How to Build Bigger Shoulders

Follow these 7 tips to be on the right path to building shoulders like boulders, safely! Plus, 6 of our favorite and best shoulder exercises to promote better muscle growth!

How to Build Bigger Shoulders
Evelyn Valdez Evelyn Valdez
8 min read

Your shoulders are a very special group of muscles and joints that deserve extra special care. The shoulder joint is more susceptible to injuries than any other muscle or joint due to its placement and ball-and-socket structure. Plus, it's involved in almost every upper body movement, thus making it easy to overtrain.

The key to building bigger shoulders like boulders is by knowing how to work them out safely and with proper exercise form. Once you know how you'll get a whole range of physique benefits – wider shoulders that build the top of your V-taper and a lovely pop to your upper arms that make you look like built. And for the ladies who want a smaller waist, building muscle in their shoulders and back will help achieve that goal!

Ready to start building stronger and bigger shoulders?

Stick with us as we guide you through the best tips to having a successful and safe shoulder workout!

7 tips to build shoulders like boulders

If you want to take your shoulder training to the next level, and in a safe manner that reduces your risk of injury, follow these 7 tips:

1. Do a proper warm-up

This is the most important tip to follow, and the most obvious one, but so many forget or neglect to do it! The shoulder is made up of two sets of muscle layers – the lower rotator cuff, and the upper deltoids. The rotator cuff plays a critical role in stabilizing the movement in your shoulder joint and the deltoids are responsible for major shoulder movements. It's important to ensure you properly warm up these muscles before doing any heavy lifting to avoid an injury that can take you out of the gym for weeks!

Spend at least 10 minutes doing dynamic stretches! You can do shoulder shrugs, shoulder rolls, arm circles, and arm lifts. Take it a step further and use a long resistance band to prep you fully for your heavy lifting. Choose 1-2 shoulder exercises, like band pull aparts, presses, or front raises, to do before your workout. Do two sets with 10-15 reps.

2. Do more overhead presses

The overhead press, also known as shoulder press, should be your bread and butter in shoulder training.  It's common to start a workout routine with heavy compound exercise,. this is why many lifters start with a pressing exercise but don't stop there. If you want to maximize your muscle-building efforts, follow up your initial shoulder press with more sets after some lateral-head work. But don't follow up with free weights, use a machine at the gym or a long resistance band.

Here's why... using free weights takes balance and coordination. At the start of your workout, your less fatigued and have sufficient balance to maintain your form. As you continue your workout, the fatigue will start setting in, making it more difficult for you to maintain your form. So, to avoid an injury and ensure you're actually working the muscle group you want to target, use a machine or even a long resistance band! If there isn't an overhead press machine at your gym, or if you're strength training at home, finish off your workout with some shoulder presses using a heavy or extra heavy resistance band. Do about 3-4 sets until muscle failure. The machine and resistance bands will help give you the stability you need when you're starting to feel tired.

Doing this will allow you to hit the medial deltoid heads harder, along with maximizing strength and muscle-building benefits!

3. Don't have too close of a grip on upright rows

Upright rows are a must in any shoulder workout! They work your traps (upper back), deltoids, and even your biceps, but most importantly, they zone in on the middle head. Doing it wrong can place more of an emphasis on the surrounding muscles, like the traps and biceps, which is not ideal if you're trying to build muscle in your shoulders!

The key is to have a moderate grip on the bar, not a close grip. This will help place a greater emphasis on the middle deltoids. So, it should look like your upper arms are moving directly out to your sides, opposed to using a close grip which will have your elbows move forward. Doing that will cause internal shoulder rotation and could increase your risk of long-term shoulder damage.

4. Add more lateral exercises

If you want that round, capped look then start incorporating more lateral raises! The lateral muscle is the middle delt that contracts as it moves your arms away from your body to the side. Aside from upright rows and pressing, lateral raises should consistently be a part of your shoulder workout.

Most lifters only do one type of lateral movement per workout and it's usually with dumbbells. There's nothing wrong with using dumbbells (definitely continue doing lateral raises with them), but if you want to take your delts to the next level add in some cable or machine exercises! Start with a lateral exercise using dumbbells, and then follow up with a cable or machine exercise – you'll definitely be feeling the pump and burn!

5. Don't forget to hit your rear delts

The posterior deltoids are found on your back and allow you to move your arm backward. Unfortunately, this muscle gets very little attention because most place a greater focus on pressing and lateral movements. Don't let your rear delts fall behind, so start prioritizing exercises that target them! Bent-over dumbbell lateral raises should be your go-to, but incorporate other rear lateral exercises with a machine or cables (like doing cable face pulls).

If you want to make sure you don't neglect your rear delts, consider training them on your back day. Despite being a secondary muscle group, rowing exercises really work the rear delts. Adding two exercises that target your posterior delts on back day will help ensure that you're giving it your all, opposed to doing one exercise at the end of your shoulder workout when you're beat!

