Broad shoulders are a body image ideal that has been dished out to us over several centuries. Remember Michelangelo’s famous statue of David from the early the 16th century? Or David Beckham’s from closer to our time? Then again, strong and healthy shoulders are essential for almost all tasks and exercises we perform starting with our posture to carrying a backpack or doing a basic exercise such as the pushup.
“From day-to-day life tasks like lifting or carrying things to even having a good upright posture shoulders play an important functional role in our lives. In terms of aesthetics, the clothes we wear tend to fit best on broad and rounded shoulder. Well-defined shoulders also people appear bigger and well proportioned,” says Mumbai-based celebrity trainer Preetesh Manas, an American Council for Sports and Medicine-certified personal trainer.
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Our shoulders are made up of three deltoids—rear, front and middle—and the shoulder joints are supported by the rotator cuff muscles on either side. The rotator cuffs are tiny muscles that lie beneath the superficial muscles and give the shoulders real stability and strength. They need individual attention for strengthening, explains AK Abhinav, coach and founder of Bengaluru’s Namma X-Fit. These muscles are crucial for almost all push movements and also in Olympic lifts such as the clean, push and jerk and snatch. Including rotator cuff exercises such as external and internal rotation with bands or light weights in warm-up or mobilisation routines makes for better performance during shoulder and chest workouts.
For shoulders the two best exercises ever are the shoulder press and military press, says Manas. “The two compound movements are slightly different in their form and also in terms of equipment used and muscles engaged. While the shoulder press, which works only your deltoids, can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell, the military press is done with a barbell and it engages the deltoids and triceps. While both help building strength, if your goal is to gain mass, shoulder presses would be the main exercise for you,” says Manas.
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Depending on your goals, you could either schedule one entire session per week for shoulders or club the shoulder workout with either back or legs day. “Those who are just starting out with an exercise regimen usually have weak shoulders. They need to dedicate one full session per week to shoulders. Second, people who are into body building or have body aesthetics as one of their goals need to set aside a day for shoulders every week,” adds Manas.
It is difficult to do body weight workouts for shoulders but if you are into gymnastics or calisthenics and can do pike pushups or handstand pushups, you could get in a decent shoulder session. Moreover, handstand pushups look very cool if you can pull them off. Manas recommends the use of machines for shoulder exercises as they lead to targeted gains, especially for those into body building and want to look a certain way. However, if it is health and strength you are gunning for, then free weights such as kettle bells, dumbbells and barbells are your best friends. Finally, if it is just functionality that you are after two simple push movements for shoulders ought to be included into your current workout.
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If you want to shoulder the weight of your fitness and body aesthetics goals, strengthening the shoulders would be a good idea because strong shoulders are important for effectively doing most other compound exercises, says Manas.
Shoulder workout from Preetesh Manas (Three sets of 12-20 repetitions for each exercise)
Side lateral raises
Rope face pull
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Bulking phase (Using heavy weights, do three to four sets 3-4 sets of 4-8 repetitions for each exercise)
Barbell front raises
Dumbbell side lateral raises
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Leaning phase (Use relatively lighter weights for all exercises)
Shoulder press: 2 sets with very light weight for warm up
Shoulder press: 3 sets till failure with increasing weights
Dumbbell press: 3 sets till failure with increasing weights
Front raises: 3 drop sets till failure
Side lateral: 3 drop sets till failure
Reverse fly: 20, 16, 12 reps
Rope face pull: 20, 16, 12 reps
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.
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