Many lifters struggle to build big, strong shoulders. Here's how you can upgrade your shoulder workouts for bigger, stronger and healthier shoulders.
The Struggle Is Real
There are a handful of reasons most people have trouble building big, strong Shoulders. As always, taking a new approach can be game-changing for your shoulder workouts and progress.
For one thing, the Shoulders can be very difficult to connect with, compared to a muscle like the Biceps or Chest.
The 2 main reasons for this are:
- We're unable to get a stretch of the muscle fibers. This is usually accomplished during the eccentric portion of a lift, such as coming down on a Biceps Curl, or the bottom of a bench press. This is the portion of the lift that usually leads to soreness.. and when was the last time you really had sore shoulders from a shoulder workout?
- The larger (and stronger) muscle groups surrounding the Shoulders (Traps, Lats) tend to take over when you're becoming fatigued, which means you're losing the most important reps for hypertrophy.
- Heavy overhead pressing has a tendency to lead to shoulder issues when overused.
When you perform lateral raises, for example, and begin accumulating fatigue, the Traps will often begin to take over at least a portion of the movement. You can verify this by paying attention to where you're feeling it towards the end of a set.
Solution 1: Slow Down
One way to circumvent some of these issues that I've used with a lot of success is to simply slow things down.
Specifically, I'm talking about 4-5 second eccentric Lateral Raises and Eccentric Accentuated DB push presses.
I have a whole article on this topic (slow eccentrics) if you want to check it out after this one.
Eccentric Lateral Raises
If you didn't have a strong connection with the shoulders before, you're about to now. These are brutally effective for shoulder hypertrophy, and also just plain brutal.
By slowing down, you'll dramatically increase the amount of time the target muscle is under tension (TUT), and you'll establish a strong connection with the shoulders without the other muscle groups getting in the way.
Start with lighter weight than you'd normally use for Lateral Raises, and hit 3 sets of 8-12 reps with a 4-5 second eccentric. You can build up from there.
Eccentric Accentuated DB Push Press
Another way to harness the power of eccentrics for the shoulders is with these bad boys.
Pressing a single dumbbell, use the legs and hips to drive the DB overhead, then slowly control the weight coming back down for 4-5 seconds.
Since you're "cheating" the weight up, you can overload the movement a bit (carefully). The slow eccentric helps build stability in the shoulders and the extended TUT can be great for hypertrophy.
Sets of 4-5 reps are usually good enough with a 4-5 second eccentric.
Solution 2: Crucifix Holds.
Isometrics can be a very useful additional to your lifting game. For the shoulders, There's nothing tougher than a Crucifix Hold.
These will build overall shoulder and rotator strength, lending themselves well to stronger, healthier shoulders.
Raise two Dumbbells (or other objects) out laterally, and hold them there.
Start with 10 second holds, and work your way up to 30 seconds.
To perform Iso/Dynamic sets, simply perform a crucifix hold for 10-30 seconds, then immediately perform a set of lateral raises. Brutal, yes.. but also effective.
The Crucifix hold is a great way to build that connection with the shoulders and challenge them in a way they're not used to. A great addition to shoulder day workouts for sure.
Try JACKED AF: 10 Week Beast Builder Program - All of these methods and more are programmed into a 10-week test of fortitude and serious hypertrophy.
Solution 3: Change Angles
This is a simple concept that is often overlooked. Simply changing the angle of a movement can make a big difference.
I'm not going to list a bunch of variations here, but I want to demonstrate the principle with some inclined dumbbell lateral raises.
I've found these to be a great way to keep constant tension on the Medial Delts, especially when controlling the tempo of the movement.
Other examples would include front Delt raises lying on an incline bench, either face up (supine) or face down (prone). Lateral raises leaning away by holding onto the rack, etc.
Find the variations that let you feel the best connection to the shoulders, and ride the lightning.
Try the Z-Press to Spice up Your Shoulder Workouts
This kind of follows naturally from "change angles."
I'd bet you've never seen anyone performing the Z-Press in a commercial gym.
There are all kinds of fancy BS training methods out there and all over social media. This is not one of those methods.
The Z-Press was invented by Strongman Zadrunas Savickas, who boasts a 500lb overhead press. He credited this movement with developing raw pressing strength.
The reason? You can't cheat. With no leg drive, less stability, and seated on the floor, any weaknesses in your core/trunk, hip flexors and shoulder strength will be exposed.
To perform these with perfect form, your legs would be flat on the ground. Don't "sit" flat on your butt, or your low back will take on unnecessary stress. You can see in the video that I am limited by hip flexor mobility, and my legs are bent.
I've got a football bar here, but a barbell is just fine.
Putting It All Together for Better Shoulder Workouts
The best approach would be to integrate some of these methods into your shoulder workouts and experiment with what feels good and what doesn't.
Taking a month or two and subbing out some of the movements and methods you've been using (for too long probably), could be a great stimulus for new gains in size and strength.
Get a Solid Program
If you're not following a solid, structured training program, it would be a game-changer.
I hope you enjoyed and got something out of this article. If you have any thoughts, leave a comment or follow/tag me on Instagram @Swole_Town