Boulder Shoulders!

Build some amazing boulder shoulders, just like me!

Have you ever heard the expression "softballs for shoulders"? If you haven't, you probably need to work those deltoids. Your shoulders add an important dimension to your physique; width. In this article I will go through shoulder anatomy, function, exercises, and programs to help get those "softballs for shoulders".


The shoulder region consists of the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid muscles. But if you include the entire shoulder girdle, you have to consider the upper trapezius and rotator cuff muscles.

The anterior deltoid muscles are those which are visible just to the outside of your chest (pectoral) muscles. The medial deltoids are located on the outside part of your shoulder. The posterior deltoids are located further back on your shoulder just below the bottom/outer portion of you upper trapezius muscle. The upper trapezius muscles run down the back of your neck and extend out just to your medial deltoid and down to insert with the middle trapezius. The rotator cuff muscles are deep muscles and connect from various parts of your thoracic region to either the front, side, or back side of your humerus.


Each of the shoulder girdle muscles have individual functions that have the overall function of lifting your arm.

The anterior deltoid brings your arm forward, in, and rotates in. The medial deltoid brings your arm out to the side. The posterior deltoid brings your arm back and helps to rotate it out. The upper trapezius raises your shoulder blade (scapula) up towards your ears. And, finally, the rotator cuff muscles help to stabilize your arm during movements and serve to rotate the arm in or out.

The reason I have included function in this article is due to the fact if you know what a muscle does you can figure out a way to make it bigger through resistive exercise.


A) Anterior Deltoid:

  • Dumbbell front Raises: Use a grip where your thumb is facing the ceiling. This will put your arm in a better position to isolate the muscle.
  • Bench Press: Yes, the good 'ol bench press not only works your chest muscles but also the anterior deltoid.
  • Military Press: Use a slightly more narrow grip than normal to increase the amount of force placed on these muscles. If you have a Cybex Military Press Machine use the inside grip with your palms facing each other.

    B) Medial Deltoid:

  • Barbell Upright Rows: Using a grip just inside shoulder width grip the bar palms down and pull up just under your chin.
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Grip a Dumbbell in each hand and bring out to the side of your body. Keep a slight bend in your elbows no greater than 15 . Bring the dumbbells to about 90 from your body. I prefer a seated position to keep from swinging and cheating.

  • Partial Lateral Raises: In a standing position, grip two dumbbells and hold down to your side. With arms completely straightened bring the dumbbells to approximately 45 from your body. You will use a much greater weight with this exercise because you are using a smaller range of motion.

    C) Posterior Deltoid

  • Reverse Pec Deck: Sit backwards on the pec deck machine. You can either grip the handles with your hands parallel to the floor or like you were going to do flyes. Keeping your elbows up, bring the handles back even with your shoulders.
  • Incline Bench Reverse Flyes: Put the incline bench up to about a 75 angle. Sit backwards on the bench (with your face to the pad). Hold a Dumbbell in each hand and let them hang straight down to the ground. Pull your elbows up like you are trying to pinch your shoulder blades together. Notice: Pull with your elbows, not your hands.

    D) Upper Trapezius

  • Shoulder Shrugs: Using a shoulder width grip, grab a bar with palms facing towards your body. Keep your elbows straight. Try to bring your shoulder blades up towards your ears. Try not to come up on your toes or bench your elbows.
  • Behind the Back Shoulder Shrugs: Stand with the bar behind you and grip it with palms facing behind you. Try to bring the bar just above your glutes. You will tend to flex your elbows a little on this exercise but it helps to hit the muscle at a little different angle.
  • Dumbbell Shrugs: Grip a Dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in towards your legs. Bring your shoulders up towards your ears. This exercise also helps to work your traps a little differently than regular shrugs. These tend to help separate your trapezius from your medial deltoid.

    E) Rotator Cuff

  • These muscles are very important to strengthen but are not usually done in the gym atmosphere. If your gym happens to have TheraBand you can work these muscles using the TheraBand
  • Internal Rotation: Work one arm at a time. Keep your elbow in touching your side and flexed to 90 . Stretch the band by stepping away from where it is attached. You will want the attachment place to be on the same side as the shoulder you are working (e.g. for right arm have the attachment on the outside of your right shoulder). With your palm facing towards your body, bring your hand in towards your stomach.
  • External Rotation: Same as Internal Rotation but you will want the attachment of the TheraBand on the opposite side of your body (e.g. for right arm have the attachment on the outside of your left shoulder). Using the same grip, start with your palm to your stomach and rotate your shoulder out away from your body.


    As I have mentioned before in my articles, I always have at least two programs for each body part I am working. Please note that I do not include posterior deltoid exercises in my shoulder programs. These are worked with the back programs (see other articles). Also, notice that with decreasing number of repetitions you are increasing the amount of weight.

    Program 1

    • Smith Machine Military Press: x15, 12, 10, 8
    • Dumbbell Lateral Raises: x 15, 12, 10, 8
    • Partial Lateral Raises: x12, 10, 8
    • Bar Upright Rows: x12, 10, 8
    • Dumbbell Front Raises: x12, 10, 8
    • Shoulder Shrugs: x15, 12, 10, 8, 6
    • Behind the Back Shoulder Shrugs: x12, 10, 8
    As a modification of the Dumbbell lateral raises you can do 3 sets of triple drop sets. For example (weight x reps): 40x7, 30x7, 20x7. Rest. 45x7, 35x7, 25x7. Rest. 50x7, 40x7, 30x7. There is no period of rest between consecutive sets.

    Program 2

    • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: x15, 12, 10, 8
    • Single Cable Lateral Raises: x15, 12, 10, 8
    • Partial Lateral Raises: x12, 10, 8
    • Dumbbell Upright Rows: x12, 10, 8
    • Single Cable Front Raises: x12, 10, 8
    • Shoulder Shrugs: x15, 12, 10, 8, 6
    • Dumbbell Shrugs: x12, 10, 8
    I hope that this article is beneficial to everyone who wishes to stimulate good shoulder growth and achieve the "Boulder Shoulders".