The Shoulder


There is something special about shoulders, that place them almost on par with breasts and butts for women, and pecs and biceps, for men. How we define nice shoulders may vary from person to person, but when you get down to it, it’s only a discussion of degrees. Shapely defined shoulders are attractive to most everyone, on everyone. It’s even a recurring female fashion trend to add shoulder padding in blouses and blazers.


Some interesting facts about the shoulder. It is the most mobile joint in the the human body, able to move the most degrees in ever single plane of motion. The “shoulder girdle” is involved in almost every possible torso exercise. This creates the opportunity for a great variety of possible exercises, but this comes with increased ***joint laxity***, compared to your other joints, creating greater risk of injury do to accidental hyperextension leading to muscular and connective tissue damage. The fact of its extreme mobility puts it at the most risk of accidental injury, and it’s necessary involvement in all torso exercises put it at risk of over use injuries.
Click this for a detailed overview of the shoulder joint: shoulder anatomy, in detail

The number of possible shoulder exercises/movements can be overwhelming, and trying to do every possible variation in every possible movement pattern would be an all day, monotonous, and dangerous, mess.

Here’s a rundown of the most frequently used shoulder exercises seen in a typical health club:

1. Dumbbell Military Press (standing)
2. Dumbbell Seated shoulder press
3. Dumbbell Lateral raises
4. Dumbbell front raise
5. Dumbbell bent over reverse fly’s
6. Barbell Military Press (standing)
7. Smith machine seated shoulder press
8. Nautilus (or other manufacturer) shoulder press machine
9. Nautilus (or other) lateral raise machine
10. Pec Fly/**rear delt** machine
11. Cable front raise
12. Cable lateral raise
13. Cable rear deltoid
14. Cable overhead press
You can look all these up on the invaluable website:

And these are just the most common ones. I could probably expand this list for pages if I wanted, but I don’t want to and most of you don’t want me to, either. These are just deltoid specific exercises. Then there are all the other major muscle exercises of the torso that put tremendous stress of the deltoids. For example, all of the following chest exercises work the anterior (front) deltoid intensely:
*Push ups, Olympic bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, dumbbell pec fly, cable pec fly’s, machine pec fly*.

All of the next group work the posterior (rear) deltoids and other muscles of the back shoulder girdle:

*Pull ups, Lat pull downs, long pulls, dumbbell bent over rows, barbell rows, cable rows, machine rows (nautilus or other) *.

With so many exercises hitting anterior and posterior deltoids heavily, one aught to wonder why some exercisers insist on spending so much time on trying to target those areas specifically. For the vast majority of gym goers lifting weights, overhead presses and lateral raises are all that are needed to develop well shaped and strong shoulders, as all the other exercises you should be doing for your upper body are taking care of the other two regions of the deltoids.

Given the over importance shoulder training seems to take on with serious weight lifters of both sexes, it shouldn’t be surprising that shoulder pain is one of the three most frequently sited gym associated injuries (lower back and knees being the other two).

If you’re not a competitive bodybuilder, or someone who wants to look like one, my advice is to cut down on shoulder training, and focus on lateral raise and/or shoulder press, while making sure that your chest (pushing exercise=anterior deltoid) and back (pulling exercises=posterior deltoid) exercises are truly challenging.

Of course, always follow strict good form. The first really bad rep performed should be the last rep of the set.

Happy training.


3 thoughts on “The Shoulder

  1. Do you have a strong feeling about the advantages of cable pulling vs. free weights vs. machines for these exercises? I’m primarily thinking of the cable pull systems I see people using for the shoulders.


    1. There are no short answers with me, it seems.

      It really comes down to the participant knowing what they’re attempting to accomplish on that workout, as well as their overall goal.

      Dumbbells allow you to most closely imitate natural movement patterns through your torso and extremities (limbs). This makes them the most functional overall, if your goal is general fitness and building “real world” strength. Barbells are a close second in building real world strength, but because their use in upper body movements restricts the movement pattern of the shoulder girdle (your hand spacing is fixed eliminating the natural inward arc; adduction; of the deltoid and scapula), it is somewhat less functional for upper body, and places greater overall stress on connective tissue and rotator cuff muscles. Whew…that’s a lot.
      As for cables, your hands aren’t fixed in space, giving the advantage of natural arching motions the the shoulder girdle, but the weight you’re lifting is no longer relative to the movement pattern. With free weights, as you push through a range of motion, the relative weight changes based on the angle of the moving joint(s). With cables, the weight stack is moving vertically at all times, regardless of the angles of your joint at any given point. This creates an unnatural force curve on the joint/muscle, as the weight no longer reflects the changing gravity pull. This can place different, unnatural stress’s on the targeted muscles, and that might be beneficial or risky depending on the goals of the lifter.

      Machines I would only quickly recommend to body builders or individuals with specific “corrective” needs. They possess the disadvantages of both barbells and cables, and usually nullify the natural role of the core in every lift, while free weights and cables tend to enhance the role of the core. Though, as always, exceptions always exist. What machines do allow, is for the extreme overload of a muscle group that would be difficult to attain with free weights safely. This can be a big plus for body builders, especially after they have Pre exhausted the targeted muscle with free weights and/or cables.

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