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Shoulders to Boulders Program: 10 Shoulder Exercises At Home For Pain (With Dumbbells)

Your shoulders are the canary down the coal mine. If you injure them in the gym, it’s a sign you’re doing something wrong with your program. 

As a former sufferer of training-related shoulder injuries, I’m going to show you how to avoid them, while building strong and functional shoulders. I’m also a personal trainer and weightlifting coach with over 20 years experience. 

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m probably one of the best people to listen to about building a shoulder workout. 

Across the Shoulders to Boulders program you’ll learn a little about shoulder anatomy and function. We’ll also look at shoulder exercises and training myths and how to prevent issues before they even start.

By the end of this article, you’ll have the training plan to build the shoulders you’ve always wanted.

In the ‘Shoulders to Boulders Program’, I’m distilling that information into a functional program that will serve you well.

All of these shoulder exercises are possible in a home gym.

Want to Improve Your Own Home Gym?

Check out our guide on how to build a home gym for any budget.

Our team of fitness experts has spent thousands of hours testing and researching equipment. It’s all compiled in one place with the essential items your gym needs to see results.


Shoulders to Boulders Program: Building strong, injury-proof shoulders in just 8 weeks

So why would you want great shoulders? 
Actually, the question is why wouldn’t you want them, but let’s get to the point. Here are four benefits of strong and healthy shoulders…

Benefit 1: You’ll be a better athlete

No matter what your sport, I bet you wouldn’t be very good at it if your shoulders were injured. Lifting, throwing, running, jumping, combat, swimming, rowing etc etc… they all involve your shoulders to a greater or lesser extent.

A shoulder injury would destroy your ability to play.

Now imagine a strong pair of shoulders… lifting gets better, throwing is improved, swimming is faster, wrestling is easier. There’s not a single athletic discipline that wouldn’t be enhanced with stronger shoulders.

Benefit 2: You’ll be stronger across all lifts

Let’s imagine you’re not even interested in sports, and your thing is the gym. 


There’s still a huge benefit from improving your shoulder strength. Your shoulders are involved in every single upper body exercise, whether that’s as a direct prime mover (in the shoulder press for example), or as a stabilizing muscle (bicep curls, planks, tricep work to name a few).

Beyond that they are actively working in pulling movements too – your posterior deltoid has a role to play in pull ups and rows. By improving your shoulder strength, you’re improving every single lift. There’s always a benefit to having stronger shoulders.

Benefit 3: Insurance against injuries

The trade-off with being involved in all major lifts, is that the risk of injury is greater. This is compounded by the fact that the shoulder has the greatest range of movement of all the joints in the body.

Two factors (involvement in so many movements and huge range of motion) imply you have to be very sensible.

With a well-designed training program, you give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding injuries that are notoriously difficult to fix. In fact, according to research by Watson, Allen and Grantl, shoulder dislocation injuries can have a 37-90% recurrence rate. Making your shoulders functionally strong will help to prevent these injuries.

Benefit 4: Wide shoulders fill your t-shirts more than any other muscle

I couldn’t ignore this benefit…

Wide shoulders make you look better wearing anything. If you work on your medial deltoids you will have broader shoulders and it’s one of the best ways to bulk out your t-shirts.


5 Steps to Use the Shoulders to Boulders Program

Shoulder exercises general infographic

Step 1: Never neglect the warm-up… seriously!

I get it – warm-ups aren’t fun. You know what else isn’t fun? 

Surgery. 

Physical therapy. 

Deep tissue massage. 

Acupuncture. 

All of those things you’ll have to go through to fix the shoulders you were too impatient to warm up properly.

Now we’ve cleared that up, understand this – the warm-up is vital here. It’s not a ‘nice to have’, it’s an essential. The warm-up is true preparation for what is about to come. It’s stimulating blood flow. It’s activating the shoulders, it’s setting movement patterns, and it’s mobilizing the thoracic spine.

In the Shoulders to Boulders program, the workout starts with the same warm-up: 

  • 5-minute cardio 
  • 5 different warm-up exercises  

This warm-up will take you around 20 minutes, but it’s worth it. Don’t worry about your overall training time – you’ll finish the entire workout in an hour.

