[Workout Plans] The Cannonball Shoulder Workout
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
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.
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
Image: Muscle And Fitness
You can download a printable recap here. Rest for 1 minute in between sets.
1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press — 4 sets, 12 reps
- (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.
2. Clean & Press — 3 sets, 10 reps
- (1) Stand tall with a loaded barbell on your thighs. Tighten your core, dip down slightly, and powerfully pull the barbell up on top of your collarbone.
- (2) Dip your legs slightly and explosively press the barbell overhead.
- (3) Hold for 1s, slowly lower the bar back to your collarbone, then down to your thighs, and repeat for a set of 10. Complete each clean & press in one fluid motion. You can also use dumbbells.
3. [SUPERSET] Upright Rows + Front Plate Raises — 3 sets, 10 reps each
Complete 12 upright rows immediately followed by 12 front plate raises.
- Upright Rows — hold the bar slightly narrower than shoulder width and pull it up to your chin. Keep your core tight and shoulders back throughout.
- Front Plate Raises — make sure to keep your core tight and body steady. Raise the plate up to eye height and hold it for 1 second. Resist the pull to fall forward.
4. Reverse Dumbbell Flies — 2 sets, 15 reps
- (1) Grab two dumbbells and bend over so that your torso is at a 45º angle.
- (2) Squeeze your shoulder blades together, tighten your core and lower back, and raise both arms directly out to the side.
- (3) Hold the contraction for .5 seconds at the top and slowly return to starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
5. Dumbbell Shoulder Shrugs — 2 sets, 15 reps
- (1) Stand tall with 2 dumbbells.
- (2) Tighten your core, puff your chest up, and powerfully shrug your shoulders up into your neck.
- (3) Hold the squeeze for 1s and slowly lower all the way down. Repeat for 15 reps.
6. Cable Face Pulls — 2 sets, 12 reps
- (1) Stand at a cable station with a rope attachment. Adjust it as high as possible.
- (2) Tighten your core, raise your arms, draw your shoulders back, and pull the rope in towards your mouth. Flare it and pull your rear deltoids as far back as possible. Your elbows should stay high throughout.
- (3) Hold the contraction for 1s and slowly release it back to start. Repeat for 12 reps.
7. [SUPERSET] Push Press + Lateral Raises — 2 sets, 10 reps each
Complete 12 push presses immediately followed by 12 lateral raises.
- Push Press — tighten your core and stand with two dumbbells raised at shoulder height (neutral grip). Dip your knees, powerfully explode upwards, and press the dumbbells overhead. Hold for 1s and return back down to the bottom.
- Lateral Raise — while keeping your core tight and back straight, raise both arms directly out to the side. They should reach neck height and form a “T” with your body. Hold for .5s and return to the bottom.
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.
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