Form and Function Exercises for Shapely Shoulders

Carve shapely delts and deftly handle a handstand with these two moves.

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standing Arnold dumbbell press

Form: Standing Arnold Dumbbell Press

A standard overhead press recruits more of the medial delts, but back in the day, Arnold Schwarzenegger found a way to tweak this move by essentially combining a front raise, an overhead press and a shoulder rotation. The resultant Arnold press effectively works all three heads of the deltoid group, primarily hitting the anterior and medial delts on the press, and the posterior delts during the rotation and for stabilization.

Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders, elbows down, with your palms facing rearward as if you have just completed a biceps curl. Positioning the weights in front of you means more shoulder flexion and a greater range of motion with an emphasis on the anterior delts during each rep.

Grip the weights as if punching the sky — knuckles up — and don’t let your wrists flex or extend. Shifting the dumbbell in space can stress the wrists and could potentially pull your shoulders out of alignment.

Press the dumbbells overhead, simultaneously rotating your wrists so that at the top, your palms are facing forward. Perform the press and the rotation as one fluid movement to ensure the anterior delts remain the targeted muscles. End with the dumbbells straight overhead, biceps aligned with your ears, shoulders stable and locked down, spine neutral.

Slowly lower the weights back to the start to keep tension on your anterior delts, and pause at the bottom before the next rep. This prevents you from bouncing or using momentum and keeps your muscles — not your joints — under stress.

Exhale forcefully with each rep, which activates the deep-seated core muscles to help maintain spinal stability, keep your rib cage from flaring out and prevent your lower back from arching.

You also can do this move seated, which allows you to focus on your shoulders without worrying about balance and core control.

pike push-up

Function: Pike Push-Up

Want entry into the handstand club? This progression can help get you there, teaching you proper hips-over-shoulders positioning while setting your deltoids on fire. Regardless, it’s a kick-ass workout for your entire upper body, training scapular and shoulder stability while also activating your core as you hold that pike.

Choose a high box or bench, then place your hands on the floor and extend your legs behind you so your toes are on top of the box, feet flexed. Walk your hands backward and, as they come closer to the box, lift your hips up until they are stacked over your shoulders and your body makes a 90-degree angle at your hips (a pike). This vertical torso positioning is ideal for training your shoulders — not your chest or back — to do the move.

Position your hands outside your shoulders and rotate them internally a bit for optimal stability, then spread your fingers and press them into the floor so your bodyweight isn’t focused in the heels of your hands.

Lock your shoulder blades into your back and brace your core to ensure the focus is on your delts and your balance is solid. Look straight ahead — not at the floor or underneath you toward your hips — to avoid arching and straining your neck and traps.

Lower slowly toward the floor until your elbows are bent 90 degrees or your head touches down (whichever happens first), keeping your torso vertical throughout. The more angled your hips are toward the bench, the more of a chest exercise it becomes.

Imagine pressing the floor away from you as you push your hips straight up toward the ceiling and extend your elbows to come to the start.

Your wrists have to be able to go into a full 90-degree extension, so if you struggle with wrist mobility, turn your fingers outward to relieve some of the tension.

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