If you're serious about bodybuilding - at any level - then you need to fully develop your shoulders. Not only are the delts a very visible body part, but they’re also a key element in crafting the V-shape that has been the epitome of the aesthetic male body for thousands of years. Wide, fully developed delts also provide an impressively wide structure from which the lats appear to hang.
The problem, of course, is how to get them. In this article, we tap into the mind of the Godfather of Bodybuilding himself, Mr. Charles Glass, to reveal the best shoulder workout for massive delts.
Learning from the Godfather
When it comes to clout in the bodybuilding world, it doesn't come much stronger than Charles Glass. After a stellar career as an IFBB pro, where he was known for his superior aesthetics and definition, Charles transitioned to become the ultimate trainer of champions.
Prior to becoming a bodybuilding champion, Charles was an engineer. He has used his insight and perspectives on ways to manipulate angles of movement to increase muscle fiber recruitment and promote greater growth response. Charles has trained the very best in the bodybuilding world, including IFBB Hall of Famers Flex Wheeler, Chris Cormier, and Paul Dillet.
The following shoulder workout is part of Charles’s arsenal of advanced training tools to achieve max muscle mass.
Anatomy of the Shoulder Muscles
In order to identify the best shoulder workout and the ideal shoulder exercises to create big delts, we first need to have a working understanding of shoulder muscles. For any exercise to be effective, it must move toward the origin of the muscle and align with the natural anatomical movement of that muscle. In order to know what these things are, we must look into the makeup of the muscle in question.
The shoulder muscles consist of three heads, each of which has a separate function. These are the:
The anterior head is also known as the front deltoid. The point of origin of the muscle fibers is on the outer head of the clavicle bone, with the point of insertion being on the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus (upper arm). As a result, the muscle covers the 'meaty' front part of the shoulders, just above the pectorals. The sole function of the anterior deltoid is to assist in pulling the upper arm forward.
The lateral deltoid head originates on the outer edge of the acromion process, which is located on the scapula (shoulder bone). It inserts right alongside the anterior delt on the humerus. The job of the lateral deltoid is to move the upper arm laterally from the side of the body to the point where it is perpendicular to the body.
The posterior, or rear, delts originate on the upper ridge of the scapula and insert on the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus right alongside the lateral head. So, we see that all three heads have different origins but the same insertion point. The primary function of the posterior deltoids is to pull the upper arms back.
Shocking Your Delts into New Growth
This 5 exercise shoulder workout has been designed to provide a shock effect to your shoulder muscles. If you’ve been stuck on a plateau when it comes to your shoulder workout, this program will push you through to new gains. You should perform your shoulder workouts twice per week. It individually targets each of the three deltoid heads to provide you with that fully rounded 3-D look that will make you appear huge from any angle.
This shoulder workout consists of 5 exercises. Unlike most shoulder workouts, which have you doing the heavy mass builders first, Charles has flipped the script so that your isolation moves like the lateral raise and rear delt flyes are done before your two mass builders - the single arm smith machine press and the seated dumbbell press. That means that by the time you get to those two exercises your delts will already be on fire. It all adds up to a scorching shoulder workout like nothing you’ve ever done before.
Ok, let’s break down the Charles Glass shoulder workout for massive shoulder gains . . .
The Best Shoulder Workout For Delts
#1 Dumbbell LAT RAISE
The side lateral raise is the best shoulder movement for width. Its focus is on the lateral delts, with the movement perfectly simulating the natural anatomical movement of the side delts that we have already identified.
Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart and a pair of dumbbells in front of your torso. You don’t want to go heavy on this exercise or you will have a tendency to use swinging momentum from your lats to drive the weight up. Remember that you’re trying to isolate that side delt, and it is a relatively small muscle. The lateral raise movement simply involves bringing your arms out to the side.
Charles makes sure that everyone he trains maintains correct wrist positioning to ensure the best shoulder isolation when doing this exercise. To achieve this, turn your wrists down and lead the arms to raise with your elbows rather than your trapezius. This involves a degree of internal rotation to keep the focus on those side delts.
You should also only bring your arms up until they are perpendicular to your torso at the top of the range of movement. That is the extent of the side delt’s range of movement. Going any higher may wear on your shoulder joint over time.
