The Best Barbell Shoulder Workout for Bigger, Stronger Delts – Fitness Volt

Go to any gym, and you’ll find numerous machines you can use to target your upper and lower body muscles. Name any body part, and there will be at least a few machines that you can use to develop it.
However, as useful as machines can be, they do have drawbacks. For example, despite being adjustable, most machines are made for average-sized lifters. If you are very tall or short, you may not fit the machine correctly and be unable to use it safely.
In addition, machines tend to lock you into a fixed movement pattern. This means you won’t have to use your stabilizing muscles much during your workout, which is why machines are often viewed as non-functional.
Finally, machines are big and expensive, putting them beyond the reach of most home exercisers.
Freeweight, and, more specifically, barbell training, can help you navigate around these drawbacks. Barbells might be low-tech, but they are most assuredly high-effect!
In this article, we share a basic but big barbell workout for stronger, more muscular shoulders.
Deltoid Anatomy Basics

The deltoids are your most prominent shoulder muscles. They’re made up of three groups of fibers, usually referred to as heads. The three deltoid heads commonly work together, but it’s also possible to emphasize each one by performing specific shoulder joint movements.
The three deltoid heads and their functions are:

Anterior head – located at the front of your shoulder, the anterior deltoid head is arguably the hardest working of the three. That’s because it’s involved in all chest and overhead pressing exercises. Its functions are flexion, horizontal flexion, and medial rotation of the shoulder joint.
Medial head – also known as lateral deltoid, this head is located on the side of your shoulders. The medial head gives your upper body its width and contributes to your V-taper. The function of the medial deltoid is the abduction of your arm, which means lifting out and away from the midline of your body.
Posterior head – located on the back of your shoulder, the posterior deltoid is also known as the rear deltoid. It works in opposition to the anterior head and is responsible for horizontal extension, extension, and exterior rotation of the shoulder joint. The posterior is usually the weakest and least developed of the three deltoid heads.

Building big, strong, aesthetically pleasing deltoids involves training all three heads relatively equally. If one head is allowed to get too big, it could unbalance the look of your upper body and even lead to imbalances and joint dysfunction. Use a variety of exercises to make sure you work all three deltoid heads.

Barbell Deltoid Exercises – Benefits

Not sure if barbells are the right choice for building those boulder shoulders you’ve always dreamed of? Well, worry not! Take a look at the following benefits and then decide:
Great for building size and strength – do you want to look strong and be strong, too? Barbell shoulder exercises are the way to go. Lifting heavy weights will add slabs of meat to your deltoids while improving functional strength.
Widely available – no matter where you train, you should have access to barbells and weights. Every decent gym has them, and they’re available for home exercisers, too. As such, wherever you work out, you should be able to perform this barbell shoulder workout.
Adaptable and versatile – you can modify most barbell deltoid exercises according to your needs and goals. Adjust your hand position, range of motion, and the angle of your arms to hit your muscles the way you want to, and make your chosen exercises as safe and efficient as possible.
Workout satisfaction – barbell training is challenging and fun. Few things are as satisfying as hoisting a heavy barbell over your head. Training with just a barbell might be somewhat old-school, but that has a certain appeal for some exercisers.
Barbell Deltoid Exercises – Drawbacks

While barbells are an excellent deltoid training tool, there are a couple of drawbacks to consider, too:
Safety – while barbell training can be safe, there is an increased risk of accident and injury if you train alone or without a power rack. Many barbell shoulder exercises involve lifting or holding a weight above your head.
A failed rep could see that weight crashing down on your head or neck. As such, you should stop your set with 1-2 reps left in the tank or, if you plan on training to failure, make sure you have a spotter on hand.
Heavy starting weight – most Olympic bars weigh 45 pounds or 20kg. This is not insignificant! Even an empty barbell may be too heavy for some lifters, particularly for beginners or when doing isolation exercises like front raises.
Not suitable for drop sets – a drop set is where you rep out to failure, reduce (or drop) the weight by 10-15%, and then rep out again. This training system allows you to expose your muscles to a higher-than-usual level of fatigue.
However, stripping weight plates off a barbell is time-consuming, making most barbell exercises impractical for drop sets. In contrast, drop sets work best with machine and dumbbell exercises.
It’s hard to hit the medial deltoid – while your medial deltoid is involved in all barbell shoulder exercises, it’s all but impossible to isolate this important muscle. So, if you want to prioritize medial deltoid size, you’ll need to supplement your barbell workout with some form of lateral raise, e.g., cable, dumbbell, or resistance band.
Barbell Deltoid Workout – Overview
Now your deltoid anatomy and physiology knowledge is up to scratch, it’s time to hit the gym and train!
Do the following deltoid workout 1-2 times per week as part of a weekly training split, where you train your remaining body parts on different days.
For example:


Chest & Triceps
Back & Biceps    

But before you jump into lifting any weights, it’s crucial to warm up and prepare your body for the challenges that await.
Begin with a few minutes of easy cardio, and then move on to dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises that target your muscles and joints, focusing on your shoulders, elbows, and lower back. These steps will set you up for a safer and more effective workout session.
Related: How to Warm Up for Strength Training
Warmed-up and ready? Then let’s get to work! 