Warm-up Shoulder Exercises

5 minutes of cardio that includes the upper body. Rower, ski erg, air bike etc. are all perfect.

ExerciseSetsReps
1. Cat Cow Stretch310
2. T-Spine Extension Mobilization310
3. Scapular Push Ups312
4. Quadruped T-Spine Rotations310 (per side)
5. Elbow-Supported DB External Rotations312 (per side)

Step 2: Perform each workout twice per week

The Shoulders to Boulders program is designed to be your entire upper body training in one program. You would only need to add a lower body workout into your training week to make sure your whole body is trained.

Besides our lower body workout linked above, here’s a suggested glute exercises program that will also cover that for you.

Here’s how I suggest you break up your training week…

Monday: Shoulders to Boulders: Workout 1

Tuesday: Shoulders to Boulders: Workout 2

Wednesday: Legs/Lower Body day

Thursday: Shoulders to Boulders: Workout 1

Friday: Shoulders to Boulders: Workout 2

Weekend: Rest

Doing this you’ll train all of your upper body, still get a leg day in there and will manage enough rest to grow, repair and recover. Here’s an overview of the two workouts. We’ll go into more detail later on, but for now here’s what the sessions look like…

Workout 1

ExerciseSetsReps
Warm Up Series
Dumbbell Shoulder Press410
Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatches412 (per side)
Arnold Press312
American Kettlebell Swings420
Snatch Panda Pulls38

Workout 2 

ExerciseSetsReps
Warm Up Series
Inverted Rows410
Landmine Press410 (per side)
Shrugs415
Lat Raises310
Dips310

When you include the warm ups and these shoulder exercises, you cover all of the movement bases you need to during a good shoulder program.

Step 3: Never miss an exercise (it should take 60 minutes max)

In this program every exercise has its place, so don’t miss any out. 

If you are ever short on time, I’d prefer you do all of the shoulder exercises, but drop a set from each. Whilst it’s not ideal, it still means you perform all of the movement patterns across the program, which is exactly how it is supposed to be done.

In all honesty though, even when you include the warm-up exercises there are only 33 sets per workout. So you should be able to manage the whole thing within an hour-long session. The focus here is on both quality and quantity of movement.

We’re looking for a well-executed volume in the Shoulders to Boulders program.

A person performing a snatch panda pull

Step 4: Eat for rest and recovery

This isn’t a fat loss program, so don’t try to perform it on limited calories.

There’s a lot of volume, you’re training 4 (or 5 if you include a leg day) days per week and you’re lifting pretty heavy. Don’t try to do this whilst cutting weight.

Sure, it’s possible, but you’ll sacrifice your strength and performance gains if you do. There’s plenty of time to lose weight, and as a personal trainer I’ll tell you there are far better fat loss programs out there than this. Our goal here is to build healthy, strong and injury-resistant shoulders, not strip fat.

Eat enough to fuel your workouts and ensure you’re getting enough rest and recovery.

Step 5: Don’t combine the workouts

Thanks to work by Brad Schoenfeld we know that… where volume is equal, frequency isn’t an important metric in muscle building.

There is strong evidence that resistance training frequency does not significantly or meaningfully impact muscle hypertrophy when [the] volume is [equal].

What this means is that if you were performing a number of sets and reps, it seems to make no difference whether you performed them all in one session or more. Taken on its own, that info would lead you to believe that it’d be OK to combine the workouts.

Here’s where experience kicks in though…

By breaking the workouts up you’re still getting the same volume in, but you’re allowing yourself to recover more quickly. This means you’ll be able to train harder, lift heavier, and still enjoy the same muscle-building benefits. Training without all of that residual fatigue also reduces injury risk.

Whilst pushing through the pain barrier might seem like a macho thing to do, there’s evidence to suggest that training with DOMS can increase injury risk… so be sensible when it comes to volume.

There’s no different focus with the workouts – it’s just a pure volume play. We can’t have you destroying your shoulders every workout, so we’ve broken the program into 2 different sessions.