#2 BENCH ASSISTED UPRIGHT ROW
The upright row will work the meaty part of your front delt and, to a degree, the side delt. As such it can add both mass and width to your shoulders. This variation has you performing the exercise while leaning onto an incline bench. This helps to eliminate the involvement of the lower back, which often takes over on this exercise. In doing so, it allows you to more effectively isolate the front delts. It also keeps you stationary so you can’t cheat the weight up with momentum.
The angle of the bench should be quite steep so that your body is on a slight angle. You will be using a bar as opposed to dumbbells on this movement. As you bring the weight up, flare your elbows out. This will stop the trapezius from taking over and will keep the focus on the shoulders. Do not come up any higher than the level of your mid-chest. Beyond that point, you would transfer the effect to the traps. Your goal, though, is to keep the stress on the delts throughout the full range of movement.
This is an exercise that will produce a tremendous burn through the front delts. Go for slightly higher reps to get the blood really pumping through the muscle. Three sets of 12-15 reps will do the job nicely!
#3 SINGLE ARM SHOULDER PRESS
Next up is a powerful mass builder for the front delts. In this version of the shoulder press, however, you’ll be working one arm at a time. This will allow you to focus all of your attention on that specific head. It will also prevent the muscular imbalance that often sees one side dominating when you do a bilateral pressing movement.
This exercise is done on a Smith Machine. Position a bench in front of the machine and side on to it. Then set the bar height at shoulder level when seated. When you do this press, you need to keep the movement within what Charles calls the ‘tension plane’. That means that you eliminate the first and last 20 percent of the exercise’s full range of movement. Just moving between the middle 60 percent of movement will keep that fire burning in the front delts right through to the very last rep.
#4 REAR DELT FLY
The rear delt fly targets the posterior head of the deltoids. The rear delt is the smallest of the three shoulder heads, so you don’t need a very heavy weight on this one. This exercise is done on an incline bench that is set at about a 30 degree angle. Lie on the bench so that your arms are hanging down below your head. You should bend your elbows slightly so that the hands are slightly angled inward. This will turn the delts more toward the front in order to better isolate them. Your hands should remain in this slightly angled position throughout the entire movement.
This is an exercise that really benefits from controlled movement. Once again, stay within that critical tension plane of the range of motion - that’s the 60 percent that keeps all the tension on the target area. You should go for higher reps on this one to really feel that rear delt burn. Three sets of 15-20 reps is what Charles recommends.
#5 DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESS
The seated dumbbell shoulder press will hit both your anterior and lateral deltoid heads. Charles prefers to schedule in his pressing exercise late in the workout. This guarantees that the shoulder joint is adequately warmed up before you get to the shoulder press. It also makes the press a whole lot harder because your delts are already fatigued from your other movements.
To build massive front and side delts, you have to go hard and heavy on the overhead shoulder press.
Do your seated dumbbell press on a bench with a backrest that it is set to an upright position. A great tip from Charles is to use a pad behind you to elevate your back and target your delts more fully. Rather than moving through a full range of motion, just bring the handles down until they are at your eye level. If you go any lower than that, you will place too much stress on your shoulder joint capsules. Do not lock out in the top position of this exercise.
Your hand placement on the overhead press should be at shoulder width with your elbows bent at slightly less than 90 degrees at the beginning of the pressing motion. Keep the elbows slightly forward as you press.
Do four sets of 10-12 reps, increasing the weight on each set.
Putting It All Together
Here’s the best shoulder exercises workout, complete with the set and rep protocol for maximum results:
Move with a good tempo through your workout in order to keep the tension on your deltoids. If you’re used to scrolling through your phone for five minutes between sets, you won't be able to do any of that with this workout. In fact, I suggest keeping your phone in your gym locker and giving 100 percent focus to hitting your shoulders. Keep your rest between sets to no more 45 seconds.
By The Way, Here’s me going through this entire Shoulder workout on Youtube!
More Free Weight Moves for Massive Delts
Training with dumbbells is one of Charles Glasses’ favorite ways to pack mass onto the delts, especially the anterior, or front, head. In addition to the 5 best shoulder exercises, here are 3 more awesome dumbbell moves that he throws into the mix to keep the shoulders guessing. Feel free to swap in any of these exercises periodically for variety. The best move to swap out is the single arm shoulder press.
Dumbbell Front Raise
The dumbbell front raise places primary stress on your anterior deltoids. For the best stability, you should brace your back against an incline bench when you do this exercise. Take hold of a single dumbbell and hold it by its ends horizontally in both hands. Lean forward about 10 degrees from the bench.
