On this page, you will find 5 shoulder workouts that will build an absolutely amazing set of deltoids.
These 5 different shoulder workout plans are based on the WLC System and can be added for prioritization of the shoulder muscles.
Within the WLC Workouts Manual, you will find a huge number of workout programs. You simply take one of these workouts for shoulders and add this routine into that workout program.
It's that simple and easy. Now you have a custom designed workout plan that prioritizes your shoulders.
Your shoulders are important for many different reasons and taking care of them with the best workouts will build strong and healthy shoulders for a lifetime.
I'll explain everything you need to know below.
Quick Review of the Shoulder/Deltoid Muscles
I'm going to make this quick and simple because I know you want to get straight to the deltoid workouts.
The main 3 shoulder muscles or deltoids are called the following:
- Front or Anterior Deltoids
- Side or Lateral Deltoids
- Rear or Posterior Deltiods
Your shoulder muscle is actually a 3-headed muscle at the top of each arm.
Here's an image showing the 3 muscles discussed above:
All 3 of the deltoid muscles attach to the humerus. The front and side deltoids originate at the collar bone. The rear deltoid originates at the scapula.
Quick Tip: It's almost impossible to isolate each head of the shoulder muscle as many of the so-called “experts” will tell you. For example, side lateral raises aren't going to just work the side deltoids.
The front deltoids are going to work very hard during any bench press, push up, or overhead pressing type movements in chest workouts and shoulder workouts.
The side deltoids are going to work very hard in any lateral type movements such as side lateral raises or upright rows.
The rear deltoids are going to work very hard in any back exercises like rows and pull ups for back workouts. Rear lateral raises and face pulls are 2 weight lifting exercises that really work the rear deltoids.
As you can see, the shoulder muscles are going to get worked extremely hard during chest workouts, back workouts, shoulder workouts, and many other workout types. It's very difficult to do ANY upper body exercise without using your shoulders.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Since the shoulder muscles are used often on many exercises, you need to be careful not to do TOO MUCH for shoulders. This is where the WLC System helps as you learn how to adjust the overall amount of work your are doing to get the greatest results. You are always measuring results and making adjustments so you learn your body.
This is Why Your Shoulder Workouts Are Important:
Your shoulder workouts are highly important because strong and healthy shoulders are a requirement to live a happy and joyful life.
Shoulder pain is not fun at all because you use your shoulders for pretty much everything you do.
Just sitting here typing at the computer is using my shoulder muscles as I move my fingers around on the keyboard. If I had shoulder pain even sitting and typing may be difficult for me. Putting on clothes would be tough. Drinking water and raising the water bottle may be difficult.
You don't want to have shoulder pain throughout your life so building a strong, muscular, and healthy set of shoulders with the right workouts is a priority.
For appearance purposes, shoulders are highly important.
The wider and thicker you can make your shoulders appear, the smaller your waist will appear to look and you will get that X-FACTOR look with the tiny waist.
The X-FACTOR look (look at the X again – the middle point of the X where the lines cross is the waist) has proven to be the most wanted look that other people notice and strive to get.
Viewing someone from the side who has thick shoulders will also make your waist appear less thick. It's a great feeling to have thick shoulders and a small waist. You simply feel great about yourself when you reach this goal.
Strive for shoulder width and shoulder thickness as a goal of your shoulder workouts.
In order to do that, though, you need the right workouts and the right selection of shoulder exercises. It's always the best to use a huge variety of shoulder exercises over the course of a year so you get different benefits of the different exercises.
Why Are You Looking for Shoulder Workouts?
Are you looking to prioritize your shoulders due to a muscle weakness or imbalance with the rest of your body?
If so, you have found the perfect page and the perfect place (Weight Lifting Complete) to make this happen.
You also need to know that working your entire body is a key to getting a complete and balanced body.
If your shoulders are a weakness, I'm going to show you how to change your weight lifting workouts to prioritize and focus on your shoulders. Within a few months, you'll be well on your way to making your shoulders balanced with the rest of your body.
