Broad shoulders are admired by everyone and desired by most. They convey confidence and strength as well as help create a symmetrical, V-taper physique. Many people struggle in their quest to build a wide, thick and complete shoulder complex. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make in training the shoulder complex:

  1. Using too much weight,
  2. Improper exercise form (often from using too much weight),
  3. Overtraining, and
  4. Failing to focus on all areas of the shoulder equally.

Because the shoulder joint is unstable and delicate, the muscles of the shoulder complex should not be trained with excessive weight. For most trainers, I do not recommend using a weight heavier than that which will allow the completion of 8-10 repetitions with strict form before reaching failure. Of course, a sufficient number of warm-up sets should precede heavier working sets to prepare the shoulder joint for the stress of heavy weights.

Strict exercise form is crucial for injury-free shoulder training. Especially for overhead pressing movements, which can place the shoulder in a vulnerable position. Slowly lowering the weight under control and avoiding any bouncing at the bottom before pressing back overhead is recommended.

For those who experience shoulder pain, or to prevent eventual shoulder problems, it is a good idea to limit the range of motion when performing pressing movements. The weight need only be lowered to a point that is approximately parallel to the ears and pressed to just short of lockout to sufficiently stimulate the deltoid muscles. Lowering the weight below ear level puts unnecessary stress on the joint and locking out at the top involves the triceps more than the deltoids. Keeping the weight within the middle range of the movement maintains constant tension on the deltoid muscles and limits the stress on the joint.

I also do not recommend behind the neck presses, favouring instead the military press, dumbbell press or various machine presses, as lowering a barbell behind the neck places the shoulder tendons and the rotator cuff muscles (particularly the supraspinatus), in a dangerous position.

The shoulders receive a significant amount of indirect work from exercises targeted at other muscle groups. For example, chest exercises such as various forms of bench pressing and flye movements secondarily involve the shoulder muscles to a great degree. Back and arm exercises will also recruit the shoulder muscles. Those who train each of these other body parts on days separate from shoulder training may effectively be training the shoulders a number of times per week possibly leading to overtraining. Therefore, it is a good idea to be aware of this fact and limit the number of exercises and sets performed directly for shoulders.

Finally, many trainers perform a number of exercises that target the front (anterior head) and side (medial head) of the deltoid complex to the neglect of the rear (posterior head). Various exercises such as overhead presses, bench presses, flyes and dips primarily work the stronger anterior deltoids and, to a lesser degree, the medial deltoids. Upright rows and lateral raises are commonly performed to target the medial deltoids. While the posterior deltoids receive indirect stimulation during various back exercises, many trainers either do not train them directly or do not focus enough attention on them. This inequality can lead to a development and strength imbalance, which can in turn lead to postural problems or injury.

The previously mentioned rotator cuff muscles are also often overlooked and ignored since they are not really visible in contrast to the deltoid complex. However, a strength imbalance between the deltoid complex and the rotator cuff muscles, which has the primary purpose of stabilizing the joint, can lead to injuries like impingement, tears and tendonitis. Incorporating exercises for the rotator cuff as well as stretching techniques are important for maintaining shoulder health.

Avoid these common mistakes and be on your way to complete shoulder development.

Kevin Ferrell, CA, CFT

Professional Health and Wellness Coach

Team Canada Bodybuilder

Co-founder, CRE8iON Fitness & Wellness Inc.