A Smarter Way To Build Bolder Shoulders

With a shift in strategy, you can grow bolder shoulders and reduce your risk of injury.

As recent studies have shown, higher-rep sets (up to 30) done to failure have just as much effect on hypertrophy as heavier sets with lower reps (six to eight), even though the sets done with more weight beget more strength. And while that extra strength can lend itself to more size in the long run, those Herculean sets may be better reserved for major muscle groups and total-body moves like the deadlift and squat.

When it comes to shoulders, however, a bit more caution might be beneficial. Heavy overhead movements — particularly in the context of warm-up-minimal workouts — can wreak havoc on the smaller muscles and fragile connective tissues of the shoulder joint. While various versions of the overhead press should still be at the heart of any well-rounded deltoid-training program, a helping of higher-rep sets may be just the change needed to create an impetus for new growth and just the protection you’ve been missing for at-risk shoulder joints.

As a smaller muscle group, shoulders also tend to respond well to this type of training. Also, the higher blood volume created by training at higher rep ranges has been shown to stretch muscle membranes, which is thought to increase protein synthesis.

This workout focuses on higher rep ranges and volume to get your shoulders on the grow. After a general warm-up and a few sets of lighter warm-up work, you’ll lead off with standard overhead presses … with a twist. Instead of pressing both dumbbells overhead simultaneously, you’ll alternate them, keeping one dumbbell in the extended position while the other is working. From there, you’ll dive into a giant set, performing isolation work for each of your three deltoid heads.

You’ll finish with a single round of heart-pumping Fortune raises. Named after boxing coach and conditioning specialist Justin Fortune, Fortune raises call for you to work your shoulders for a full round (three minutes) through six consecutive 30-second bouts of activity using light dumbbells (3 to 5 pounds). While the combinations are limitless, a typical set would call for you to do 30 seconds of rapid straight punches (overhead, at an angle or straight ahead) followed by your choice of deltoid raises or holds. You’ll switch between the two types of movement every 30 seconds.

  • Use a Gymboss timer or download the app to keep your Fortune raises well-timed. Set it for three sets: 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. The “rest” will simply be more work, but you get the idea.
  • The punches provide a cardio effect and should be kept rapid and crisp. Simply alternate straight punches out to eye level, up to a 45-degree angle or directly overhead.
  • For an added burn during Fortune raises, try isometric holds at the peak contraction position for lateral raises, rear-delt raises or front raises for a full 30-second segment.