I am an expert on prioritization of major muscle groups and getting them balanced out. Small changes in your workout program can make HUGE differences in any muscle group.
You simply need to know how to make these small changes. The purpose of this page on shoulder workouts is to show you how to do this.
You can apply these secrets to any of the 11 major muscle groups. For example, from the beginning, I have always prioritized my calves because I had small calves from the day I started weight lifting. Now, they are very respectable and match my body. And yes, it took lots of hard work because calves aren't easy to build. But I did it.
You can do the same with bicep workouts if your biceps aren't matching the rest of your body. It's easy once you know how.
The Absolute Best Shoulder Exercises
I am going to give you a HUGE list of the best overall shoulder exercises. For some of these, I will include shoulder exercise videos too:
#1 Best Shoulder Exercise = Handstand Push-Ups
In order to do this exercise, though, you have to work your way up and build strength. This should be a goal of yours as this awesome bodyweight exercise moves your body through space making it the top shoulder exercise.
*** NOTE: Since most people aren't going to attempt the hand-stand push-up, I will not include this exercise in the 5 shoulder workouts.
#2 Best Shoulder Exercise = Overhead Press
The best overall shoulder exercise, when done properly, will hit all 3 deltoid muscles very well. There are a HUGE number of overhead press exercise variations too.
You can choose whatever variations of the overhead press that you enjoy most, but keep in mind (this is a secret of mine) that exercises that are difficult for you might not be your favorite but will change your body the most so work hard on the “harder” exercises.
- Barbell standing overhead press
- Dumbbell standing overhead press
- Seated barbell overhead press
- Seated dumbbell overhead press
- High incline bench overhead press
- Wide grip presses
- Narrow grip presses
- Parallel grip presses
- 1-Arm dumbbell overhead press
- Push presses (use your entire body)
- Kettlebell overhead presses
- 1-arm kettlebell press
- Javelin press
- Z press
- Behind the neck press (not recommended)
- Pike press
You can use ANY type of resistance you want for many versions of the overhead press: dumbbells, kettlebells, sand bags, barbells, weight plates, chains, resistance bands, and more. It doesn't matter as long as you have a way to increase the resistance over time.
Here's a video showing how to do the overhead press with proper form and technique:
When you do the overhead press during your workouts, make sure you are doing those properly. The video above explains the movement very well.
Extra Overhead Press Tip: Make sure the weight distribution from how you grip the weight is in line with the bottom of your palm and wrist. The weight should be pushing in line with your wrist and forearm and not moved back towards your fingertips. This creates stress on your wrists and won't allow you to press with maximum force.
#3 Best Shoulder Exercise – Upright Rows
I do not recommend barbell upright rows as I just don't like them. For some people, they may work very well but for many it may cause injury. And I won't recommend them as I have had issues with the exercise myself in the past.
But I do recommend the upright row with weights or resistance that allow you to move each arm independently without being “locked” into a path. When you place both hands on a barbell, the other arm is forcing each to move in a specific path. Not good for your shoulders.
My personal favorite version of the upright row is a full range of motion standing upright row with a rope handle attachment on a cable machine.
Quick tip: cable machines work very well for building muscle and strength and provide a constant tension on the muscle.
Here's a video showing the cable upright row with a rope attachment:
Pay attention to the range of motion in the video above. She is doing an amazing job on this exercise. Many experts say not to raise your hands above the height of your shoulders. So please pay attention to that advice.
If you haven't been doing upright rows in this way, you're missing out on a whole lot of shoulder muscle gains. This works the complete musculature of the shoulder and upper back. Awesome exercise for your shoulder workouts.
Let me be clear about the upright row as it is a very controversial exercise: if this movement bothers your shoulders in any way, don't do it. Just use another one of the shoulder exercises I have listed.
#4 Best Shoulder Exercise – Front Raises, Lateral Raises, Rear Lateral Raises
The next best shoulder exercises are all of the shoulder raise variations. I'm not a huge fan of any of these as I just don't think they do as much for your shoulders as the more compound weight lifting exercises do.
