Growing your shoulders in either strength or muscle size can be very effectively done by using a barbell. It’s the tool that allows you train so many different physical attributes. However, if you’re new to training or just bored of only doing the strict press, we have compiled 9 shoulder exercises you can do with a barbell and also written a guide of how to use these exercises for different goals.
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Growing muscle requires high amounts of mechanical tension to be placed upon the muscles you’re trying to grow, in this case the muscles of the shoulders. This mechanical tension is created by performing high amounts of volume. This means high sets and high reps on exercises like the strict press to build volume and thereby build muscle.
The shoulder is comprised of multiple muscle groups, the front delt, side delt and rear dealt being the main musculature. These barbell shoulder exercises will not isolate specific muscles and instead incorporate multiple joints and multiple muscle groups. Isolation exercises play a key role in hypertrophy but are not achieved with a barbell apart from a few variations like an upright row.
In terms of volume landmarks for the “shoulder” it can be hard to give specific set and rep prescriptions because it is comprised of multiple muscle groups. That being said some basic landmarks can be outline.
Maintenance Volume: 5
Minimum Effective Dose: 6-8
Maximal Recoverable Volume: 8-16
These are rough guidelines but do give a good indication how much work is required to grow the muscles of the shoulder. For more information about volume landmarks of the individual muscles in the shoulder have a look at RP strengths extensive guideline.
The vertical press movement patterns in one of the fundamental movement patterns used in strength training, using the barbell is one of the best ways to increase the strength in this movement pattern. Improving strength (the maximal amount of contractile force) is unsurprisingly all about lifting heavy weights that require large amounts of contractile force. This leads to the increase in contractile ability of the muscle in question, meaning you’ll be able to lift heavier weights. Using repetition ranges of between 1-6 will be ideal to improve strength metrics in the shoulders using a barbell.
A vast amount of sports put a lot of pressure on the shoulder joint. Thats why you may want to use shoulder exercises with a barbell to improve the stability within the shoulders. This is where the landmine comes into use as it can help athletes with poor ranges of motion move through their full range of motion in a vertical press movement without any uncomfortable mobility restrictions. This is not only a benefit for athlete but also beginners who are just getting into their grove in resistance training.
The barbell strict press is the principle barbell shoulder exercise that can be used for both strength and hypertrophy purposes. It does require a prerequisite of shoulder mobility that some individuals may not have but other than that is a very simple, effect exercise. One key thing to avoid when pressing over head is moving the rib cage forward and aggressively extending the spine, this can put a lot of pressure on the lower back.
The barbell floor seated press is a very challenging variation that can be great for building strength or maintenance work if taking a break from the strict press. There is zero chance of using the legs to get the bar overhead so “cheating” is out of the question. This exercise is a little niche and probably wouldn’t be used for hypertrophy purposes if you have access to dumbbells and there are many simpler exercises where building volume will be easier. For some athletes it can be an effective movement and it requires a lot of core stability, but reserved only for those who have built up strength in their vertical press.
The barbell curl to press in a niche tertiary exercise that can be used to build volume in both the arms and shoulders. It should be done with no momentum and light weights in order to perform high amount of repetitions, allowing you to create a large amount of fatigue in both the shoulders and the arms.
The barbell reverse curl to press is again another very niche exercise that will allow you to build volume in the arms and the shoulder. This is a tertiary exercise and should not be a staple to any regular training programme.
The double arm landmine press is a mix between shoulder and chest exercise, it doesn’t require a lot of range of motion and therefore can be good for those who have limited range of motion. This exercise can be effectively used for hypertrophy training for the shoulders especially if you only have access to a barbell / landmine.
The half kneeling arm landmine press is one of the best variations of the barbell shoulder exercises because it can be used to induce both strength and hypertrophy gains. It does require a large amount of core stability as its a unilateral exercise making it slightly less effective than a strict press per-say but for athletes and general population clients this is an excellent exercise.
The landmine floor seated strict press is a very challenging variation, mixing the floor seated position with the single arm element make it very challenging for the core musculature. This is a niche exercise that should be limited to people who have a lot of experience in the vertical press movement pattern.
The landmine press in one of the most basic landmine / barbell vertical pressing exercises that has a lot of similar benefits as the half kneeling landmine press. It can be used for both hypertrophy and strength purposes but as it requires a decent amount of core stability it isn’t as effective as a strict press. It’s and excellent entry point for beginners with limited mobility to press overhead.
The seated landmine press is a little easier than the floor seated landmine press but is still a difficult exercise that requires both core stability and range of motion to perform correctly. It again is reserved for those who have a lot of experience in the vertical press movement pattern and are looking for variation.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.