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The Cannonball Shoulder Workout

dwight howard, dwight howard shoulders, shoulders, broad shoulders

When you see a picture of Dwight Howard it’s impossible to miss his mammoth shoulders. They’re HUGE! Not only are they huge, but they’re also extremely uncommon.

Shoulders are one of most oft-neglected body parts by both gym novices and vets alike. Why? Well, because they’re not typically thought of as one of the “glamour” muscles like the biceps, chest, or abs. People crave washboard abs, sleeve-bursting biceps, and a hulking chest…but what about cannonball shoulders? Not so much.

Delts absolutely have to be a focal point in every workout routine–they add SO much value. Broad shoulders accentuate the biceps and triceps, add massive width to the back, and boost strength on the bench press, deadlift, squat, and row. Put simply–stronger shoulders unlock the potential for insane full-body growth.


Anatomy of the Shoulder


shoulders, delts, deltoids

The shoulders, or deltoids, are made up of three muscle heads. In order to build full, cannonball-like shoulders it’s critical to hit all three heads directly.

The rotator cuff muscles (aka the SITS muscles – supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres) and upper trapezius are also associated with the shoulders, but I won’t go into depth about those two muscle groups here. The three primary heads of the deltoid are:


Anterior/Front Deltoid

The anterior deltoid connects to the top/side of your chest. Developing the front head creates definition between the shoulder and chest and gives it a full, rounded look in the front.

front deltoid, anterior deltoid, deltoid, front delt, anterior delt, shoulders, front deltoid diagram, anterior deltoid diagram, front of the shoulder


Lateral/Middle Deltoid

The lateral deltoid connects to the biceps and triceps. If you’re looking at someone head-on, a person with well-developed lateral delts will have definition and width at the upper portion of their arms. Almost like shoulder pads, but natural ones.

middle deltoid, lateral deltoid, deltoid, middle delt, lateral delt, shoulders, shoulder


Posterior/Rear Deltoid

The rear deltoid rests at the back of the shoulder. Strong posterior delts add width to the back and upper body, and create a well-developed “V” from the rear.  The rear delts connect to the infraspinatus (rotator cuff), triceps, and upper traps.

rear deltoid, posterior deltoid, deltoid, delt, rear delt, posterior delt, shoulder, shoulders



The Workout

**Rest 1 minute between each set.


1. Clean and Press 

3 sets, 10 reps

Clean and presses are one the best all-around shoulder exercises–they incinerate calories, boost testosterone/HGH, and spark muscle growth. Just a warning–you’re going to sweat like a fiend. Fun!

Grab either a barbell or dumbbells with an overhand grip (palms facing your body), and with one fluid motion use your shoulders/arms to powerfully jerk the weight overhead. Hold the weight overhead for 1 second and then slowly lower the weight back down. Repeat for a set of 10.

One thing to note–start light until you get the form down perfectly. Clean and presses are intense, form is absolutely key before you go heavy.


2. Lateral Raise

2 sets, 12 reps

As the name implies, lateral raises target the lateral deltoid. Hold a light dumbbell in both hands (these are tough, start light) and slowly raise both arms straight out to the side. Hold the contraction at the top for .5 seconds and slowly lower back down under control.

Repeat for a set of 12.


2a. Front Plate Raise

2 sets, 12 reps

Front plate raises primarily hit the front/anterior deltoid, but they also build core strength, balance, stability, and the upper back. Throughout the movement maintain good posture with your shoulder blades tucked back. Raise the plate to shoulder height, hold .5 seconds, and slowly lower to the bottom.

Repeat for a set of 12.

Superset front plate raise with lateral raises, meaning that you’ll do 1 set of lateral raises immediately followed by a set of front plate raises. This boosts the intensity and creates a nice pump.


3. Seated Barbell Military Press

3 sets, 10 reps

Like the bench press, squat, and deadlift, barbell military presses are a staple in any complete workout routine. For my money, they’re the #1 mass builder when it comes to shoulder development. They hit all three heads hard and make it easy to go heavy.

One thing that’s critical to note–lower the weight until your arms are parallel with the ground. DO NOT go lower than that, it puts a ridiculous amount of stress on the shoulder joint/rotator cuff. The guy in the video goes way too low, it’s unnecessary.


4. 1-Arm Dumbbell Snatch

2 sets, 10 reps per arm

Like the clean and press, dumbbell snatches are an uber powerful fat-burner. Snatches are a fast-paced, high-intensity, beast of an exercise that build total body explosiveness. They’re easily a top 5 fat burning exercise.

