Scuplted and well-proportioned shoulders can look phenomenal on both men and women - they create an imposing frame, the illusion of a smaller waist, presence, and for women especially, can create a wonderfully proportionate balance between the lower body (hips) and the upper body, helping to accentuate the hourglass shape. A top-5 response when women are asked 'what features they find most pleasing in men' is shoulders - they're considered a sign of strength, musculature and masculinity; and aesthetically they create the perception of bold proportions.
The shoulders are made up of a number of muscles (not just the infamous anterior / posterior / medial deltoids) as well as a wealth of fast and slow-twitch muscles fibres. Therefore I think it's worth hitting the muscles from as many angles as possible
, and changing-up the repetition frequency
. However, for the biggest visual impact, the muscles on which to concentrate aesthetically are the superficial muscles, the deltoids. I find with most shoulder exercises that I prefer not to go too heavy, but rather focus on higher repetitions with minimal rest in between. That combination of light weight, fast activity, high-rep and minimal-downtime is the best route to a 'cut' look on the shoulders
. I also try to 'feel' the muscle I'm working, and whilst that's something I aim to do with every exercise, it is especially the case with shoulders. If I struggle to feel the muscle I want to target, I'll sometimes ask a gym buddy to gently touch the shoulder muscle I'm trying to work, which helps to focus the attention. And really relish the burning sensation
Below are four of my favourite exercises to engage and exhaust the shoulders
. All shot at the beautiful outdoor gym area in Le Mas Candille, Mougins, in the South of France. Enjoy!
1) Bent-over lateral raises (as below pics)
A. Stand a shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Lean forward from the waist maintaining a straight back.
B. Hold the dumbbells with slightly bent elbows.
C. As you inhale raise the dumbbells to your sides.
D. Exhale and return to starting position. Push together your shoulder blades at the end of the movement to work the lower part of the trapezius, teres minor, rhomboids and infraspinatus.
Targets: the entire shoulder area especially the posterior deltoids.
2) Dumbbell press (as below pic)
A. Stand up, or if you prefer, sit on a bench keeping your back straight. Hold the dumbbells with an overhand grip. Lift to your shoulders , palms facing forward. Seated position is preferable to avoid hyperextension on the spine.
B. Inhale and simultaneously press your hands up.
C. Exhale as you lower the weight. Repeat x 12.
Targets: Deltoids, especially the medial deltoids and the upper trapezius, triceps and serratus anterior.
3) Lateral Raises (as below pic)
A. Stand up tall, keep your knees slightly bent whilst maintaing a strong and engaged core. Let your arms hang to the side.
B. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and slowly raise the dumbbell to shoulder level, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Internally rotate the upper arm (humerus) at the movement as if you are 'poring a jug of water'. This will best activate the medial / rear deltoids.
C. Return to starting position. To make the exercise more effective start at different positions - hands to the side, hands in front, and behind by glutes to work the medial deltoids entirely.
Targets: It isolates almost entirely the medial deltoids, and also targets the supraspinatus. If you go higher than shoulder level you put more emphasis on the upper trapezius. I only go to shoulder level as I only want to mainly target the medial deltoids and as a woman don't care to develop my trapezius too much.
Weight: I never go to heavy with this exercise (but keep it challenging) and tend to aim to execute many reps starting at least 20 reps, with very little recovery time in between sets. I work until I feel a 'burning' sensation.
4) Front Raise (as below pic)
A. Stand tall with your feet about a half a shoulder-width apart. Hold the dumbbells with an overhand grip in front of you, resting on your thighs.
B. As you inhale raise the shoulders forward to shoulder level.
C. Exhale as you bring the weight down to starting position. Repeat x 12.
Targets: Mainly works the anterior deltoids & upper pectorals and a bit less on the medial deltoids.