The Blog

Five Exercises for Boulder Shoulders

Next time you're at the gym, canvas the weights room and look at the other guys who are training. Chances are, you'll easily spot a few with decent sized biceps, a well-proportioned chest, and probably one or two with a good set of abs too.

Since I launched my latest unisex training book - The Lean Gains Bodybuilding Guide, I have been undated by people on social really showing a huge interest in this area.

I have to say I am absolutely delighted by this, as this was one of the main reasons I set up my business to help people develop a better understanding of what's what and how to do things.

I have found there is a huge enthusiasm for all things fitness but little knowledge of how to really start to achieve this. So I hope you find my column of help and value.

Next time you're at the gym, canvas the weights room and look at the other guys who are training. Chances are, you'll easily spot a few with decent sized biceps, a well-proportioned chest, and probably one or two with a good set of abs too.

These are the 'show muscles' that every novice lifter likes to focus on. And as a result, simply having pecs, abs and biceps isn't enough to turn heads anymore.


If you want to build a physique that really stands out from the crowd, you're going to need to develop a set of solid shoulders. Not only will they add noticeable width to your frame and help you fill out your tee-shirts like a real man should, they'll also make for a much more proportioned physique. Because, let's face it, scrawny shoulders and bulging biceps looks pretty weird when you take you shirt off.

The reason most people don't build strong shoulders is because they simply don't put in the work. With all the focus that goes on isolating the show muscles we spoke about earlier, shoulder training becomes an afterthought, tagged on to the end of training sessions if time and energy allows.

Don't be like the rest. If you want shoulders that stand out from the crowd, you need to train them harder than the typical gym goer. That means hitting them twice per week, minimum, and using a range of exercises that target the front, middle, and rear delts.

Here are the 5 exercises you need to be doing if you want to build a set of boulder shoulders.

#1 - Military Press

Whether you refer to it as a military press or an overhead press, the rules remain the same. You're never going to build big shoulders if you don't do it.

The military press is a big, manly exercise that is sure to get testosterone pumping - making it an essential movement for all hardgainers or anyone looking to put on size.

It's not rocket science either. Take a heavy bar, and press it above your head. Any meathead can do it, but it's often ditched in favour of a more 'comfortable' seated shoulder press. And whilst a seated shoulder press can be a good accessory lift for building shoulder strength, it will never compete with the barbell military press for the sheer surge of muscle building hormones that accompany it.

Of the few people in the gym that actually perform military presses, you'll find that many of them do so with sloppy form. In an attempt to add as much weight to the bar as possible, you'll see them pushing up through their knees to generate momentum. The extra weight may give their ego a boost, but their shoulders aren't going to benefit one iota if they're using their legs to generate the force.

When performing a proper military press, your feet should be corkscrewed into the floor and your abdominals tight. Do not lift your heel from the floor at any stage of the movement. Keep your rib cage down as the bar goes overhead to avoid stress on the lower back. Squeeze your glutes together at the top of each rep for further stability.

You should also be lifting with a thumbless grip - which means having your thumbs on the same side of the bar as your fingers. This allows for a more natural pressing path whilst also minimising the stress on your wrists.

Finally, don't lock your elbows at the top of each rep and let the bar come back down like a bag of cement. The bar should move explosively on the way up, but the descent of the bar should be smooth and controlled.

Master the military press, and you'll be well on your way to a set of boulder shoulders in no time.

#2 - Lateral raises

The beauty of lateral raises is that they don't put the same stress on your joints as a military press. Whilst the press is an essential movement, performing it too often will lead to injury. So in order to increase the frequency of your shoulder training, throw in sets of lateral raises 2 - 3 times per week.


Again, don't let your ego take over and have you chasing excess weight on lateral raises. Maintaining proper form is crucial with this movement, keeping your arms reasonably straight and your abdominals tight for stability. Lateral raises work best in a higher rep range of 10 - 15 per set, with low rest periods or even used as part of a superset.

To make lateral raises even harder, throw in an isometric hold at the top of each repetition. Even just a two second pause at the top of each rep is enough to get those shoulders seriously burning.

#3 - Front raises

Lateral raises are great for targeting the middle delts and building shoulder width, but they should always be complimented with front raises to help build a full, rounded appearance. Front raises will also help build strength and stability for your military press and your bench press.

Like lateral raises, you should work in the 10 - 15 rep range with front raises. Choose a weight that you can master comfortably with good form. Your arms shouldn't be swinging aimlessly - the movement should be controlled at all times, both on the ascent and the descent.

Want to make this even harder? Try a drop-set. Start with a weight that you can comfortably perform 20 reps with, and do 15. Now, drop the weight by 2KG and do another 15. Keep dropping and repeating the process, with no rest in between, until you reach the lightest weights on the rack. You'll be surprised how heavy they feel.

#4 - Handstand push up

This exercise is as hard as it sounds. But if you can master it, we guarantee you'll have a set of shoulders to be proud of.

The best way to work your way up to a handstand push up is starting with isometric handstand holds against a wall. When you can hold yourself for a minute, you can start working on the eccentric component of the handstand push up. Lower yourself with control, taking 5 - 8 seconds from the initiation of movement until your head touches the floor. Don't try to push yourself back up just yet - drop back to standing, then immediately get back into the handstand position and repeat the eccentric movement. Perform this 3 - 5 times to complete a set.

Once you have mastered 3 sets of 5 eccentrics, you're ready to get your first handstand push up. When you reach the bottom of the eccentric movement, push yourself back up explosively so that your arms are fully extended.

Keep progressing until you can do 6 - 8 reps comfortably. By that time, you'll have a good set of shoulders.


#5 - Rear delt flyes

To complete your set of boulder shoulders, we need an exercise that's going to target the rear delts. These are the part of the shoulder that is most often neglected, but it is essential to train them if you want to achieve maximum thickness and strength.

One of the best exercises for targeting the rear delts is the aptly named rear delt flyes. Attach a single handed grip to a cable machine, and position the cable starting point so that it is level with your chest. Face the cable machine and hold the grip in front of your chest, one handed with an overhand grip, arm fully outstretched.

Holding the grip, move your arm sideways and backwards until it is pointing out to the side at a 90 degree angle. Pause for one second, then return to the starting position with control.

Perform 8 - 12 reps, then repeat for the other side. Note that this is a very hard exercise! The weight you use will be very low, and for beginners, you may need to start with a resistance band with no weight added at all.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and build yourself a set of boulder shoulders!