Best Exercises for Building Massive, Boulder Shoulders

man building shoulders with pull upsMassive, wide shoulders make you stand out in a crowd. They create that much sought after ‘V’ shape that is the epitome of the male muscular athlete. And, they look pretty impressive in a t-shirt! Getting them is the hard part.

In this article, we present the nine best exercises to create full, rounded deltoids that look great from every angle.

Shoulder Anatomy

The deltoids make up the bulk of the muscle group that we refer to as the shoulders. There are actually three individual muscles within the deltoids,
• The anterior delts
• The lateral delts
• The posterior delts
The anterior delts are more commonly referred to as the front delts. The lateral delts lift the arms up to the side and away from the body. Developing the lateral delt creates width to the upper body. The posterior, or rear delts, pull your arms backward. The rear delts get a lot of work when you are training your back.

Rotator Cuffs

The rotator cuffs allow you to rotate your shoulders. It is made up of four tiny muscles. Because these muscles are so small, they are often prone to injury. That’s why you should always warm up your rotator cuffs by moving and stretching your shoulders.


The trapezius is actually a different muscle group to your shoulders, but because they are right below the shoulders, many people train them together.

Shoulder Training Benefits

Your shoulders are a key body part. In some ways, they are your most important. Their ball and socket joint link your arms to your torso. And, of course, that makes them a vital link in every upper body exercise that you do. If your shoulders get injured, you won’t be able to bench press, deadlift or even do biceps curls properly. That’s why keeping them strong and injury free is so important.

Compared to almost every other joint in your body, the range of movement that your shoulder joint can go through is huge. As a result, the shoulders are more prone to injury than other parts of the body.

Huge, round shoulders are the very manifestation of manly power. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a tank top or a suit, you just can’t hide big shoulders. You will never regret the effort you put into building out your shoulders.
When you develop your shoulders, you will also find that your strength in other exercises goes up. In particular, big strong delts will help you to build up your bench press strength.

The Best Shoulder Exercises

Anterior Head

The frontal head of the deltoids is also known as the anterior head. It is used in a lot of different exercises, most notably the bench press. In fact, in a lot of guys the front delts tend to take over, so that the chest doesn’t get worked enough.

Strong front delts help to create a strong foundation for shoulder strength and development.

Overhead Barbell Press

The overhead barbell press is a compound exercise. It is best done in either a squat rack while sitting on a bench or a smith machine. Bring the barbell to the front of the neck, fully stretching the weights as the weight comes down. Push all the way up, fully squeezing the shoulders at the top.

Be sure to keep your back straight and always remain in complete control of the weight that you are lifting. You should be striving to lift as heavy a weight as possible, but always keep in mind that proper form is more important than weight.

Standing Lateral Raises

Hold two dumbbells, one in each hand, at your sides, palms facing your sides. Your feet should be shoulder width apart with your knees slightly bent. Tense your core as you raise the weights to shoulder level (no higher). While you are lifting the weights out to the side, pretend that, instead of dumbbells, you have pitchers of water in your hands and that you are going to water some plants up at shoulder level.

Allow your elbows to bend and your forearms to drift slightly forward. As you reach the top of the movement, rotate your shoulders forward so that the front plates of the dumbbells are slightly lower than the rear plates – just as if you were pouring water. This will cause you to raise your elbows slightly. The rotation needs to come from your shoulders, not your wrists or arms.
The pouring motion positions the lateral deltoid to take the brunt of the strain. If you don’t ‘pour’, the front deltoid helps out too much, decreasing the effectiveness of the exercise.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Sit on a bench and grasp a pair of dumbbells with a closed, pronated grip. Your head should be up and your upper back and hips should be pressed against the back pad of the seat. Move the dumbbells to position them at shoulder level with your palms facing forward. The dumbbell handles should be in line with each other and parallel to the floor.

Push the dumbbells up until your elbows are fully extended. Keep your wrists straight and directly above your elbows. Make sure, too, that you maintain your erect position. Do not lean back or lift off the bench as you press the dumbbells overhead.

Now lower the dumbbells back to the start position. Keep your wrists straight and directly above your elbows.

Lateral Head

Crush Grip Shoulder Press Out

A problem for many who are trying to isolate the front delts is that the chest tends to take over. This exercise purposefully recruits the pec muscles in a way that takes them out of the pressing action, meaning that your front delts do all of the work.

Take a single dumbbell (about the same weight that you would press overhead for 8 reps) and hold it at chest level with both hands gripping the handle. Squeeze the handle as tight as you can to engage the chest muscles. Now press out to full arm extension. Reverse the motion, fighting gravity all the way.

