My absolute favorite workout at the gym is not 'pounding the pecs', 'hitting the lats' or 'hitting the rack' (I wanted to list all gym cliches), but working out my shoulders. In relation to my bodyweight and frame, I have pretty strong shoulders. Shoulders are not so intense that working them out tires your entire body, but you can make the workout intense for your 'caps'. I could just link to this page and say "do what they recommend", but that's not the point of a training article. Let's go through my intense shoulder workout and then discuss a couple of wrinkles for you to try to maximize gains.
As a warm up, I like to take a 5 lb or 2.5 lb plate in my hand and slowly do a lateral raise. I also like to rotate my shoulder with the weight in hand. Because the shoulder is a delicate joint, you should warm up the area and get blood flow before using heavy weights. After the rotating, I stretch my shoulders before hitting the presses.
1. Seated dumbbell shoulder press - 3 sets - I start by grabbing weights half of what I do for sets as a warm up. Taking 60-90 secs between sets, I push out 3 sets of 8-10 reps each. I position my hands so that the inside plate is tipped towards my shoulders and only go 3/4 of the way up. This keeps stress completely on the deltoids and does not transfer focus to the triceps. On the last set, I like to go all the way up to get the triceps involved. A key to this exercise, and all deltoid exercises, is to fight the negative and take your time bringing the weight down. Studies have shown that muscle cells are stimulated more on the negative than the positive motion of resistance training.
2. One armed dumbbell lateral raise - 3 sets - Grab a dumbbell in one hand and hold onto the back of a seat with the other. Doing this with one arm at a time prevents you from using momentum, and focuses on the shoulder muscle without rest. Like with presses, slow the negative down and fight gravity.
3. Bent over deltoid raises - 3 sets - Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, back straight, and slowly arc your arms back. Keep your arms slightly bent and try to have as strict form as possible. Keep the focus on the rear delt, and go with a light weight to make sure you follow correct form.
4. Arnold Press superset with lateral raise hold - 3 sets - This usually destroys my delts as I am tired by the time I get to this. Arnold presses are just shoulder presses but you start with the weight in front of you and twist your arms out as they go up. Use a lighter weight than your shoulder press and slowly arc the weight up and back down. It is best if you keep the arc up/down in a circular direction; don't just push the weight up and twist your arm. The slow arc will target the delts and keep resistance on them. Deltoid muscles respond best to continued resistance. After a set of Arnold presses, grab dumbbells half the weight that you use for lateral raises and do a lateral raise. At shoulder level, hold the weight there for 5 seconds. Slowly bring the weight down. This superset of Arnold presses and lateral holds should burn your shoulders out.
5. Shrugs - 3 sets - I hate shrugs, and they are boring. Still, they are the best way to develop your trapezius muscles.
If you are looking to spice up your shoulder routine try these alternative shoulder exercises:
1. Run the rack - 1 set (maybe 2) - Grab a dumbbell 5 lbs heavier than you normally use and pump out a set of 6 reps. Then immediately do the next dumbbells down in 5 lb increments. Do this for 6 sets of 6 reps. This is also known as the 6x6 routine. You can do this for either the dumbbell press or the lateral raise.I do this at the end of the workout to substitute for whichever exercise I am running the rack with (press or raise).
2. Front raise hold - Grab a 25 lb plate or more if you are a beast, and hold it shoulder height in front of you for as long as you can. This is great for finishing off a shoulder routine, as deltoid muscles love isometric exercises. You can do the same for side raises; just hold the weight out as long as you can. I do this at the end of a routine and can barely lift my arms up to drive home.
3. Upside down push ups - This requires help of a friend to hold your legs straight. Do push ups completely inverted. Try to crank out 10. They are super tough. I avoid them because of fear of dislocating my shoulder.
Be safe when lifting, but get out there and get in shape!