No matter what your age everybody agrees that having a good-looking set of shoulders is important.
Not only do they enhance your shape giving a more aesthetic and athletic image but they balance out your body shape and make clothes look and feel a lot better.
The good news is that shoulder training as you get older doesn´t need to be that intense or complicated to get great results.
All you have to do is focus on the basics and keep improving your performance.
In this article, I explain all the best exercises and give you a couple of workouts to use and start building your perfect set of shoulders.
But before we get to the fun stuff it´s important to understand what we are trying to do and this requires a brief review of how the shoulder is structured.
I know you´re going to skip through this but it is important.
Understanding the Shoulder Anatomy
The shoulder joint is comprised of a number of muscles but the main one is the deltoid
The deltoid is actually three different muscles, which are the posterior delt, medial delt and the anterior delt.
Here is an image showing all three.
A good shoulder workout will include exercises that hit all three-muscle groups. Working all three areas of the deltoid will give it more fuller look and help reduce the potential from injuries caused by muscle imbalances.
When approaching shoulder training there is a common tendency to focus on isolation exercises, use the shoulder machines and stick to low weight,high rep training.
This approach is the not the most effective way to train your shoulders.
As with all muscle groups shoulders respond best from using free weight compound movements with an emphasis on gaining strength.
Once you have established this as the base of your workout then you can add in supplementary isolation work to help develop the side and rear deltoid muscles.
Honestly, if you just want to add a little size, shape and definitions to the shoulders, your workouts do not need to be complicated or time consuming.
Here is my simple strategy.
Start with a compound movement that has you lifting heavy weight. This should be in the 6-8 rep range.
The exercise you choose here (which we discuss below) must allow you to add weight on a regular basis without risking injury.
Being able to add weight consistently (also known as progressive overload) is your number one priority when trying to reshape any muscle group.
Starting with weights like this are fine but you do need to progress to bigger weights to effectively train your shoulders
However, not all shoulder exercises are suited to this principle so it is important to choose the right ones to reduce the potential for injury and pain so common in shoulders.
Other elements to consider when training shoulders, as you get older are the total number of reps and frequency of workouts.
The one big difference with weight training as you age is recovery time from workouts.
It just takes longer.
Doing many reps each workout on one muscle group especially using heavy weights requires a lot of recovery time and can risk over-training and injury.
Therefore, to allow for recovery and keep your shoulders pain free aim for around 40-60 reps per muscle group each workout.
With regard to frequency, train them once every 5-7 days. If your not fully recovered within 5 days then keep it to seven.
I would apply this rule to all your other main muscle groups.
Ok, now we understand the basic principles behind shoulder training let´s look at the best exercises to use.
Best Shoulder Exercises for shape and strength.
There are many exercises for shoulders but only a few actually matter.
The main ones to consider are compound presses- These target all three areas of the delts but the focus is more on the anterior deltoid. The best are;
Seated/Standing Dumbbell Presses
When starting to train shoulders I would always recommend using dumbbells first. Using dumbbells gives you more control, more flexibility in movement while allowing you to build strength equally in both shoulders.
When performing this movement you want to start with elbows back and in line with your shoulders. Press all the way up until your arm is fully extended then lower your arms slowly to the starting position. Whether you do the seated or standing version, maintain a straight back and keep your core muscles tight. Only increase the weights when you feel comfortable with your form. Be aware the doing this standing will mean you have to use lighter weights. Here is a quick demonstration
Seated/Standing Barbell Press
I think once you have a good level of strength and flexibility in your shoulders you can then add in some barbell presses.
If you’re training alone then I would recommend standing barbell presses also called the military press. It is harder than the seated version and you won´t be able to lift as much weight but in terms of developing your shoulders it is very effective.
Warning – Standing presses of both types does put more strain on your lower back so don´t attempt either if you have issues in this area or until your form and technique is good.
Whichever pressing movement you choose make that the foundation of your workout and perform it before doing any other exercise.
Best shoulder exercises for the medial deltoid
Next, we move onto working the medial deltoid muscle. This is one of the hardest muscles to develop but gives your shoulder nice rounded shape and extra definition on the top of the arm.
The best shoulder exercise to work this muscle is the dumbbell side lateral raise of which you can do seated or standing.
Here is good demonstration of it.
