Top 10 Exercises To Build Massive Shoulders

September 13, 2022 / Workout
Top 10 Exercises To Build Massive Shoulders

If you want to have an aesthetically pleasing physique, one of the main goals you should be focusing on is building strong, muscular shoulders. Those who achieve this will give their body a much wider look, helping you form that V-taper that so many people desire.

For both genders, building larger shoulders can help make the waist look smaller, something that appeals to both regardless of your goals.

Shoulder injuries are all too common amongst those who are lifting very heavy weight, so this benefit can’t be said enough. Building strong shoulders is also important as an injury prevention mechanism as having strong muscles will ensure that you are protecting the shoulder girdle as best as possible.

shoulder anatomy

The exercises given here are divided according to their goals to work the front, lateral and back of your shoulder muscles. If you want to develop all of your shoulder muscles, you must make sure that you work every part of your shoulder muscles. (Shoulder workout for beginners)

This said, let’s go over the top ten exercises that you should be adding to your workout protocol to help achieve this goal.

1- Machine Shoulder Press

Lever Shoulder Press

Target: Anterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid, Supraspinatus

First up on the list is the machine shoulder press.  Now, why do this and the military press?  If you aren’t training with a spotter around, you’ll find that you can often go heavier on the machine shoulder press than you can with your own weight. This in turn can lead to greater strength gains.

Even if you are working out with a coach, the machine shoulder press can also be a good move for using as a warm-up exercise, this time going with a lighter weight.  It’ll get you moving through the range of motion that’s coming up next with your heavy military press.

2- Bent Arm Lateral Raises

Dumbbell Bent Arm Laterl Raise

Target: Lateral Deltoid, Anterior Deltoid, Supraspinatus

Now we come to an isolation move that’s great for building bigger shoulders and doing at the start of your workout protocol – side lateral raises.

This exercise will help you get those nicely capped shoulders, finishing off your look while boosting muscular endurance as well.

These can be done with a dumbbell or machine if you want to sustain constant tension on the muscle at all times.

Try doing one arm lateral raises if you really want to ensure that you aren’t allowing momentum to come into the equation, helping you push through the exercise.

When doing lateral raises, it’s also important to keep the core tight, or you may start to develop a sway in the lower back, putting you at risk for back pain down the road.

3- Military Press/Shoulder press

Barbell Military Press

Target: Anterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid, Supraspinatus, Levator Scapula

The classic military press and shoulder press is the next go-to move for building big shoulders. The military press is one of the best moves if you want to round out your shoulders, creating that aesthetically pleasing look that will finish off your upper body.

This compound exercise is going to hit the front and medial delts while also helping to target the triceps as well. In addition to this, the military press is also a great strength building move.

You can do this exercise standing or sitting, whichever your preference. Typically you will be able to lift heavier weight sitting however if you do them standing, you’ll get more of a core workout as well.

Try with either the barbell or the dumbbell, whichever you prefer. Consider swapping between the two pieces of equipment as you go.

By adding these together with the military press, you create a well-rounded workout program that will have you seeing excellent strength gains in no time.

4- Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Target: Anterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid, Supraspinatus

Another pressing variation to consider having in the protocol is the dumbbell shoulder press. This exercise primarily targets the deltoid muscles, helping to build strength and size in the shoulders. Each arm works independently during the dumbbell shoulder press, which can help identify and correct any strength imbalances between the right and left sides of the body.

Start by selecting a pair of dumbbells that are appropriate for your strength and fitness level. Hold one dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with your palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells upward by extending your arms overhead while exhaling.

At the top of the movement, pause for a moment with your arms fully extended but not locked. Lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position while inhaling. Maintain control and avoid letting the weights crash down.

5- Leaning Cable Lateral Raise

Leaning Cable Lateral Raise

Target: Lateral Deltoid, Anterior Deltoid, Supraspinatus

The next move to consider is the one arm cable lateral raise.  Using one arm rather than two can help to reduce the level of momentum you use, ensuring it’s just your own muscular power fueling the exercise.

The cable also adds a nice effect to this exercise as it’ll help you maintain continual tension throughout the entire range of motion.

With dumbbells, you won’t have the same amount of tension on the muscles at all times, so you’re more likely to notice weaknesses at certain points in the range of motion.

With cables, you overcome this.  If you don’t have cables where you train, you can still use a dumbbell for this exercise, but keep doing it with just one arm at a time. This will help to limit momentum.  Hold onto a nearby object with the other arm and lean out slightly and you’ll feel the muscle contracting at all points during the exercise.

With this move especially, the mind-muscle connection is key.  Far too many people lose it on lateral raises, which will lead to other muscles coming into play, helping to execute the movement.  This in turn means slower or stagnant results.

