There’s nothing more sexy than having those defined muscles all in the right shapes and size. We can spend hours in the gym working our whole body out to the point of exhaustion, but if we don’t give each muscle group the right focus, chances are we’ll end up still unsatisfied with the results. And to get the results we want, we need to understand the best techniques to get the most out of a workout.
Simple little tweaks to your workout routine can do wonders to your muscles, and as they say at The Gym Lifestyle, it’s all about eating clean, training hard, and enjoying life. And quite honestly, if we’re talking about must-have sexy muscles, we can never overlook the shoulders. So if you’ve been looking for easy ways to show off your best and most ripped shoulders to the whole world, you’ve come to the right place!
In-Depth Look Into The Shoulder Muscles
The best way to start around your shoulder routine, is to understand the anatomy of your shoulders and how they work. The shoulder is mainly two sets of muscle layers: the lower rotator cuff, and the upper deltoids.
The rotator cuff is what allows you to rotate your shoulder joint in every direction, and its muscles play a critical role in stabilizing the shoulder joint movement. The rotator cuff consists of four muscles:
- Infraspinatus: which allows you to raise and lower your upper arm
- Supraspinatus: which helps in raising the arm away from the body
- Teres Minor: which helps in rotating your shoulder externally
- Subscapularis: which helps in rotating your humerus (the upper arm bone)
All of these muscles originate from the scapula and are inserted into the tip of the humerus. They might not be the ones you’ll show off at the end of your workout, but keeping them strong and healthy is essential to avoid injuries and to be able to train your delts properly.
The outer set of muscles are the deltoids, and these are the ones you normally focus on training. They are biggest shoulder muscles, and they’re responsible for the major shoulder movements, strength, and sexiness. The delts consist of three muscles:
- The Anterior (or front) Delt: which contracts the anterior side of the shoulder resulting in forward movement of the arm, like throwing a ball underhand for instance
- The Lateral (or middle) Delt: on contracting it moves your arms away from your body, to the side
- The Posterior (or back) Delt: and this muscle allow you to move your arm backwards
7 Easy Ways To Build Shoulder Muscles
Now that you understand the anatomy of your shoulder muscles and the function of each, it’s time to get into how the get them strong and big. We’ll get into the best shoulder exercises for each muscle, but first, we’ll go through the best techniques you can use to hack into your exercise for the best, easiest, and quickest results. All of these techniques can be used in your normal shoulder routine, however, they put a lot of load on your shoulder training, so it’s best to follow only one or two techniques per session, twice a week.
1. Time Under Tension
Normally, when we’re lifting weights, we only focus on getting the number of reps done. Sometimes we even go faster so they can be done more quickly. But when we do that, we’re missing out on an important technique in maximizing the workout efficiency for building muscle mass and strength: which is elongating the time under tension.
Time under tension is the duration your muscles undergo in contraction against an external force or resistance. Whenever this time under tension increases, the muscles undergo more mechanical damage and metabolic fatigue. In other words, their ability to grow and become stronger doubles or even multiplies.
You can achieve more time under tension in going slower in your reps. So if you’re doing a military press, instead of doing a rep in 1-2 seconds, try to extend it to 4-6 seconds. Another way to increase time under tension is to pick up a relatively lighter weight, and holding that weight for a period of time while maintaining full contraction. Repeat it at different angles and various points through the exercise path. So if you’re doing a lateral raise, start by raising the weights a bit then hold, raise them higher, and hold, and repeat until you’re all way up to the full range of motion. And do the same on your way down.
2. Drop Sets
We all know about increasing the intensity of the weight after each set, but most of us haven’t really heard about drop sets. Just opposite to increasing the intensity in each consecutive set, you’ll start with the heavier weights by which you can complete your full reps. Right after the set without taking any rest, you’ll switch to lighter weights, dropping 10 to 20 pounds in case of a compound exercise, and 5-10 pounds in case of an isolated one.
This technique works greatly in reaching muscle failure and metabolic fatigue, as you reach muscle failure twice: using the heavy and the light weights. It also recruits different set of muscle fibres in both sets, which stimulates muscle growth even more.
3. Eccentric Exercise
Eccentric training, also known as negatives, is another often neglected yet amazing technique. Most of our training focuses on the concentric training, in which the muscle fibres shorten during contraction. Eccentric contraction is when the muscles fibres elongate during the contraction. So if we’re talking about a lateral raise, the lateral deltoid shortens when you raise the weight to shoulder length, and elongates as you lower it. The trick here is to give a powerful push, or swing (using your hips, not lower back) to raise the weights about shoulder height. Then, as you start going lower, you do that as slowly and with the most contraction as possible. It’s as if you’re resisting the weights against gravity, stopping them with pure muscle contraction.
This technique does wonders to both your shoulder strength and muscle mass. Again, that’s due to recruiting more muscle fibers, which stimulate even more growth. It’s also great for gaining flexibility as you grow stronger, increasing your metabolism, and lowering the risk of shoulder injury. Heads up, however, eccentric training is the main cause of Delayed Onset Muscles Soreness, so make sure to go easy on your first time trying it out.
