The Best Shoulder Workout Routine For Defined Shoulders

shoulder workout routine header pic

If you are looking for a shoulder workout routine, look no further.

I am going to give you exact exercises, sets, reps, video tutorials, and so much more in this guide here.

You will leave this guide feeling confident in your ability to create and execute a kick a** shoulder workout routine.

We are going to dive into some very brief anatomy here first because I believe to truly work a muscle, you need to at least have some understanding of where it it, what it does, etc.

Therefore not only will I be taking out all of the guesswork and tell you exactly what to do, but I will also be educating you along the way.

Why? Just because I’m a nice guy and I love ya, that’s why.

I also truly believe it will benefit you the most, and that is the main reason.

So buckle up, get rid of distractions, and gimme the next 5-10 minutes to hopefully educate you and take out the guesswork moving forward.

Let’s get into it.

Shoulder Workout Routine

Basic Anatomy

To truly develop the most optimal shoulder workout routine, I believe you have to know a little bit about the anatomy of the shoulder muscles.

First off, when talking about working your shoulders, there will be some overlap with the upper back muscles.

I wrote an entire in depth article about your back muscles and how to train them, so I won’t be going over those in this guide.

I can link that HERE if you want to check that out after you are done reading this one.

Your shoulder is not just one muscle. There are actually 3 heads of the shoulder that we are going to take a look at in this guide.

I can attach a picture here below.

As you can, we are going to have the

  • anterior deltoid
  • Medial deltioid
  • Rear deltoid

These 3 heads of the shoulder perform different functions for the body and their muscle fibers are lined up differently.

shoulder workout routine medial delt
** the medial delt can have a few ranges of motion, we will cover this soon **

Since there are 3 different heads of the shoulder, we have to train them in 3 different forms of exercise.

Where as most people just simply perform one or two exercises.

For example, a common shoulder press.

This is a great exercise for developing the anterior deltoid ( if done correctly! ) but it is sub par at developing the medial and rear deltoid.

Therefore this is why it is important to perform exercises that are going to develop all 3 heads of the shoulder.

Which can lead me right into my next point I want to make.

Your Anterior Deltoid ( Front Of Shoulder )

When talking about the three heads of your shoulder, which one do you think we do a pretty good job of developing?

Think about it.

The front of your shoulder gets worked in push ups, bench press, shoulder press, picking your kids up, putting stuff over your head, etc etc.

Very rarely are we lifting our arms out to the side in day to day life.

Or even more, are we ever randomly bringing our arms back, in exercise or everyday life.

Therefore, the anterior deltoid is typically the head of your shoulder most people seem to train.

Yet, since they don’t properly hit the other two heads, this creates a massive imbalance in not only appearance but also strength.

This also can lead to injury over time if you are doing non stop pressing movements ( ie push ups, shoulder press, bench press, etc ) and never doing any medial delt or rear delt movements.

This consistent movement pattern overuse along with the accompanying muscle imbalances that come along with that.

Ie you get over developed front delts, under developed rear delt / upper back muscles, this can over the long term lead to improper movement patterns, leading to injury.

Therefore it is, once again, massively important to incorporate different forms of exercises to hit the shoulder muscles properly.

We will touch on all those in this article. Just know for the reasons listed above, we won’t be touching too much on the anterior deltoid as most people hit that more than enough.

Shoulder Injuries

Now, I also know you may have some questions about your specific shoulder injury.

Listen, this is an article on how to properly set up a shoulder workout routine. I am not a physical therapist nor can I diagnose your injuries.

Yet I will say, if you follow what I am about to lay out in this article, just like the thousands of clients I have coached, you can have some strong, healthy, and injury free shoulders.

Often times, like a shoulder press for example, people just absolutely butcher the form and that is why you consistently get injured.

Now of course I understand some people have specific injuries ( which even then, for the most part, you can work around ).

Yet point being, even if you are someone who thinks you have an injury and can’t do something.. I would at least give what I talk about and what I recommend here in this article a try.

I will show you the proper way to perform movements to maximize shoulder strength and minimize shoulder stress.

If you are looking for a rehab article on shoulders, I would advise contacting a physical therapist.