Some basic shoulder anatomy

I know you didn’t come here for an anatomy lesson. 

But I think it’s important for you to understand the complexity of the shoulder joint, how it moves, and why most shoulder training plans aren’t very good. 

Most people think of the shoulder as ‘the joint at the top of the arm’. Whilst technically they’re correct, that massively under-sells the complexity of the joint. 

The shoulder is a myriad of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. It has the widest range of movement in the body and it consists of four separate bones and 8 separate muscles. 

If you consider the wider muscles of the shoulder (muscles that attach onto the bones of the shoulder), there are actually 18 different muscles that influence one single joint.

Muscles around the shoulder

Simpler shoulder muscles

The key players we’re interested in are…

  • Front shoulder e.g. Anterior deltoid
  • Side shoulder e.g. Lateral deltoid
  • Back shoulder e.g. Posterior deltoid
  • Upper back e.g. Trapezius
  • Upper chest e.g. Pectoralis Major
Shoulder Muscles Simplified (5 muscles)

Shoulder movements…

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint (like the hip), but in this case the ‘ball’ (the top of the humerus) is much bigger than the socket (on the shoulder blade). Because of this, the shoulder has a huge range of movement. It’s the joint with the largest range of movement in the entire body.

The shoulder joint is capable of 8 different movements. To make it clearer, I’ve added an exercise next to each one so you can visualize what’s happening…

  • Adduction: Lat raises (lowering the weight to your body)
  • Abduction: Lat raises (lifting the weight away from your body)
  • Flexion: Front raise
  • Extension: Dips
  • Internal rotation: Banded internal rotations
  • External rotation: Banded external rotations
  • Elevation: Shrugs
  • 360° circumduction in the sagittal plane: Windmills

For a better understanding of what these look like, see this video…


What you’ll need to complete the workouts…

Here’s a list of the equipment you’re going to need to do these workouts without making any changes to them…

If you have all of these you’ll be able to perform the program without any alterations of the shoulder exercises.


Shoulders to Boulders Program: The Workouts

This program is a complete upper body program – it includes a variety of upper body pulls, pushes and prehab-based direct shoulder work. You only need to add legs and abs work to make it a full body program, which I suggest you do in the mid-week.

There are two workouts, each consisting of 5 warm-up exercises and 5 ‘main’ exercises. There are 33 sets per workout, so a lot of volume on shoulders.

Each workout is designed to make sure that across the training week, you’ve covered all of the movements the shoulder is capable of. You will be training the shoulders across a range of weights as well.

Shoulder warm up

The Warm-Up Shoulder Exercises

ExerciseSetsReps
1. Cat Cow Stretch310
2. T-Spine Extension Mobilization310
3. Scapular Push Ups312
4. Quadruped T-Spine Rotations310 (per side)
5. Elbow-Supported DB External Rotations312 (per side)

These exercises are to be done every session as a priority. They will come in just after a cardio warm-up. Perform all of the exercises – starting with the Cat Cow stretch and the T-Spine extension. 

After that, it doesn’t matter the order you do them in, just go through them all.

I’ve put these in a separate section to save repeating myself in both workout descriptions. 

1. Cat Cows

The Cat Cow is a thoracic mobility drill designed to loosen and free up the thorax ahead of lifting. It’s particularly useful for workouts where there’ll be a significant overhead element to the training. It’s simple to do, but very effective.

Equipment needed for Cat Cows:

  • A mat

How to do Cat Cows:

  • Assume a position on all fours, with your back in a straight, neutral alignment
  • Simultaneously lower your head, tucking your chin and arching your mid-back, as if you were being pulled to the ceiling
  • When you reach full peak, go in reverse – lift your chin up and arch your back, pushing your chest towards the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required.

2. T-Spine Extension Mobilization

This is another exercise that will improve thoracic mobility, but this time it’s more ‘involved’ with a great range of motion and more movement. It is as much a stretch as an exercise, but one that is very helpful as a pre-shoulder workout movement.

