Muscle building series 1: Shoulders

Muscle building series 1: Shoulders

Building and developing a great set of shoulders is often a priority for most of us. It makes us feel strong, powerful, it looks good and it also helps accentuate the v-taper by increasing the width of your body. In this article I’m going to break down the anatomy of the shoulders and what exercises hit each area most effectively. It’s vital that you train the shoulder in it’s entirety so that you develop a fully rounded muscle.

The muscles of the shoulder area are referred to as deltoids or “delts”, these include three distinct sets of muscle fibers;
• Anterior deltoid, which is the front part of the shoulder.
• Medial deltoid, which is the middle part of the shoulder.
• And posterior deltoid, which is the rear part of the shoulder

How often should I train my Deltoids and how many sets and reps should I do?

The possible set and rep patterns to choose from are endless, and there isn’t really one that would be “optimal” as different styles fit different goals. It’s also good to remember that variety and periodization is the key to constant progress, and constant progress is the key to gains in both strength and muscle mass.

The general view is that anything up to 6 reps is primarily strength training and anything between 6-15 reps is hypertrophy which is optimal for building muscle mass. It’s important to use both rep ranges in your training for optimal central nervous strength and muscular gains. I’d recommend training your deltoids at least once per week. Your deltoids are also involved in both back and chest movements so they will get extra work on these days as well.

When it comes to the number of sets, it’s all about your goals again, more sets obviously means more volume, and with fewer sets, you can maximize the intensity (I personally prefer the latter). Generally speaking, your amount of sets per exercise should, however fall between 2-5.

Here’s an example of what this could look like in practice;

• Pressing movement 3* 5reps
• Isolation exercises 3* 12reps
• Isolation exercise 3* 12 reps
• Isolation exercise 3* 15 reps

What are the best movements to work each area of the shoulder?

In my opinion the best exercise to start a shoulder workout with is either a dumbbell shoulder press or a standing barbell press.These exercises work all 3 heads of the shoulder but mainly the anterior deltoid. Once this exercise is completed you would then want to go on to lateral and posterior movements.

Best movements to activate anterior deltoid (Pressing exercises)

• Overhead (seated or standing with barbell or dumbbells)
• behind the neck press

Best movements to activate medial deltoid (Isolation exercises)

• lateral raise with dumbbells
• Single arm cable lateral raises

Best movements to activate posterior deltoid (Isolation exercises)

• rear deltoid flyes with dumbbells
• face pulls


Building the shoulders of your dreams doesn’t need to be overly complicated or difficult. It requires you to consistently work your shoulders fully by doing a heavy pressing movement as well as isolation work. Focus on hitting the anterior, medial and posterior deltoids equally to ensure that you have a fully rounded shoulder. You can also add in supersets and drop sets to increase intensity but by following the basics you won’t go far wrong!

Happy lifting

Derek Brettell
WNBF Pro Bodybuilder