Advanced Shoulder Training – 5 Alternative Shoulder Exercises

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Remember the scene in Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon’s character says to the guy in the diner, “You like Apples?” Then he smacks a piece of paper on the glass revealing the girl’s phone number they were both after and says, “How ya like them apples!”

A pair of big, wide shoulders sets you apart from the rest of the gym pack in a very sneaky way. They scream “How ya like these apples” to all onlookers without ever taking your shirt off.

Related: The New Muscle Blueprint: The Muscle Building Workout You Need!

Well-developed shoulders fill out t-shirts and pop out of tank tops and convey a powerful, strong physique. They are an integral part of the coveted V-taper which so many are after. What good is it to train your butt off and not even look the part? Even if you are not blessed with wide clavicles there is plenty you can do to improve your current state of narrowness.

If the textbook basics haven’t worked in a while or you are simply just burnt out on what everyone else is doing then presented here is a possible solution. Below are 5 alternatives to your standard press and side lateral raise fare.

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5 Shoulder Exercises for Advanced Gains

#1 – Modified side lateral raise

One of the most effective and fastest ways to make your physique look wider is to train the heck out of the medial (middle) deltoids. Of course you will want proportioned anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids but the middle heads give you the width you desire.

The traditional way of performing the dumbbell side lateral raise has you raising the weight to your side with the dumbbell more or less parallel with the floor. This is all well and good but the front delt eventually takes over the movement robbing your middle heads of the stimulation they need to grow.

There is another way.

The how: Stand with a pair of dumbbells by your sides, not in front of your thighs. In this starting position twist the dumbbells slightly so that your thumbs are closer to the outside of your thighs. Raise the weights out to your sides with a slight (but rigid) bend at the elbow and lead the motion up with your pinkies.

The back of your hands should be facing forward with the palms facing back. Your elbows will be leading up as you come to shoulder level. Return the weight back down in the same manner maintaining the slight twist.

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#2 – Super wide-grip upright row

If there was another multi-joint exercise for shoulders besides presses upright rows would be it. Enabling you to use a considerable amount of weight to stress the deltoid complex upright rows activate all three deltoid heads to some degree but with extra emphasis on the middle head.

However, the problem with most trainees is that they take too close of a grip shifting more of the focus to the traps and biceps. A small, but highly effective shift will ensure most stress is placed on the middle delt – you know, the one that gives you the appearance of being wide?

The how: Traditionally your hands are placed anywhere from shoulder width to narrower. With this version take a super wide grip from 6 to 12 inches outside of your shoulder width. This will provide for a slightly shorter range of motion but will better focus on your delts versus your traps and biceps.

Raise the bar straight up leading the motion with your elbows. Think of your hands only as hooks and try not to focus on pulling with your biceps. The goal is to lift with your delts until your elbows are slightly above shoulder level before returning back down to the starting position.

#3 – Front-to-back press

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Presses are the bread and butter in the pursuit of more shoulder mass. Nothing beats hoisting a significant amount of weight overhead. Not only will it add mass, but also increase shoulder stability and is highly real-world related.

You may have done a version of the press for most of your lifting life (dumbbells, barbell, machine work) but let’s build on this old favorite with something most trainers and “experts” deem dangerous. Let’s incorporate a behind-the-neck press into the traditional press.

Dangerous you say? Here’s the fix. Use a light enough weight and super strict form.

The how: Grasp a moderate-weighted barbell with an overhand grip and start in the rack position (the bar in front of your face just under chin level). Press up overhead and as the bar reaches the top position push your head through your upper arms so the weight is overhead.

Next, lower the bar behind your head slowly and under complete control. When the bar reaches around your ear level (or at a comfortable level) press the bar back up overhead and lower it back down on front of your face. That is one rep.

If you find it a bit difficult to get the bar behind your head you may have mobility issues and in need of some extra range of motion work.

#4 – Pike/handstand press

If push-ups, dips, pull-ups and sit-ups are so effective for muscular development the same should apply to building shoulders as well. Manipulating your own bodyweight does wonders for helping you build mass and get stronger.

But what to do about shoulders? Sure, they get some indirect stimulation from push-ups and dips but you will need something challenging and more focused to get bigger delts. Pike push-ups and/or handstand presses will do perfectly.

The how: If you can muster the balance and skill handstand push-ups are a true test of strength and ability. Kick your feet up against a wall for support into a straight, in-line position and perform presses lowering your head just before it touches the floor and pressing back up. If handstand push-ups aren’t your cup of tea just yet, try the pike press.

Place your hands on the floor in front of a bench and place your feet on the bench. Position your body so you’re hinged at your hips and your butt is pointing toward the ceiling. You should be forming an upside down V shape.

Lower your head toward the floor and press back up. Sustain the upside down V posture throughout the exercise.

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#5 – Kettlebell side lateral raise

As stated earlier, the dumbbell side lateral raise can be a highly effective exercise for more delt mass, especially when it is modified to focus more on the middle delt head which gives you that wide look. Another way to modify this move is to use kettlebells instead of dumbbells.

Wouldn’t that practically be the same thing, you ask? Not necessarily.

The fact that the kettlebell will be considerably unbalanced throughout the exercise will force your delts to work overtime to not only lift the weight but will also be forced to fight to stabilize it at the same time. You will quickly find that this is a whole new and different stimulation.

The how: Stand with two light kettlebells by your sides. With a slight (but locked) bend at your elbows lift the bells straight out to your sides. You will soon find that it will take more focus and a slower motion in order to control the weight properly.

Raise the weights up to shoulder level and then slowly reverse the motion back to your sides. Try not resting at the bottom but instead immediately raise the bells again.

Always be cognizant of keeping the bells under complete control. Your delts will have been exposed to a brand new stimulus by only changing one small factor.

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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.