Hot off the presses, the American Council on Exercise has just published the findings of a study that looks at which exercises are best for building shapely shoulders. The study was commissioned by ACE and carried out by John Porcari, PhD and other scientists at the University of Wisonsin, LaCrosse’s Clinical Exercise Physiology laboratory. They reviewed the 10 most common shoulder exercises to see which ones were best for stimulating muscle activation of the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids. In this post, I’ve put their findings together into one workout that will give you the shoulders you’ve always dreamed of!
Warm Up – Shoulders are the second most commonly injured joint, after knees, so don’t pick up those weights before you’ve warmed up those muscles. Do five minutes of light to moderate aerobic activity to increase overall body temperature and increase blood flow, then do 30 to 60 seconds of arm circles in each direction, as well as some shoulder slaps (a la Michael Phelps). Before beginning your shoulder workout, you should also do one warm-up set with a very light weight. You only need to do this for the first exercise, not all four.
After warming up, beginners should do one to three sets of each of the following exercises using a weight you can lift with perfect form for 12 to 15 repetitions. More experienced weight lifters should do three to five sets per exercise with a heavier weight you can lift with perfect form for six to 10 repetitions.
Overhead Dumbbell Press – This exercise was found to be significantly more effective than all other exercises for working the anterior deltoids (front “cap” of the shoulder). You can perform overhead presses from a standing or seated position. Just be sure to engage your core, especially if you’re standing, so that you don’t cheat by “inch worming” your back, which can compromise the lower back. Start by holding the dumbbells up near your ears, with your palms facing forward. Slowly press the dumbbells up overhead, without locking your elbows out at the top of the motion. Then, slowly control the movement to bring them back to start position. You can “bump” the dumbbells together overhead, but it’s not necessary. Just be sure you don’t let your arms splay out wider than shoulder-width, as this puts the shoulder joint at risk.
45-Degree Incline Row – In this photo, an adjustable bench is set to a 45-degree angle, but if you’re working at home and don’t have a bench, you can simulate this by standing in a stable split stance (one foot about two feet in front of the other, knees slightly bent) and hinge at the hips about 45 degrees. Be sure to engage your core and don’t let your lower back round. Start with the dumbbells hanging straight down toward the ground, palms facing behind you. Slowly bring them up in a rowing motion to chest height, pause, then return to the start position in a slow, controlled motion. This exercise effectively targets both the medial and rear deltoids.
Seated Rear Lateral Raise – Here’s another exercise that works both the medial and posterior deltoids. Sit at the edge of a bench or chair, engage your core, and bend forward at the hips about 30 to 45 degrees. Start with the dumbbells down near the bottom of the chair with your elbows just slightly bent and your palms facing one another. Slowly raise the dumbbells up and out, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. (This exercise is also called a rear deltoid fly, and you can think of your arms as the wings of a butterfly.) Pause at the top of the motion, then return to the start position in a slow, controlled motion.
Bonus Exercise: Battling Ropes – This exercise scored reasonably well for working all three heads of the deltoid muscle, and it’s just fun! You probably don’t have one of these lying around at home, though, so you’ll have to get to a gym to do this one. (I do NOT recommend trying to improvise something at home.) Loop that big, heavy rope lying in the corner of the weight room around a pole or through a ring (ask your gym staff if you aren’t sure), and stretch it out to its full length. Stand with feet shoulders shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and engage your core. Holding the ends of the rope in an overhand grip (palms facing inward or down toward the floor), whip the ends of the rope up to shoulder height and down to waist height. It’s a little easier to alternate quickly between hands than to do them both at the same time, because of the way the rope travels. Do this for 15 – 30 seconds, rest for an equal amount of time, and repeat one to four more times. Doing this exercise last will leave your delts burning and you’ll know you’ve given them a good workout!
All photos are courtesy of the American Council on Exercise, and you can read the study summary here.