Barbell push press
3 minutes

Barbell upright row
2 minutes

Barbell Bradford press
90 seconds

Barbell front raise
90 seconds

Barbell shrug
60 seconds

Exercise Instructions
There are two ways to do any barbell shoulder exercise – the right way and the wrong way. The right way is safe and effective, while the wrong way is dangerous and usually less productive, even if it allows you to lift heavier weights.
So, follow these instructions to ensure you’re doing the exercises in your barbell shoulder workout correctly!
1. Barbell push press
Muscles targeted: Deltoids, triceps, core, legs.  
It’s often said that cheats never prosper, but a little strategic cheating could help you unlock a whole new level of shoulder strength and size. The barbell push-press is a dynamic exercise where you use your legs to help you lift the weight. This means you can use heavier than normal loads, exposing your muscles to more tension. So, in this instance, cheating may actually do you good!

Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell resting on your front shoulders, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and elbows pointed forward. Brace your core and stand in good posture with your head up and chest lifted.
Bend your legs and descend into a quarter squat.
Explosively extend your legs and use this momentum to help you push the barbell overhead to arm’s length.
Slowly lower the barbell back to your shoulders and repeat.


Builds explosive strength and functional muscle mass.
Exposes your muscles to more weight and tension than usual.
An excellent exercise for athletes from all sports.


Keep your core engaged and maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise.
Lower the weight under control to increase time under tension for better muscle growth.
Use 10-20% more weight than you can use for strict overhead presses.

2. Barbell upright row
Muscles targeted: Deltoids, trapezius, biceps, forearms.   
The barbell upright row is a somewhat controversial exercise because some people find it hard on their shoulders. However, providing it doesn’t bother your joints, this movement is a great way to add width to your deltoids and beef up your upper traps at the same time. Also, as it’s a pulling exercise, it provides your already fatigued triceps with a useful break before your next challenge.

Hold a barbell in front of your legs using a shoulder-width overhand grip. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent for balance, core braced, and shoulders pulled down and back.
Leading with your elbows, bend your arms and pull the bar up the front of your body to around mid to upper-chest height.
Extend your arms, lower the bar, and repeat.


One of the few pulling exercises for the deltoids.
Hits all three deltoids, especially the medial head.
An effective exercise for building a bigger “yoke.”


Experiment with your grip width to find what’s comfortable and works best for you.
The higher up your chest you pull the bar, the more punishing this exercise will be for your joints.
Shrug your shoulders up at the midpoint of each rep to maximize upper traps engagement.

3. Barbell Bradford press
Muscles targeted: Deltoids, triceps.    
The barbell Bradford press is named after a professional weightlifter and a renowned strength coach, Jim Bradford. It’s a unique exercise that hits all three deltoid heads reasonably equally. It also keeps the target muscles under constant tension, which may be beneficial for triggering a pump and maximizing muscle growth.

Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell resting on your front shoulders, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and elbows pointed forward. Brace your core and stand in good posture with your head up and chest lifted.
Without using your legs for help, press the bar up so it’s level with the top of your head.
Push the bar backward and lower it behind your neck.
Next, push the bar back up and over your head, lowering it to the front of your neck.
That’s one rep – keep going!


A novel exercise that can help you break through your current deltoid training plateau.
Hits your deltoids from several angles at once.
An excellent exercise for getting a deep pump and burn in your deltoids.

4. Barbell front raise
Muscles targeted: Deltoids, trapezius.
Barbells make it very hard to isolate any part of your deltoids. Invariably, whether you are pushing or pulling, all three deltoid heads, plus your biceps and triceps, end up working together. Barbell front raises are one of only a small number of deltoid isolation exercises.

Hold a barbell in front of your legs using a shoulder-width overhand grip. Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent for balance, core braced, and shoulders pulled down and back.
Keeping your arms straight, lift the bar forward and up to about shoulder-height.
Lower the bar back down to your legs and repeat.


