big sculpted shoulders workout

by Jason Stallworth

November 5, 2020

If there’s one body part that can really improve your overall physique, it’s your shoulders.

Having those sculpted, rounded, and capped delts makes you look bigger from all angles.

But many bodybuilders and weightlifters have a difficult time building this muscle. It can be a challenge to gain both size and shape in your shoulders.

The solution comes down to your approach to training your delts. So I’m going to take you through a specific workout that will help you build big and sculpted shoulders.

I’m also going to give you some variations of this workout for the purpose of focusing on your weak areas. For example, if your rear delts are not in proportion with the rest of your shoulders, you’re going to learn exactly what to do to build that area up (and other parts of your shoulders).

Before we get started, be sure to check out of the top pre-workouts that I use for extreme mental focus, energy, and pumps. I also have a discount code that you can use in this post.
Click here to learn more.

Shoulder Anatomy Simplified for Bodybuilding

First, let’s take a look at the anatomy of your shoulders. It’s important to understand this so that you can effectively build your shoulder muscles by doing the right exercises for each part.
If you’re already familiar with this, you can just scroll down to the next section and get the workout.

At a high-level, there are three types of muscles within your shoulders:

  1. Middle deltoid
  2. Anterior (front) deltoid
  3. Posterior (rear) deltoid
Image from the article ‘All About Shoulder Pain’ on bodybuilding.com

Where many lifters fall short is they just focus on pressing exercises, like seated overhead press, standing barbell press, or dumbbell press. Those exercises are great for building size.

And some form of presses should indeed be part of your shoulder workout. Because that’s your foundation for getting and maintaining big shoulders. In other words, you can’t sculpt mass if the mass doesn’t exist.

However, if you’re not performing those additional isolation exercises for shoulders that target each of the three deltoids above, you’re not going to have the desired shape and symmetry. And your shoulders are such a visible muscle so the difference will be noticed.

That said, a true shoulder workout is not going to be a quick one. You need to do a variety of exercises to work all angles of your delts. Front, rear, and middle. And that’s what we’re going to get into next.

4 Shoulder Workouts

seated dumbbell press

You’re going to see four different shoulder workouts below. The first one will be more of a basic shoulder workout for mass and definition.

The other three workouts will put more emphasis on a specific part of your shoulders. These are great if you feel like you’re shoulders are not symmetrical and one area is lagging behind. This will allow you to build that specific deltoid more.

Workout Notes:

  • Each workout below will have its own explanation
  • For pressing exercises, rest about 1 minute between sets
  • For all other exercises, rest about 45 seconds between sets
  • Where you see an asterisk (*), it means do perform a drop set (this will be explained further in each workout)
  • The workouts below do not include warm-up sets; be sure to do 1-2 warm-up sets for the first exercise before you get into your working sets
  • Make sure you have the proper fuel and energy to get an awesome workout – you can read about my recommended pre-workout here

Shoulder Workout 1: Basic Size and Definition

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Dumbbell Press4 x 12, 10, 10, 8*
Lateral Raises3 x 10
Bent-over Raises3 x 10
Front Dumbbell Raises3 x 10
Dumbbell Shrugs3 x 15
*perform a drop set on the final set

This is the perfect shoulder workout for gaining size and definition. You’re starting out with some good ole fashioned seated dumbbell presses.

Remember to do a couple of warm-up sets before jumping into your working sets, especially since you’re starting with a pressing exercise (as you’ll be going a bit heavier on this).

For seated dumbbell press, you can move up in weight by 5-10 lbs. each set. For example, if you did this with 45 lb. dumbbells on your first set, you can bump it up to 50s or 55s for the next set (depending on how you feel and how easy those 45s were).

On that final set of dumbbell press, you want to be struggling to get that last rep. And then, of course, you’ll do a drop set by reducing the weight by about 30% and pumping out as many reps as you can do.

Every exercise after your seated presses focuses on each individual deltoid. This is where you really get into shaping and sculpting your shoulders.

