This circuit uses lighter weights, putting joint safety above all.
On the surface, it's a powerful joint (which is why you'll see plenty of guys overloading it with heavy military press work in the gym), but it's also delicately balanced, and easily injured.
That's why traditional shoulder exercises aren't always the best course of action. Yes, standard military presses can pack on muscle, and they're a terrific fundamental movement for strength. But there are other moves that can also help you build shoulder strength, sometimes with less risk.
That's the idea behind this shoulder circuit. This routine relies on three movements that attack your shoulders while also forcing you to build the stability in the surrounding musculature that more standard shoulder moves sometimes don't require. You may find yourself using lighter weight with this routine, but you'll still get a solid burn.
Use these three moves together in the circuit, or incorporate them as changeups to your own standard shoulder routine.
Directions: Perform one set of each exercise—see descriptions below or watch the video above—rest for 20 seconds, then move onto the next exercise. Rest one minute between each round. Perform 3 rounds.
Hold a weight at your chest, then tighten your shoulder blades, and rotate the weight around your head in a slow and controlled manner. Keep the weight as close to your head as possible. Do two reps in one direction, then two reps in the other. Aim for 12 to 16 reps total in this routine.
Ideally, you want to do this move with a kettlebell, holding it either regularly or bottoms-up. (If you can't find one of those, a dumbbell or 25-pound weight plate can work as well.) Regardless of what you use, stay focused on your form, and try not to tilt your torso forward or backward to help with the rotation of the weight. You'll be hitting your shoulders and also attacking many of the upper back muscles and scapular stabilizers that help keep your shoulders in proper position.
2. Half-Kneeling Arnold Press
Kneel on your right knee and grasp a dumbbell in your right hand, your palm facing your chest. Hold it at chest-level, and press the dumbbell upwards, rotating your palm away from your chest as you do. Then return to your starting position. Do 8 to 10 reps with your right hand, then switch sides and repeat with your left.
We recommend using a lighter weight than what you might use for a normal dumbbell military press. This is an asymmetric movement, and it's going to test your core heavily.
3. Thumbs-Up Lateral Raise
You've done lateral raises before, but this slight twist on the move will also help protect your shoulders. Yes, you're taking a little emphasis off the lateral head, but you'll still get a solid shoulder workout. By keeping your thumbs up, your shoulder is in external rotation—a position that leaves room for your rotator cuff tendons to slide in between the top of your humerus and your acromion. The more room your rotator cuff tendons have to pass through that space, the less chance those tendons have of fraying against your bones—it’s the fraying that eventually wears down rotator cuff tendons, leading to tears.
Perform 8 to 10 reps of lateral raises, with your thumbs up, using a light weight. Hold for two seconds when your arms are at or near parallel on each rep.