Shoulder Workout Routine : Hit All 3 Heads

Now that we have laid some groundwork for the basic anatomy of your shoulders, as well as covering injury side of things, let’s dive into some exercises, reps, sets, etc on how to hit all three heads.

First, we will briefly cover the anterior delt.

Anterior Delt ( Front Delt )

As we previously mentioned, we won’t be covering a ton of anterior deltoid work, as if you are following a properly designed training program you will be getting plenty of front delt work.

Yet there are a few exercises that I thoroughly enjoy for front delts that you can work into your program.

Let’s look at those now.

Seated DB Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is the king of all shoulder exercises, and rightfully so.

It is one of the best strength building movements out there, as well it one of the exercises for your shoulders that you can load the weight up on.

It is just so many people perform this inaccurately. The most basic mistake is people tend to flare their elbows out wide.

This tends to put a good amount of stress on your rotator cuff muscles. As well as this tends to limit the range of motion you can perform before your upper arm bone ( humerus ) jams into your shoulder joint, creating some nasty grinding going on in there.

Your elbows should not be out at a 90 degree angle. This is a recipe for injury.

As well as it simply does not lengthen your anterior deltoid as much.

Rather, your elbows should be tucked at a 30-45 degree angle.

shoulder workout routine elbows in

This lines up your anterior deltoid muscle to where you can fully lengthen and then get close to fully shortening it.

Each muscle has a lengthening phase ( usually the eccentric, or on the way down, think lowering a bicep curl) and a shortening phase ( usually the concentric, or on the way up, think up on a bicep curl ).

When you properly get your elbows into place, this will increase your muscular output, decrease your risk of injury, and have you feeling groovy.

The correct* way to do shoulder presses is a staple in any shoulder workout routine.

You can do these standing as well.

Sets : 2-4

Reps: 6-10

Medial Delt

The ever elusive medial delt.

When it comes to creating a shoulder workout routine, in my opinion, the medial delt is the most under developed muscle.

Notice how I said under developed, not under trained.

A lot of people attempt to train their medial delt, but just simply have poor execution, form, or exercise selection.

This leads to an array of issue, not the least being, you don’t actually ever develop that head of your shoulder.

Let’s take the most common exercise for the medial deltoid, the side lateral raise.

DB Side Lateral Raise

  • Before I get into anything here, I wrote an ENTIRE guide on exactly how to perform this movement and the mistakes that come along with it.

( That is how bad people butcher this movement.. I wrote an entire guide on it.. ).

So if you want to check that out, feel free to head HERE.

Yet the main points are going to be

  • Get set up in a split stance and slightly tip forward at the torso
  • Do NOT push your hands directly out to the side, push them out slightly in front and to the corners of the walls in front of you
  • Do NOT just fling the weights up, overcome inertia, and use momentum

That last one is huge. People get into doing this movement and all they do is pick a weight that is too heavy.

Then all they do is overcome inertia at the beginning of the movement and create momentum for the weight to just move through space at that point.

Which then means your muscle doesn’t actually ever do any work besides the first .6 seconds of overcoming inertia.

Remember what we said earlier about the more work your muscle does = the better gains you see?

Well if you are doing this exercise wrong, and most do, then you are not going to get much work done.

Therefore be sure to watch this video I put above, read that guide, and if you do this movement correctly, you can see some kick ass progress.

Sets : 2-4

Reps : 8-12

Cross Cable Side Lateral Raise

Now, there are going to be some other exercise variations I like to throw into the mix for your medial delts ( side delts ).

This is because while the dumbbell version is good, remember how we talked about “resistance profiles” above and how much work your muscle has to do?

In cables, we can manipulate that resistance profile to make it to where our muscles have to work harder for a longer period of time.

For example, the db side lateral raise, where do your muscles have to work really hard?

At the top, right? Because you are holding the weight up, but gravity is pulling the weight straight down.

Therefore it is really hard at the top, that’s really it.

Where as in a cable for example, we can manipulate it many of ways, but we can have it so throughout the entire range of motion there is more tension and work your muscles have to do.

More tension and more work equals more results in the long term.

Therefore throwing in variations like this here can be a great way to take your results to a new level.

You can use bands as well, but cables machines will be your best option.

Sets : 2-4

Reps : 8-12

Cross Cable Y’s

When it comes to the “best” exercise for medial delts, I would have to say that the cross cable Y takes the spot.