Now extend your arms out in front of your body at the level of your mid-chest. Your arms should be slightly bent and locked in that position. Now, pivot from the shoulder joint to lift your arms up around 12 inches. Lower back to mid-chest level and repeat.
As you lift the dumbbell, concentrate on pushing up with anterior your delts as you pull down your trapezius muscles. If you don’t do this, the traps will tend to dominate the movement, robbing the anterior head of the full effect of the movement.
Be sure to keep your elbows directly under the dumbbell throughout the movement. If you use a weight that is too heavy for you, your elbows will flare out.
Dumbbell Upright Row
The dumbbell upright row targets your lateral deltoids and your upper trapezius. Perform this exercise by standing with your feet shoulder distance apart and the dumbbells the same distance apart. The inner plates of the dumbbells should be in line with your front delts as you pull the dumbbells up. At the top of the upward pull, your shoulders should not come any higher than your shoulders. In the bottom position you should be just shy of lockout to keep the tension on the delts throughout the entire movement.
The push press is a variation of the overhead press that involves the legs to allow you to push heavier weight. This is a great option to help you push through a weight plateau when you can’t push any more poundage on the regular shoulder press.
Stand with an Olympic bar loaded across your sternum and your feet about shoulder width apart. From here, think Drip, Drive and Press to execute the action. Put special emphasis on the eccentric, or lowering, part of of the push press, as this is the portion that will really help you to break through your weight plateau on the regular overhead press.
Cables for Massive Shoulders
The shoulder workout above makes use of the five best shoulder exercises in Charles Glasses’ training arsenal. But free weight exercises are not the only moves that Charles recommends. In fact Charles also makes liberal use of cable machine exercise to keep the tension on the delts throughout the full range of motion. Cables also provide early phase loading which more naturally follows the strength curve of the deltoids.
Here is a 3 exercise cable workout that targets each of the deltoid heads separately. We suggest alternating the above workout with this one after 6 weeks to add variety to your program.
Seated Anterior Delt Cable Press
The best cable move for the front delts is an exercise called the seated anterior deltoid cable press. It involves positioning a straight backed bench about three feet in front of a double cable machine, facing away from it. Set the cables at the height of your elbows when you sit on the bench.
Now grab the handles with palms facing up grip and sit on the bench with your hands at your sides and your elbows back a little behind your body. To perform the action, straighten your arms out in front of your body in a kind of scooping motion so that the hands come together to provide full range of motion.
The exercise directly and almost exclusively targets the anterior deltoid.
Do 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
Standing One Arm Cable Lateral Raise
When you use a cable machine, the operating lever of the exercise (your arm) is no longer parallel to the resistance. Instead, it is perpendicular. This makes the exercise harder at the beginning and easier at the end (try it and see!). Yet, even at the top of the movement, when the arm is perpendicular to the torso, there is still at about 40 percent of the starting resistance. Contrast that to the dumbbell version which has zero resistance in the starting position of the movement.
Another advantage of doing the cable version of the side lateral raise is that you can work each limb independently. This allows you to establish a stronger mind muscle connection with each side of the muscle. When you do the exercise, stand side on to the cable with your feet shoulder width apart.
When you set up for the standing one arm side cable raise, make sure to set the pulley at the level of your wrist at the starting position. Doing so puts the cable in a perpendicular position to the forearm when you start, maximizing the potential for early phase loading.
Do 4 sets of 12-15 reps.
Reverse Cable Crossover
This exercise targets the posterior delts with the ideal 30 degree downward pull that follows the direction of the muscle fibers. Stand in the middle of a cable crossover machine with the handles removed. Grab the ends of the cables with a cross over grip and step back about a foot behind the weight stacks. The pulleys should be set at the level of your shoulders. Now pull your arms down and out to a 30 degree angle. Keep your arms straight and your wrists turned back.
Do 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
In this article, I’ve provided you with the cream of the crop when it comes to mass building shoulder exercises. The main 5 shoulder exercises program is the exact same routine that Charles Glass used to help turn guys like Flex Wheeler and Paul Dillet into mass monsters. Add in the 3 supplementary dumbbell moves and the alternative cable workout and you've got your shoulder workouts covered for the next 12 months. Simply alternative back and forth between the 2 workouts every 6 weeks and watch those delts explode!