6 Exercises for Boulder Shoulders

When it comes to shoulder training, don’t shy away from hard work.

6 Exercises for Boulder Shoulders

Young bodybuilders often make a common error: they fail to realize that shoulders are a complex bodypart. These trainers tend to think it’s necessary to have wide shoulders to promote a V-shaped torso, but an examination of the shoulders reveals there’s a lot more to them than width.

First of all, there are the deltoids. These muscles serve  to raise your arms above your head, but the joints where the arms meet the torso are complex. Unlike a joint such as the knee, which has a limited range of motion and moves basically on a plane, the shoulder joints enable you to move your arms around in a circle with a wide range of motion.

To cope with the complex movement of the shoulder joints, deltoids consist of three heads: anterior, medial and posterior — or, more commonly, front, side and rear. It makes sense then that you need to incorporate a variety of movements into your shoulder training routine to effectively hit all three heads of the muscle group. For this reason, I preferred to  train the deltoid-trapezius complex by doing more sets — as many as 50 in some cases, but at least 30 in my normal workout — than many other bodybuilders.

You read that right, at least 30 hard sets three times per week for my shoulders and traps. Nowadays, when talk of less being better is in vogue, I still stick to my belief that if not for the volume of work I performed during my competitive days, I would not have reached the height of bodybuilding success I eventually did.

I’d usually start my shoulder routine with some kind of presses. I’ve performed countless seated military presses over the years, to the front and to the back of my neck. Both are great for developing the side heads, although each exercise stresses them in a slightly different manner. I would often alternate between the two during each workout. Dumbbell presses can be substituted for barbell presses and, if you really want something different, try my special Arnold presses.

For Arnold presses, begin with the dumbbells in front of your shoulders, with your palms facing you. Then, as you push up, rotate the dumbbells outward so that your palms face away from you at the top of the movement. I particularly like the range of movement of Arnold presses as opposed to standard dumbbell presses.

When performing any kind of pressing movement, don't lock out at the top, which is a mistake I've seen many novice trainers make. Once you lock your elbows, you take most of the stress off the muscles you're trying to work.

After presses, I would typically move on to raising movements. I'd do lateral raises to further work the side heads of my deltoids. Front raises are great for developing he front heads, while bent laterals focus the stress on rear delts. A variation of the lateral raise I liked to perform, is lying dumbbell raises. Cables can also be employed to add variety to raising movements.

For traps, you have a few options: upright rows, power cleans, and shrugs. I would usually finish my shoulder/trap training with one of the three. Keep in mind that when performing upright rows and power cleans, you are also working your deltoids, so expect them to be fatigued and a possible weak link when hitting your traps. 

Nothing is more impressive than a man with wide shoulders topped with a powerful set of traps, but getting them takes a lot of work. Give the accompanying routine three months and see if your shoulder region doesn't grow to Oaklike proportions!


  • Seated Presses | SETS: 5 | REPS: 6-10
    • superset with
    • Lateral Raises SETS: 5 | REPS: 8
  • Machine Presses SETS: 5 | REPS: 8
    • superset with
    • Bent Laterals SETS: 5 | REPS: 8
  • Upright Rows SETS: 5 | REPS: 10
    • superset with
    • One-Arm Cable Laterals SETS: 5 | REPS: 10