For example, heavy rows of all types work your rear deltoids better than any rear lateral raise can do. But, you might be here because you're already doing heavy rows and other great exercises and you're rear deltoids are still lagging behind other muscle groups.
For that reason, you will need some isolation exercises like all of the different raise variations:
These front raises work the front or anterior deltoids of your shoulder. You simply take some type of resistance or weight and raise it our in front of you.
Most people aren't going to have a front deltoid weakness because the front deltoids are used in so many of the popular exercises like the bench press and overhead press.
So most likely, you'll never need the front raise for your shoulder workouts and you won't see me include them in workouts. If you truly do have a front deltoid weakness, please add it into your shoulder workouts.
Side Lateral Raises
I do like side lateral raises, and you will see that I do add them to workouts based on the WLC System. I like this exercise because any shoulder width improves your appearance greatly.
The overhead press and upright rows do work the side deltoids very well but a set or two of side lateral raises done with progressive weight over time can really help your side shoulder width.
This helps your waist appear smaller.
So yes, I like side lateral raises but please hear this tip: “You don't need to do side lateral raises with your arms extended perfectly straight out to your sides.” If you follow this “struct form” principle, you will be limiting your shoulder growth GREATLY.
This is how I recommend you do side lateral raises:
Do you see the difference in that method? It's more of a mix between a “strict” side lateral raise and an upright row. This way of doing side lateral raises overloads the side deltoids much better.
If you don't already know, I don't recommend extremely restrictive form like many of the so-called “experts.” Your body wasn't designed to be super-duper perfectly strict when moving and lifting things. Yes, some exercises require great form (like squats and deadlifts) but others (like 1-arm rows and side laterals) do not.
Rear Lateral Raises
I personally believe rear lateral raises to be a waste of time if you're doing the 7 core weight lifting exercises for the WLC System.
Rows of all types will build the rear delts better than ANY rear lateral raise.
If rear deltoids are weakness of yours, feel free to add rear lateral raises of any variation in place of any of the shoulder exercises I have added to the 5 workouts you will find below.
For example, replace side lateral raises or cable upright rows with rear lateral raises. That's it.
Best Shoulder Exercise #5 – Face Pulls
Wow, I love face pulls when they are done properly. This is a GREAT exercise for the rear deltoids especially. And it really helps keep your entire shoulder region strong and healthy.
If you want to learn how to do face pulls the right way, watch this:
Take the time to watch the video above, and you'll be left with an amazing exercise movement for your shoulder workouts.
I highly recommend face pulls and you'll see them in some of the WLC Workout Programs.
Dangerous Shoulder Exercises You Don't Need
I have personally NEVER injured my shoulders during workouts because I choose safe and effective shoulder exercises at all times.
You just don't need to do dangerous exercises like:
- Barbell Upright Rows
- Behind the Neck Overhead Press
- Behind the Back Shrugs
If any shoulder movements bother you, don't do them.
For example, the dip is said to be dangerous for people with prior shoulder pain or shoulder problems. If the dip movement bothers you, don't do them.
Here's some other weight lifting exercises that might bother your shoulders:
- Bench press
- Wide grip lat pull downs
- Wide grip pull ups or chin ups
- Strict side laterals with arms straight
- Bench dips
Pay attention to how your shoulders feel when doing any exercises if shoulder pain is an issue for you. If so, you might need to lower the weight, choose different exercises, do higher reps, and allow the shoulders to heal properly.
For example, barbell bench press might hurt your shoulders compared to dumbbell bench press because your arms aren't “locked-in” together with the dumbbells the same way as with a barbell.
Another dangerous machine to use is the Smith Machine for many different exercises.
I don't recommend the Smith Machine for ANY shoulder workouts. I use my Smith Machine for seated calf raises and some reverse grip close grip bench press exercises. That's about it.
Safety Tip: Definitely DO NOT use the Smith Machine for overhead press, upright rows, or any other shoulder exercise. This is not safe at all because your body isn't moving in it's natural motion.
This is What Your Back Workouts Do For Your Shoulders
Your shoulders are a main muscle group for your back workouts.
