Whether you want to hit the stage, the beach, or just turn heads in a T-shirt, creating muscular and defined shoulders should be a high priority. Competitors must focus on it, but even if you're new to lifting, targeted shoulder training can give you some quick gains that will transform your physique in record time.
Adding mass to your quads or back is going to take time, but the three deltoid muscles of the shoulder are relatively small and even a tiny amount of muscle can make an enormous difference to any physique.
As a former Ms. Olympia competitor and a longtime trainer at Gold's Gym Venice, aka "the mecca," I've seen and performed countless shoulder workouts. These are some of my favorites, starting with a workout for beginners and moving on to a hardcore routine only for advanced ladies.
What Every Woman Needs to Know About the Shoulder
The shoulder joint, also known as the glenohumeral joint, centers around the point where the humerus fits into an indentation on the scapula known as the glenoid cavity. Most of the muscles of the upper body connect around this joint, giving the shoulder a wide range of motion that is both a blessing and a curse.
Why a curse? Because your shoulder mobility can sometimes enable you to lift with seriously sketchy form, whether you realize it or not. More than almost every other body part, using the correct form and increasing your weight conservatively is essential for saving wear and tear on this joint! Nothing will impair your progress like a shoulder injury.
The deltoid itself is a triangular muscle group that covers the shoulder joint. It has three portions or "heads" with three distinct functions, although they all chip in to some degree on some of the best shoulder exercises, like presses.
Anterior deltoid: The anterior deltoid lifts the arm to the front and rotates the arm medially, or toward the midline of the body. The primary isolation movements for anterior delts are variations of front raises, which you can vary by using different hand positions—palms facing in, palms facing down, etc.
Lateral deltoid: The middle or lateral delt abducts the arm, orarm, or lifts it away from the body. Exercises for the lateral deltoid include any form of lateral raise, as well as an upright row—particularly with a wide grip.
Rear deltoid: The posterior or rear delt extends the arm behind the body and rotates the arm outward. Exercises for the rear deltoid include face pulls, rear delt flyes, and bent-over raises, among others.
Outfit your home gym with dumbbells and be ready for anything!
Shoulder-Building Workouts for Women
Unless we are involved in sports, day-to-day living rarely requires us to lift things above our head. If you are new to working out, please do not go straight into a heavy overhead press. Do a thorough warm-up with light weights—like 2-3 pounds for most women.
Here's my favorite warm-up for lifters of all levels!
Beginner's Shoulder Workout for Women
Repeat this workout twice a week, with at least 72 hours in between each workout. Your form will start to feel locked in at about week 2 or 3, then you can start to increase the weights and use other variations of the same movements.
When you see the reps decreasing, it indicates an increase in the weight you should use. But remember, reps aren't a hard-and-fast rule—they're a guide. If the workout says 12 reps but you can get 3 more with good form, do the extra 3 reps. Then, increase the weight slightly during the next set. Alternately, if the sets say 12, but you can barely get 8, reduce the weight. Never sacrifice form for weight!
Trying to make the most of your beginner gains? A post-workout shake is a no-brainer. Earn it in the gym and enjoy!
Women's Overall Shoulder-Building Workout
This workout is for someone who isn't new to lifting, who wants to add quality size to each part of their deltoid, is pain-free, and understands good form. If you're wanting to add size, it'll help you do that, but if you're trying to slim down and just want your shoulders to stand out and look "toned," it fits the bill there, too.
Because this is an intense workout, I only recommend performing it once a week. Each time you do, I recommend switching variations of the same movement: dumbbell, machine, cable, barbell, and so on. No matter what movement you select, though, you should start with the same warm-up I used in the beginner's workout. Trust me: It works!
Women's Width-Building Shoulder Workout
Make those shoulders pop by putting the focus on the lateral deltoids! You can do this workout for 4-6 weeks straight, or it may be one that you use every third shoulder workout, alternating it with some of the other workouts here.
High-volume shoulder training works better with the fatigue-fighting ingredients in the best pre-workouts.
Women's Advanced High-Volume Shoulder Workout
You're an experienced lifter, looking to shake up your shoulder workout and shock the muscles into some new development. Well, get ready!
This a personal favorite of mine, but it's a lot of work. You'll do eight exercises, totaling 40 sets, with both high and low reps. You can use this workout weekly for 4-6 weeks, or alternate it for every other shoulder workout with any of the other less-intense workouts here.
If you don't have access to a machine for lateral raises, either a resistance band or a single-arm cable raise will work. And on all moves, don't be afraid to lift lighter than you would for a workout with less volume.