Equipment needed for T-Spine Extension Mobilization:

  • A bench
  • PVC pipe/broom handle/light barbell

How to do T-Spine Extension Mobilizations:

  • Position yourself on your knees, with your back straight and your elbows resting on the bench
  • Holding the pipe in both hands, position your forearms pointing forwards at about 45 degrees
  • Keeping your back straight and elbows on the bench throughout, sit backwards on your heels
  • As you sit back allow your chest to move lower to the floor, stretching the mid back
  • When the chest is as low as you can go without letting your back ‘sag’ and your forearms are pointing upwards, push forwards back to the start position
  • Repeat

3. Scapular Push Ups

These help to maintain thoracic mobility and the strength and stability required to control the movement of the scapular throughout various exercises. It’s an important exercise for helping to keep the muscles of the upper back engaged during overhead pressing.

Equipment needed for scapular push ups:

  • A mat

How to do scapular push ups:

  • Assume the standard push up position with a tight core and long body
  • Keeping your arms straight throughout, lower your torso towards the floor by letting your shoulder blades come together
  • DON’T BEND THE ELBOWS!
  • Return to the start position by pushing your torso back ‘through’ your shoulder blades
  • Repeat

4. Quadruped T-Spine Rotations

Once you’ve engaged the thoracic spine and begun to improve its mobility in a straight line, it’s time to add some rotation into the mix. This is a simple drill that has a double bonus – it improves thoracic rotation, but then it also helps to engage the posterior deltoid, which is another big win.

Equipment needed for Quadruped T-Spine rotations:

  • A mat

How to do Quadruped T-Spine rotations:

  • Position yourself on all fours, then take one hand and position it by your ear, with the elbow pointing outwards
  • Keeping the spine long and straight, rotate the torso smoothly until the elbow points to the ceiling
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat

5. Elbow-Supported DB External Rotations

The elbow-supported dumbbell external rotations is an exercise I learned from a physical therapist who was treating me for a shoulder problem. It’s a simple but effective exercise, because it trains the external rotation of the shoulder, but because the weight of the arm is supported, it doesn’t fatigue the deltoid – it just engages the muscle.

Equipment needed for elbow-supported dumbbell external rotations:

  • A bench
  • Single light dumbbell

How to do elbow-supported dumbbell external rotations:

  • Kneel by the side of the bench (seat must be in an upright position)
  • Position your upper arm on the bench, and have your elbow bent 90 degrees
  • The hand should be pointing directly in front of you
  • Lift the hand up, keeping the upper arm in contact with the bench throughout
  • Pause at the top, then slowly lower the arm back to the starting position
  • Repeat

This concludes the warm up series – you should do this at the start of EVERY workout.


Shoulders to Boulders Program Workout 1

Workout 1

Workout time required: 60 mins max

Sets and reps: 

ExerciseSetsReps
Warm Up Shoulder Exercises
Dumbbell Shoulder Press410
Alternating Dumbbell Power Snatches412 (per side)
Arnold Press312
American Kettlebell Swings420
Snatch Panda Pulls38

Focus: Explosive work with the snatches, swings and pulls

Workout 1 shoulder exercises

Once you’ve gone through the warm up exercises, it’s time to work your way through the main exercises of the workout. Follow the rep ranges and use good form at all times.

1. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press is the perfect overhead press – it’s unilateral, so trains both sides. It’s an exercise that has huge crossover benefits in sports too. It helps to develop strength, power, hypertrophy and upper spinal stability, so there’s much more to the movement than pure aesthetics – it’s a functional movement too. A must when training shoulders.

Equipment needed for dumbbell shoulder press:

  • Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do a dumbbell shoulder press:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, stand upright and hold the dumbbells at shoulder height
  • Use either a neutral (palms facing each other) grip
  • Press the dumbbells directly overhead, maintaining the neutral grip throughout
  • At full extension, pause and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

2. Alternating dumbbell power snatches

In a complete shoulder program we have to focus on explosive power too, and this is the perfect way of doing so. As well as being unilateral, it’s functional dynamic and will also help to build overhead range of movement if you need it to. It’s a great addition to any shoulder program and a nice switch of pace from the bodybuilding style work.

