer overhead dumbbell presses. For one thing, there's less chance of injuring your shoulders, and secondly, this exercise allows you to press to the center instead of straight up, thereby allowing for greater contraction of the deltoid muscles. In a nutshell, it's a safer, more efficient, and more effective way to work the deltoids. However, if you have an existing rotator cuff injury, make sure you get a qualified physician's opinion before you attempt this exercise.
Starting position: Find a bench with a back support, so you can maintain proper spinal alignment while pressing overhead. Place the feet in a comfortable but stable position. Pick up a pair of dumbbells, and hold them at shoulder height, elbows out completely to the sides and palms facing forward.
The exercise: Slowly press the dumbbells up and in, so they meet or nearly meet above the crown of your head. Don't let the weights stray back and forth; keep them in line. Press the weights to just short of lockout, so you don't put stress on the cartilage. In other words, don't do the three-quarters pressing movement I see over and over again in gyms, unless, of course, you want to develop your anterior delts only three-quarters of the way. At the top, mentally contract the shoulder muscles as much as possible.
Now, slowly lower the dumbbells, keeping the weight balanced over your elbows. Don't let the upper arms rotate forward (internal rotation) or backward (external rotation). Otherwise, you risk rotator cuff injury. Stop when your elbows are parallel with your shoulder joints.
Try doing 3 to 4 sets to total failure at a 3-1-2 tempo (take 3 seconds to lower the weight, take 2 seconds to raise the weight and then contract the shoulder muscles at the top position for a count of 1). Rest approximately two minutes between sets.
You might find you have to lighten the weight a bit to do this exercise correctly, but by practicing correct form, you'll put more emphasis on the delts and less emphasis on screwing around and wasting time.
wide-grip upright rows
Wide-grip upright rows are designed to target the medial (middle) head of the deltoid. I recommend doing this exercise every other shoulder workout to add some variety to your routine.
Starting position: These upright rows are different from conventional upright rows in that you use a very wide grip. This wide grip allows you only a partial range of motion, but it does, however, put the stress on just the medial delts, unlike conventional upright rows that work the medial delts, anterior delts, and the traps. Of course, "wide grip" is a relative term. To find the proper wide grip for you, stand up straight, and slowly raise your elbows to the height of your shoulder joints while allowing your hands to hang freely. If you've done it correctly, you'll look like a scarecrow. This is the grip you'll use when doing your wide-grip upright rows. In other words, when you row the bar up to the point where your elbows are parallel to the shoulder joint, your elbow will be bent at a 90° angle. Notice, too, that in this position, your hands are farther out in front of your body than they would be while doing conventional upright rows. This is an important point to remember. Keeping your hands (and the bar) slightly out from the body will focus and maintain the tension on the medial delts. Don't let the bar come in too close to your body, as this would cause the shoulders to rotate inward excessively.
Once you've established
the proper grip, find a stance that's shoulder width or slightly closer. You'll also need to stabilize your body. Lower your center of gravity by bending your knees a little, and lean slightly forward.
One last point: make sure you keep your abdominals tight throughout the entire exercise. If you don't, your lower back will start feeling fatigued by the time you're half-way through your reps.
The exercise: Grasp the bar and slowly raise the elbows (and the bar, of course) until they're parallel with your shoulder joints. Actually, you won't be able to raise your elbows any higher unless you're one of those circus contortionists. A good point to remember is to focus on the elbows instead of the bar. I always cue my clients by telling them to focus on lifting the elbows, and the bar will follow. After you've raised the bar as far as possible, slowly lower the weight to the starting position.
Try doing three sets of eight to ten reps, concentrating on keeping the motion exact and deliberate. If youjerk the bar up quickly, you risk injury. Maintain a tempo of 2-0-3, and rest about 90 seconds between sets.
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The use of dumbbells gives you a much more comprehensive strengthening effect because the workout engages your stabilizer muscles, in addition to the muscle you may be pin-pointing. Without all of the belts and artificial stabilizers of a machine, you also engage your core muscles, which are your body's natural stabilizers.