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[Workout Plans] The Cannonball Shoulder Workout

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dwight howard, dwight howard shoulders, shoulders, broad shoulders

Whenever you see Dwight Howard doing anything, it’s impossible to miss his shoulders. They’re MAMMOTH cannonballs. Not only are they immense, but they’re extremely uncommon.

Shoulders are one of most oft-neglected body parts by both gym novices and vets alike. Why? Probably 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 broad, defined shoulders? Not so much.

And I don’t get it.

Delts absolutely have to be a focal point in every workout routine. They add SO much value. Broad shoulders accentuate the biceps and triceps; complete any ripped up pair of arms; add massive width to the back; and boost strength on the bench press, deadlift, squat, and row. Bottom line — stronger shoulders unlock the potential for insane full-body growth.

That said, calculated, adept, well-rounded training is absolutely critical; moreso than for most other muscle groups. The shoulders are extremely delicate and multi-faceted, and imbalanced training can lead directly to devastating injuries (read: torn rotator cuff), poor posture (e.g. slouching and hunching), and less-than-ideal aesthetics.


The Anatomy of the Shoulder

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The shoulders are primarily made up of three deltoid heads and the upper section of the traps. The rotator cuff muscles also play a role.

  • Anterior/Front Deltoid — the anterior deltoid sits on the front half of your shoulders and connects to the upper part of the chest. A well-developed front head creates sharp, visible definition between the shoulder and chest. It’ll also give the shoulders height and add a full, circular look in the front.
  • Lateral/Middle Deltoid — the lateral deltoid connects to the biceps and triceps, and plunges down the side of the arm. If you’re looking at someone head-on, a person with well-developed lateral delts will have cut-up definition AND width at the upper portion of their arms; often looking like natural shoulder pads.
  • Posterior/Rear Deltoid — The rear deltoid rests on the back half of the shoulder. Strong posterior delts add width to the back and upper body, preserve posture, and create a well-developed “V” from the rear. People that are perpetually hunched forward — usually from a desk job and texting — and have slouched posture can always benefit from rear delt work. The same goes for anyone with a dominant chest or front deltoids; a condition that usually comes from prioritizing pushing over pulling movements (think bench press vs. high row). Strong rear delts keep your shoulders drawn back and your chest up.
  • Upper Trapezius (Traps) — The upper traps run down from the neck and line the shoulders like a muscular mantlepiece. They look like meat mounds. Well-developed traps add significant size to the upper body, accentuate the deltoids, and make the chest look about 4x bigger than it actually is.

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In order to build broad, well-rounded, spherical shoulders, effectively hitting all 4 muscles is absolutely essential. That means doing more than a few sets of dumbbell shoulder presses. Diversification is key.

And because the shoulders are lined with a jigsaw puzzle of smaller muscles, developing a little bit of mass can ultimately payoff with MAJOR cuts, separation, and definition (assuming you’re lean enough). When it all comes together, it’s rather glorious.

We’ve locked and loaded The Cannonball Shoulder Workout with a circuit of exercises that hits the entire shoulder spectrum. It’s designed to crank up the intensity and demolish the shoulders with larger compound exercises, and then slowly dig in and excavate individual regions one-by-one. Get ready for a caustic burn — your shoulders are about to get wrecked.


The Cannonball Shoulder Workout

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Image: Muscle And Fitness

Press the ← → keys or swipe with your fingers to move from one exercise to another. You can download a printable recap of the full here.

Rest for 1 minute in between sets.


1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press — 4 sets, 12 reps

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How to:

Video Demo — Dumbbell Shoulder Press


  • (1) Sit on a short bench with your back straight.
  • (2) Powerfully lift the dumbbells and press them directly overhead. Keep your core tight and don’t let your lower back arch backwards.
  • (3) Slowly lower your arms until your triceps are slightly below parallel. Repeat for 12 total reps.
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Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
ELLO ELLO I'm Bryan DiSanto. I'm the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, a CPT/CSN/Fitness Coach, Chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu – Paris, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness junkie.

I also contribute to Men's Health Magazine.

When I'm not working on my abs (or somebody else’s), whipping up avocado roses and avocado toast, or running a Tough Mudder, I'm probably yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.