Shoulder Workout 2: Focus on Rear Delts

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bent-over Raises4 x 12, 12, 10, 8*
Seated Barbell Press3 x 10
Front Dumbbell Raises3 x 10
Lateral Raises3 x 10
Reverse Pec Dec3 x 12*
*perform a drop set on the final set

It’s most common to see bodybuilders lacking rear delt development. So this workout focuses on building up that weaker part of your shoulders.

Rear delts can often be overlooked because they’re not as visible to you when you’re training the other parts of your shoulders (this is the same reason why many focus more on their chest than their back, which is a ‘huge’ mistake!).

To correct this, you’re going to start out with an isolation exercise that targets your rear delts. And you’re also going to end with one.

To add more intensity to this specific area, you’ll do a drop set on the final set of your rear delts exercises, your first and last exercise.

As you can see by the rep ranges, you’re going to work up to a heavier weight on that first exercise, bent-over raises. But don’t go so heavy that you sacrifice your form. Bad form will nullify the muscle-building potential, especially for this exercise.

Shoulder Workout 3: Focus on Side (Middle) Delts

ExerciseSets x Reps
Lateral Raises4 x 12, 10, 10, 8*
Seated Dumbbell Press3 x 10
Bent-over Raises3 x 10
Front Dumbbell Raises3 x 10
Cable Side-Delt Raises3 x 12*
*perform a drop set on the final set

The part of your shoulders that can really make your physique stand out and give you that cartoon-like bodybuilder shape is your side delts.

This muscle is what people are describing when they say capped delts. Those muscles are literally poking out, making you look wider, and giving you those broad shoulders.

Like with the prior workout for rear delts, you’re going to do two exercises that target your side delts. And you’ll also do a drop set on the final set of both exercises.

Starting out with lateral raises, make sure you have 100% focus on working that specific muscle as you go through each rep. You really have to gain that mind-muscle connection on this exercise. If you do that, your delts will blow up!

Also, on your final exercise, cable side raises, don’t be afraid to go super light on these. Even the strongest lifters I know don’t go heavy on this specific exercise.

Shoulder Workout 4: Focus on Front Delts

ExerciseSets x Reps
Front Dumbbell Raises4 x 12, 10, 10, 8*
Seated Arnold Press3 x 10
Lateral Raises3 x 10
Bent-over Raises3 x 10
Upright Rows3 x 12*
*perform a drop set on the final set

This final shoulder workout focuses on building your front delts. You’ll notice that it’s in the same format as the two prior workouts.

You’ll target those muscles at the beginning of your workout with front dumbbell raises. And you’ll work up to a challenging weight for that final set, which includes a drop set (you’ll also do a drop set on your final exercise, upright rows).

The caveat to this front delts-focused workout is that your final exercise doesn’t necessarily target your front delts. However, your front delts are more involved than the other parts of your shoulders.

Upright rows also help build your traps. And many like to work traps on shoulder day.

In addition, that same concept applies to your 2nd exercise, Arnold press.

Arnold press is basically a seated dumbbell press. The difference is that you’re starting with your palms facing you and rotating your palms out as you press the dumbbells up.

You’ll start by holding the dumbbells close to your chest with your palms facing towards you. As you press the dumbbells, you’ll gradually rotate your palms so that they’re facing out by the time you get to the peak of the movement.

This is a fluid motion and you really want to slow your reps down so that you can focus more on forcing your muscles to work harder. You’ll feel your front delts on this as well, especially in the starting position.

Building Big Sculpted Shoulders

rear delt raises bent over raises

When it comes to shoulders, you need both size and symmetry. That’s why I called this ‘big and sculpted shoulders.’

If you just have big shoulders but they aren’t defined, then you’re going to look like a block. On the other hand, or other delt, rather…lol, if you have ripped shoulders but no mass, you’re just going to look small and weak.

So you really want to focus on building both mass and shape. These workouts I gave you will help you do that. And remember, if any part of your delts is lagging behind, you can do the workout that focuses more on that specific part of your shoulders.

I hope you enjoyed this post and try these shoulder workouts.

For more workouts, be sure to check out my elite programs on my shop.

Train with Passion,

Jason