You can make this exercise easier or more difficult depending on the angle at which you press. If you press straight out, you will be fully engaging the front delts. The more you angle the position of your press, however, the easier the exercise becomes. You can utilize this to take a set beyond failure. Do as many reps as you can pushing straight out and then angle up to 45 degrees to squeeze out an extra 4 or 5 reps.

Bodyweight Side Lateral Raise

This is a bodyweight version of the weighted side lateral raise that allows you to place all of the emphasis on the middle delts. Lie on the floor resting on your elbows with your feet together and body out straight. Now rotate your torso to bring your right elbow up and out to the side.

Your left elbow is fixed on the floor and you are rotating your torso. This is a great finishing move for the rear delts. It is also an excellent option for guys who are training at home and have limited access to dumbbells.

Dumbbell Butterfly Raise

The Dumbbell butterfly raise is a variation of the side lateral raise that takes the emphasis off the front delts and puts it on the lateral, or side, delts. Start in the same position as if doing a side lateral raise but, this time, hold the dumbbells so that your palms are facing up towards the ceiling (underhand position) in front of your body.

Your arms should be slightly bent and locked in that position. Now pivot from the shoulder joint to bring your arms up to the side. As you do so, rotate your hands so that your palms are facing forward in the top position.

Posterior Delts

Hip Huggers

Take a relatively heavy pair of dumbbells and stand with the at your sides, palms facing inwards. Now draw your elbows up and back as you rotate your hand position to face forward. You want the dumbbells to travel up alongside your torso about 10-12 inches as your elbows move back beyond your body. You should stop a little above the level of your navel.

This exercise will give you an excellent contraction directly in the rear delts and is a move that allows you to go heavy in hitting this area. It will allow you to beef up your posterior delts, which is an area that most guys are lacking in.

Underhand Rear Delt Raise

Grab a single dumbbell and stand with it in one hand and the other hand leaning against a wall that is about a foot in front of you. Hold the dumbbell at your side in a palm forward position. Now pull your elbow up and back to bring the dumbbell to the level of your ribcage. As you come up externally rotate the dumbbell to lift your palm toward the ceiling.

This extension of the arm back behind the torso is the key to activating the posterior delts. This exercise allows you to do that more effectively than the traditional rear delt fly movement. The addition of the external rotation of the dumbbell will fire up the rear delt to take the focus of the action.

All 3 Heads


The Swimmer is a great finishing exercise that allows you to hit all three heads of the deltoids simultaneously. You don’t need much weight on this one but, if you do it properly, you will experience a tremendous burn throughout the entire shoulder area.

Grab a light pair of dumbbells (in the 5-10-pound range) and lie face down on 45-degree angled bench. Your arms should be hanging over the end of the bench with the dumbbells at arm’s length. Begin with your palms facing each. You are now going to move your arms in an arcing position to come up so that your arms come up and out to the sides and then swoop forward to the front as they come back down. Be sure to fight gravity and perform the movement slowly, especially as you bring the weights back down to the start position.

This exercise begins with rear delt activation, then transfers to the lateral delts as you bring your arms up and out to the side. Finally, the front delts kick in as you fight the pull of gravity on the way down. Just be sure to keep your arms locked so that the only movement takes place in the shoulder joint and not the elbow.

Putting It All Together

You now have a complete delt training arsenal of exercises that will allow you to hit all three heads in order to build out massive, complete shoulders. Here is how to structure them into a delt pumping workout experience . . .

Overhead Shoulder Press / Dumbbell Shoulder Press
3 sets – 12 / 10 / 8 (increase weight each set)
You should alternate doing your presses with a barbell and dumbbells from workout to workout. Doing so will allow you to go heavy on the barbell while also benefitting from the recruitment of stabilizer muscles and rotation of the shoulder joint that is possible when you use dumbbells.
Hip Huggers – 3 x 12 reps
Side Lateral Raise – 2 sets of 12 reps
Crush Grip Shoulder Press Out – 2 sets of 10 reps
Dumbbell Butterfly Raise – 2 sets of 10 reps
Underhand Rear Delt Raise – 2 sets of 12 reps
Swimmers – 2 sets of 12 reps


Train your shoulders once per week and put one hundred percent effort into every rep that you do. Remember that the last couple of reps should be to the max so that you could not complete one more rep with strict form.

You’ll notice that the bodyweight side lateral raise is not included in the sample program. In order to add variety and ensure total development, swap it in every second workout for the conventional side lateral raise.

Go heavy, go hard, keep it strict and you will be well on your way to building those boulder shoulders.

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