Build Big Shoulders: 6 Press Exercises For Hardcore Delts

Build Big Shoulders: 6 Press Exercises For Hardcore Delts

The press was one of three lifts in Olympic lifting until 1972 when it was deleted due to hardship in judging. I feel it's easier to judge than the other two lifts, the snatch, and clean and jerk. But enough of that - let's get down to ways to use the press to build muscle.

Related: 5 Moves to Perfect Cannonball Delts

There are many different tools which can be used to perform this popular exercise: dumbbells, barbells, bands, and machines. Each one of these offers its distinct advantages, which will be briefly outlined here.

Strict Military Barbell Press

This is the most popular press and is a very effective exercise to pack muscle on the delts. Load a barbell up with the desired weight and stand or sit and press the bar overhead. The downside is you're locked into a straight groove.

Dumbbell Press


The use of dumbbells allows for much greater variety. Instead of being locked into a set pattern, the dumbbells can be rotated to activate surrounding muscles, which are often referred to as the 'stabilizer' muscles.

Selectorized Press Machine

These allow quick and easy weight selection because they have a stack of weight plates with a quick-change selector pin. A well-designed machine will force you to use the appropriate range of motion for the exercise based on scientific studies. These are great for safe control of movement while doing forced reps and negatives.

Smith Press

The Smith machine adds a measure of safety to the barbell press but has a trade-off. A barbell slides in a fixed plane along a pair of guide rods. There are pairs of pins which allow the bodybuilder to place the bar at many different locations. There is a safety catch which brakes the descent of the bar if dropped.

Many different exercises can be done with the Smith machine including the barbell squat, press and triceps press. Exercises must follow a very limited plane due to the bar guides. This is a disadvantage as it often places the bar in an unnatural position during a given movement.

Band Presses

One of the newer training tools available, and one I really find useful are bands. Developed for use in powerlifting training, these have proven to be great for building tension as the range of motion increases during an exercise.

I find them very effective for static holds and partial reps. They are available in many different resistance levels.

Behind-The-Neck Press

This exercise stresses the shoulders in a way different than the front press does. This can be a great way to provide a new stimulus but bodybuilders must be conscious of shoulder impingement and the increase in injury incidence.

To do this exercise, load a bar with the desired weight. After placing the hands at a slightly wider than shoulder width and the bar behind the neck, press it straight overhead.
Marc Lobliner Overhead Press
Marc Lobliner performing a back-off set of overhead presses for reps at the Powerstation Gym.

Building Big Shoulders Using High-Intensity Training

There are many different methods to magnify the results obtained from training. As a HIT practitioner, I have used many of these and have devised several of my own.

Forced reps - These are done at the end of a set after hitting muscular failure. Have a friend provide enough assistance to allow the completion of 1-3 additional reps. This is great for really upping the intensity of a workout.

Negative reps - Load a bar with 140% of the weight you normally use during a set of presses. After your partner lifts the weights to the top, you lower the bar to an eight count. These are great strength and muscle builders.

Burn reps - After completing a set to failure, do a series of short, pulse reps until you feel a deep burn. The range of motion should not exceed six inches.

These will allow us to maximize delt and trap muscle growth with the proper application.

The following routines are great for adding muscle and power using the HIT protocol

Burn Reps/Forced Reps Shoulder Workout

  • Seated side dumbbell lateral raises - 1x12 + burn reps to failure
  • No rest
  • Incline dumbbell presses - 1x8 + 3 forced reps

Forced Reps Shoulder Workout

  • Bent-over cable lateral raises - 1x12 + 2 forced reps
  • No rest
  • Standing dumbbell press - 1x6 + 4 forced reps

Pure Negative Reps Shoulder Workout

  • Machine press - 1x8 (partner lifts machine arm to top)
  • 10-second rest
  • Front dumbbell raise - 1x8 (partner lifts dumbbells to top)
These three routines should be used consistently with a constant attempt to add weight in small increments. Weekly increases of 1-2 pounds really add up over a year's time, while avoiding the Golgi tendon reflex, which is the body's way of avoiding severe injuries to muscles and tendons during heavy lifting.

Do the first routine for one month and evaluate your progress. You should train your delts once every 7-10 days to allow them to receive the necessary rest. If you repeat training too soon, your muscles won't be fully recuperated and your growth will have been impeded. The gym is where growth is stimulated but muscles grow when at rest.

The forced rep routine should be used during month two, with the pure negative used during month three.
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