Professional athletes have them. So do bodybuilders, longshoremen, lumberjacks, and pretty much every guy we innately identify as a pillar of strength. In fact, of all the muscle groups, it is the one that most clearly distinguishes the silhouette of a man from a woman. It’s the deltoids, aka shoulders, and with a broad, meaty pair, you too can carry the mantle of being distinctly male—alpha, even.

The Routine

This routine should be performed at a quick pace, with no more than 30 seconds rest between sets. Because the deltoids are a fairly small muscle group and the shoulder joint is susceptible to injury, it’s best to keep the weight moderate and the reps generally on the high side, as in 10–20. The entire routine should take you no more than a half hour to perform, and you should do it twice per week.

You’ll notice that every exercise in this routine is performed in a seated position, for two reasons. One, most shoulder exercises are conducive to body English; we tend to swing the dumbbells as we tire during lateral and front raises, and excessively arch our backs during presses. Two, we expend excess energy steadying ourselves through each rep of exercises in which we stand. By sitting we can channel all of our resources for the task at hand.

The Basics

Increase the weight you use as the rep count decreases with successive sets.

  • Maximum 30 seconds rest between sets
  • Reps in the 10–20 range
  • Moderate weights

The Alpha Male Shoulder Routine

Exercise Sets Reps
Seated Lateral Raise 4 20-17-14-11
Seated Alternating DB Front Raise 3 14-12-10
Rear Delt Machine 3 16-14-12
Seated DB Press 4 14-12-10-8
Static Hold DB Front Raise 2 To failure

The Exercises

Seated Lateral Raise

Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on a bench, leaning forward at a slight angle (maybe 10 degrees) while keeping a flat back. Raise the dumbbells out to your sides in a smooth motion, keeping about a 30-degree bend in your elbows. Stop when your hands are just above level with your shoulders and lower the dumbbells again, stopping short of a dead-hang position. the idea is to keep continuous tension on the deltoids throughout the entire set. Your rep pace should be approximately one second on the way up and 1½ seconds on the way down.

Seated Alternating DB Front Raise

You should be able to use about the same weight for these as you used for seated lateral raises, if not slightly more. While sitting upright on a bench, alternately raise each dumbbell in front of you, keeping about a 10-degree bend in your arms. Stop when the dumbbell clears the top of your head; any higher and you begin to lose tension in your shoulder. Start lifting with the opposite arm once the dumbbell is fully lowered. Keep the pacing similar to what you did on seated lateral raises.

Rear Delt Machine

Most gyms have one of these, or a dual pec-dec/rear-delt machine. if yours doesn’t, you can substitute bentover laterals or rear cable laterals. Sit facing the bench, holding the handles out in front of you. With a slight bend in your elbows, pull the arms of the machine back—as if doing a reverse butterfly stroke—as far as you can without jerking your body for more extension. Squeeze the rear delts at the top of the movement before returning to the start position.

Seated DB Press

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, sit on a bench with back support. Raise the dumbbells to your shoulders and press them straight up, with a slight but not excessive arch to your back. Push the dumbbells overhead until your elbows are a few degrees shy of locked out. Do not let the weights clang together at the top. There are no hard-and-fast rules about where your elbows should align during the movement. Out to the side, you’ll feel it more in your rear delts. in front of you and you’ll feel your front delts working more. What’s most important is that you choose the path of least resistance, such that your shoulder joints feel minimal stress while your shoulder muscles feel maximal resistance.

Static Hold DB Front Raise

Sitting or standing, clasp the fingers of both hands around the handle of a dumbbell and hold it out in front of you at shoulder height for as long as you can. Depending on the weight you choose, you should aim for anywhere between 20 seconds and a minute. Feel the burn!