5 Tips For Building Boulder Shoulders

Kelsey Lensman ATC


1.Scapular (Shoulder Blade) Positioning: With any overhead or upper body movement I always begin by  “setting my scap.” This means I squeeze my shoulder blades down and in before I begin any movement of my upper body. By setting your scapulas you are getting in better postural alignment with your shoulders down and back instead of rounded forward, spine tall/straight, and getting the right length-tension relationship with the surrounding muscles.  This also influences the movement of the scapula on the thoracic region of your spine., which your shoulder relies on heavily for any type of movement.  Poor movement of your scapula and not setting your scapula = overuse or improperly positioning your shoulder = increased risk of shoulder injury!


2. Strengthen ALL parts of your shoulder: Your deltoid muscle is not just one big muscle that raises your arm up to the side. It actually has 3 different sets of fibers that control different movements of your shoulder. These sets of fibers are: anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, and posterior deltoid (as seen below). To build boulder shoulders, you have to work on all three! Below are exercises to hit the three different movements!

            -Anterior Deltoid: Front Raises, Upright Row, Arnold Press,

            -Middle Deltoid: Lateral Raises, Shoulder Press, Seated Clean and Press

            -Posterior Deltoid: Rear Delt Flies, Face Pulls, Incline Bench Cuban Press   

            -All 3: Shoulder 6 Ways


3. Elbow Drive: Regardless of what type of shoulder raise, rear delt fly, or upright row you do, keeping your elbow high should be one of the main focuses. By keeping your elbow high you are forcing your deltoid to do the work. Remember the deltoid muscle attaches to your upper arm so if your upper arm isn’t getting raised (by keeping elbow high) then you may think you’re working shoulders, but you’re really not. Lead with the high elbow!


4. Change the lever arm: I always get the question “do I keep my arm straight or bend it?” when asking about front or side raises. My answer is both! This is because it depends on what you want to focus on. Straight-arm increases the distance from your shoulder, which makes it harder to raise. Bent arm decreases the distance from your shoulder, which makes it easier. The main focus is keeping that high elbow drive and not letting your wrists be above your elbow. If that’s the case, the weight is too heavy! If you want a challenge, straighten your arm and also hold the DB by the head instead of the bar (increases it even more). If it’s too hard, bend your arm and keep your elbow high! Incorporate both in your training.


5. Keep your wrists facing down: With any type of raise (lateral, front, etc.) your wrists are going to start opening up toward the sky (supinating) when you get fatigued. This is because as you get tired, the long head of your biceps wants to take over. Keep that wrist facing down (fully pronated) and your shoulder gains will thank you later.


Biggest piece of advice is don’t compromise poor positioning and bad form for heavier weight! Get the position right and then add weight in order to strengthen proper movement patterns. Try these tips and let me know what you think! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me!


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