I love benching even though it is my hardest lift to improve. To do the work, I need to improve it. Something has to give, and it is usually heavier pressing for the shoulders. Sometimes it is due to pain, and other times it is the last to get attention. This means my shoulder work mostly consists of small exercises on an extra day. Outside of the strength component, who doesn’t want to have a better build with wider shoulders that make the waist look smaller? We all want to look better.
On pressing days, I will do two or three pressing exercises. Because I’m already beaten up and tired by the time I get to shoulders, I have found using light weights and very high reps to be therapeutic. A large amount of blood into the shoulder feels great, and over time will help them to round out. These eight exercises are easy to do anywhere, and they work great for extra workouts.
Bradford + 1
The Bradford Press helps to introduce some mobility and stretch after normal pressing work. Using light weights to get everything stretched out keeps you from getting bound up and experiencing extra pain. Clint Darden uses these as a warm-up to stretch out before pressing. But for this purpose, we will add an extra rep into the mix and extend the high time under tension.
This is not an exercise for when you want to show off. In the normal execution of the Bradford Press, you will start as you would with a normal overhead press, but you will instead follow the curve of your skull and go behind your head and neck. How far down you go will depend on your mobility. When you get to your desired depth, you will return to the front. Then, you will perform one normal overhead press. That is one rep.
Six to 12 reps will be enough per set. Straight reps, drop sets, muscle rounds, or ascension sets will work. Pick your poison. Try to destroy your training partner. There isn’t a wrong answer, and this would be just a piece of your shoulder workout. Try to follow it up with one or two of the others listed below.
Not sure what happened to the music on this video. Damn YouTube.
Side Raise 1.5s
The shoulder responds well to time under tension. The side raise 1.5 is a great way to increase that time but also limit your trap involvement. The key here is to be very strict and deliberate about your movement. Keeping a slower tempo will also help. In a normal side raise at the bottom, your lats will help to slow down the arm. The half rep will be all delts doing the stopping and reversing. To do a full rep, you will raise the arms to a full side raise, lower it down halfway, raise it back to the top, and then lower it all the way to the bottom. That is one rep. The burn will start, but you must not give in. The weight is light enough that you can keep going without issue. Push until you can’t be strict anymore.
J - Walking
This exercise will require an elitefts rack with one-hole spacing. The goal is to start at the bottom or top and work your way to the other end. Double a band around your wrist, grab the j-hooks and insert the posts in the first hole. One by one, you will move the post to the next hole. Keep tension on the band, and go until you reach the end. For the last hole, insert both hooks all the way, and you are done. If the band is too, take it back to the starting point. You will limit shoulder movement but keep a high time under tension. This is great for achy shoulders when other exercises may cause pain. Two to three trips are all you will need. Beat a partner for total distance or the time it takes to complete the trip. If you miss a hold, you must go back to get them all.
Swole-ders or Swolders
I stole this from someone, and I don’t remember who. Some bodybuilder on the Instagrams did it, and it worked great. This will hit some side delts and more rear delts. We would often pair it with front raises to finish off the shoulders.
Thirty reps per set per arm add up fast. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. Ten reps behind the back, ten reps in front with the thumb down, and ten reps with the palm down will complete the set. Be deliberate with each rep.
Trifecta Side Raise
This is about as simple as it gets. You will do 20 rear raises, 20 side raises, and 20 front raises with the same pair of dumbbells without putting them down. You will start with the most difficult and work to the easiest when you are fatigued. If you start with front raises, you probably won’t make it through the set.
Face Pulls…...for a Song
There is a difference between simple and easy. This will be simple but never easy. This is great for groups and competition. Everyone has a band choked around something like the bottom of the rack. I like sitting on the floor to do these. The next song to come on the radio determines the length of the set. You will do normal face pulls until you can’t. Drop the position to where you are pulling down to the neck area. When you are fried there, pull to the belly button for 15 reps, then move back up to the face and continue. Set a rep goal, and don’t stop. Beat your partners, but more importantly, beat yourself. Don’t let yourself mentally quit.
Band Front Raise to Pull Apart
Another simple yet effective band exercise to bring blood into the shoulders. You can do these in a few different ways. There is no wrong way to do these, but doing all of the front raises then holding up your arms to do the pull aparts is much harder. If you want to do a longer set or need a break, alternate the front raises and the pull aparts. At a minimum, do 20 reps of each.
DLB Quad Shoulder Complex
This complex gets hard really fast. I prefer to do the front raises first because, well, my shoulders suck. The front raise is the limiting factor for choosing a weight. These are light enough that they would be great for an extra workout or included in a main workout. If you are feeling really frisky, try these as a drop set.
Sled Y+T and Front Raise
When the shoulders are feeling extra grumpy, the sled should come out. In most cases, I have found these to be nearly pain-free when other exercises kill my shoulders. You can easily work within pain-free zones and adjust to make the exercise work for you. The sled was the first thing I bought from elitefts, and it might be my best purchase. Use these as a warm-up and a finisher. Six to eight trips down and back are a good start.
Putting It All together
Here are three shoulder workouts to get you started. These should be done a day after your main workout so that it will be lighter but can be modified if you want to go heavier.
- Bradford + 1 - 3 muscle rounds
- Side raise 1.5s 3-5 sets of 12
- Face pulls - 1 song
- Sled Y+T - 4 trips down and back 200 ft (Y’s down and T’s back)
- DLB shoulder complex - 3-4 sets
- J - walk - 2-3 trips up or down
Workout #3 (one giant set) - 3-5 rounds
- Bradford + 1 x12
- Swolders x 10/10/10 per arm
- Band front raise to pull apart x 10
Each one of these exercises by themselves is nothing special. But paired together, they become very effective and a great way to build boulder shoulders with little weight.