Equipment needed for alternating dumbbell power snatches:

  • Dumbbells

How to do alternating dumbbell power snatches:

  1. Set a dumbbell between your feet
  2. Take an overhand grip, squat slightly and drive up with the legs, putting upward momentum into the dumbbell
  3. Use the momentum to carry the dumbbell up, then lift it the rest of the way overhead
  4. Once the dumbbell is overhead, drop it to the floor under control
  5. Switch sides and repeat
  6. Continue for as many reps as required

3. Arnold press

A classic shoulder exercise, possibly/probably invented by Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s an exercise that forces contraction through a press and a rotation, so works the shoulders two ways. The Arnold press is a nice way to mix up pressing movements. It’s another unilateral exercise (see a theme here?!)

Equipment needed for Arnold presses:

  • Dumbbells
  • A bench

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do Arnold presses:

  • Sit upright on a bench, with a dumbbell in each hand
  • Dumbbells should be at chest height, palms facing your chest
  • Press the dumbbells overhead, rotating them as you press
  • When your arms are overhead and at full extension, your palms should be facing away from you (180 degree turn)
  • As you return the dumbbells to the starting position, rotate the dumbbells back so your palms are facing you again
  • Repeat

4. American Kettlebell Swings

The American kettlebell swing divides opinion, especially amongst kettlebell purists. Personally, I like it. I like the huge range of motion, the fact that it trains the shoulders without relying on them to work against too much resistance, and I like the compound element of the lift. There’s also excellent functional fitness benefits to the exercise.

Equipment needed for American kettlebell swings:

  • Kettlebell

How to do American kettlebell swings:

  • Hold the kettlebell with both hands in an overhand grip
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt your hips back and drive them forward using your glutes – this puts momentum into the kettlebell
  • Swing hard, so the kettlebell is almost immediately overhead – just don’t lean too far back and risk the kettlebell going behind you!
  • At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes together hard
  • Keep your legs mostly straight throughout the whole exercise – the only joints to move a lot are the hips and shoulders
  • Repeat as many times as required

5. Snatch panda pulls

The snatch panda pull is a more technical weightlifting exercise, but it’s one that works as an excellent shoulder exercise. Snatch panda pulls activate the upper back and rear delt muscles and avoids the dangerous aspects of upright rows by shifting the grip wide. It’s a powerful, explosive movement that has crossover benefits for anything requiring power generation with the upper body. 

Equipment needed for panda pulls:

  • Barbell

How to do panda pulls:

  • Take the bar with a snatch grip (double overhand, wide grip)
  • Bend your knees, keeping your back straight and the chest high
  • Drive with your legs, keep your back straight and pull directly upwards
  • Pull the elbows up high and squeeze the shoulder blades together
  • As the bar travels upwards and reaches the top of the lift, bend your knees slightly to ‘dip’ your chest lower relative to the bar – this makes the traps work even more
  • Keep the bar close to the body throughout
  • Lower the bar under control
  • Repeat as many times as required

Check out our reverse pec deck alternatives if you’re looking for exercises that activate your upper back and rear deltoid muscles.


Shoulders to Boulders Program Workout 2

Workout 2 

Here’s the second workout. The warm up series is the same one as the previous workout. As always, use good form and work hard.

Workout time required: 60 mins max

Sets and reps: 

ExerciseSetsReps
Warm Up Series
Inverted Rows410
Landmine Press410 (per side)
Shrugs415
Lat Raises310
Dips310

Focus: Full ranges of movement with each exercise

6. Inverted rows 

Inverted rows are an exercise that uses the rear deltoids and the upper back and biceps – all important parts of the shoulder joint. The movement allows you to activate muscles that stabilize the shoulder blades, whilst benefiting other areas of the body at the same time.

Equipment needed for inverted rows:

  • Barbell
  • Squat Rack

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do inverted rows:

  • Place a barbell on a squat rack around hip height.
  • Grip the bar around shoulder width apart with your thumbs wrapped around the bar. 
  • Straighten your legs out in front of you and make sure your body is straight like a plank. 
  • Pull your chest up to the bar until it touches the barbell 
  • Lower yourself down with a straight body and repeat

Is the inverted row becoming too easy? If that is the case, be sure to check out our inverted row alternatives, with which you can level up on the same muscle groups.