This is why so many split routines that say you should NEVER work a muscle group more than once per week are flat-out CRAZY!!!
Those same split routines give you some “split” that looks like this:
Monday: Quadriceps, Calves, Biceps
Tuesday: Chest, Traps
Wednesday: Back, Forearms
Thursday: Hamstrings, Triceps
Friday: Shoulders, Abs
Wow! Do you know how many times per week your shoulders are being worked in the above split routine schedule? They are being worked all 5 days. Same with many of the other major muscle groups.
Which back exercises work your shoulders?
Quick answer: ALL OF THEM!
Deadlifts work your shoulders. Rows work your shoulders. Chin ups and pull ups work those same deltoid muscles. Pretty much any back exercise you can think of will work your shoulders.
This is What Your Chest Workouts Do For Your Shoulders
Do chest workouts also work your shoulders?
I also cannot think of a single chest exercise that doesn't work your shoulders.
I am sitting here trying to think of one and just can't. Chest flyes work your shoulders. Bench press, of course, works your shoulders. Push ups, pullovers, dips – all work the shoulders.
In other words, your shoulders do a lot of work at all times.
So one of your issues with building shoulders might have to do with working them too much. Are you sure you need to add more shoulder work to your workouts?
Maybe you need to instead focus on the big compound exercises first without adding too many exercises.
Do Bicep Workouts Build Your Shoulders Too?
There's another good question: do bicep workouts also build bigger shoulders?
Do you think barbell curls or alternate dumbbell curls isolate the biceps so that the shoulders are not stressed at all during those exercises?
What about concentration curls or even more biceps isolation exercises?
YES, all of those exercises work the shoulder muscles indirectly. If you're doing heavy alternate dumbbell curls (I've used up to 80-pound dumbbells), I guarantee your shoulders are working hard right along with those biceps.
Heavy pinwheel curls like in the video below (are these working the shoulders?):
Yes, of course, these are working the shoulders very well. The focus of the exercise is the biceps and forearms BUT the shoulders are playing a part too (a BIG part).
So I wanted to open your eyes to the HUGE number of exercise movements that work your shoulders.
You might need to decrease the number of shoulder workouts you are doing and allow them some extra rest and recovery time so they can grow! Keep that in mind.
Always Warm-Up Your Shoulders Before Your Workouts with These Exercises
Warming up before your workouts is a requirement when using the WLC System and should be for any exercise system you are using.
I always recommend a pre-workout warm-up that looks something like this:
- 5 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise
- 20 jumping jacks
- 10 bodyweight squats
- 5 bodyweight push ups
That's just the start of the warm-up. If you're getting ready to do a shoulder workout, you should add some shoulder mobility exercises.
Here's a good list of just 3 dynamic shoulder exercises to get you warmed up:
- Broomstick Dislocations
- Arm Circles (forward, reverse, small, large)
- Arm Swings
Also, if you have read the WLC System Manual, you'll know that I recommend specific exercise warm-ups too that will keep your shoulders strong and healthy.
Simply start with lower weight for the exercise you will be doing first in your workout. Start with no more reps than your target is for your first exercise. Then ramp up the weight each warm-up set while lowering the reps.
You'll only need to do a rep or two on your last set.
If you want to see specific warm-up guidelines, see this page: Warm Up Guidelines. Warming up properly gets you ready to lift heavy weights and will lead to overall faster and better progress.
Shoulder Workout #1 For Inclusion into a Full Body Workout Program for Strength Gains
The first shoulder workout I have for you will fit into the BASE 3×5 Full Body Strength Specific Training Program in the WLC Workouts Manual.
