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How to Build Big Thick Shoulder Muscles

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These workouts are bound to help you get the shoulder muscles you've always wanted.

These workouts are bound to help you get the shoulder muscles you've always wanted.

The Best Way to Build Shoulder Muscles

If you want to build big, thick, cannonball sized-shoulders so wide that you have to turn sideways when you walk through doorways, then keep reading.

When weight training to develop the deltoids, you want to make sure you work all of your shoulder muscles. This means you must work all three heads in the shoulders, anterior (front), middle (or side) and posterior (rear).

When trying to grow big shoulders, if you choose to use pressing movements to develop them, you will have to replace barbell pressing movements with other exercises that involve the shoulders (like barbell incline and flat bench press), so you don’t overtrain your shoulders and possibly injure yourself.

For me, the best weightlifting exercises for developing big, thick slabs of shoulder muscles are the clean and press, the standing military press (or push press), and lateral raises using cables.

The Standing Military Press

Using a barbell, load it with the amount of weight you want to use for your first set on a squat rack that is chest high. Grab the bar with a wider than shoulder-width grip with your hands facing forward (which is called a Pronated grip).

Lift the bar off the rack and step back a step or two. With your knees slightly bent, push the weight upwards until your arms lock out at the elbow (straight arms). Now, with control, lower the weight to your collar bone and then slowly press the weight back to the fully arms extended position. That is one repetition.

Repeat the required amount of repetitions for your set. Make sure to do between 6 to 10 reps per set and increase the weight of each set. If you find you can do more than 10 reps on a set then the weight on the bar needs to be increased. Try increasing the weight to five to ten-pound increases. This exercise will work your anterior (front) and middle (side) Deltoid muscles.

The photo shows the hand position after pulling the barbell upwards and flicking hands under the bar then pressing the bar upwards.

The photo shows the hand position after pulling the barbell upwards and flicking hands under the bar then pressing the bar upwards.

The Clean and Press

The clean and press exercise is a great compound movement. It works many more muscles than just your shoulder muscles. The clean and press also works muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, buttocks, triceps, and the trapezius muscles. This exercise will get your heart pumping even with a light weight. Therefore it is also a bit of a cardio exercise. However, the full benefits of receiving cardio work from lifting weights are not being discussed here.

For the clean and press exercise, you want to start off by putting a barbell on the floor in front of you with the amount of weight on it you will be using for the first set of this exercise. Step up to the bar, placing your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.

Bend down lowering your butt towards the floor and grab a hold of the bar with an overhand grip. While in this position, make sure your knees are not shooting out past your toes, if they are then you are bent over far too much.

Make sure while doing this exercise, that your back does not arch, keep it as straight as possible throughout or you risk injury. Now you are ready to lift, pulling your shoulders back slightly. Look ahead and lift the weight as you stand up, and just as you are about to have your body erect (or fully upright), you need to snap the weight upwards (pulling the bar straight upwards) towards your chest (at the height of your nipples) level. Then, at that point, flick your hands under the bar pressing the bar up, just like you would when performing the military press.

After your arms are fully extended, you can then lower the weight back to the starting position. That was one repetition. It is better to use perfect form on this exercise than it is the amount of weight you put on the bar. Do 6 to 10 reps per set and perform 3 or 4 work sets. A work set does not include a warm up set.

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Lateral Raises using Cables

I prefer using cables for lateral raises because they keep constant tension on the muscle and you do not have to use really heavy weight to build the muscle. When using light weights you will be able to more easily perfect these movements.

Side Lateral Raises

These raises are performed by standing with your side beside the cable machine. Grab the pulley with your outer arm in front of you, across your body, with the pulley being at the lowest position. Pull the weight up and outward, raising your arm so that your elbow and upper arm are parallel to the floor. Hold for a second and then return to the starting position.

Bent Rear Laterals

Bent rear laterals are performed bent over at the waist and with the knees bent ( just like when using dumbells). With your side beside the cable machine, grab the pulley with your outer arm. Pull the cable across your body and out to the side, using your shoulders to move the weight. Imagine your arms as hooks and focus on your shoulders doing the work. Once done one side then switch to the other arm. Switching to your other side beside the machine.

Front Cable Raises

These are performed by standing facing the cable machine with the pulley at the bottom. Grab the cable with one hand and raise the cable up in front of you until your arm is parallel to the floor (like you would with a dumbbell front lateral raise). Lower the weight to the beginning and that was one rep. Perform your reps for one shoulder then switch to the other arm.

Alternate Front Cable Raise

Try this exercise with your back to the machine so the cable is being pulled from behind you. This angle puts a bit of a different stress on your front Deltoid causing it to grow even bigger and thicker.

Good Luck!

When performing lateral raises, do not go too heavy or you won’t get the full benefit of using the cables. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Work on getting an incredible pump filling the muscles up with blood.

There you have some great shoulder exercises that will help you to build the biggest, most massive Deltoids that you have always dreamed of.

Remember to be consistent with your workouts. Perform a shoulder workout approximately every 72 to 96 hours. This will be enough, especially if you are also doing a chest workout in this time frame.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Grant Handford


rsynd from United States on April 22, 2012:

Overhead presses for the win!

Grant Handford (author) from Canada on November 24, 2010:

Aaron Hi and thanks.

I think doing decline bench would be fine. Better than doing incline or flat.

What I recommend when trying to grow is make sure you are training all muscles that work together in the same workout even if it is just shoulders you want to grow I would work them out during the same workout as chest and triceps. That way you won't overtrain them as easily and they will have time to heal. Hope that helps.

Aaron B - on November 23, 2010:

Nice tips. I plan on adding clean & presses back into my workouts. What is your opinion on doing decline barbell presses for chest instead of flat and incline during a cycle where you're focusing more on developing bigger shoulders?

Grant Handford (author) from Canada on October 28, 2010:

Thanks bojangles I agree about how hard they are to grow. It takes some time to figure out what works for you.

Thanks for stopping by.


bojanglesk8 on October 28, 2010:

Good hub. The shoulders when fully developed are probably the most aesthetic and impressive body part. Unfortunately, they're one of the hardest body parts (at least for me) to make grow!

Grant Handford (author) from Canada on September 25, 2010:

AJ thanks.

The military press has been causing me problems as well with my lower back. It sounds like a common irritation and injury for us that like to lift.



fundamentallife on September 25, 2010:

Great workout tips. Voted up and awesome!

I love the standing military press, but since my back started playing up this exercise is a big no, no!!

Thanks for sharing your muscle building knowledge.


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