When you think of your ideal body, you probably give a lot of credit to strong, muscular shoulders. While it may seem like achieving this aesthetic is difficult, it's actually quite simple - it just requires that you put in the work. By following a few simple tips, you can start to embody this physique, and to see real results.

Understanding the anatomy of the shoulders

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, meaning the ball at the top of the arm bone (humerus) fits into a socket (glenoid) in the shoulder blade. The shoulder joint is stabilised by ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that attach to the shoulder blade and help lift the arm. [1] The rotator cuff muscles and tendons can be injured from overuse or from a sudden injury.

How To Avoid Injury?

Many people sustain shoulder injuries during their workouts. This is particularly common among weightlifters, as they often lift weights above their head. However, there are ways to avoid shoulder injury during a workout:

  • First, you should make sure that you are using the correct form when lifting weights.
  • It can also be helpful to check out weightlifting straps that support the shoulder, especially if heavier shoulder workouts are part of your routine.
  • In addition, it is important to set aside time for both and warm up and cool down around your main session.

Top tips to help you with your shoulder workout

1.    Don’t go to total failure

In order to make consistent progress in the gym, you don't have to push to absolute muscle failure with every set, but you still need to feel like the effort your putting in is challenging enough to bring about changes in the muscle. Training to failure can be a valuable tool, but it's not the only means of stimulating muscle growth. In order to achieve optimal gains, you can work off a system called 'reps in reserve' - for example, completing x number of reps until you feel like you have 2 reps left in the tank, and stop the set just before this point.

2.    Move through a full range of motion

When you exercise, it's important to move through a full range of motion. This means moving your joints through their full range of motion, from start to finish. This helps improve flexibility, range of motion and may also help reduce the risk of injury.

3.    Stick to a strict tempo

It is easy to get caught up in the moment and push yourself too hard when you are working out. However, if you want to see results, it is important to stick to a consistent tempo. This means maintaining a consistent speed throughout your entire routine. Depending on your goals, you can complete the exercise at a steady pace, or at a slower pace in the 'down' or eccentric phase, and a faster pace in the 'up' or concentric phase. For example, for the shoulder press at a steady pace, you can push the weight away from your body for a count of 2, and mirror this as you bring the weight back to your body.

Now that we have explored some tips around your shoulder workout, let's take a look at incorporating shoulder exercises into your weekly gym routine.

Shoulder Exercises to try

Barbell shrugs

  1. In a rack, place the safeties slightly below waist height.
  2. Stance yourself in a standing position with the barbell in front of you.
  3. Hinge forward, inhale, and take a double overhand hold on the barbell.
  4. Stand tall and keep your spine in a neutral position.
  5. To raise the shoulders, contract the traps. Squeeze the barbell firmly at the peak and then gently drop it back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for your given number of reps and sets.

Seated or Standing Military Press

  1. Hold a barbell or dumbbells slightly over your upper chest with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width while seated or standing up straight.
  2. Keep your elbows pulled in as you press the weight up towards the ceiling.
  3. For balance, keep your legs, lower back, and core engaged.
  4. Return to the starting position by lowering.
  5. Perform 2-3 sets of 5-8 repetitions on each side.

Seated rear lateral raise

  1. Place dumbbells at your sides and sit on the edge of a bench.
  2. Lean forward, your body resting on your thighs.
  3. Maintain a flat back.
  4. Raise the weights slowly up and to the side until your elbows are at shoulder level.
  5. As you do this, slightly bend your elbows and slant your hands forward.
  6. For a few seconds, stay in this position.
  7. Return your arms to their starting position slowly.
  8. Perform 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Face pulls

  1. Set up a rope attachment at the level of your upper chest or slightly higher.
  2. To produce tension, take an overhand hold on the rope and take a step back.
  3. As you begin to draw the cable, sit back into your hips.
  4. Let your elbows extend out towards the side while remaining parallel to the ground.
  5. Draw the rope closer to your face.
  6. Hold for a time in this completely contracted position, focusing on activating your rear deltoids and upper back.
  7. Return to the beginning position slowly.
  8. Perform three sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

  1. Get into a starting position.
  2. Stand with your torso straight and dumbbell at arms length at your sides, palms facing you.
  3. Lift the dumbbell to your side with a small angle in the elbow and hands slightly angled forward, as if pouring water into a glass while keeping the body steady (no swinging).
  4. Continue to raise your arms until they are parallel to the floor. As you perform this exercise, exhale and pause for a second at the top.
  5. As you inhale, carefully lower the dumbbells back to the beginning position.
  6. Repeat for 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Don't forget to rest between your sets! One to two minutes should suffice, depending on your training experience.

The Take Home

When beginning a new training routine, start slow and low - go at your own pace. Before you begin, see your doctor if you have any unique concerns or challenges. Make a fitness schedule for yourself and stick to it. Consistency is key, and keep in mind that seeing and maintaining benefits takes time.

As you become more fit, progressively increase the time and intensity of your workouts. Several times a week, concentrate on your shoulders. To strengthen your entire body, balance out the remainder of your training schedule.


[1] What Is My Rotator Cuff?. WebMD. (2021). https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/what-is-my-rotator-cuff.