7 Next-Gen Shoulder Exercises

Go Beyond the Basics for New Gains

If your usual shoulder exercises aren’t doing much to make your delts pop, take that as a sign to add some variety. Start here.

A New Generation of Shoulder Exercises

We’ve all done standard overhead pressing and lateral raising. The basics work, but if your progress has stalled or you’re getting overuse injuries, it’s time to shake up your training with some new shoulder exercises or a new twist on an old favorite. Check these out:

1. The Z Press

People often don’t use the best technique with overhead presses. If you’re one of them, it’ll drastically inhibit your potential to pack on muscle. But with the seated position of the Z press, it’s tough to cheat.

Do the Z press seated on the floor with your legs stretched out in front. Because there’s nothing to lean into, you’re required to use more trunk and upper-back strength to stabilize the body. As soon as the exercise begins, you’ll notice the body self-regulating into efficient postural alignment to maintain balance.

It’s also a natural “plateau buster” for the bench press. Because the body is inhibitory by nature, bench press plateaus can often be attributed to weakness through the shoulders, upper back, and triceps. This strength imbalance inhibits neuromuscular communication as a defense mechanism against injury. Essentially, your brain won’t allow you to get stronger because your supporting tissue can’t handle the load.

Overhead pressing is a great way to strengthen the supporting musculature and drive up the ability to lift more weight in the bench press. – Alan Bishop

2. The Bradford Press

The Bradford press is a great shoulder exercise (if you have the mobility) because it places the delts under constant tension, one of the keys to muscle growth.

Starting with the barbell in front, press it just high enough to clear your head. Without stopping, bring the bar down to ear level (no lower) behind your head. Return the bar smoothly to the front. That’s one rep.

It’s a constant-tension exercise, so you can’t use much weight. If you use 250 pounds on the military press, use around 165 for Bradfords. – Christian Thibaudeau

3. The Plate Delt Uppercut

This exercise does a great job at maintaining targeted tension in your delts for longer-duration sets. Think of it as a combination of a front raise, Arnold press, lateral raise, and face-pull.

This one’s tricky at first, so read the instructions:

  • Start with a lighter plate until you perfect the move.
  • If possible, use full-size bumper plates because your hands will be the same distance apart even as you go up in weight. And if you go super light, you won’t be gripping a teeny plate.
  • Get the plate directly over your head on each rep. This helps keep your shoulders and elbows nicely aligned.
  • Think of the bottom (pushing arm) as performing an uppercut-type motion. Think of the higher arm (raising arm) as doing somewhat of a face-pull motion.
  • If you’re doing it right, you’ll almost be able to kiss your biceps each time. I won’t judge if you actually do.

Do sets of about 20 reps (10 on each side). Although you can go all the way up to 50 reps (25 on each side) to really balloon up your delts. – Gareth Sapstead

4. The Dead-Stop Lateral Raise

This is a deceiving exercise. It looks too easy. “I just rest the dumbbells in between reps? How does that help?” But one of the best ways to target specific muscles is to cut off any potential momentum. The dead stop-raise does just that.

Hold two dumbbells with your arms locked at your sides. They should be fully rested on the bench or the floor if you’re doing these at home. Bring your arms up to shoulder height. Bring them back down in a controlled manner until the dumbbells are fully rested on the bench. Come to a complete stop each rep. – Dan North

5. The Iso-Dynamic Lateral Raise

Start with a hold to improve your mind-muscle connection and supercharge shoulder growth, particularly at the medial head. Since the medial head is notoriously difficult to recruit, this method will help you recruit stagnant muscle fibers, place a ton of muscle-building metabolic stress on your shoulders, and provide plenty of tension to stimulate growth.

Use a pre-set hold for 10-20 seconds, followed by 10-15 reps. Repeat for 3-5 sets with 30-60 seconds rest in between. – Eric Bach

6. Kneeling Scrape-The-Rack Press

Build your shoulders while protecting your joints with this variation. The tall kneeling position takes numerous joints out of the equation and makes it harder to crank through the lumbar spine.

Pressing the barbell INTO the rack helps to recruit more anterior core, which in turn nudges a bit more posterior pelvic tilt, placing people in a better position (less rib flair) to press overhead. It also helps to recruit/engage more serratus anterior, an often underactive muscle, and a major player in upward scapular rotation.

These two points alone may make overhead pressing safer and more tolerable for many lifters. There are multiple ways to build muscle and spare your joints using a scrape-the-rack method. – Tony Gentilcore

7. The Incline Overhead Press

This isn’t your standard seated overhead press. Build bulletproof shoulders by using a bit of an incline for your heavy overhead pressing.

Instead of 90 degrees, set your bench at a slight incline (75-80 degrees), which will allow you to press at a shoulder-friendly angle. Then simply raise your arms upward straight in front of you until they’re overhead.

Unless you have great mobility and strict form, you usually end up arched aggressively with shoulder blades sitting on top of the bench when seated at 90 degrees. Granted, plenty of guys do an incline bench press with poor lower back support, defeating the purpose of sitting versus standing. But a slight incline allows you to press at a shoulder-friendly angle. – Andrew Coates