This is the only exercise where you can get your medial delt fully shortened.

Remember, each muscle has a shortened position and a lengthened position.

Think bicep curl when you squeeze your bicep, and bicep curl as you extend your arm down.

When we talk about the medial delt, the only way you are going to fully shorten the medial delt as much as you can is by bringing your arm up above your head and at a slight angle.

You are taking the insertion of the muscle and bringing it closer to the origin.

Therefore, the cross cable Y is going to be my favorite exercise to throw into your shoulder workout routine for developing more defined shoulders.

Again, you can use bands here, but cables are most optimal.

Sets : 2-3

Reps : 8-12

Rear Delts

The third and final head of the shoulder is going to be your rear delts.

This one is also vastly under developed in peoples once again, not necessarily because people don’t train them.

Sometimes it is, but a majority of the time people just have once again, poor form and execution of the movement.

As well as they are doing movements that they think target the rear delt, but they truly don’t.

When it comes to your rear delts, you can and should be including these in some of your back training because of the function they have.

I talk about this in my back training article HERE , so please feel free to check that out.

I am going to give some more isolated rear delt moves here.

1 Arm Rear Delt Row

The one arm rear delt row is a great way to really isolate the rear delt while being able to use a good amount of load ( weight ).

Since you have the stability of being able to hold onto something, this can provide a very sturdy surface to pull through and create force.

This leads to more work being done by your rear delt, eventually leading to more gains.

The execution of this movement is important, so please feel free to check out the video listed above to make sure you got it down.

Sets : 2-3

Reps : 8-12/ea

Seated 2x Arm Rear Delt Pulldown

One of my favorite rear delt exercises right here.

When you perform this movement correctly, you can really feel a hard contraction of your rear delts at the bottom.

A lot of people have a hard time feeling their rear delts, if you watch the video above and execute this movement correctly, I promise you will feel your rear delts.

The most important thing is to take note where my elbows are finishing, as well as thinking about extending back with your elbows and shoulders.

Not necessarily thinking about squeezing your shoulder blades together super hard, more so extending the shoulders back and leading with the elbows.

You can also use the band version HERE.

Sets : 2-3

Reps : 8-10

1/2 Kneeling Cross Body Rear Delt Pull

This exercise is great because it is one of the only ones that trains your rear delts from a fully lengthened positioned.

See how my arm is coming across my body, reaching towards my opposite ear?

That is a great way to get the rear delt fully lengthened.

The form and execution for this guy can be a bit tough, so make sure you watch the video.

Once again, you can use band version HERE .

Sets : 2-4

Reps : 10-12/ea

Shoulder Workout Routine : Example Workout

Alright, now that we have laid out some anatomy, you learned the three heads, we went over some exercises.

Let’s work to put it all together.

Typically speaking, I don’t have “shoulder days” when I workout myself or program for my clients.

I usually intertwine shoulder work into either upper body days.

Let’s say you are following a 4x week workout program, with a upper / lower split.

Two days of upper body, two days of lower body.

Your shoulder workout routine across the week could look something like this, intertwined with other upper body exercises.

Upper Body Day One

Shoulder exercise one – DB Seated Shoulder Press 3×6-10 reps

Shoulder exercise two – 1 arm rear delt row 3×8-10/ea

Shoulder exercise three – Cross cable y’s 3×10-12


Upper Body Day Two

Shoulder exercise one – Seated 2x arm rear delt pulldown 3×8-10

Shoulder exercise two – Standing db side lateral raise 2×10-12


Then, obviously combined with other upper body exercises, that would round out your shoulder training for the week!

You are hitting your anterior delts with shoulder press.

Your medial delts with cross cable y’s and standing side lateral raises.

Then your rear delts with a 1 arm rear delt row and seated 2x arm rear delt pulldown.


Shoulder Workout Routine : Capping It Up

Do you get the pun there?!

We all train to get that shoulder “cap”.

Capping it up instead of wrapping it up?! No?! I should stick to writing educational fitness content and not comedy?…

Note taken.

Either way, hope you got some value from this guide!

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out or check out some of my other content.

If you are someone who is like “F*CK this, I would much rather you just tell me what to do”

Feel free to check out all of my training programs HERE.

Look to chat soon 🙂