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6 Moves for Strong Shoulders

Develop Killer Delts While Keeping Your Joints Flexible and Healthy

author image Martin Rooney
Martin Rooney has been writing since 1999. He has contributed to "Men's Health," "Men's Fitness," "Muscle and Fitness," "FIGHT!," "Fighter's Only" and "Gracie Magazine." Rooney holds a Master of Health Science in physical therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in exercise science from Furman University.
6 Moves for Strong Shoulders
Eye-popping deltoids look impressive, but smaller muscles in the shoulder may be even more important. Photo Credit: theartofphoto/AdobeStock/

These days, everyone talks about the weight on their shoulders—whether it be from jobs, family, or the 73,000 emails they receive before 8:30 a.m. But the problem is that most people are so wrapped up with those metaphorical loads that they pay no attention to the literal ones—that is, people don’t give this monster of a muscle a second thought in the gym.

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In some ways, training your shoulders is a lot like taking care of your teeth (minus the whole flossing thing): you know it’s important but you usually rush through and forget about them until there’s a real problem.

Because the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, it’s also one of the most-often injured. So take some time to pay attention to your shoulders with these tactics and the following workout. The payoff: More strength, fewer injuries, and a better overall body.

Look for Balance

Use pulling moves to balance out your muscle development.
Use pulling moves to balance out your muscle development. Photo Credit: podushko/AdobeStock

Say you like to bench press. Fine. Besides working the chest, this popular weight room staple also works the anterior portion of the shoulder. The problem is that you’ll actually have shoulder problems if you overdevelop these muscles.

To tell if you’re out of balance, try this simple test. Stand sideways in front of a mirror. If you see a lot more muscle in front of your shoulder than the back, or your shoulders are rounded and positioned in front of your ears, it’s time to add more pulling exercises to your routine (try some of the pulling exercises in the workout below).

Find Full Extension

Many people, especially those who sit at desks, spend a lot of time with their shoulders rounded and forward (that’s called thoracic flexion for those scoring at home). Over time, this can cause you to lose the ability to properly extend the section of the spine that connects to your ribs. If this goes unchecked, overhead activities and lifting could cause injury. To counteract this effect, lie on your back overtop a foam roller. This will help you work out knots and increase thoracic extension.

Mind the Minors

Make sure you don't neglect the smaller muscles around your shoulder joint.
Make sure you don't neglect the smaller muscles around your shoulder joint. Photo Credit: Monkey Business/AdobeStock

When people think about the shoulder, they usually think of the pumpkin shaped deltoid muscle. While big delts look good, it doesn’t mean the other muscles around them are less important. In fact, the smaller muscles of the shoulder joint (particularly the rotator cuff, which is made up of four little muscles) greatly contribute to the stability and strength of the shoulder. Exercises like the front raise can help keep your rotator cuff and other small muscles in shape. You should also work toward balance by doing movements like lateral raises that require some external rotation.

The Balanced Shoulder Workout

To develop healthy and strong shoulders, aim for two shoulder-specific training sessions per week (though you’ll if you don’t have the time for two, just one of these workouts per week will yield results). The following two workouts has the appropriate balance for develop all muscles of the shoulder.

Photo Credit: Martin Rooney
Photo Credit: Martin Rooney
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