6- Reverse Fly’s

Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Target: Posterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Rhomboids

Since many of the exercises just mentioned are going to be more focused on hitting the front and side deltoid muscles, you also need to be doing something for your rear delts.

While you won’t see this muscle as much when looking directly at the body, it will make a difference in how you look from the side or behind.

Also, remember that ensuring all three heads of your shoulders are strong will be your best defense against an injury down the road.

The rear delts will be worked very well when doing bent over or horizontal rows, however you can also isolate them with reverse fly’s.

These can be done in a chest fly machine if it reverses, or done with cables or even bent over with a set of dumbbells.

The most important thing when doing this exercise is that you really zero in on maximum mind-muscle control. It’s very easy to allow other muscle groups to take over this exercise, preventing those rear delts from really working to their full capacity.

7- Rear Delt Machine Fly

Rear Delt Machine Fly

Target: Posterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid, Traps, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor

Another fly variety that you don’t want to overlook is the rear delt fly machine. Rear delt fly exercise will help you build defined shoulders. It is one of the best exercises you should do If you want a defined and more shred shoulder muscle.

In most cases, you’re better off lightening the weight while doing this move, focusing on just that rear delt squeezing until you feel optimal tension develop.

Adding a few half reps with this exercise can also be a great way to maximize the muscle tension and fatigue development, helping you see great results.

8- Upright Rows

Barbell Upright Row

Target: Lateral Deltoid, Anterior Deltoid, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Traps, Levator Scapula

In addition to lateral raises, upright rows can be another beneficial exercise for adding to your protocol to work the lateral and front head of the deltoids.  When doing these, you’ll want to use a set of dumbbells rather than a barbell however to avoid excess stress on the elbow and shoulder joints.

Dumbbells will allow for a greater range of motion in terms of your elbow and wrist position, while a barbell will lock your arms into place.

Be sure to perform this exercise using a very slow and controlled movement pattern as well, using only the muscular force from your shoulders to raise and lower the bar. The minute momentum comes into play is the minute you should stop the exercise and consider lightening the weight.

You don’t necessarily have to go very heavy on this move to feel it – you just need to ensure that you’re using proper form.

9- Single Arm Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell One Arm Shoulder Press

Target: Anterior Deltoid, Lateral Deltoid, Supraspinatus, Levator Scapula

Another effective exercise to consider adding to your shoulder workout is the single-arm dumbbell press. This move is going to help ensure that you aren’t suffering from any strength imbalances between the two shoulders.

If you do a lot of barbell pressing work, this can start to occur. The stronger side of the body will begin overcompensating for the weaker side, in which case, the strength imbalances will only continue to grow larger.

Performing a seated single arm dumbbell press at the very end of your workout session to bring your shoulder muscles to a point of full exhaustion is a great way to see a little extra strength gains.

Always remember to ensure that you are scheduling enough rest time not only between your shoulder training days, but your shoulder and chest training days if you do them on different days as the shoulders will still be worked when doing bench pressing exercises.

Rest is key for optimal strength development so without this there, it won’t matter what exercises you’re doing, you’ll be unlikely to see the results you’re looking for.

10- Clean And Press

Barbell Clean and Press

Finally, the last of the moves that you’ll want to be sure to get into your workout protocol if you hope to achieve shoulder greatness is the clean and press.  This move is going to work all heads of the shoulders while also helping you develop a great deal of strength and power.

It’s a much more compound, full body movement than the ones listed above, even the military press as it brings the clean movement pattern into the picture.

The clean and press is typically done with a barbell, however you can also do it with a kettlebell if you feel inclined.

It should always be done towards the beginning of the workout session when you’re feeling fresh and are able to lift heavy as going heavy is the primary goal.

This exercise is very much about technique however, so you’ll want to be sure that you are starting with a lighter weight at first, only increasing the weight once you’ve mastered the overall movement pattern of the exercise and have your form down pat.

You will also be at a higher risk of injury with this exercise, so be sure that you are always being mindful of form and don’t be afraid to lighten the weight at any point if you feel your good form is slipping.

If you perform this move, you can side step performing other pressing exercises in that particular shoulder workout.


So there you have a list of the top ten moves that you should be adding to your workout protocol if you hope to see maximum results.  Remember that you will be working shoulders on any chest day that you perform, so if you are doing a split body workout and have both a chest as well as a shoulder day scheduled, you’ll want to ensure that sufficient time has passed between the workouts so that you go into each one feeling as strong as possible.

Schedule them too close to each other and you could overtrain the shoulder muscles, leading to decreases in both strength and size.

Train smart and you will see big changes coming to your physique in the near future.

Posted by
Robert George
Robert, a certified fitness coach skilled in creating personalized exercise programs, excels in offering emotional support and motivation to her readers. As a fitness copywriter and coach, she has inspired countless individuals to overcome barriers and achieve their full potential.