Here's what the base program schedule looks like:
In the BASE workout program, you have 2 different workouts but to make these shoulder workouts I have made the following changes:
Workout A w/ Shoulder Priority
1. Squat, 3 sets x 5 reps
2. Bench Press, 3 sets x 5 reps
3. Row, 3 sets x 5 reps
4. Dip, 1 set to failure
5. Cable Upright Rows, 3 sets x 15 reps
Workout B w/ Shoulder Priority
1. Squat, 3 sets x 5 reps
2. Overhead Press, 3 sets x 5 reps
3. Deadlift, 1 set x 5 reps
4. Chin Up, 1 set to failure
5. Face Pulls, 3 sets x 15 reps
For the 5th exercise of each workout, I want you to choose a weight that allows you to get close to failure at 15 reps during the 1st set. For the second and third set, use the same weight as the first set BUT stop once the rep speed slows down.
For more information on this program: BASE 3×5 Full Body Strength Specific Training Program. Everything you need to know is at that link.
Shoulder Workout #2 For Inclusion into a Full Body Workout Program for Muscle Size
The second shoulder workout program I have for you will use the BASE 7 Exercise 12 to 6 Full Body Size Specific Training Program that's included in the WLC Workouts Manual.
I am simply going to add a couple of shoulder exercises to help you prioritize your shoulders.
Here is the weight lifting workouts and schedules for your new shoulder workouts:
In this muscle size specific workout, you have a single workout to repeat 3 times per week. I have made the following changes:
The Core 7 Workout + Shoulder Prioritization
3. Pull Thru
6. Chin Up
8. Face Pull / Side Laterals / Cable Upright Rows
You can choose face pulls for rear delts, side laterals for side delts, or cable upright rows for a more complete shoulder movement.
For a plan of progression and more information on this shoulder workout, see this page: BASE 7 Full Body Size Specific Training Program. I even include a workout download in pdf format for you.
Shoulder Workout #3 For Inclusion into a Split Routine Workout Program for Strength Gains
The third shoulder workout program I have for you will be based on the 3rd style of training you'll find within the WLC Workouts Manual: Strength Specific Split Training.
You see: muscle size and muscle strength are directly related. You need more of one to get more of the other. And vice versa.
Here's the strength training schedule for the BASE 3-Way 5×5 Strength Specific Split Training Program:
You have 3 different workouts that I have modified to prioritize shoulders in your workouts:
Workout A w/ Shoulder Exercises Added
Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Shoulders
1. Barbell Squat, 5 sets for 5 reps
2. Glute/Ham Raise, 5 sets for 5 reps
3. Standing Calf Raise, 5 sets for 5 reps
4. Cable Upright Rows, 3 sets for 8 reps
Workout B w/ Shoulder Exercises Added
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press, 5 sets for 5 reps
2. Barbell Overhead Press, 5 sets for 5 reps
3. Parallel Dips, 5 sets for 5 reps
4. Side Lateral Raises, 3 sets for 8 reps
Workout C w/ Shoulder Exercises Added
Back Depth, Back Width, Biceps, Shoulders
1. Trap Bar Deadlift, 5 sets for 5 reps
2. Wide Grip Chin Up, 5 sets for 5 reps
3. Barbell Curls, 5 sets for 5 reps
4. Face Pulls, 3 sets for 8 reps
So each workout now includes some shoulder exercises. This increases the number of times you are working your shoulders so an increase in frequency and volume of shoulder work.
Ensure you are following the WLC System so you packing your body full of muscle building nutrients. You will also need to recover optimally to add this much shoulder work.
If you think this is too much overall work for your body (you should know if you have been using the WLC System), you can delete some of the other sets. For example, do 1 set of barbell curls in Workout C versus 5 sets. Or do 3 sets by 5 reps for most of the exercises.
For the details of this workout program: BASE 3-Way 5×5 Strength Specific Split Training Program. At that link, I will tell you how and when to increase the amount of weight you are lifting.
Shoulder Workout #4 For Inclusion into a High Intensity Split Routine Workout Program
The fourth shoulder workout I promised you comes from the Level 5 high intensity split training program. This workout adds intensity to the level 4 low recovery base level program you find in the WLC Workouts.