4. Pre-Fatigue Sets
The pre-fatigue technique works just as its name suggests: you fatigue the muscle group you’re working out right before you use it again. This works by isolating your target muscles, in this case your shoulders, and working them out to the point of muscular fatigue in isolation. Right after that, you follow with a compound exercise that recruits the shoulders along with other muscle groups, which causes neurological fatigue on top of the muscular one. This also helps in reviving the mind-muscle connection with your shoulders. All of these are great reasons for recruiting more muscle fibres and shocking your shoulder muscles enough to get quick and significant gains.
So when it comes to your your lateral delts, you can start by isolating them by an incline dumbbell lateral raise superset with a standing dumbbell lateral raise, doing 3 sets. The first you’ll go full 12 reps, and then the following two sets you’ll work out until failure. You can focus on the deltoid muscle you want to grow, and pre-exhaust it prior to the compound exercise.
A superset works by doing two exercises back to back, with no rest period in between. The two exercises can target the same muscle group, like doing a front, then a lateral raises, or different muscle groups, like doing a military press and a squat. It’s great for burning more calories, so you can use it for getting ripped quickly. Supersetting exercises for the same muscle group can also fatigue your muscles quickly, which is exactly what you want. It’s always best to start with exercises you find more difficult, then getting onto the easier ones.
6. Forced Sets
Forced reps are the best application for the quote “Do the best you can, and then do some more”. You’ll probably need a spotter or a partner to get your forced sets right, which go as follows: when you reach muscular failure, instead of resting, you do 2 to 4 extra forced sets. The spotter helps you in getting you past your sticking point by lifting the weight, and you continue the extra reps. So if you’re doing a barbell overhead press, you’ll do 4 sets, 8 reps each. The last 2-4 reps are the forced sets.
The reason why forced sets are so popular is that they stimulate an increase in the growth hormone, which is anabolic hormone that does wonders to your muscle growth. It goes beyond that to burning fats and getting you all ripped.
7. Alternating the Intensity
This calls on the concept on periodization, in which you alternate the intensity and volume periodically. This is important because your body is really smart, and it always works to adapt to the exercise you’re doing. If you keep following the same set of exercises, using the same intensity and resulting in the same volume, you’ll reach a plateau in your progress sooner than later.
One good technique is to follow the rest pause sets. You pick up a heavy weight by which you can reach muscle failure at 5 reps, pausing for 15 seconds after 3 or 4 reps, then doing another 3 to 4 reps and to a complete set. This allows you to do more total volume using a heavier weight, in comparison to going for full five reps alone. You can also alternate between heavy and light weights, to stimulate mechanical damage during the heavier fewer reps, and metabolic fatigue during the lighter and more reps.
Top Shoulder Exercises
Isolated Shoulder Exercises:
Whether your goal is to strength a certain muscle, pre-fatigue your delts, or you just want to feel the pump in your shoulders, isolation exercises work best. However, the deltoids are very complex and integrated muscles, so it’s almost impossible to isolate any of them completely. You can do exercises that recruit more muscle fibers from a certain muscle, as follows:
- Barbell or Dumbbell Front Raise
- Seated Overhead Barbell Press
- Front Dumbbell Raise
- Incline Barbell Front Raise
- Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press
- Upright Rows
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Dumbbell Incline Row
- Machine Rear-Delt Fly
- Seated Bent-over Rear Delt Raise
Multi-Deltoid Muscle Exercises:
- Barbell or Dumbbell Seated Shoulder Press (works anterior, lateral, and posterior delts)
- Arnold Press (works both front and middle deltoids)
- Side Lateral to Front Raise (works front and middle delts)
Compound Shoulder Exercises:
There are a lot of exercises that call upon your shoulders, not necessarily shoulder isolating. These are called compound movements, and they are great for coordinating more than one muscle group and reaching neurological fatigue. Some of the best compound exercises are:
- Barbell Push Press: great for working out the whole body
- Standing Military Press (using dumbbells or barbells)
- Push-ups: works your anterior delts, pecks, and triceps
- Pull-ups: great for a total upper body workout
Reps, Intensity & Training Goals
We’ve been talking for a while now about training smartly, so it only makes sense to continue on with this talk. How many reps should you do per set? How heavy or light of a weight? What is optimal weight for your training goals?
It all comes down to your training goals:
- Strength Training: 1-6 reps per set using heavy weights, without reaching muscle failure
- Muscle Mass Building (Hypertrophy): 6-12 reps using heavy weight by which you can reach muscle failure in this range
- Muscle Endurance: 12-16 reps per set
Building Your Sexy Shoulders
We all know how to lift, but what makes all the difference in the world is how we do it. So when it comes to our shoulders, the first step is to know the three shoulder muscles you’ll be working, and the functions of each. And then you start learning the different exercises you can do for each muscle and for compound exercises. Then comes in the factors that differentiate between someone training hard with slow progress and a lot of wasted effort, and those who know how to train smartly. By inserting some little tweaks in the way you do the movement, the weights, the rest pauses, and the number of reps, you can get completely different results – and your shoulders will thank you for them.