Come be friends with me on Snapchat (BRYDISANTO).
Bryan DiSanto
  • monkeybutler

    17 sets on shoulders a bit much …..

  • 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.

    • 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.

        • 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.

  • Shilly

    Why did you change workout I was using the old routine dude

    • Feel free to do the old routine if it’s working for you, but I revisited it and it wasn’t balanced enough for my liking.

      This is much more comprehensive — consider switching (and then sprinkle in any extra exercises you personally like).

      • Shilly

        Can you post the old routine for me as I don’t remember it I had the page bookmarked and just used it off my phone

        Just one question though you said the old one wasn’t balanced enough, apart from the actual exercises how does this differ ie are there any particular muscle groups which are targeted more o. This one compared to the old version?

        • It’s a little bit harder and it specifically puts more emphasis on the rear deltoids and traps.

          Here’s the old routine:

          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

      • Sulaiman Lalani

        hey bryan thats was really ausome & effective workout i did in my life, well im looking forward for biceps-tricpes exercises in one workout as well as chest & back indivisual workouts, so please post these workouts asap
        thanks alot 🙂

  • strive to thrive

    found this workout today and it is fantastic. my shoulder day has been seriously lacking so i was after a good solid shoulder blaster. read it , liked it and went straight to the gym to give it a try. loved it! brutal but in a good way . liked it so. much in fact that i couldnt resist throwing in a drop set on the shrugs 🙂 shoulders felt seriously pumped after this workout

    • Oh, you’re more than welcome to throw in as many drop sets as you want :). Glad you liked it!

  • thims85

    as a female, people are always giving me strange looks when i say i want shoulders. lol. I must say i did this workout and loved it! i followed it to a T and was wasted!

    • Haha that’s ridiculous, defined shoulders are one of the most aesthetic body parts — they completely complement the arms and back. Keep on rocking it!!!

  • Riggz

    Bryan, my lady and I swear by this site and love the workouts bro. We’d love to contribute. I’m really good with sizzle videos and social media work. My email is

    • Thanks a ton, I really appreciate it! Shoot me an email with a pitch, some of your work, etc. — no promises, but I’ll consider it.


  • Mike David

    Imo if u lift heavy and consistently do this shoulder routine u are going to end up overtrained. There is way over the recommended rep range but hey if it works for you great, just wish I could be a genetic anomaly too.

    • joe

      I never understand the over training argument. How could you say this is overtraining if you don’t know how much a person sleeps or eats. Over training has become an excuse to lessen workout intensity. I agree there is a point where overkill doesn’t add, but saying this routine will lead to over training neglects the fact that over training is very often more about insufficient recovery, which is to say you must eat and sleep more, and possibly spread out muscle groups more efficiently to optimize recovery time. This routine is not even scratching the surface of overkill leading to over training. Just my .02.

      • Bingo, couldn’t say it better myself.

        Overtraining is the product of mismanaging intensity as it relates to recovery (incl. sleep, nutrition, hydration, supplementation, foam rolling/massage, etc.).

        95% of people use “overtraining” as an excuse to justify not working as hard as they could be; and likely aren’t even coming close to hitting that point.

  • Popo

    The amount of exercises is overkill. I got all the way to and finished the upright rows, front plate raises and my shoulders felt like they were going to pop. Def not for the beginner or intermediate

  • Steve Austin

    I’m a 16 y/o basketball player and genetically my delts and shoulders have always been small compared to the rest of my body, no matter how I train them. This workout changed that and I can feel the pump the entire time and am seeing steady improvement and growth. I especially like how every part of the shoulder is targeted in one way or another. Thank you for sharing!

    • You got it Steve. Shoulders are a complex muscle group, most people respond better to more targeted training. Keep crushing it!

  • Scott

    Hey Bryan,
    I am getting back into working out and just need some clarity. There are seven exercises here listed for the shoulders. Do I complete the first one completely of all four sets for the first one and then move on the next exercise and so forth or do I do one set at a time, and a different exercise for next set? Sorry for the confusion…

    • No prob at all. Do all of the sets for a given exercise and then move onto the next one.

      So you’ll do all 4 sets of the DB shoulder press and then move on to the clean & press.


  • vinu

    I just wanna to know the weights to be used….how it may vary from moderate to heavy or same weight.plz tell me…i like this workout…it feels …i also have something on ma shoulders

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