The shoulders are a unique muscle group that adds a lot more variables to the equation when training them. One major obstacle is the fact that the shoulder offers a wide range of mobility. The shoulder, made up of three distinct heads, also offers a great risk to injury. Not only can you injure your shoulders by working them out incorrectly, but there’s always a possibility of having them disproportionally developed,or not even developed at all if you have some major shoulder training mistakes.
Mistake #1 – Too Heavy
Most of the movements involving the shoulders may also deal a lot with momentum. Just because the weight goes from point A to point B, doesn’t mean that the exercise is being done properly, or that the targeted muscle group is being worked. This is extremely common with shoulders. Exercises such as dumbbell side and front lateral raises require less weight, due to the shoulders being in a very weak position. Grabbing 80 lb dumbbells and doing an olympic “clean and jerk” is a great way to not only get zero shoulder activation, but to also injure yourself.
Lower the weight to a weight that’s heavy enough for you to struggle, but not too heavy for you to sacrifice form and need to use momentum to hoist the weight up. By targeting the muscle more directly, the muscle will grow, even though you’re using less weight.
The posterior deltoids, also known commonly as the “rear delts” are a muscle group that may be hard to be activated due to a tie in with other exercises that use the lats (large back muscles). Alternatively, people may just be clueless that a rear delt even exists, let alone how to work it. Working the rear delts will make your shoulders appear much, much larger, especially from the back.
- Study the angles and exercises that target the rear delts. You may have to adjust form depending on how your muscles insert – everybody is different. Focus on bringing the weight more so behind your body when doing lateral raises. You will notice as you change the range and positioning of your arms and elbows when rowing and doing raises, the contraction will shift from the rear delts, to the medial delts (side laterals), to the front delts (front raises, shoulder pressing). Use this as a tool to help determine if your rear delts are being worked.
- Work your rear delts on back day, if possible. Having a separate day to emphasize the rear delts might help in building them. Because many back exercises will use a little bit of your rear deltoids anyway, this seems ideal. It’s suggested, however, to have at least a day in between this session and your primary shoulder session.
Mistake #3 – Improper Form
Form is crucial to building muscle, and that goes for every body part. Not only do I cringe when I see people hoisting up half their body weight on side laterals, but I see it too on presses and more. Form is not only using too much weight, but doing the exercise incorrectly.
- Keep presses in a safe and comfortable range of motion. Also, be sure to do enough to actually get the shoulders to contract. If you’re doing a shoulder press, bending your back to the point that you’re doing a dumbbell chest press will only…you guessed it, work your chest. Only coming down 3 inches will also stress your triceps and offer little shoulder contractions.
- For lateral raises, try to “pull from your elbows”, allowing your elbows to raise to be even with your shoulders. Your hands should lie just slightly below your shoulders when raised to the top of the movement.
- Chin level is a good range of motion to lower the bar down to when doing shoulder presses. Any lower and you may risk injury, or may have to change your form in order to lift the weight back up, forcing the use of other muscles.
Mistake #4 – Slow The Reps Down
This goes along with using too much weight. Sometimes you will also see people using weight they can handle, just completing the reps way too fast. Shoulders are a muscle group that can get painful when working them, and completing slower, controlled reps with a long pause on the negative will have your shoulders screaming – in a good way.
- Sitting down and using whatever possible to only allow the shoulders to be worked can prevent swinging and momentum-based swings.
- Lowering the weight to a weight that you know you can complete the set number of reps will allow more concentration on keeping the reps slow
- Focus on the negative portion of the movement (for something like lateral raises, focus on slowly bringing the weight down once you’ve pulled the weight up to your side).
Mistake #5 – Choose the Right Exercises
Your shoulders will be worked a little in a variety of different exercises. The front deltoids will be worked a lot during the bench press and incline bench press, so why waste all your shoulder exercises on those that work the front delts? There may not be as many unique exercises for shoulders, but there are a lot of ways to change the exercises that are available to make them seem like a whole new exercise.
- Change weight ranges, rep schemes, and even ranges of motion (without sacrificing form or going against the rules just previously taught) to ensure your shoulders are getting knew types of stimulation. New forms of progressive overload = growth.
- Find different exercises to perform. If you’ve been doing a lot of free weight exercises, try adding a few machines to the workout, just to give the muscles a new form of contraction. Visa-versa, if you’ve been using nothing but machines, give your shoulders the free weight training they need to build mass.