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Blasting Your Shoulders
By Frank Melfa of

Here is a workout that includes all the shoulder basics to blast your shoulders into shape:

  • 3 sets of Overhead Barbell Press (standing, using the rack) Reps: 10, 8, 6
  • 3 sets of Arnolds dumbbell presses (rotating your wrist) Reps: 10. 8, 6
  • 3 sets of Barbell Upright Rows Super Set with 3 sets of Lateral Raises Reps: 10, 8, 6
  • 3 sets of reverse flyes for rear delts facing down on an incline bench. Reps: 10, 10, 10
  • When supersetting upright rows with lateral raise, first do a set of upright rows, and then immediately do a set of lateral raise. Try to do 10 reps of lateral raise after each set of upright row. Pyramid your weight with upright rows: 10, 8, 6. That means increase the weight each set.
  • Use wrist straps for upright rows. You can order these from my site. Just go to the order page.

This workout is a total of 15 sets of shoulders that ties in all major heads of the rear delts. Here are some details on these and other shoulder exercises.

Shoulder Exercises:

The most basic and effective shoulder exercise that hits all three heads is an overhead or military press. The overhead press performed with either a barbell or with dumbbells is usually performed seated for lower back protection. I sometimes perform barbell overhead presses to the front, standing. I even like to cheat a little to push out the last few reps. For the most part, I use strict form.

Behind The Neck Military Presses: This used to be my favorite shoulder exercise. I was once able to press 245 pounds for six or seven reps! But one day it finally happened: I heard and felt my shoulder pop. I really thought it was over for me. It, meaning ever lifting a weight again. Luckily it turned out only to be a strain. When the bar is behind your neck, it puts your shoulders in an awkward position. A slight awkward movement can really do damage to the shoulders.

I still enjoy performing this exercise behind my neck because I get a good stretch in the shoulders and it limits the use of the anterior delts. The anterior delts get a lot of work from bench presses and other exercises. I just don't use nearly as much as I once did. When I do, I use a very light weight. That means no more 245 pounds! I now use the Smith Machine to perform this exercise.

Smith Machine Behind-the-Neck Presses are just as effective and safer than regular behind-the-neck presses. Even though your shoulders are still in a vulnerable position, the machine inhibits any awkward movements because it stabilizes the bar. The bar won't move to the right or to the left or father back, putting your shoulder in a bad position.

When performing this exercise, be sure to lower the bar slowly behind your neck. I like to lower the bar almost to my trap for a better stretch as shown in the photos, but it's not necessary. Just lower the bar like the exercise says, behind the neck, right before the vertebrae of your spine. And please remember, if it hurts, don't do it. You can always perform dumbbell overhead presses.

Dumbbell Overhead Presses: I have been performing more dumbbell overhead presses because they're easier on the shoulder joint. They are still very effective for developing the shoulders if done properly. You can perform regular overhead presses or Arnold presses, as Jeannine demonstrates below. For regular dumbbell overhead presses, start with the dumbbells held at ear level with your palms facing away from you. Slowly press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are almost fully extended. You want to maintain a slight bend in the elbows at the top. Be sure to push the dumbbells towards each other. You don't have to bang them together. This adds for fuller range of motion, since the dumbbells have to travel a little longer distance. This also allows you to squeeze your delts up top.

Arnold Presses: For a fuller range of motion, try performing Arnold Presses, (Yes, they are named after Arnold Schwarzenegger). With the dumbbells held in front of your chest with your palms facing you, (this grip is called a supinated grip) push the dumbbells up towards the ceiling gradually turning your wrists until your palms are facing away from you. Try not to push straight up. Instead, use a more circular motion while turning your wrists allowing for a greater range of motion. Jeannine is shown performing this exercise in a three-step process to emphasize the full range of motion. Just remember it's all one motion.

Barbell Upright Rows:
Another effective exercise for the shoulders is the upright row which, can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. I usually perform these with a barbell because I like to use heavy weights, but dumbbells are a great alternative. When using a barbell, take a thumb-width grip from the center of the bar with your arms fully extended. Your heels can be either together or slightly apart. I prefer to have my heels touching with my toes about three inches apart. From here, slowly pull the bar up and slightly away from your body and up to your chin, keeping your elbows are out. Pulling the body slightly away from your body rather than straight up will increase your range of motion and will work the shoulder more effectively.

