If you’ve been yearning to build those boulder shoulders but don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place. Whether you’re looking to join next year’s Mr. Olympia or simply need to up your shoulder strength, the path isn’t always clear.
Frustrating, right? No need to worry though, we’ve got you!
We’ve created this simple guide on the best gym machines to transform your workout and sculpt those shoulders into the envy of Olympus.
Let’s get it!
Table of Contents
- 1 The 4 Best Gym Machines for Shoulders
- 2 Benefits of Using Machines for Shoulders
- 3 Anatomy of the Shoulders
- 4 FAQs
The 4 Best Gym Machines for Shoulders
- Cable machine
- Smith machine
- Shoulder press machine
- Dip bars
Benefits of a cable machine
- Constant tension
According to studies, time under tension leads to greater muscle protein synthesis, making constant tension very important for muscle development. The cable cross machine ensures constant tension on the shoulder muscles throughout the entire range of motion in exercises like lateral raises and face pulls.
Because it has guided movements, the cable cross machine minimizes the risk of injury. Plus, the adjustable settings for height and resistance help you get a safe shoulder workout.
The cable machine shines when it comes to versatility since you can do a range of exercises that target the various parts of the shoulders, which is why we’ve covered the best cable shoulder exercises before.
Tips for using a cable machine
- Controlled movements
- Aim for stability
- Maintain proper posture
The cable machine is no exception – all shoulder exercises should be performed with control. Do your best to avoid jerking and cheating your reps for effective muscle engagement.
Aim for stability
Keep your core engaged and your feet planted firmly on the ground. This stability is necessary for getting those nice, controlled movements.
Maintain proper posture
Keep your back straight and avoid rounding your shoulders to maximize the workout’s effectiveness.
Cable machine exercises for shoulders
- Lateral raises
- Face pulls
- Rear delt fly crossover
- Front cable raise
Adjust the cables to the lowest height. Attach D handles to either cable, cross the cables in front of you, and grip them, forming an “X”. Stand with a slight bend in your knees and maintain a straight back. Slowly lift your arms to the side until they’re parallel to the floor, maintaining a slight bend in your arm. Then, lower them back down.
Focus on using your shoulder muscles rather than momentum. Perform 8-10 reps for 4-5 sets.
Check out the video below to see how you can perform lateral raises:
This is one of the best exercises to target rear deltoids, plus, it helps improve posture. Adjust the cable height so that it’s eye level and use a rope attachment. Pull the rope toward your forehead while keeping your elbows high. Aim for 8-10 reps across 3-5 sets.
Sometimes it’s better to see the exercise being performed before you do it yourself. Have a look at how it’s done in this video:
Rear delt fly crossover
Adjust the height of the pulleys so that they’re just above your head. Stand in the middle of the cable cross machine, facing the pulleys. Attach D handles and cross the cables into an “X” formation. Extend your arms and pull the handles outwards and backward. While doing this focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. Go for 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.
Here’s a look at how Olympia-level athlete, Hunter Labrada, performs this exercise:
Front cable raise
Face away from the machine, holding the cable with one hand. Keep your arm straight and raise it in front of you up to shoulder height, then lower it back down. Do 8-10 reps for 3-5 sets to hit your anterior deltoids.
The front cable raise may seem like a pretty straightforward exercise but if you get the finer details wrong, you more than likely won’t get the most out of this exercise. Have a look at how it’s done in this video:
Benefits of a Smith Machine
- Even building
With its built-in safety latches, the Smith Machine reduces the risk of dropping weights, making it safer than using free weights or a standard barbell for shrugs.
Because it moves on a fixed, guided path, the Smith Machine can be a great tool for correcting muscular imbalances by ensuring that both sides of your body work equally.
Tips for using a Smith Machine
- Proper bar height
- Correct stance
- Grip width
Proper bar height
Before loading on any weight, adjust the bar to a comfortable starting height to ensure it’s within easy reach. Generally, just above knee height should work well.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for optimal stability. Keep your back straight and your core engaged.
