Top 8 Shoulder Workout Routines of All Time

When it comes to making shoulder workouts a part of your exercise routine, it is important to pay extra attention to the effectiveness of the exercise you do, the sequence you follow, the weight, the number of reps, and the frequency and length of breaks between the exercises. Great shoulder workouts usually consist of 4 steps in terms of their sequences, combinations, and intensities as explained below –
 
Step 1 – Two multi-joint moves (Compound Exercises)
Step 2 – One single-joint free weight move
Step 3 – One single-joint machine move
Step 4 – Drop set – Machine
 
The shoulders or delts (deltoids) are categorized into three main parts – Front delt, Middle delt, and Rear delt. The steps 2 through 4 mentioned above can be repeated for all the three deltoids in varying sequences. It is necessary to keep rotating the order of the single-joint delt exercises. For example, if you have worked on your delts in this order today – “Front -> Middle -> Rear”, then start with the middle delt, followed by the rear delt, then front delt, and so on, in your following sessions.
 
This is required because your energy and focus levels are higher during the initial sets of the workout and if you continue with the same pattern for a long period of time, then the last delt you work on will become the weakest and smallest. Additionally, any routine becomes inefficient if followed continuously for over 5-7 weeks, as the body naturally, becomes habituated to the routine.
 
Don’t Warm Up to Muscle Failure 
Before you proceed to the list of pre-designed shoulder workout routines, please understand that the routines mentioned below do not include warm up sessions. We advise you to do a minimum of two warm-up exercises before the actual workout starts. The muscles are prepared for high-intensity lifting sets; do not wear them out with excessive warm-up sets.
 
Goal-based Approach
It is always better to set a clear goal for what you are working on. If you yearn for big and round delts, you will have to work out accordingly in order to get well-developed shoulders. Here’s a list of 8 shoulder workout programs for you. Select the one that you think would suit your body the most and follow it rigorously to achieve the goal you have set for yourself. Then you can choose another shoulder workout program to continue with.
Here’s a list of 8 shoulder workout programs for you. Select the one that you think would suit your body the most and follow it rigorously to achieve the goal you have set for yourself. Then you can choose another shoulder workout program to continue with.
 
Program 1 – The Beginner Routine
Program 2 – Front Delt
Program 3 – Middle Delt
Program 4 – Maximum Mass
Program 5 – Rear Delt
Program 6 – Better Shoulder Definition
Program 7 – Pre-exhaust
Program 8 – The Hardcore Routine
 

Let us understand each program in detail;

 Shoulder Workout Program 1 – The Start

  Exercise

  • 3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Machine Shoulder (Military) Press
  • 3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Side Lateral Raise
  • 3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Front Cable Raise
  • 3 sets, 12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Reverse Machine Flyes
    front cable raise
    Front Cable Raise

When you are first beginning with shoulder workout (or any other workout), your body needs to get comfortable with that particular exercise. This task is fairly difficult in the case of free weights, as balancing becomes hard. But when it comes to machines, there is a set path and you can easily adjust your body mechanics by working out on machines for a couple of weeks. Although free weights are better for mass-gain and muscle-building, we advise you to focus on your form (using machines). Move to the free weights only when you can easily control and balance the motion. 

 Shoulder Workout Program 2 – Front Delt

Exercise

  • 4 sets, 8-12 reps (2 minutes rest) of Barbell Shoulder Press
  • 4 sets, 8-12 reps (2 minutes rest) of Arnold Dumbbell Press
  • 3 sets, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Front Two-Dumbbell Raise
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Front Cable Raise
    barbell shoulder press
    Barbell Shoulder Press

     

If you are one of those people who never skip chest day in your shoulder workout routine, then you surely have strong front delts. As mentioned earlier, the front delts are trained during several other shoulder workout programs like the inclined pressing moves for the chest. But if your front delts aren’t strong enough, then it will eventually affect your chest strength and hold you back from building strong chest muscles. This shoulder workout is focused on your front delts. One thing you need to do is to give your body a rest of 48 hours before you start another shoulder workout session, so as to let your delts fully recover.

 Shoulder Workout Program 3 – Middle Delt

Exercise

  • 4 sets, 8 reps (2 minutes rest) of Barbell Shoulder Press
  • 3 sets, 8-10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Upright Barbell Row
  • 3 sets, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of One-Arm Side Laterals
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Side Lateral Raise
    side lateral raise
    Side Lateral Raise

     

To build a body that resembles a V-shape, you need bigger and broader middle delts. This shoulder workout routine focuses on your middle delts and helps to create an illusion of a smaller waist. Alternate this routine with a more balanced routine (Like the maximum mass routine mentioned below). It’s advised to follow this routine in the beginning of your shoulder workout when your strength is maximum.

 Shoulder Workout Program 4 – Maximum Mass

Exercise

  • 4 sets, 6,6,8,10 reps (2 minutes rest) of Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • 3 sets, 8,8,10 reps (2 minutes rest) of Upright Barbell Row
  • 3 sets, 8,10,12 reps (1 minute rest) of Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
  • 3 sets, 8,10,12 reps (1 minute rest) of Side Lateral Raise
  • 3 sets, 8,10,12 reps (1 minute rest) of Standing Front Barbell Raise Over Head

 

This shoulder workout routine begins with the most demanding exercise—the multi-joint press. Two multi-joint presses followed by single-joint moves for each of the delt is how we should structure this routine. This routine is rock solid and helps you achieve maximum mass gain. A reverse pyramid scheme is being followed here which helps you do more sets to muscle failure. During the first two sets, aim for fairly heavy weights as the number of reps is low. Decrease about 5 pounds on both the sides, subsequently, during the last two sets and enlist a spotter for minimal help. The rear delts are the weakest, in general, because front delts get worked up during chest days and middle delts are worked upon during the multi-joint moves. So in this routine, we do rear delts before the other two, while you have more energy left. However, if you feel that your rear delts are fairly strong and balanced, in your shoulder workout, with respect to the other two delts then go ahead and keep on rotating the sequence of the three delt workouts.

