Not only are strong shoulders so important for the many activities we do in our daily lives, but who wouldn’t want to have svelte arms and sexy shoulders shine when sporting a sexy strapless number? And to most effectively target the muscles that make up the shoulder, get pressing, rowing, and raising, a new American Council on Exercise (ACE) study says.
University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse researchers tested 10 common shoulder sculpting exercises to see which moves are most worthy of your time. After crunching the numbers, they found that to target the anterior deltoid—the muscle on the front of the shoulders that most people tend to focus their attention on—the dumbbell shoulder press elicited significantly higher muscle activation than the other exercises. For the middle deltoid, the 45-degree incline row and the bent-arm lateral raise were found to be equally effective, while for the posterior deltoid the seated rear lateral raise and the 45-degree incline row proved to produce the greatest muscle activation for the back of the shoulder.
Being that the shoulder is a complex joint capable of producing many different movements, it’s important that all three muscles be properly strengthened. Therefore, at the end of the day there is not one best exercise for targeting the shoulders, according to John Pocari, Ph.D., head of the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse’s Clinical Exercise Physiology Department. For the most effective use of your time at the gym, Pocari says you’re best served performing the dumbbell shoulder press to target the front of the shoulders paired with either the seated rear lateral raise—Pocari’s personal recommendation because it’s easier for most people to perform—or the 45-degree incline row to target the rear portion as well as the middle deltoid.
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With regards to which move to perform first during your next sweat session, lead researcher Samantha Sweeney suggests starting with an exercise like the seated rear lateral raise to target the posterior deltoid—which tends to be the weakest of the shoulder muscles—before moving to an exercise like the dumbbell shoulder press to target the typically stronger anterior deltoid.
In conducting this study, the researchers were also quick to note one commonly performed shoulder exercise that you may want to consider dropping from your workout repertoire—the upright row. “Although lots of people do the upright row and think it’s great, our results showed it to be low on all ends of the spectrum,” Sweeney says.