Here's the high intensity split training program schedule for the level 5.1 workout:
There are 3 different workouts for this program as shown below. Remember, this is also a split training schedule:
Workout A with Shoulder Work
Qaudriceps, Hamstrings, Calves, Shoulders
1. Squats, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
2. Lunges, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
3. Stiff Legged Deadlift, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
4. Leg Press Calf Raise, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
5. Lateral Raise, 1 set x 6-12 reps
Workout B with Shoulder Work
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
2. Slight Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
3. Overhead Barbell Press, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
4. Dips, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
5. Upright Rows, 1 set x 6-12 reps
Workout C with Shoulder Work
Back, Biceps, Forearms, Shoulders
1. Trap Bar Deadlift, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
2. 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
3. Close Grip Pull Ups, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
4. Pinwheel Curls, 2 sets x 6-12 reps
5. Face Pulls, 1 set x 6-12 reps
You need to understand how this program works before starting. Here are all the details you need: BASE 3-Way 8-Set High Intensity Split Training Program. Make sure you understand the plan of progression.
Shoulder Workout #5 For Inclusion into a Maximum Volume Split Routine Workout Program
The final and fifth should training program I am giving you is based on the very high volume split routine training style. Only advanced weight lifting should be doing this much volume as they understand their recovery levels.
If you're not sure if you can handle this much volume, I would recommend starting with another shoulder workout listed above (especially workout #1).
Here are the workouts and the schedule for the base level program:
Workout A with Shoulder Prioritization
Quads, Hamstrings, Calves, Shoulders
1. Squats, 3×6-12
2. Lunges, 3×6-12
3. Leg Press, 3×6-12
4. Stiff Legged Deadlift, 3×6-12
5. Glute/Ham Raise, 3×6-12
6. Leg Press Calf Raise, 3×6-12
7. Seated Calf Raise, 3×6-12
8. Reverse Calf Raise, 3×6-12
9. Cable Upright Rows, 1×6-12
Workout B with Shoulder Prioritization
Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
1. Flat BB Bench, 3×6-12
2. Slight Incline DB Bench, 3×6-12
3. Straight Arm Pullover, 3×6-12
4. Overhead BB Press, 3×6-12
5. Side Laterals, 3×6-12
6. Dips, 3×6-12
7. Triceps Pushdown, 3×6-12
8. DB Kickbacks, 3×6-12
Workout C with Shoulder Prioritization
Back, Biceps, Forearms, Shoulders
1. Trap Bar Deadlift, 3×6-12
2. 1-Arm DB Rows, 3×6-12
3. Wide Grip Chin Ups, 3×6-12
4. Close Grip Rack Chins, 3×6-12
5. Alt DB Curls, 3×6-12
6. BB Curls, 3×6-12
7. Pinwheel Curls, 3×6-12
8. Reverse BB Curls, 3×6-12
9. Face Pulls, 1×6-12
Yes, the above workouts are very high volume. If you can handle this volume, the results will be astounding. I can't handle this volume so I wouldn't even attempt this. Some people can and these are the genetically gifted people. There aren't many out there.
For more details on this maximum volume should training program: BASE 3-Way Legs/Push/Pull Maximum Volume Split Training Program. All information you need is at that link.
Adding Weighted Shoulder Stretches to Your Workouts Using the WLC System Guidelines
The WLC System includes weighted stretching after the exercises for each major muscle group are complete.
If you haven't been doing weighted shoulder stretches, you are in for a surprise as your shoulder muscle mass will skyrocket.
Here's how to do these stretches for your shoulders: Weighted Shoulder Stretches.
All you have to do is add a shoulder stretch after your shoulder exercises are complete for each workout.
Yes, there should be a plan of progression for the stretches too. Start with 30 seconds, as an example, for the first week. Go with 35 seconds for the second week. 40 seconds for week 3, and so on. As long as you are making progress, you will be extremely pleased with your results.
Weighted stretching is a big part of using the WLC System!
Any Questions About the Shoulder Workouts On This Page?
If you need help with any of these deltoid workouts, just let me know.
This is THE most comprehensive shoulder building guide that you'll find.
Plus, I will happily answer any questions you have and provide guidance as needed. You won't find that anywhere else.
Have a great day and best wished to building an AWESOME set of shoulders!