5 Best Shoulder Exercises You’ve Never Heard Of

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Building big, wide shoulders is a goal of most, if not all lifters. Sporting a couple of cannonballs under your T-shirt makes you look wide, confident and strong when just standing there. But for so many getting wider is frustrating.

You shoulder press for days, do every lateral raise imaginable and still don’t reap the rewards of all that toil and trouble. Do you do more reps? More sets? Or just chalk it up to poor genetics?

Maybe you just need a little kick in the pants – to step away from the familiar and get a little uncomfortable for a change. No, I’m not talking about doing an extra set or two or doubling up on shoulder presses while your training partner helps you grind out seven more forced reps. I’m talking about shifting gears a little and trying a few new exercises that could be the change you’re looking for.

Related: 3 Steps to Better Shoulder Workouts

These aren’t just alternatives to the tried and boring. Below are five shoulder exercises you actually may have never heard of before. They are challenging but effective. Try one, two or all five out for size (pun intended). Or simply check out the full shoulder program below.

Whichever you choose, just be reassured that it’s going to be uncomfortable. But isn’t that what you needed anyways?

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5 Best Shoulder Exercises You Need to Try

#1 – Reverse-grip press

If barbell and dumbbell presses have you fighting off yawns then it’s time to shake it up. Sure, there’s nothing coherently wrong with traditional presses – they are effective, efficient and enable you to lift a ton of weight. But over time you may need something slightly different. You also may be in a position where change is not only wanted but needed.

You could be suffering from a shoulder impingement or other reasons for discomfort and pain. The shoulder press (especially when dumbbells are used) places the shoulder joint in a vulnerable externally rotated position. Over time this can place major wear and tear on said joint making this move potentially dangerous.

The reverse-grip barbell press is an excellent alternative. Since the elbows function in a more neutral position the shoulder area is relieved of external rotation stress and can move under more control. Begin with a barbell held in an underhand grip about shoulder width or slightly wider. With the bar in place as if it was at the top of a curl press the bar up with your elbows pointing relatively straight out in front of you.

As the bar is pressed up avoid the temptation to use any momentum of the legs, hips or lower back. At the top of the movement keep the bar slightly in front of your body and not directly overhead. This will prevent any shoulder joint stress. Reverse the movement under strict control.

#2 – Barbell side lateral raise

It is said that if you want to get wide you need to hammer those medial (middle) deltoid heads and the best way to do that is to perform side laterals ad nauseam. The more those medial heads grow the wider you get right? But lateral raises can be like training biceps, it can get rather boring in no time.

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There’s also the subject of form. It’s rare to see a lifter actually perform a side lateral raise correctly. Instead of carefully and methodically targeting the desired area they resemble more of a flailing salmon swimming upstream about to jump straight into a grizzly’s mouth.

The point about from is simple: clean it up. Lighten your load, do it right and stop looking like you’re in a Richard Simmons workout video. Another thing that’s worth a try is the barbell side lateral raise. Grab the center of the bar of a light barbell so it is balanced in your hand.

With the bar squarely by your side raise the weight straight out to your side until it is level with your shoulder and parallel to the floor. The fact that you have to balance the bar and fight to keep it straight will have your medial deltoids working overtime. This will ultimately translate into more muscle fibers recruited.

#3 – Reverse landmine press

The landmine apparatus is a very versatile and functional piece of equipment. Simple in design and limitless in use it can be used for myriad things when it comes to building muscle and strength. If you aren’t familiar with it I would recommend acquainting yourself with it in the near future.

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It is simply a 45-pound bar attached with a sleeve at one end which is a part of a base plate planted on the floor. The other end is free to travel in any direction. Think of it in the same way as you do your shoulder joint.

To execute the reverse landmine press stand facing away from the bar with the end in one hand. If you have added any weight plates to the end make sure you stand far enough forward so the plates clear your body. With a closed grip (your fingers and thumb wrapped around the bar) and your elbow pointing slightly forward, press the bar overhead.

This is a single arm exercise so complete all reps for one side before switching to the next side. Also, you will want to take a staggered stance with your feet to help stabilize yourself.

#4 – Plate/kettlebell side lateral raise

Dumbbell side lateral raises are just about as exciting as curling (yawn). As stated earlier in this article very few lifters perform this exercise correctly to begin with. Loose form, incorrect weight placement and speed of movement come to mind.

One glaring faux pa is the haphazard practice of throwing the weight up with momentum. This can severely turn this exercise into more of a power movement instead of one that will actually build muscle mass. One way to circumvent this is by using unstable loads.

By using weight plates (preferably with handles cut into the plate) or kettlebells you instantly create an unstable effect. When you raise the weight, as with a side lateral motion, your deltoids have to put in extra work to help control, slow down momentum and stabilize the weight all the way through. This will place an incredibly unique tension on the muscle.

Some key points to take home: Do not swing the weight up, use a lighter load than that if you used dumbbells, and keep the plates or kettlebells under complete control throughout the entire range of motion. Shoot for higher rep sets to really nail down your form.

#5 – Wide-grip elbows out pull-down

Posterior (rear) deltoid development is important for a well-balanced physique. Beyond that it’s also a key player in strength and functional balance as well. Often forgotten in the world of shoulder training full of presses and side laterals, the rear delts are normally a weak point for many lifters.

With a short list of possible tools to choose from including rear facing fly machines and bent-over lateral raises it’s no wonder so many simply relegate them to the back of the pack and forgetfully tack them onto the end of a shoulder training session. But there is hope. With a little creativity and focus you can find a few new tools in your shoulder training bag.

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Wide-grip pull-downs done with your elbows perpendicular to your upper body is a good start. Since your elbows are out and wide most of the stress is directed toward your upper back namely your posterior deltoids. Additionally, with careful and thoughtful focus you can add even more stress to that area.

Simply keep your entire shoulder girdle up as if you were shrugging your shoulders in the up position. Keep them there as you pull the bar down and squeeze the backs of your deltoids. Visualize a rope tied to each elbow as you pull. This will help prevent your biceps from taking over too much of the work.

You should also be pulling down in line with your eyes. Lower the weight slowly without moving your shoulder girdle. It will be a short range of motion but very effective at building mass and strength in that area.

The Unheard of Shoulder Workout

  • One-arm barbell side lateral raise (alternate each side without rest) 4 x 8-12
  • Reverse landmine press (alternate each side without rest) 4 x 8-12
  • Reverse grip barbell press 3 x 10-12
  • Kettlebell side lateral raise (optional) 3 x 10-12
  • Wide-grip elbows out pull-down 3 x 10-12
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Name: Brad Borland

Bio: Starting out as a scrawny 125 pound kid at 6’ 2” I took up weight training at the tender age of 14 and ended up a 220 pound competitive drug-free, natural bodybuilder several years later. Now armed with both knowledge and muscle I have helped countless individuals domestically and abroad.