Sometimes, when you’re focusing on the mirror, you get caught up in training big, show muscle groups such as the chest, arms, back, and legs, the shoulders can be forgotten about. Don’t forget about the shoulders!
Not only do undertrained shoulders become very noticeable from your front, back and sides, because they are so close to your chest, back, and arm muscles, they can affect your workouts as well.
Shoulders do a lot of the work when training any of the upper body muscle groups, therefore under-trained shoulders can lower the amount of weight your upper body can lift.
Having a well-balanced workout schedule is very important, you should be training shoulders, as well as any other upper body muscle group twice a week. However, there is no way to train all three shoulder muscles in isolation.
This article will explain what the shoulder muscle group consists of, how these muscles will work in your workout schedule, and what exercises you can do to make the most out of your shoulders.
The Shoulder Muscle Group
The shoulder muscle group is formed of only three muscles, all of which are called deltoids or ‘delts’. There are the anterior, posterior, and lateral deltoids, that all sit in different places on your shoulder and are used in different exercises.
It is almost impossible to completely isolate each deltoid as, depending on the movement, different muscles in the upper body will be working alongside them.
The anterior delts are the muscle that sits on the front of your shoulder, connecting your chest and your arms. Its main use is to raise the arm forward or to advance your arm, bringing your arm across your chest area.
Due to its placing, the anterior deltoid is usually worked during chest and arm exercises and is not normally focused on when actually training shoulders.
The posterior delts are found at the back of your shoulder between your lats and your arms. The opposite to the anterior deltoid, its main function is to move the arm backward.
This deltoid is more unique when it comes to workouts and is trained when performing exercises such as rows and reverse pecs. Because throughout our lives we use our arms in front of us more than behind us, the posterior deltoid is typically the weaker of the three deltoids.
The lateral delts are found sandwiched in between the two other deltoids and sit on the top of our shoulders next to the traps. The lateral deltoid is used to move the arm outside, away from the body. This could be sideways or upwards. Therefore are used in workouts such as the side lift or any press that is performed laterally.
When Should I Train Shoulders?
There are five major muscle groups, the chest, back, arms, legs, and shoulders. All of the muscle groups will overlap at some point during certain workouts, so it is important to plan your schedule around which muscle groups are more likely to overlap.
The legs are the muscle group that is mostly solitary and only overlaps with the upper body during a few workouts. However, the upper body is a concoction of overlapping muscles at the heart of which is the shoulders.
When dividing the upper body into a workout schedule that allows you to train each muscle group twice a week, it is impossible to plan around the muscle groups themselves. Instead, you should divide the upper body into ‘push’ and ‘pull’.
‘Push’ exercises are forefronted by the chest, any exercise that requires you to push your arms out in front of you will train a range of muscles through your chest, arms and shoulders. When training ‘push’ exercises, the anterior deltoid of the shoulder does a lot of work as it is used to bring the arm forward.
The anterior deltoid does so much work during chest exercises that if you are doing these exercises right, then you won’t have to single out the anterior deltoid when training shoulders.
‘Pull’ exercises are mainly focused on the back and involve any exercise that requires you to pull your arms toward your body, again, training across a range of upper body muscle groups including the back, arms, and shoulders.
‘Pull’ exercises are where you train the shoulders the most as you can single out workouts for the posterior and lateral deltoids.
When you divide the upper body muscle groups into ‘push’ and ‘pull’ exercises then you should have a workout schedule that looks like this:
- Day 1 - Push
- Day 2 - Pull
- Day 3 - Legs
- Day 4 - Push
- Day 5 - Pull
This is the most efficient way to train every muscle group while giving a 48 hour period for the muscles in that group to recover, so you don’t overtrain a muscle group and cause a potential injury.
On your ‘push’ days you should be training your anterior deltoid of the shoulder, this can be easily done with bench pressing and most chest workouts.
On the ‘pull’ days, you will be working your posterior and lateral shoulder muscles, these shoulder muscles require specific workout routines to build effectively, although they do work during back exercises.
There are many effective shoulder exercises that can work your posterior, lateral, and anterior delts to build muscle evenly across your shoulders. Here are just a few you should try out and the muscles that they work.
Overhead Press (Anterior, Posterior, And Lateral)
The overhead press requires you to sit down with your back straight and spine neutral. You take a barbell, grip it with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart and your hands facing forward.
Lift the bar so that it is just underneath your chin, making sure your elbows are facing downwards and the bar is resting on your palms, this is the starting position. Press the bar overhead until your elbows are locked and arms are straight, then slowly lower the bar down to the starting point.
The overhead press is a fantastic shoulder exercise as it uses all three deltoids. You can switch the barbell for dumbbells and focus more on each side of your body to find the weaker side and train accordingly.
Wide-Grip Row (Posterior)
The wide grip row requires a row machine and helps define the posterior delts, as well as the upper back. Set up a regular seated row and use a straight bar attachment. Grip the bar with a wide grip toward the ends of the bar with your hands facing forward and your palms on the top of the bar.
Pull the bar until you touch your chest and feel a strong contraction in your upper back, slowly return the bar to the starting position, and repeat.
Side Lifts (Lateral)
Side lifts are one of the more famous shoulder exercises and are very important for developing lateral deltoids. Sit on the end of a bench with two dumbbells in hand, and your palms facing your sides.
Start with the two dumbbells on each side of your body with your arms parallel to your sides. Then slowly lift your arms out into a T-pose until your arms are straight. Then slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
It is important to maintain a well-balanced exercise routine, you should be training each muscle group no more than twice a week with a 48-hour gap in between each training session for that muscle group.
Shoulders are the heart of the upper body when working out and it is important to continue to develop your shoulders alongside the rest of your upper body.
We also created a list of the best exercises for shoulder pain that you can try to help you recover quickly.