6. Incorporate supersets

Supersets involve doing two exercises back to back, no rest period in between. This helps to increase the intensity of your workout without adding any weight, and help fatigue your muscles quickly – which is what you want to build big shoulder!

You can either hit the same exact muscle group to really fatigue it or do an isolation exercise after a compound exercise to further target a particular muscle. For example, you can do a push press exercise and follow it with upright rows using a long resistance band, or you can do dumbbell lateral raises and following up with cable face pulls. There are many ways to create a superset, just be careful not overtraining a particular muscle, so pay close attention to your body and stop if you feel any discomfort or pain.

7. Plan smarter

Almost every upper body exercise involves your shoulder, from bench press to dumbbell rows, even lower body workouts require movement in the shoulders! So you want to pay attention to how your training split is set up to avoid overworking your shoulders. Most chest movements and some multi-joint tricep exercises engage the shoulders. Your rear delts are also being engaged when training your back during rowing movements. Not having a proper training split with at least two days in between to let the shoulders rest can lead to the delts being overworked. So if you're not training your chest, triceps, and shoulders on the same day then train shoulders at least two days before or after to ensure they're not being overworked. If you do train them on the same day then start with chest, shoulders, then triceps.

Best shoulder exercises

The tips above will get you on the right path to the shoulder muscle growth you want, but if you want to maximize your workouts, consider adding these shoulder exercises into your routine:

Standing military press


This exercise is a must because not only does it hit the deltoid muscles, it also works your triceps, upper chest, core, and legs! This is a good exercise to incorporate for full-body workouts or prioritize on your shoulder day.

How to do it:

  1. Take the bar off the rack and set it chest-high in a power rack.
  2. Hold it with an overhand grip and hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, keep palms up and elbows pointed forward, your upper arms near parallel with the floor as the bar rests atop your upper chest.
  3. Your feet should be set about shoulder-width apart or just outside of that, toes angled slightly out.
  4. From this position, explosively drive the bar overhead to full elbow extension.
  5. Hold it there for a one-count, and then lower it back until it contacts your upper chest.

Seated dumbbell shoulder press


There's nothing wrong with a standing overhead press, but the sitting position helps to isolate the shoulder motion. Which is ideal for pushing heavy weights and being able to use dumbbells instead of a barbell. The major muscles being targeted are the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and even the upper portion of the pecs.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on a bench upright, and position dumbbells to each side of the shoulders with elbows below wrists.
  2. Press dumbbells upward until arms are extended overhead.
  3. Lower to sides of shoulders and repeat.

Upright rows


This is another exercise you can incorporate in your full-body or upper-body workouts! It targets mainly the deltoids but also hits your traps which spans from your upper to mid-back. And if you're new to this exercise, swap out the barbell for a pair of dumbbells!

How to do it:

  1. Load up a barbell with the weight you want to use and stand facing it with your feet around shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing down) shoulder-width apart. Pick the bar up, bend at the knees, and keep your back straight.
  3. Keeping your back straight and eyes facing forwards, lift the bar straight up while keeping it as close to your body as possible (you should pull the bar up to around chest height - nearly touching your chin).
  4. Pause, and then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.

Seated bent-over rear delt raise


Remember, don't neglect the rear delts! This muscle group is located on the backside of the shoulders and upper back, and keeping it strong is crucial for helping stabilize the shoulder joint, maintain good posture, and create a better balance for pressing exercises. The primary muscle being targeted is the posterior deltoid, but it also works other large muscles in your back, making it a good exercise to incorporate into your back days.

How to do it:

  1. Grab dumbbells in either hand, sit down on a bench, lean forward, and rest the weights above your feet.
  2. Stay bent forward as you raise your arms to the sides until the dumbbells are in line with your shoulders.
  3. Bring the weights back down and repeat.

Dumbbell shrugs


This killer exercise targets the trapezius muscles which are located on either side of your neck. They control the movement of your shoulder blades, but also your neck and upper back. Again, beginners can swap put the barbell for a pair of dumbbells!

How to do it:

  1. Stand holding a dumbbell on each hand and at your sides.
  2. Elevate shoulders as high as possible, squeezing your traps hard at the top.
  3. Pause for a moment, then lower and repeat.

Front raise to lateral raise


This exercise is two-in-one! It helps strengthen the middle deltoids and the anterior deltoids. Plus, it increases the muscle's time under tension making it great for building muscle! This is a great burnout exercise to end your shoulder workout.

How to do it:

  1. Grasp dumbbells in both hands. Position dumbbells in front of the upper thigh area with elbows straight or slightly bent.
  2. Raise dumbbells forward and upward until upper arms are above in a horizontal position.
  3. Lower and raise upper arms to sides until elbows are shoulder height. Maintain elbows' height equal to wrists.
  4. Lower and repeat.​​​​

These are six of the best shoulder exercises to add to your routine, but there are so many more you can do to promote muscle growth in your shoulders! If you want to build a better effective workout plan and grow shoulders like boulders then look no further than the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts every week, but that's not all. There are so many newly added features that will take your training and diet to the next level!

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