7. Landmine press

This is one of my go-to overhead exercises when my shoulders are giving me a few problems. I like it because the fixed point means you’re not supporting much weight, you’re just pressing it. It’s also not a movement going directly overhead, which recruits the traps – the movement is all in front of me. This allows the muscles of the upper back to rest, yet move freely throughout the movement.

Equipment needed for landmine press:

  • Landmine attachment (or plate in the corner of the room)
  • Barbell
  • Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plates

Rogue Fleck Bumper Plate
Read our best bumper plates guide here

Bumper plates are ideal for a home gym.

They can last a lifetime and allow you to do additional lifts which require you to drop the bar.

Our team has compared over 100 types and the Rogue Fleck plates came out on top.

They are great value, use color allowing you to quickly see how much you’re lifting and the pattern will give your home gym a unique look.

How to do landmine press:

  • Stand leaning slightly forwards, keeping your core tight. Take the loaded barbell in your hand.
  • Maintaining the forward lean, press the barbell away from you.
  • When your arm is at full extension, return it to the starting position.
  • Resist rotating your torso by keeping your core tight throughout the movement.
  • Repeat as many times as required

8. Shrugs

One of the movements people forget about when it comes to shoulders is elevation – lifting the shoulders upwards, if you were trying to touch your ears with them. This movement is important for shoulder support, and also helps to prevent injury by strengthening the muscles at the back of the shoulders.

Equipment needed for shrugs:

  • Dumbbells

How to do shrugs:

  • Stand with a heavy dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body
  • Keeping your arms and back straight, shrug your shoulders up (towards your ears) and together, squeezing your shoulder blades together tightly
  • Hold the squeeze for 2-3 seconds
  • Lower your shoulders and repeat

9. Lateral raises

The dumbbell lateral raise is a shoulder exercise almost everyone would have seen before. It has been popular in the bodybuilding world for years and hits the medial deltoid effectively. It’s also a very simple exercise to do, with a range of movement that can be adjusted depending on your shoulder movement capability.

Equipment needed for lateral raises:

  • Dumbbells

How to do lateral raises:

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand
  • Lean forward slightly – this helps to lock the lower back into place and prevent over-leaning
  • With an overhand grip, lift the dumbbells up and out to the side, going as high as you comfortably can
  • When you reach the top of the movement, pause for a split second 
  • Slowly return to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

10. Parallel bar dips

Dips are an excellent way of hitting the anterior deltoid, but they include a few crossover benefits too… They stretch the chest, which is great for shoulder health. They also train the chest and triceps. Finally, they force movement of the scapular, which encourages healthy movement at the back of the shoulder girdle too.

Equipment needed for dips:

  • Parallel bars
  • Dip attachment on a power rack

REP PR-4000 Power Rack

REP-PR-4000 Power Rack
Read our best squat rack guide here

Looking for an affordable yet high quality power rack?

Look no further!

After comparing over 100 types of squat racks the PR-4000 came out on top.

You can add any attachment to it (including cables, dip bars and plate holders). You can even add additional uprights to back to make it even more of a beast!

The 1 inch westside hole spacing means you can position the spotter arms to the ideal height when you bench press. So you can safely drop the bar and have a full range of motion when you lift.

And the 3×3″ 11 gauge steel make this the best value rack we could find.

How to do dips:

  • Take hold of the bars with a firm grip and jump to the start position, with arms at full extension
  • Leaning forward slightly, initiate the movement by pushing the elbows back
  • Continue the descent until you reach a 90 degree or further elbow bend – you’re looking to achieve a good pectoral muscle stretch
  • At full depth, pause and push yourself back up to a full extension
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

These are the two workouts. I suggest you alternate them, with a legs and abs day in the middle and a full weekend rest at the end.


Notes on the Shoulders to Boulders program design

When you appreciate the complexity of the shoulder joint, you can understand why it has to be trained in multiple ways.

If a joint is capable of 8 different movements, you can understand why we have to train them across all of them. 

