Best Shoulder Exercises for Mass and Size

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5 Best Shoulder Exercises for Gaining Mass (with videos)

The Shoulders are made up of 3 muscle groups. The anterior(front), medial(middle) and posterior(rear) deltoids. Each head will require different lifting exercises/techniques in order to fully develop the shoulder muscles so let’s take a look at some of the best shoulder exercises for mass and size to help you really develop those shoulder muscles!

Best Shoulder Exercises for Mass and Size

The following shoulder exercises should all play a part in your shoulder workouts to build help build quality mass and size in the shoulders:

1. The Barbell Overhead Press/ Shoulder Press/ Military Press

The number one best shoulder exercise for mass and size is the overhead press. The overhead press is also referred to as shoulder press and military press. In this article, we will refer to it as an overhead press. The overhead press is the king of shoulder exercises as it works all 3 heads of the shoulder muscle.

To perform the overhead press, grab a barbell just over shoulder-width apart and position the weight up by your front shoulders. To do this you may have the clean the weight from the floor up to your shoulders or if you have a rack you can place the weight on you can use that. When gripping the bar you should grip it the way you would when performing the bench press. The bar should be in the base of your palm and not close to your fingers.

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Elbows need to be forward and positioned in front of the barbell when you are holding the weight. This can take some getting used to but just remember to reposition your elbows forward in front of the bar after every rep and you should be fine. Do not flare your arms out so that they are parallel to the floor. Elbows should always be forward in front of the bar at the beginning of the lift. Keep your chest up and concentrate on looking forward. Not up or down. Look straight in front of you.

Now focus on pushing the weight straight up above your head to arm’s length. You will need to tilt your head back slightly to allow the bar to pass in a straight line. Once you have done this and the bar has reached around the forehead level, try and get under the bar by putting your head forward so that your chin is tucked down by your chest. Lockout everything at the top and then lower the weight in a controlled manner back down and rest it back on your shoulders/top chest for a brief second before attempting the next rep.

Remember when bringing the bar back down you will need to tilt your head back slightly to allow the bar to pass back down in a straight line. Check out some of mark Rippetoes overhead press videos on youtube for more great tips on how to perform this lift. Il put one up for you here to help you see the basic movement for this exercise.

For a far more detailed explanation of this movement check out the video below on how to do a barbell shoulder press.

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Although similar to the overhead press, the dumbbell shoulder press may feel a little awkward at first. The range of movement is different to that of the overhead press and using dumbbells will bring your stabilizer muscles into play a lot more. If you haven’t performed the overhead press with dumbbells for a while expect to be a little shakier than usual.

Drop the weight a little if you have to in order to maintain good form.

To start with grab a bench and position the back of the seat to be either completely upright or with a slight incline, depending on what you feel is more comfortable. Grab a pair of dumbbells and start the movement with them positioned to the side of your body just above your shoulders/delts. Grip the dumbbells firmly with wrists kept straight and push the dumbbells up over your head bringing them in towards each other near the top of the movement.

A lot of people won’t bother bringing the dumbbells in towards each other at the top of the lift. Instead, they will lock their arms out at the top and fully extend their arms. Locking your arms out at the top of the movement actually involves your triceps a lot more so than your delts/shoulder muscle. For this reason, I would not recommend locking out your arms.

Yes, the tricep muscle is activated in the lift but this is a shoulder workout, not a tricep workout. We don’t need to be stimulating the tricep muscle any more so than we already are. Stick to bringing the dumbbells in towards each other near the top of the movement to keep the tension on the delts and help you perform more reps.

3. Front Raises

Front raises isolate the anterior (front) head of the shoulder. Take hold of a pair of dumbbells using an overhand grip, and position them either down towards your side by your thighs or in front of your thighs. Palms should be facing inwards towards your body. Raise a dumbbell (or both) up in front of you whilst keeping the arms straight. Alternatively, if you have the dumbbells positioned down by your sides you can raise the dumbbell while twisting your hand to face downwards towards the floor at the end of the movement if you wish to do so.

The elbow may be slightly bent to make the raise more comfortable should you wish to do so. Raise the weight to around eye level and then lower it back to the starting position.


If you wish to do so you can also raise the dumbbell straight up over your head. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Try your best to keep strict form and ensure the weight is under control at all times. The weight should go straight up in front of you when lifting and not to the side. When lifting the dumbbell straight out in front of you to around chin/eye level is to reach towards the mirror or wall in front of you. This activates the muscle a lot more and can be more effective for muscle growth. This exercise can be done seated or standing and can also be performed with a barbell if required.

4. Side Raises/Lateral Raises

Side or lateral raises will target the side deltoid. Developing this can help give you that rounded shoulder look. Grasp two dumbbells and place them either down by your side with palms facing in, resting in front of your thighs with palms facing in or with dumbbells in front of your thighs facing in towards each other.

Raise your arms up and out towards the side focusing on using the side delt to raise the weight while keeping a slightly bent elbow. It’s also good to focus on raising the side of each dumbbell up where your pinky finger is positioned. This helps to keep your wrists in line with your elbows. Try and keep wrists inline or ever so slightly above elbows for best results.

Raise them to just below or equal shoulder height and then slowly back down to your sides. Try not to raise the dumbbells too high as this will work your traps. This exercise will require you to use a much lower weight than you normally would so be careful. Check out two variations of the side/lateral raise below:

5. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is quite a controversial exercise as many people believe it to be harmful to your shoulders and wrist. Depending on how you feel you can add this exercise into your routine if you wish to do so and should be safe if you perform it correctly using strict form. The barbell upright row will work your trapezius muscle if performed with a narrow grip. If you perform it with a wide grip it will work your side deltoid and your front deltoid. You may also feel your trap muscles working to a lesser extent.

For shoulder, development, grasp a barbell with hands at least shoulder-width apart using an overhand grip (palms facing towards your body). Pull the bar up towards your upper chest whilst leading with your elbows. Allow wrists to flex as the bar rises. Slowly lower the weight back down and repeat. Check out the below video for additional instructions.

Those are the best shoulder exercises for mass and size. Stick with these exercises and a few variations and you will add muscle mass to your shoulders.

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