Use a grip slightly wider than your shoulders, this will ensure that you’re targeting your trapezius muscles properly during shrugs.
Steps to using a Smith Machine for shrugs
- Position the bar at mid-thigh level and load the desired weight. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing the bar.
- Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than your shoulder width.
- Unlock the bar and lift it off the rack, keeping your arms straight.
- Keep your arms straight and lift your shoulders towards your ears in a shrugging motion. Try to focus on using your traps and not your arms.
- Slowly lower your shoulders back to the starting position.
- Perform the desired number of reps, maintaining a controlled pace and steady breathing.
- After completing your set, securely re-rack the bar on the frame.
Sometimes, even with the best instructions, people still get Smith Machine shoulder shrugs wrong. So, to help you not be one of those people, here’s a handy video on how to do them:
Shoulder press machine
Benefits of a shoulder press machine
- Isolation of shoulder muscles
- Less risky
- Stable and controlled motion
- Posture support
- Easily adjustable resistance
Isolation of shoulder muscles
The seated shoulder press machine isolates the shoulder muscles more effectively than some free-weight exercises. Studies have shown that both isolation and compound exercises are equally important and effective but isolation can specifically help with muscle focus and fixing muscular imbalances.
Compared to exercises like the standing barbell shoulder press, the shoulder press machine is a lot less risky, mainly because it allows you to fail safely thanks to its fixed range of motion.
Stable and controlled motion
Stability is an important part of getting the most out of your shoulder training, as it helps ensure proper execution and prevent injuries. Luckily, shoulder press machines provide a stable and controlled motion by keeping your body in a mostly fixed position.
A huge bonus with this machine is how it helps you maintain proper posture throughout shoulder presses thanks to the seat and backrest. This is crucial for avoiding injuries.
Easily adjustable resistance
With the shoulder press machine, you can easily adjust the resistance to your fitness level. This can be particularly useful for progressive overload which helps with muscle growth. It can also be helpful if you and your gym partner aren’t on the same level of strength, saving you lots of time.
Tips for using a shoulder press machine
- Elbow positioning
- Adjust the seat
- Control the negative
Keep your elbows slightly bent at the start and end of each rep. This will help keep tension on the shoulders and prevent joint strain.
Adjust the seat
Make sure that the seat is adjusted so that the handles are at an appropriate height. Your hands should be level with or slightly above your shoulders at the start of the movement.
Control the negative
Shoulders can be quite a stubborn muscle to develop because of how frequently we use them. To better the chances of your shoulders being stimulated effectively, always control the negative (eccentric) movement. In other words, slowly lower the weight back down to your starting position to ensure that the tension remains on your shoulders for as long as possible.
Steps to using a shoulder press machine for military press
- Sit on the machine and adjust the seat so that the handles are in line with your shoulders. Ensure your back is flat against the seat back.
- Grasp the handles with a grip that’s comfortable.
- Push the handles upward in a smooth motion, extending your arms. Keep a slight bend in your elbows, even at the top of the movement to avoid them locking.
- Slowly bring the handles back down to the starting position. Keep your elbows bent throughout.
- Exhale as you press up and inhale as you return to the starting position.
- Perform the desired number of reps and sets. Aim for an amount that’ll help you maintain your pace and form.
Take a look at the video below, if you’re trying to learn how to machine shoulder press, fast:
Benefits of dip bars
- Upper body strength
- Core engagement
Upper body strength
Dip bars are great for improving your upper body strength, as dips simultaneously hit the muscles in your shoulders, arms, and chest.
Doing dips on these bars also brings your core muscles into play, contributing to your overall stability and posture.
Tips for using dip bars
- Proper form
- Get a stepping platform
- Watching your breathing
Keep your elbows close to your body to properly target your triceps and shoulder muscles.
Get a stepping platform
If you’re on the shorter side, you might want to consider getting a step platform so that you can get on and off the dip bars with ease.
