The Best Hypertrophy Shoulder Workout

Looking to build muscle? You need to get to know hypertrophy training. Put simply, hypertrophy training is focused on making muscles grow larger, and it works best when directed at specific muscle groups. Read on to learn more about how to apply this technique to the upper body in a hypertrophy shoulder workout. (And when you’re ready for more, check out our hypertrophy leg, arm, and chest routines, too.)

Hypertrophy 101

Any hypertrophy routine requires three key factors in order to deliver gains:

  1. Volume: This refers to the total number of sets (and cumulative reps) of work the muscle is exposed to in a workout or across several workouts.
  2. Intensity: The amount of loading a muscle takes on.
  3. Mechanical Tension: This refers to the muscle spending time under tension throughout its functional range of motion. Doing that requires looking closely at the muscle’s action within the body and prioritizing exercises that challenge the muscle through as much of its range of motion as possible.

For most lifters with a decent fitness baseline, the best way to achieve hypertrophy benefits is to zero in on different body regions one workout at a time. Of course, this is better known as isolation training. Using isolation training methods to favor one group of muscles in a given workout allows you to spend your entire time in the gym giving that muscle group a serious pump.

When done correctly, and supplemented with a healthy, protein-rich diet complete with a caloric surplus (i.e. consuming more calories than you burn while working out), the body will respond by making that muscle group grow. Below, I’ve applied this method to the shoulders. Read on for the best hypertrophy shoulder workout to add to your workout regimen.

Working Your Shoulder Muscles

Similar to many other large muscle groups, the deltoids (shoulders) are actually divided into three major sections: The front deltoids, medial deltoids, and rear deltoids. In addition, depending on the movement chosen to hit them, there’s a high likelihood the upper traps will be involved as a synergistic muscle group in the exercise. Long story short: You probably won’t get developed shoulders without some trap development, too.

The Best Hypertrophy Shoulder Workout

  • A. Barbell Strict Press x 5 (3 sets): This is a tried and true staple in most shoulder training programs. Usually, this lift enables a lifter to move their heaviest load for low reps. Though this is a shoulder-dominant movement pattern, it’s less isolated. For that reason, it’s a great way to load up and prime your nervous system for the more isolated shoulder exercises to come. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
  • Perform B1 and B2 as a superset for 3 rounds. Rest 2 minutes between rounds.
  • B1. Barbell High Pull x 3: To hammer the traps and mid-delts, use a shoulder-width grip and start the movement off by creating thrust with the lower body (you can “hike” the bar upward with a quarter-hinge start position). Pull the bar straight up to neck level with the hands in one motion; your elbows should be higher than your hands and pointed behind you/to the side at the top of the move. Let the bar return to the pins or blocks, take a second to reset, and perform your next rep.
  • B2. Dumbbell Seated Lateral Raise x 12: This part of the superset will take the traps out of the picture and focus on the medial and rear deltoids. Maintain a forward lean in your seat while performing these so the torso faces downward, not upright.
  • C. Bentover Reverse Flye (reverse grip) x 15 (3 sets): Turning the palms around from the typical pronated grip hits the rear deltoids via their small role in the rotation of the upper arm. This helps them get a little extra squeeze at the end of each rep. Plus, it’s harder to cheat your range of motion when the palms are turned away like this. Be sure to use lighter weights and really search for the isolation of your rear deltoids and upper back with each rep.
  • D. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press x 4 Ladder Sets: A ladder set is a great way to go beyond what you could normally lift for a set number of reps. To do these, select dumbbells that you could shoulder press for sets of 12 to 15 reps. Perform 2 reps. Rest for 10 seconds, then immediately perform 3 reps. Rest again for 10 seconds, and then perform 5 reps. Finally, rest for 10 more seconds, and then perform 10 reps. Using this method, you’ll perform 20 reps with your 12-rep weight—and your muscles should be screaming from the effort. Rest as long as needed between ladder sets.

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