In theory, you’d expect an article that promises “bulletproof moves for wider shoulders” to include a selection of lateral raises — standing, seated, cable, even a machine for good measure. After all, what works the middle delt head more directly than a raise?
But here’s the thing. While lateral raises are important (and should be a part of every single shoulder routine you do), overall muscle mass matters when it comes to door-frame-size delts. A more muscular shoulder complex will by its very nature extend out further, widening your frame at the top and creating that “V-taper” illusion — a waistline that looks smaller in comparison to your upper body.
That means presses, where you can handle maximal weights that just aren’t possible with raises. The basic seated barbell and dumbbell press should be your anchor movements that you lean on most heavily, but for the sake of variety and muscle-fiber stimulation, you’ll want other alternatives in your rotation too. The following five presses can help keep your workouts interesting, which means a mental as well as physical boost.
1. Standing Barbell Military Press
The standing press provides a similar test of strength to the seated version, while allowing for a slight cheat — a small bounce at the knees to provide a touch of momentum as you tire near the end of a set, letting you punch out an extra rep or two before failing.
To Do: Take the bar off pins set chest high in a power rack, holding it with an overhand grip, palms up and elbows pointed forward, your upper arms near parallel with the floor as the bar rests atop your upper chest. Your feet should be set about shoulder width apart or just outside of that, toes angled slightly out. From this position, explosively drive the bar overhead to full elbow extension, hold it there for a one-count, and then lower it back until it contacts your upper chest. Repeat for reps.
2. 90-Degree Arnold Press
To Do: Sit in a low-back bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand above shoulder level with a palms-forward (pronated) grip, your head straight and eyes focused forward. Keeping your shoulders shifted back, press the dumbbells overhead in an arc, not letting the weights touch at the top, and slowly lower to the start position. When the dumbbells reach the start position, rotate your arms in front of your body, keeping your elbows high the entire time, bringing the dumbbells directly in front of your face where your palms face back toward you. Hold that point briefly, then rotate your arms outward until you reach the start of the dumbbell press position and begin the next rep.
3. Kettlebell Clean and Press
These days, the greatest physiques aren’t built with dumbbells and barbells alone. The kettlebell provides bodybuilders another potent tool, stressing the target and ancillary muscles in a slightly different way during traditional exercises like the clean and press.
To Do: Begin with the kettlebell between your legs, your feet set a little wider than shoulder width. Squat down by bending your knees and shifting your hips back, grasping the handle with your right arm. From here, powerfully extend your knees, hips and ankles to lift the kettlebell straight up to your shoulder — keeping it as close to your torso as you can on the ascent — then continue the motion as you press the weight overhead. Hold that top position for a one count, then return the kettlebell along the same path back down to the floor where you’ll repeat the sequence.
4. Kneeling One-Arm Dumbbell Press
While you may not be able to handle tons of weight on this particular press, what it will do is test your balance and core strength while challenging each deltoid individually. It can serve as a great secondary exercise (following a heavier press) in your workout, or even as a finisher.
To Do: Drop down into a half-kneeling position to start, your left knee down, right leg out behind you with that knee elevated slightly off of the ground. Hold a dumbbell at shoulder level in your left hand with that elbow bent, and press it up to full elbow extension. Complete reps on that side, keeping your core tight throughout for support, then switch to a right-knee-down stance and complete all reps for the right arm.
5. Wide-Grip Smith-Machine Upright Row
Upright rows are a multijoint exercise, like presses, that hit the delts from a pulling rather than pressing angle. Going with a wider grip on an upright row was shown in electromyographic research published in the January 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research to involve more of the middle head than the more common narrow (inside-shoulder-width) grip. Specifically, as the grip widened from a close grip to standard shoulder width to twice shoulder-width apart on the bar, delt and trap activity increased while biceps involvement decreased. This hand spacing is also less stressful on the shoulder joint.
To Do: With your feet hip-width apart, stand upright, holding the bar of a Smith machine in front of your thighs with an overhand grip a few inches outside your shoulders. Twist the bar to release it from the safety latches and let your arms hang straight, maintaining a slight bend in your knees and a tight core. Flex your shoulders to pull the bar straight up toward your chin, keeping the bar close to your body throughout. In the top position, your elbows will be high and pointing out to your sides. Hold for a second before slowly lowering to the start position.
This sample press-heavy routine will push your shoulders to their limits and spur new muscle gains.
EDITOR’S NOTE:Because this is a press-heavy routine, be sure to perform a thorough warm-up before your first working set of 15 on the barbell press. Ideally, this warm-up should include 3 to 5 minutes of cardio, then some range-of-motion work such as arm circles and arm swings and finally several warm-up sets with lighter weight, none of them to failure. This type of gradual system will help to increase your core body temperature, lubricate joints and wake up your central nervous system, paving the way for a stronger workout while reducing the chance of injury.