Whether you’re looking forward to rocking a spring triathlon or the new halter in your closet, you’re going to want your arms to be on point. And when it comes to a strong, sculpted upper body, focusing your training on your shoulders will give you the best bang for your buck. . .physically and aesthetically.
Made up of four distinct muscles—the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, posterior deltoid, and trapezius—the shoulders are the most mobile, “do-it-all” joints in the entire human body, says Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and adjunct professor of human performance at Carrick Institute in St. Paul, Minnesota. In fact, says Nelson, your shoulders are actually less a joint and more a “symphony of tissues.” And as one of the most muscular and metabolically active areas in your upper body, they have the biggest impact on your overall exercise performance and metabolic rate.
Improved fitness performance and higher calorie- and fat-burning potential are all amazing, but looking hot in a tank top is another fun payoff. A set of sleek shoulders completely reshapes and defines your entire upper half, improving your posture, chiseling your arms (because the moves inherently recruit other muscles like your biceps and triceps), and making you look and feel super-strong. “It flips a little switch in a lot of women. We stand a little taller, walk a little prouder, carry ourselves with a bit more oomph,” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Kourtney Thomas, owner of Kourtney Thomas Fitness in St. Louis. And that boost will come in handy wherever you and your tank top are heading this spring.
For shoulders that are as powerful as you are, try this routine created by Thomas. By mixing mobility work with hit-’em-hard moves designed to sculpt and shape from every angle, it crosses everything off your list in 30 minutes flat. Twice a week, perform the following exercises, in order, as instructed.
Grasp one end of a resistance band in each hand. Hold the band in front of your waist, your hands six to eight inches wider than your shoulders and your palms facing your body (a). Keeping your arms straight and core tight, slowly raise the band directly overhead (b) and then lower as far as you can behind you (c). Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 12.
Stand with your back, butt, and head against a wall; bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise them out to shoulder height, with the entire length of your arms pressed into the wall, palms facing forward (a). Slowly straighten your elbows to slide your arms up the wall (b). Pause, then reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 12.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms straight at your sides and palms facing each other (a). Brace your core, then raise the weights out to shoulder height, arms straight but keeping a slight bend in the elbows (b). Pause, then slowly reverse to return to start. That’s one rep; do 10 to 12. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for three or four total sets.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and sit on an incline bench with your back flat and straight; bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise them out to shoulder height, palms facing forward (a). Bracing your core, press the weights up and together until your arms are straight but not locked (b). Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep; do six to eight. Rest for 90 seconds, then repeat for three or four total sets.
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent; hinge forward to lower your torso so your arms hang directly from your shoulders, palms facing each other (a). Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, brace your core and raise the weights out to shoulder height (b). Slowly lower back to start. That’s one rep; do 10 to 12. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for three or four total sets.
Get underneath a bar in a squat rack (the higher it is, the easier the exercise will be); place your hands more than shoulder-width apart and extend your feet in front of you, so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to heels (a). Keeping your body flat and core tight, bend your elbows and pull your shoulder blades together to raise your chest to the bar (b). Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to start. That’s one rep; do as many full reps as possible. Rest 10 seconds, then repeat, doing three or four total sets.