 Shoulder Workout Program 5 – Rear Delt

Exercise

  • 4 sets, 8-10 reps (2 minutes rest) of Standing Barbell Press Behind Neck
  • 4 sets, 8-10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
  • 3 sets, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Cable Rear Delt Fly
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Reverse Machine Flyes

In the previous shoulder workout routines, we took a small step towards working on your rear delts. However, if you feel that your rear delts are still lagging behind, (which is usually the case with beginners and pros alike) then follow this rear delt shoulder workout routine for 4-8 weeks or alternate it with a more balanced routine like the one mentioned above (Maximum Mass). When fully developed, there’s nothing more impressive than a pair of rear delts protruding outwards as if one is wearing shoulder pads for football. Also, rear delts are important for shoulder stability while exercising. Weaker rear delts have adverse effects on other exercises as well and limit you in many ways. 

 Shoulder Workout Program 6 – Better Shoulder Definition

Exercise

  • 4 sets, 8-12 reps (2 minutes rest) of Seated Barbell Military Press
  • Superset – 3 sets, 10-12 reps (no rest) of Side Lateral Raise
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (no rest) of Front Cable Raise
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Upright Cable Row
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (no rest) of Reverse Machine Flyes
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Lateral Raise – With Bands
    seated barbell military press
    Seated Military Press

If your goal also includes a better definition of your shoulder, then only lifting heavy weights is not going to help you. In this shoulder workout routine, you will focus on boosting your size and then doing a high volume work. This facilitates an EPOC (or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) which results in burning a higher amount of calories both during and after the workout and you’ll be able to feel the muscle burn. This routine will help you move really fast.

Shoulder Workout Program 7 – Pre-exhaust

Exercise

  • 4 sets, 8-10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Standing Low-Pulley Deltoid Raise
  • 3 sets, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Barbell Front Raise
    barbell front raise
    Barbell Front Raise
  • 3 sets, 10 reps (60-90 seconds rest) of Reverse Machine Flyes
  • 3 sets, 8-10 reps (2 minutes rest) of Machine Shoulder (Military) Press
    shoulder military press machine
    Shoulder (Military) Press
  • 3 sets, 10-12 reps (2 minutes rest) of Upright Barbell Row
    upright barbell row
    Upright Barbell Row

In the case of shoulder workouts, the triceps play an important role, especially for the multi-joint exercises. If you feel that your triceps give out even before you have attained muscle failure for shoulders then you need to follow this pre-exhaust routine. Here, we first work on the single-joint movements in order to keep the energy of the triceps intact while exhausting the shoulders. Then, we move on to the multi-joint movements where the shoulder muscles are fairly exhausted and it is easier to attain muscle failure before the triceps.

However, this has a downside too. If you start with the single-joint movements, then although you will be stronger on the single-joint exercises, your multi-joint strength will be the lowest as you will be already exhausted by the time you start doing it. To avoid this, go for lower weights during your single-joint shoulder workout so that you can push maximum weights during multi-joint movements.

Shoulder Workout Program 7 – The Hardcore Routine

Exercise

  • 3 sets, 4 to 6 reps (3 minutes rest) of Seated Barbell Military Press – (80 to 85% of 1RM)
  • 3 sets, 4 to 6 reps (3 minutes rest) of Side Lateral Raise – (75 to 80% of 1RM)
  • 3 sets, 6 to 8 reps (2 minutes rest) of Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise or Barbell Rear Delt Row
  • 3 sets, 8 to 10 reps (60 seconds rest) of Face Pull – (70 to 75% of 1RM)
    barbell rear delt row
    Barbell Rear Delt Row

If you aim to have shoulders that are really strong, then your focus should be on the 4 to 6 or 5 to 7 rep range. If you don’t focus on getting stronger, you can’t continue to get bigger. Progressive overload, i.e., increasing the weight over time is the key to getting stronger and eventually bigger.

In shoulder workouts, it is really tricky to select the best exercises that facilitate progressive overload without causing any impingement or injury. The above routine is designed after several different combinations and frequencies, tested on multiple body builders over time.

You must make a note that with heavier weights, you need more time to recover and it also limits the numbers of sets you can do each week.

Common mistakes 

There are some common mistakes that most people do while setting up a shoulder workout routine and then wonder why are they unable to see the results that they expect despite putting maximum hours into their shoulder workout regime. You can be smart and avoid the following mistakes to see massive gains!

 Focusing on more reps instead of heavy weight

Throughout your workout regimen, focus on lifting more and more weight, especially in the case of shoulders, to build massive delts that girls would dig in and the guys would want to know about. You might have heard a lot about going for 14-16 reps from your favorite stars but what they don’t tell you is a number of steroids that they inject into their bodies. In fact, when on steroids, it is highly advisable to go for higher reps than weight.

Not Allowing Recovery

If you want your muscles to function at maximum efficiency then you must give them abundant time to fully recover from fatigue during workouts and failure after the workout. Follow the rest timings rigorously and make sure that you keep a gap of at least 48 hours between two consecutive chest and shoulder workout routines.

Not Attaining Muscle Failure

Your entire sequence of sets can go to waste if you do not attain muscle failure at the end of shoulder workout program. Make sure you select weights optimally and in case your triceps experience fatigue before your shoulders, try following the pre-exhaust routine. Happy Exercising!

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