Watching your breathing
Inhale as you lower your body and exhale as you push yourself back up.
Steps to using dip bars
- Step up to the dip bars and grip them firmly, arms straight down and shoulders above your hands.
- Lift your body off the ground, keeping your legs straight or slightly bent. If necessary, cross your ankles for stability.
- Lower your body down slowly by bending your elbows. Try to keep them pointed backward and tucked in close to your body. Continue until there’s a bend in your arms, aiming for at least a 90-degree bend.
- Push through your palms to lift your body back to the starting position. Straighten your arms but avoid locking out your elbows.
- Repeat the steps above for the desired number of reps.
Still scratching your head when it comes to how to do dips? Try out this video which helps you mix common mistakes and really build your shoulders and chest:
Benefits of Using Machines for Shoulders
Ease of use for beginners
Because machines move on a fixed path, this makes them very beginner-friendly. They offer an intuitive approach to shoulder exercises, making them ideal for those who are new to shoulder workouts.
Focused muscle activation
Machines allow users to really concentrate on specific muscle groups. This is especially beneficial in shoulder presses for example, where targeted muscle engagement is super important.
A shoulder workout always has to be done safely. Compared to free weights, machines are a lot safer as they reduce the risk of poor form and accidents. This safety aspect is vital because of the intensity required to effectively stimulate the shoulders.
Lower impact on joints
Machines usually have a much lower impact on the joints. This means that your stabilizing muscles and joints are spared from the strain that you’re more likely to get when using free weights.
Certain machines, like the cable cross machine, give you lots of shoulder workout options. This means you can target the shoulder muscles with optimal precision, which can better the effectiveness of your workout routine.
Anatomy of the Shoulders
Your shoulder muscles are an anatomical marvel, giving you ample versatility and strength. This ball-and-socket joint is crucial for sport and everyday activities, so, it’s important to know its anatomy so you can train the muscles effectively and avoid injury.
The detoild is the star of the shoulder muscle group. It’s your go-to for lifting and rotating your arm. It’s divided into three parts: anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. Each of these heads is responsible for different arm movements.
The deltoid may be the star but the rotator cuff is the unsung hero of this muscle group. It consists of four smaller muscles: teres minor, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. The rotator cuff gives the shoulder joint stability and also helps with various arm movements.
Related: Cable exercises for the rotator cuff
The muscle extends from your neck to the mid-back. It plays a key role in moving, rotating, and stabilizing the scapula (shoulder blade), as well as extending the neck.
Based on a study from PubMed, training shoulders effectively can be achieved with just one hour per week. This can be split into various sessions, like 3 x 20 minutes or 9 x 7 minutes, which shows how flexible you can make your workout schedule. The key is consistent, focused strength training. So, aim for well-distributed shoulder workouts every week.
Lifting heavy is a very contentious topic and most evidence is anecdotal. Although heavy weights can build strength and size. It’s important to balance this with the risk of injury, especially because of how complex the shoulder muscles are. A mix of heavy and lighter weights, focusing on form and muscle engagement, is often recommended.
If you’re unsure, just listen to your body and adjust your workout intensity as needed. After all, everyone is different and there are plenty of different ways to build broader shoulders.
Generally, training your shoulders every day isn’t recommended because of the risk of “overtraining” and potential injury. Shoulders are a significant upper body muscle and require ample time to recover and grow. Again, everyone is different but exceeding your genetic capacity could lead to muscle fatigue and strain which could hinder your overall progress.
Try to incorporate a variety of movements that target different parts of the shoulder to get balanced and well-rounded shoulder development.
The most effective exercise for shoulders mainly depends on individual goals and physical condition. However, research has shown that exercises like overhead presses and lateral raises are often cited for their effectiveness in targeting the delts.
Based on anecdotal evidence for shoulder growth, the recommended training volume is about 8-12 sets per week for each deltoid head (side and rear) and 6-8 sets for the front delts. You can achieve this through 2-3 sessions per week. Always try to strike the balance between volume and recovery.