There’s no value in selecting only pressing movements for all of your shoulder training… because it neglects the other movements. 

We need our shoulders to be strong in all different directions.

The long-term effect of poor exercise selection is muscle imbalance, structural weaknesses, and eventually, injuries.

Notes on the Shoulders to Boulders program design

Shoulder exercises excluded…

Whilst generally I’m not a fan of excluding exercises (most exercises have a time and a place), I haven’t included any front raises or internal rotations here, for three reasons…

  1. The anterior deltoids (front shoulders) are already sufficiently trained by other movements in the program
  2. In my experience, most people have an imbalance between anterior and posterior deltoid strength because of too much internal rotation and pressing
  3. Desk jobs, driving, slouching, cycling etc all put us into internal rotation of the shoulders, so we need to do the opposite of this movement.

By taking these exercises out I’m not avoiding all anterior deltoid movements, I’m just reducing the number of them, allowing for posterior deltoid work to contribute more to the program. This will help correct the imbalances most people suffer from.

Importance of unilateral movements

Anyone who has read my programs will understand I’m a big fan of unilateral movements. These are exercises that force both sides of the body to work independently. The reason we use these exercises is because there’s no hiding place for the weaker side. It helps to correct strength imbalances quickly.

When you lift solely with barbells, your stronger side will dominate the movement and do more of the work. This leads to the stronger side getting stronger, and the weaker side getting weaker.

We correct this with dumbbells and kettlebells. Whilst there’s a place for barbell work, you’ll notice that in the Shoulders to Boulders program the vast majority of the exercises are unilateral.

Improving thoracic mobility

A hugely under-appreciated element of shoulder training is thoracic mobility. When you have a stiff, immobile thorax it interferes with the ability of the shoulders to move properly. This can lead to a series of shoulder impingement issues, making exercise painful.

Anatomy of the spine

We know from research conducted in 2020 by Park et al that thoracic mobility exercises improves shoulder function in patients suffering from subacromial impingement syndrome. This is a particularly common complaint in lifters.

Thankfully, there are ways to improve thoracic mobility – the first couple of exercises in the warm up are there specifically to improve your thoracic mobility, or prevent problems ever arising if you don’t have a stiff thorax.


Shoulders to Boulders – bonus tips 

A few little details to help you get more from the shoulders to boulders program…

Shoulder to Boulder bonus tips

1. Run the program for 8 weeks minimum

No matter where you’re starting from, I’d suggest you hit the program for a minimum of 8 weeks without a break. At that point, take a break and do something else – you can always return to it. After the 8 weeks your shoulders will be significantly stronger and healthier.

2. You may need to stretch more

When you increase the training volume to such an extent, you’re probably going to need to do some stretching and foam rolling to keep things moving well. Here’s a great video with a few ideas in…

3. Sleep well 

It may sound obvious, but sleep is the key to recovery. If you’re hitting this program hard, you’ll need to maximize recovery. Making sure you sleep well is a great way to get the most from your recovery time.

4. Dangle!

No, that’s not a typo. I find that dangling from a pull up bar is one of the most effective ways to stretch out and maintain your shoulder health. Don’t be surprised if your back feels better from the hang too! It’s a secret ‘hack’ that not many people seem to know about. Great trade off too – you improve your grip strength by doing it!


Shoulders to Boulders Program: The bottom line

My aim here was to educate you. I wanted you to learn about the shoulder, understand its capabilities and why shoulder programs are often the cause of shoulder problems, not the solution to them.

Hopefully now you’re armed with a deeper grasp of shoulder anatomy and function, and will use this program to effectively build strong, functional and healthy shoulders.

This program may not look like other shoulder exercises (workouts) you may have seen, but hopefully, you’ve learned enough during this article to understand why. 

The shoulder is a complex structure, with a lot of movement capability. We have to train it as such, and that will include a few non-traditional movements.

Save the workouts, get yourself into the gym and get busy!

The Shoulder to Boulder program is designed to be an upper body workout. However, we also have a separate article on a full upper body workout that if you’re looking for something else to work on.

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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