Struggling to grow your shoulders?
Jen Ford has the exercises for you!

As a fitness competitor, I often get complimented on the development of my shoulders, a body part that many females struggle to shape and grow. I owe a lot of my upper body shape to my teenage years as a competitive swimmer, however I have also mastered the most effective training methods for this body part and I utilise these methods with my clients.

I typically train shoulders as part of my ‘pull’ sessions at the gym, focusing on exercises working the muscles of the back, biceps and shoulders, and then I train them again as part of my ‘push’ session alongside chest and triceps. By splitting the movements into push and pull, I get the benefits of focusing on shoulders twice in a week.

As a full pull or push session can last up to one hour in the gym, I like to superset many of my shoulder exercises to better utilise the time I have to train. This helps to keep workouts more intense.

Here are my favourite shoulder exercises with a summary of sets, reps and range of movement.


The Shoulder Press

As a first exercise, I prefer to begin with heavier exercises and work my way down to lighter weights, so I would recommend doing a seated shoulder press to begin a shoulder workout. With feet placed firmly on the floor and back pressed against the bench, I coach my clients to keep elbows wide and press from the shoulder line, straight overhead. It’s a good idea to wear wrist supports when performing any heavy shoulder exercise, as the small joint at the wrist is put under a lot of pressure, especially if you can challenge the weight selection.

2x warm up sets of lighter weight for
12-15 reps
4x working sets 8-10 reps


Seated Lateral Raise

This is a tough one! Form is very important in this exercise as I often see people leaning forward and backwards throughout reps if the weight selection is too heavy. In order to execute this in a way that targets the deltoids, I coach my clients to sit perfectly straight, with their core held tight and raise the arms to shoulder height with elbows slightly higher than wrists to avoid too much pressure on the forearms.

2x warm up sets 10-12 reps
4x working sets 6-8 reps


SUPERSET: Upright row and Front raise

Now that the heavy sets are done, I add in the lighter, higher rep supersets! Using a barbell for upright rows it’s important to adopt a strong stance, holding core muscles nice and tight, keep the hands close together on the bar and pull it upright towards the chin, keeping it close to the front of the body at all times. The front raise can be done with a weight plate; keeping arms nice and straight, and raising the plate to shoulder height.

4x 12 upright rows and 10 plate raises.
For a finisher, try holding the last front raise up and twisting like a steering wheel to failure for added burn!


Standing Lateral Raise: Triple Drop Set

This is my favourite exercise for shoulders and I incorporate it into my pull session, and maybe my push session if I’m feeling brave!

Set three dumbbell selections out in front of you, for example sets of 10kgs, 8kgs and 6kgs, with room to step forward between each (helps psych you up!) When using this exercise to finish my session I opt for failure reps, pushing to failure on each weight. It usually goes something like this.

4 sets:
10kg DBS 14 reps
8kg DBS 14 reps
6kg DBS 12 reps

If I can get extra reps in without compromising my form, I’ll go for it!!

As part of my pull day I’d incorporate the upright row and front raises into my session, as well as the triple drop of lateral raises. In my push session I use the seated dumbbell press and seated lateral raise.

These shoulder exercises could be performed as one session, paired with added cardio – try using a battle rope to really exhaust the muscles. To do this I’d finish the session off with 40 alternating single rope waves, 40 double rope slams and 15 wide push-ups. Do this 4 times and you’ll really feel the burn!

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