The main points to remember when doing this exercise is finish with arms level to the shoulder with hand slightly rotated so your little finger is higher than the rest of your hand. In addition, you must keep the movements slow and controlled and don´t just let the weights fall back to your sides.
I would also advise not to bring your hands all the way back to your sides but just maybe 5-6 inches short then raise the weights again. This keeps tension on the mid delt throughout the exercise.
Once you start gaining strength and lifting heavier weights it becomes difficult to raise two weights at one and still keep proper form. Once this happens you can switch to just using one dumbbell at a time while hanging out to the side from a cable machine or power rack. Here is an example of what I mean.
Best shoulder exercises for the posterior deltoid.
Of the three deltoid muscles, the posterior is the smallest and weakest with many people tending not to train it directly in their workouts.
However, it is important to train this muscle if you want a fully balanced looking shoulder. For the best results, I recommend three exercises.
Dumbbell Rear Lateral raises –seated, lying or bent over
Here is a how to do the seated version exercise. You can also do this lying face down on bench.
The key here is to get the arms high enough to really shorten and engage the muscle. If you can´t get your hands to shoulder height the drop the weight. Again, focus on controlling the downward movement to keep tension in the muscle.
Bent over wide grip barbell rows
If you hold the bar as wide as you can this will force your elbows to flare out to the side and put the emphasis more on the rear delts rather than the upper back. You want to bring the bar up to your chest and pause for a second at the top. Keep a slow and controlled motion as you lower the bar back to the bottom.
Cable Face Pulls.
These are excellent for working the rear deltoids and strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. As you pull the cable to your face, keep your elbows out and as high as you can. Squeeze the muscles before letting the weight return to the starting position. Here is a good explanation.
Optional – Dumbbell front raises.
The dumbbell or barbell presses should give you enough size and shape on the front deltoid muscles but if you feel it needs a bit more work then add in a few sets of a dumbbell front raise. Here is a quick demonstration.
That´s all the exercises you need to build your perfect set of shoulders. All you need to do is work on getting your form perfect and increasing the weights on each exercise.
Shoulder Workout for Beginners.
First off, if you have any problems with your shoulders and neck you want to speak to health professional before starting any new workout program. Shoulders are very easy to injure or re-injure so if you are not fully confident about their condition get them checked out.
With that said even if your shoulders feel ok always, perform a thorough warm up before starting any workout.
Here is a good routine to fully engage the shoulder joint and increase mobility. Do not skip this!!
When starting any weight-training program, focus on technique and controlling the weights properly before adding any serious weights. That said it should still be challenging to finish a set.
Perform this workout once a week for 8-12 weeks
Standing Dumbbell Presses – 3 x 10 reps (perform a warm up set of 15 reps)
Standing Lateral Raises – 3 x 12 reps
Cable Pulls – 2 x 15 reps
Rest for 1 minute between each set and 3 minutes before moving onto the next exercise.
Shoulder Workout for intermediates
If you have been training with weights for over 6 months or completed at least 8 weeks of the first program try this workout. Do this workout every 5-7 days
Standing Barbell Shoulder Press 3 x 8 Reps (warm up set of 15 reps)
Standing Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise 3 x 12 reps
Seated Rear Dumbbell fly – 3 x 12-15 reps
Rest 2 minutes between sets on the standing barbell press and 1 minute on the other exercises. Be honest with your rest rates so that the muscle has enough time to recover before the next set.
Increase the load after you can do all your sets with one weight.
For example if you start the standing barbell press with 5 kilos on each side and you can do 3 sets of eight then add another 2.5 kilos to each side at the next workout.
This time your 3 sets may look like this 8, 7, 6. Once you can do all 3 sets for 8 reps add another 2.5 or 1.25 kilos to each side and carry on like that.
If the bar starts to get uncomfortable to lift into starting position or your back is feeling under too much pressure then switch to either seated dumbbell or barbell press.
As you can see shoulder training doesn´t need to be that complicated. It´s about using the right exercises, improving technique and learning how to train them effectively.
Once you can do this you don´t have to be lifting heavy weights to see results.
It is easy to develop tension in your shoulders through work, stress and just general wear and tear, as we get older. Therefore, treat them with care when you exercise them and don´t try to overload them too quickly especially if you are new to training or coming back from an extended break.