When the weight is too heavy, I see people limit their range of motion by pulling the bar straight up to the chin rather than slightly away from the body and up to the chin. Also, when the weight is too heavy, I see people leaning back, hoisting the bar up, cheating big time. This could also result in serious lower back injury. So if you're one of these people, either lighten up the weight or try Smith Machine upright rows.

Smith Machine Upright Rows: Performing upright rows on the Smith Machine is almost like using a bar. But as I mentioned above, it won't let you cheat. You will find that you won't be able to use nearly as much weight using the Smith Machine as you can with the regular upright rows. You will also feel a better burn in your shoulders because you have to guide the bar down slowly. This means that there is constant pressure on your shoulders.

Dumbbell Upright Rows: When using dumbbells, be sure to keep your elbows out on the way up.Of all the different ways to perform upright rows, dumbbells allow for the fullest range of motion. Does that mean to limit this exercise to dumbbells? No, it's just another way of doing them. They are also an alternative if you feel shoulder pain with a bar. Dumbbells usually are less taxing on the shoulder joint regardless of the exercise.

Whenever performing any standing exercise such as: upright rows, biceps curls, or squats, stand with your back arched. There has been some controversy regarding this issue. The back is in a very strong position when arched by complimenting the natural curvature of the spine and protecting the low back from hyper-extending. Too often we see people injure themselves by leaning back and straining the lower back during a biceps curl or upright row. Will performing standing exercises in this position guarantee no injuries to the lower back? The answer is no, but a lot depends on how much weight you use, how properly you perform your exercises, and if you have had any past lower back injuries.

Lateral Raises: Lateral or side raises are probably one of the most improperly performed exercises. It looks simple: Raise two dumbbells to your sides, but yet difficult. The idea here is to isolate the side of your shoulders. Most people I see performing this exercise use too much weight and raise the dumbbells between the side and the front of their body. They do more of a front/side raise, rather than a strict side raise. I strongly suggest using light weight. Overhead presses and upright rows take care of your heavy work. Now it's time to lighten it up and do it right!

When performed properly, lateral raises can help develop the outer part of the shoulders, known as the medial deltoids. I view this exercise as a hammer and chisel to sculpt the outside sweep of the medial delts.

With two dumbbells at your sides, slowly raise your arms to your sides until your arms are parallel to the floor. Keep the elbows slightly bent with the palms of your hands facing the floor.

Keeping your shoulders back will also keep pressure on the medial deltoids. Only a slight bend in the elbows is needed to perform this exercise. Anything greater than a slight bend will work the anterior deltoids. Pretend to be pouring water from two pitchers by keeping your wrists down and palms facing the floor. This will assure to target the medial deltoids rather the anterior and posterior deltoids. Keeping the wrists down will also avoid assistance from the forearms.

Lateral raises with one arm

Lateral Raises can also be performed one arm at a time. Here you need to hold on to something with one hand such as the side of a squat rack and perform a lateral raise with the other hand. I slightly lean my body towards the working arm for leverage.

Reverse Flyes: This exercise isolates the rear deltoids, probably the most neglected muscles of the upper body. Reverse flyes can be done from a seated position or lying face down on an incline bench using two light dumbbells. I wouldn't recommend performing this exercise from a standing, bent-over position. This could really hurt your lower back.

I emphasize the word light. For most people, anything heavier than 15 pound dumbbells is too heavy. I use a maximum of 25 pound dumbbells. The rear delts are small muscles that do not require heavy weights to see results. I usually perform them on the incline bench as shown in the first set of photos, for lower back protection. You can also perform them seated on a flat bench using good form. Which ever way you choose, be sure to keep only a slight bend in the elbows throughout the entire range of motion. Raise the dumbbells to your sides or even slightly towards the front, forming a "Y" with your arms. Squeeze your shoulder blades together for one full second before slowly lowering the dumbbells. Try to stick your chest out as you squeeze your shoulders together.

Tips using the incline bench:

  • Start with your chest resting high on the bench. Notice I'm not sitting on the bench.
  • Stay on your toes. This allows a high position on the bench.
  • Keep your chest on the bench when raising the dumbbells. If you need to lift your chest completely off the bench, then the weight is too heavy.
  • Hold and squeeze your shoulder blades together before lowering the dumbbells.

Tips seated on bench:

  • Sit on the very end of a flat bench holding two light dumbbells under your thighs.
  • Stay up on your toes.
  • Raise the dumbbells to your sides, with a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Hold and squeeze your shoulder blades together before slowly lowering the dumbbells.

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