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Build Your Boulder Shoulders

Nothing beats a nice set of shoulders! They telegraph athleticism, strength, and competence. And they make your waist look smaller! 

Problem is, now that many of us aren’t going to the gym, we don’t have numerous machines, barbells, and dumbbells to train them with. Fear not! The below circuit can be performed with just one set of dumbbells in the comfort of your home. It starts with two compound exercises, a push (overhead press) and a pull (upright rows), and wraps up with three isolation lifts (flies and raises). The compound lifts lay down slabs of mass, while the isolation lifts refine. 

The compound lifts wake up the nervous system and get the blood flowing. They send an unmistakable signal to your body to grow. Another great thing about compound lifts is that they tie your whole body together, giving it an overall pleasing aesthetic. If you somehow managed to get jacked delts but didn’t have the upper back or chest to support them, not only would you look sort of weird, but you would open yourself up to potential injury.

The isolation lifts finish the job by polishing off each of the three heads of your shoulders: the anterior (front), the medial (middle), and the posterior (back). To truly get well developed, three-dimensional, walking anatomy diagram shoulders, you need to work all three heads independently. In the following circuit, we’re hitting the anterior head last, because this head gets plenty of love during horizontal pressing movements, like chest and incline press.

Boulder-Shoulder Dumbbell Workout

Ideally, select a set of dumbbells that allows you to do 10-15 reps of the first exercise (overhead press), then do As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) of the other four exercises, without resting between each, except to maybe shake it out a bit, when needed. Once you finish the last exercise (front raises), rest about a minute then hit the whole circuit again. Aim to run through this circuit around three times.

OVERHEAD PRESS. Compound. All heads of the shoulders, as well as your upper chest, upper back, and triceps.

  • While standing, hold a set of dumbbells with an overhand grip, palms forward, triceps parallel to the floor, elbows bent 90 degrees, core engaged.
  • On an exhale, press the dumbbells overhead.
  • Inhale and return to your starting position.

UPRIGHT ROWS. Compound. All heads of the shoulders (particularly medial head), upper back, and biceps. 

  • Hold the dumbbells in an overhand grip in front of your thighs, with your palms facing you. Keep your core strong, and your knees soft.
  • On an exhale, pull the dumbbells up to about mid-chest, taking care not to let the elbows go above shoulder height, to protect your shoulders.
  • Inhale and lower the dumbbells back to your starting position.

REVERSE FLIES. Isolation. Posterior deltoids, as well as upper back.

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells, palms facing each other. Place a slight bend in your knees, hinge at the hips, and let your arms hang down so that they are perpendicular to your torso.
  • On an exhale, with a slight bend in your elbows, open your arms as you squeeze your shoulder blades back and together.
  • Inhale and return to your starting position.

LATERAL RAISES. Isolation. Medial deltoids.

  • Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, with a slight bend in your knees, and your core engaged. Hold a pair of dumbbells, palms facing each other, elbows bent at 90 degrees, so your forearms are parallel to the earth.
  • On an exhale, lift your arms away from your body, until your arms reach shoulder height. 
  • Inhale and return to your starting position.

SINGLE DUMBBELL FRONT RAISES. Isolation. Anterior deltoids. 

  • Set one of the dumbbells aside.
  • Hold the remaining dumbbell by the ends with both hands, arms long (with soft elbows), in front of you. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, with a slight bend in your knees, and your core engaged.
  • On an exhale, lift the dumbbell up, until your arms reach shoulder height. 
  • Inhale and return to your starting position.

“Ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.” – Ancient Proverb

Article and Video by Lori Brand

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