When time is short, it can be very tempting to cut your workouts short, or even skip working out altogether. Do that more than a few times and your progress will soon grind to a halt. You may also lose muscle size.
This short, sharp shoulder workout is designed to work all three deltoid heads (2), the anterior or front, medial or side, and posterior or rear, in under 30 minutes, and that includes warming up. It uses several less-common exercises to shock your muscles into new growth.
Studies have shown (1) that exercise variety is very important for muscle growth. Changing your workouts every 4-6 weeks ensures that you work your muscles in new and unusual ways. Periodically changing your workout should help stop you hitting a progress wall, and make sure your muscles continue to grow and get stronger.
Do this workout once or twice a week and a couple of days before or after working your chest.
Build bigger shoulders with this 30-minute workout
Use an interval timer to make sure you stay on schedule for this workout. Set it so that it sounds every two minutes. Start your first set when you hear the beep. Your recovery time is however long is left until your timer beeps again.
For example, if your set takes 45 seconds, you get 75 seconds rest before it’s time to go again. This will ensure you complete the entire workout in just under 30 minutes, triggering a whole lot of shoulder growth.
|1||Dumbbell lateral raises||3||20-15-10|
|2||Top-down dumbbell shoulder presses||3||8-10|
|3||Plate bus drivers||3||15-20|
|4||Cable face pulls||3||12-15|
|5||Barbell Cuban presses||3||6-8|
Exercise instructions and tips
To get the most from this workout, you must do each exercise correctly. Some of these moves may be new to you, so make sure you know how to do them before you start.
Dumbbell lateral raises
Use this exercise to warm up your shoulders and pre-fatigue your delts to make the next exercise more demanding. Lateral raises target your medial deltoid which is the deltoid head on the side of your shoulders.
This is a part of your deltoids that give your shoulders their width. Increase the weight set-by-set so that your last set is also your heaviest.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Start with your hands by your sides, palms turned in toward your legs.
- Keeping your elbows slightly bent but rigid, raise your arms out to the side and up until your dumbbells are level with your shoulders.
- Lower the weights back to your legs and repeat.
Tips: Don’t bang the weights together in front of you. This common mistake makes it easier to swing the weights up and cheat. Taking the stress off the target muscles won’t help you get bigger shoulders.
Top-down dumbbell shoulder presses
Dumbbell shoulder presses are an excellent deltoid exercise. This version increases muscle activation and time under tension for even more shoulder growth. After the dumbbell lateral raises, you should find that this exercise gives you a great shoulder pump.
- Sit on an upright exercise bench and press two dumbbells overhead. Keep your left arm straight and bend your right arm only.
- Lower the dumbbell down to your shoulder and then push it back up again.
- Next, keep your right arm straight and bend and straighten your left arm.
- Keep alternating arms until you’ve done all the reps.
Tips: This exercise is much harder than regular shoulder presses so use a lighter weight than usual. You can also do this exercise on a dual-pulley low cable machine or using a shoulder press machine with independent arm action.
Plate bus drivers
This exercise will pump up your front delts and challenge your core too. It’s a lightweight, high-rep exercise, so don’t try it with a 45-pound plate. A 25-pound plate should be plenty!
Plate bus drivers target your anterior deltoids. It also involves your lower trapezius which is the muscle between your shoulder blades. Your lower traps are important for shoulder health as they help stabilize your shoulder girdle. A strong, stable shoulder girdle will give your shoulders a solid platform from which to work.
- Grip your weight plate and hold it out in front of you at shoulder-height.
- Brace your core to keep your torso upright. Your hands should be in the three o’clock and nine o’clock positions. Keep your shoulders down and back.
- Without lowering your arms, turn the plate to the left and right like you were steering a bus.
- Keep going until you are no longer able to hold your arms up – usually about 15-20 reps.
Tips: Work on your grip as well as your shoulders by using two plates. Place two weight plates together back-to-back and then squeeze them hard so they do not come apart.
Do the exercise as described above but keep squeezing the plates as hard as you can. You can also do this exercise while seated.
Cable face pulls
Face pulls work your upper back and posterior delts. This makes it good not only for shoulder growth but for your posture too. This exercise is perfect for anyone who spends long periods hunched over a computer.
When you sit and round your shoulders and upper back, your chest muscles can become tight while your upper back and posterior deltoids get stretched and weakened. Face pulls strengthen the muscles that pull you up and back into good, upright posture.
- Attach a rope handle to an adjustable cable machine. Set the pulley at shoulder-height.
- Grab the handle so that your thumbs are nearest the rubber stoppers. With your arms straight, step back into a split stance for added stability.
- From this position, bend your arms and pull your hands back to the sides of your face. Lead with your elbows and pull your shoulders back.
- Extend your arms and repeat.
Tips: Don’t go too heavy on this exercise as doing so will just pull you forward toward the machine. If you are very tall or have long arms, use two rope handles instead of one. Attach one end of both handles to the cable clip and then hold the end of each rope handle in either hand. This will give you a greater range of movement.
Barbell Cuban presses
The Cuban press comes from the world of Olympic weightlifting. It works all three heads of your deltoids at once and is a great way to finish off your shoulder growth workout. Use an empty barbell and increase the weight only if you can do more than eight reps.
- Grab a barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip. Stand with the bar in front of your thighs and your feet roughly hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees slightly for stability.
- Bend your arms and upright row the bar up to your lower chest.
- Next, rotate your arms out and away from your body and bring the bar up to your forehead.
- Press the bar overhead to arms’ length and then lower it using the same sequence in reverse.
- That’s one rep – keep going!
Tips: This exercise can also be done with dumbbells or using a long, straight bar attached to a low cable.
Feel free to add the following extras to your bigger shoulders workout. These strategies will make your training session more intense and could also save you time too!
Supersets– instead of doing three sets of each exercise and then moving on, arrange the first four exercises into supersets, i.e.:
- Superset 1 – dumbbell lateral raises and top-down dumbbell shoulder presses
- Superset 2 – plate bus drivers and cable face pulls
For supersets, do the first exercise and then, without resting, do the second exercise. Rest for 1-2 minutes and then repeat the pairing.
Drop sets– just because you’ve done the required number of reps does not mean you have exhausted all your muscle fibers. Use drop sets to wring every last bit of energy out of your muscles for even more shoulder growth.
To do a drop set, finish your reps as usual but then, when you reach the end of your set, lower the weight by 10-20% and pump out a few more reps. When you are unable to continue, lower the weight again and then rep out one more time. Feeling tough? Reduce the weight for a final drop set. Only use drop sets on the last set of each exercise.
Lack of time does not have to mean cutting your workouts short or skipping them altogether. In fact, all you need is 30 minutes and the determination to work hard. Use this workout to pump up your delts in record time!
- lzanie A, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle. [Updated 2018 Dec 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537056/
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 11 – p 3085–3092, doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000539