Start in a squat position with a dumbbell in between your legs. Powerfully explode upwards and swing your arm overhead (there’s no pushing involved). Hold for 1 second at the top and slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.

Repeat 10 reps and switch to the opposite arm.

Snatches primarily work the front and lateral deltoid.


5. Reverse Flies

2 sets, 12 reps

Reverse flies isolate the rear deltoid, which adds width to the back and upper arm.

Standing, bend over at a 45 degree angle. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, tighten your core and lower back, and raise both arms directly out to the side. Hold the contraction for .5 seconds at the top and slowly return to starting position.

Repeat for 10 reps.


6. Upright Rows

2 sets, 12 reps

Upright rows hit the front deltoid, but are also fantastic for hitting the upper traps. Using a light weight, grab a barbell with a narrow grip (closer than shoulder width) and yank the bar until it’s in front of your mouth. Hold the contraction for 1 second at the top.

Repeat for 12 reps.


7. Arnold Press

1 set, to-failure (burn-out)

Like the military press, Arnold presses hit all three shoulder heads with one simple movement. Start by holding two dumbbells in front of your chest, but with your palms facing inward. As you press the dumbbells upwards, gradually rotate your arms so that your palms are facing outwards at the top. Hold 1 second at the top. On the way down rotate your forearms back to the original position.

As the last exercise in the workout, I want you to do a burn-out set. Use a light weight and lift for as many reps as possible, until failure. Burn-out sets create a massive pump and serve as a great finishing set in any intense workout.


The Cannonball Shoulder Workout Recap

1. Clean and presses – 3 sets, 10 reps
2. Lateral raise – 2 sets, 12 reps
2a. **Superset** Front plate raise – 2 sets, 12 reps
3. Seated barbell military press – 3 sets, 10 reps
4. 1-arm dumbbell snatch – 2 sets, 10 reps per arm
5. Reverse flies – 2 sets, 12 reps
6. Upright rows – 2 sets, 12 reps
7. Arnold press – 1 burnout set

Good luck!


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Bryan DiSanto

Owner & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
Bryan DiSanto is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, ACE-CPT & CSN, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness/nutrition nutjob.

When he’s not working on his (or somebody else’s) abs, whipping up Eggocados, or running a Tough Mudder, he’s probably off yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
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  • monkeybutler

    17 sets on shoulders a bit much …..

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  • Tea Partiers are Obese Racists

    Way too many exercises and way too many pressing movements. This routine will screw up your shoulders. Here’s a better one, in order of exercise:

    Rear Delt Fly

    Lateral Raise

    Standing Military Press

    2 rotator cuff exercises

    3-4 sets each of 10-15 reps.

    • Bryan DiSanto

      That’s bad information — I’ve done variations of this routine (typically more intense than what’s laid out) myself and with clients for years and it’s consistently produced strength and size gains.

      And that’s with absolutely no injuries. If you don’t use junk form and smart, manageable weight, there won’t be damage (people tear RC’s from over-loading their delts with bad technique).

      Plus you’re only looking at 7 sets of pressing movements (C&P, seated military, Arnold); that’s a standard shoulder protocol and nothing out of the ordinary.

      • Tea Partiers are Obese Racists

        “And that’s with absolutely no injuries.”

        That’s because you’re still young. I don’t know, you have the experience, I don’t. But it seems to me most guys are front heavy already, and there should be more pulling and rear delt work than front delt work, esp. with heavy the benchpressing guys do already. The lack of rotator cuff exercises is also problematic. 11 sets of front delt work and 2 sets of rear-delt work seem very imbalanced to me.

        • Bryan DiSanto

          Injuries go beyond me, but with older clients (male and female).

          Don’t mistake this for any sort of full-body routine, it’s just one component specific to shoulders. A heavy back regimen/pulling routine is insanely critical to complement this — that’ll hit the rear delts/upper back/traps/teres/rhomboids/etc.

          To your point, though, this should NOT be the only workout XYZ person does. That would lead to major imbalances, bad posture, and an awkward looking physique.

        • Bill Thrower

          now why would anyone take anything and obvious moron like you says seriously.
          Liberals are the dumbest people on earth and by far the most hateful.

          • Tea Partiers are Obese Racists

            Hey, I don’t belong to the party that denies evolution and thinks Sarah Palin is the shit. Dumbass.