One of only a few deltoid isolation exercises you can do with a barbell.
A very shoulder and lower back-friendly exercise.
An effective way to emphasize and prioritize your anterior deltoid.


Avoid using momentum to lift the barbell.
Brace your core throughout to stabilize your lower back during the exercise.
Take care not to lean forward and back, as doing so will take the stress off your deltoids.

5. Wide grip bent-over row
Muscles targeted: Deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps.
Bent-over rows are usually seen as a back exercise. However, when you widen your grip and pull the bar into your chest, they turn into an excellent posterior deltoid exercise. Your rear delt is notoriously hard to train and often neglected as a result. This movement ensures your rear deltoid receives the love and attention it deserves.

Hold your barbell with an overhand wider than shoulder-width grip. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, shoulders back and down, and core braced.
Hinge forward from your hips until your upper body is roughly parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders.
Leading with your elbows, row the bar up and into your chest.
Extend your arms and repeat.


An excellent rear deltoid.
A great move for building stronger mid-traps and rhomboids.
Good for improving posture.


Do not round your lower back, as doing so could lead to injury.
Lead with your elbows to maximize rear deltoid and upper back engagement.
Keep your wrists straight throughout.

Do you have a question about our barbell shoulder workout or building bigger delts in general? Don’t worry because we’ve got the answers!
1. Is the barbell shoulder workout suitable for beginners?
Dedicating an entire training session to what is essentially a small muscle group will be too much for most beginners and could soon lead to injuries and overtraining. Most beginners would do better following a less advanced workout, such as an upper/lower body split of a full-body training routine. Return to this workout in a year or so when you’ll be better prepared.   
2. How many times per week should I perform this barbell shoulder workout?
Most exercisers will get good results by doing this program 1-2 times per week. However, you should avoid doing it the day before or the day after chest day, as both workouts involve many of the same muscles. Training chest and shoulders on consecutive days could hurt your recovery and progress.
3. Can I make changes to this workout?
Feel free to modify this workout according to your needs and goals. If there is an exercise you don’t like, replace it with one you find more enjoyable. However, resist the temptation to switch out exercises you find hard, as, invariably, they are the ones that drive muscle growth. Easy workouts don’t build muscle!
4. Can women do this barbell shoulder workout, or is it only for men?
While this workout was written by a man for men, that doesn’t mean women cannot do it. However, please bear in mind that it is a muscle-building workout, so it may not align with some women’s fitness goals. So, if you don’t want bigger, more muscular shoulders, don’t follow this program.
5. What should I do if I experience shoulder joint pain during the workout?
Shoulder joint pain is a common problem for ardent bodybuilders and weightlifters. It can be caused by general wear and tear, and some exercises can make it worse, such as upright rows or behind-the-neck presses.
If any of the exercises in this workout cause shoulder pain, you should stop e and follow these steps:

Review your form – back technique can cause pain.
Use less weight – lifting more than you can safely handle is a leading cause of injury.
Use a different exercise – even changing your grip can help.
Seek medical advice – if your shoulder pain persists, get it checked out to determine if you have an injury.

6. What warm-up exercises should I do before starting the barbell shoulder workout?
Your pre-shoulder workout warm-up should consist of the following:

5-10 minutes of easy cardio
Dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your entire upper body, e.g., shoulder rolls, arm circles, overhead arm reaches, fist clenches, etc.
2-3 progressively heavier “ramped sets” of push-presses.

Spend as much time on each stage as necessary to ensure your muscles, joints, and brain are ready for the workout you’re about to do.
Read more about warming up for strength training here.
7. How long should I follow this program?
Even a great program like our barbell shoulder workout will eventually lose some of its effectiveness. Your muscles gradually get used to any training plan, and it’ll lose some of its potency. If your progress stalls, your training feels stale, or you haven’t been able to increase your weights for more than a few weeks, you probably need a new workout.
How long this takes varies from individual to individual, but you should expect to change your training plan every 4-8 weeks.
Check out our library of training programs for your next workout!
More Shoulder Workouts:

More Barbell Workouts:

Wrapping Up
Armed with our barbell shoulder workout, you have everything you need to take your deltoid gains to the next level. Combining heavy low-rep compound exercises with lighter higher-rep movements ensures that no fiber of your delts will go unstimulated.
Of course, your shoulders are just one of several critical muscle groups, so you must incorporate this workout into a balanced weekly training program that also works your chest, back, arms, and legs. Warm-up before each workout with cardio and dynamic exercises for a safer and more effective session.
Sadly, building bigger muscles can be a slow and laborious process, so you’ll have to commit to the long haul. That said, with dedication and determination, you can build the boulder shoulders of your dreams.

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