Shoulder Exercises

The Mechanics of Shoulder Training

Developing fully-capped” delts is a matter of training all three heads.


Dumbbell Press


Presses can be done using a barbell, dumbbells or with various types of machines. In all cases, you begin by holding the weight at about shoulder height, palms facing forward, elbows underneath for support. The exercise is performed by lifting straight up overhead, pausing at the top, then lowering the weight back, under control, to the starting position.

Doing presses with a barbell or machine, your hands are locked into place. This tends to somewhat limit the amount of rotation of the shoulder joint compared to pressing with dumbbells. Depending on the equipment involved, you can position your hands further apart or closer together to hit the shoulders from a variety of angles. In general, the closer together your hands are placed the more involvement there is from the triceps; the further apart your hands, the less triceps are involved.

Another way of looking at this is by thinking in terms of the elbow joint. The longer the range of motion of the elbow,– the more it bends and straightens, which means the more the triceps become part of the exercise. When the elbows are less involved, so are the triceps.

Barbell Presses

Barbell Presses can be done to the front (military press) or with the bar behind the neck (behind-the-neck presses).

Military Press

From a standing position, "“clean"” the weight (lifting it with a reverse curl movement) or take the bar off a rack holding it with a palms forward grip and hold it across the upper chest. Press the bar upward, locking out the elbows on top, and then lower the weight, under control, back to the starting position.

Behind-the-Neck Press

Position the bar across the back of the neck, holding it palms forward. Press the bar upward, locking out the elbows on top, and then lower the weight under control back to the starting position. This can be performed either seated or standing.

Dumbbell Presses

Dumbbell presses can be done standing, seated on a flat bench or on a bench that gives you back support. "“Clean"” the dumbbells and hold them at shoulder height to each side, palms facing forward. The most common way to do this exercise is to press the weights straight up overhead without locking out the elbows, and then lower the dumbbells under control back to the starting position.

But there is a somewhat more effective way of doing this movement. Keeping in mind that the action of the shoulders is rotation, try holding the weights out to either side and then bringing them up in an arc, where the dumbbells come together at the top, then bring them down in a similar arc to the starting position. Using dumbbells rather than a barbell means your hands are not locked into position, and lifting them in an arc (similar to that which you use for chest doing dumbbell flyes) allows for extending the range of motion of the exercise.

Machine Presses

No matter what kind of machine you use, the basic technique of pressing a weight or resistance overhead, extending the triceps during the movement, is the same. Concentrating on how much rotation you'’re getting from the shoulder joint during the movement and how much the elbow is involved will give you a good idea of exactly what kind of movement the machine is allowing you to do.

Remember, in most cases machines don'’t allow for building as much mass and strength but often allow you to do a stricter movement,– and in some cases work through a longer range of motion. One negative aspect of machine presses is that they don'’t allow for strengthening all the support tissue around the joint to the degree that is possible with free weights.

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