The Shoulder Series

Shoulder training should be in everyone’s gym programme, as well as creating shape in your upper body and helping make your waist appear smaller, strong and mobile shoulders will also make a range of exercises easier as well as day to day activities. The muscles that you can visibly see around the shoulder comprise of three individual muscles, which all work very differently. You have your front/anterior deltoid, your lateral/medial deltoid and your rear/posterior deltoid. Each of them should be trained equally as they all play an important role in shoulder strength and health. We will start off with the compound exercises you can use to train your shoulders, before moving on to more isolation-based exercises.

Seated dumbbell (DB) Press

The seated DB shoulder press is an exercise you will see almost everyone doing when they train shoulders. It is an excellent exercise for overall shoulder development but can often be performed wrong due to not having a correct setup up. The DB press will primarily target your medial/side deltoid but will also contract your front/anterior deltoid.

  • Start by sitting down on a bench that is just shy of 90 degrees. Bring both dumbbells up and rest them of your legs. For an easy lift off, use your legs to bring the dumbbells up above your shoulders.
  • You will start this movement with your elbow flexed at a 90-degree angle and the palms of your hands facing forward.
  • Drive your upper back into the bench, brace your core and drive the dumbbells up in a straight line towards the ceiling. Extend the arm and stop the dumbbells just before the arm fully locks out.
  • Keeping the dumbbells in the same straight line, allow them to come back down towards your body and stopping once the elbow is at a 90-degree angle again.

When you are driving the dumbbells up, they should not go wide or go narrow as you pish up, they should stay in the same straight line which doesn’t shift throughout the exercise.

This exercise can also be performed standing with the same cues but will require more core activation.

Seated Barbell (BB) Press

The seated BB press is very similar to the dumbbell press, but the load is just placed differently (with a bar as opposed to dumbbells). If you don’t have a machine that is already setup with a bar on a rack with a bench built it, pull a bench over to a squat rack.

  • Set the bench up within the rack again just shy of a 90-degree angle. Place the barbell at a height so that it is comfortable to rack and un-rack once you are in a seated position (the arms should be in a lengthened position when un-racking the barbell). 
  • Once you are seated and have the barbell set up, drive your upper back into the bench, brace your core and un-rack the bar.
  • Allow the bar to come towards your neck, ensuring your elbows aren’t flaring all the way out, once the barbell is in line with your neck drive it back up to the starting position.

The bar should stay in the same path as it travels up and down and shouldn’t stray backwards or forwards as its moving. This exercise can also be performed in a standing position if there isn’t a bench available for you to use. Following the same cues as you would seated but just placing a greater emphasise of keeping your core braced.

Dumbbell (DB) Lateral Raise 

The DB lateral raise is the first isolation exercise we are going to look at. It targets the lateral/medial deltoid. Although the exercise itself is easy to perform, don’t be deceived as you won’t need much weight to get the most out of the movement.

  • You can either stand or sit for this exercise. Once decided hold dumbbells either side of your body. Push your chest high and engage your core.
  • Without moving your torso pull the dumbbells away from your body until your arm is parallel to the ground. Once your arms are parallel to the ground hold it for 1 second before lowering the dumbbells back down towards your body.

Your arms should have a slight bend in the elbow but should not lose this position throughout the exercise. Another key focus is to ensure the elbows stay above the hands at the top of the movement, to ensure you are doing this imagine you are dragging the dumbbells away from your body, rather than pulling them ‘up’.

Arnold Press

The Arnold press can be considered unique when compared to a standard shoulder press, as well as targeting the front deltoid it will also target your lateral head during the rotation within the movement. One thing you will find upon trying this exercise is that you won’t need as much weight as you do for a regular shoulder press.

  • Just like a shoulder press, sit down on a bench just shy of a 90-degree angle. Bring the dumbbells up to your shoulders with your knuckles facing away from you around shoulder width apart.
  • As you press the dumbbells up, twist your wrist around so your palms are facing away from you at the top of the movement.
  • As you bring the dumbbells back down, twist your wrist back around so your knuckles are turned away from you again. You want the bottom of the movement to be when your upper arm (triceps) are parallel with the ground, this will ensure all the tension stays within your shoulders throughout the exercise.

Like all seated overhead presses, your back should stay pushed into the bench keeping you stable. The dumbbells should also stay in the same line as they move up and down and shouldn’t sway backwards or forwards. 

Front Raise

A front raise is the main contender for our selection with front deltoid isolation exercises. We are going to cover two variations with dumbbells and cables. It can also be performed with alternating reps (one arm followed by the other) or with both arms doing the same movement at the same time. The first variation we are going to cover will be with dumbbells.

  • Grab two dumbbells (they won’t need to be heavy) stand up with your scapula retracted so your torso is stable. You can also take a split stance if it helps with stability. With the dumbbells placed either side of your legs, point your knuckles forward so you can see the top of your hand.
  • Keeping the dumbbells around shoulder width apart, bring the dumbbells up until your hands are in line with your shoulders (your arms should stay straight throughout). Hold the top position for a second before controlling the dumbbells back down towards your hips.

There should be no swinging involved within this movement, to allow your shoulder to take as much load as possible and you should stay stable throughout the exercise. Don’t be afraid to drop the weight lower if needs to be done.

For this next variation of the front raise you are going to need a rope attachment on the cable pulley.

  • Position the pulley at the bottom of the cable, hold each end of the rope in either hand and stand yourself facing away from the cable machine, bringing the rope in-between your legs.
  • From this position retract your scapula and brace your core ensuring you are stable and won’t allow any momentum or swinging from your torso.
  • Bring the rope up until your hands are in line with your shoulders just like you would with the dumbbells, before bringing them back down towards your legs. Also just like with dumbbells your arms should stay straight throughout the movement.