RESISTANCE BAND SHOULDER WORKOUT
Think you need weights to build big, boulder shoulders? Think again.
I’m going to show you how you can actually build big shoulders using only bands.
You might be asking: How can bands hit the entire shoulder, as well as isolate the front, middle, and rear delts?
Bands provide a wide range of alternatives to traditional cable and dumbbell exercises, and their versatility and portability means you can get a great shoulder workout almost anywhere.
I’m going to show you 13 exercises you can start using today to build big shoulders, separated into movements for each individual head of the deltoid as well as the entire shoulder.
- Lying Eccentric Overhead Press
- Push Press Pull Apart
- Kneeling Up and Over
- Front Raise Pull Apart
- Stretch Front Raise
- Long Arc Lateral Raise
- Short Arc Lateral Raise
- Cross Body Lateral Raise
- Banded High Pull
- The Hip Hugger
- Banded Rear Delt Pull
- Alternating Bent Over Rear Delt Pull
RESISTANCE BAND EXERCISES FOR THE WHOLE SHOULDER
Since we’re looking to build bigger shoulders, we’re going to start with the big exercises.
These are the ones that work all three heads of the shoulders together: the front delt, the middle delt and the rear delt.
We’ll start out with the overhead press.
1.) LYING ECCENTRIC OVERHEAD PRESS
This exercise introduces an eccentric overload. You don’t have to just settle for just concentric overload.
The problem with resistance band overhead presses is either having bands that won’t stretch far enough from the ground, or lighter bands that don’t create enough overload to cause growth.
This exercise fixes the problems of band strength and length by using a bent leg to adjust the amount of tension on the band.
Once the band is fully extended up over your head, push your foot away while controlling the descent of your hand back down to shoulder level.
As you get stronger, inch your foot down farther, increasing the amount of travel and stretch in the band.
2.) PUSH PRESS PULL APART
What if you want to introduce a metabolic overload? Do the Push Press Pull Apart.
The Push Press Pull Apart increases the time under tension, and it does that at the top of the press.
Press the band upward and overhead with both palms forward, pulling apart at the top to create abduction resistance. Then let your hands come back together and bring your arms back down. Repeat.
3.) KNEELING UP AND OVER
If you’re looking for a more explosive overhead pressing exercise, the Kneeling Up and Over is the way to go.
Speed matters here. We’re looking for power to introduce a different stimulus for muscle growth. Explosive training is one of the best ways to use bands to tap into the growth-capable type 2 muscle fibers.
This definitely hits the front and middle delts, and the rear delts to a lesser degree.
Anchor the band underneath your knees, kneel with your torso positioned in a straight line with your thighs, and put your hands in the prayer position so the band doesn’t bend your wrist back.
Drive the band up overhead as fast and hard as possible.
RESISTANCE BAND EXERCISES FOR THE FRONT DELTS
Now that we’ve covered three overall shoulder exercises, it’s time to start isolating the individual heads of the deltoid.
We’ll start with the front deltoid first and move our way back.
4.) FRONT RAISE PULL APART
The Front Raise Pull Apart is like a traditional front dumbbell raise, except with bands and a little something extra.
This is just a traditional front raise, except that you use a band. Pull up to shoulder height in front, then pull the bands apart.
This shifts some of the load to the medial and posterior delts, which prolongs that beneficial time under tension at the top, the most challenging position of the front raise.
5.) STRETCH FRONT RAISE
To really create unique stress on the front delts, try the stretch front raise.
The starting position is very important here. Anchor the band behind you at about knee level (or maybe a bit lower) so that the band pulls your arm back into extension.
This positions the delt before every single rep and provides the stretch reflex necessary to create a more powerful contraction. Don’t just drive your arm up in front of you.
Control the descent in the eccentric all the way back down. You’ll feel the resistance on every single rep.
RESISTANCE BAND EXERCISES FOR THE MIDDLE DELTS
You have to do lateral raises for the medial delts, and bands may be better than dumbbells if you know the right way to apply tension.
I’ll show you three different variations of lateral raises that you can do with a band, a banded version of the high pull and a resistance band exclusive called the Hip Hugger.
6.) LONG ARC LATERAL RAISE
The starting position is what makes the long arc lateral raise unique and effective.
To do the Long Arc Lateral Raise, anchor the band under the opposite side foot (i.e. the contra-lateral side) instead of anchoring it under the same side foot that I’m lifting my arm up on (i.e. the ipsilateral side).
Anchoring under the contra-lateral foot gives you more range of motion against the band’s resistance.
Loop the band around the back of your hand so you can focus on the exercise and not your grip. You don’t want to be at the mercy of any kind of grip, wrist, or forearm weakness that prevents you from performing this with peak tension at the apex of the movement.
7.) SHORT ARC LATERAL RAISE
Let’s say you have wrist or forearm issues that prevent you from doing the long arc lateral raises.
The short arc version works great when you’ve got strength limitations from the elbow down, maybe elbow tendinosis, which is a common over-training injury.
For the Short Arc Lateral Raise, double-up a heavier resistance band around your arms and then drive your elbows out away from your body into abduction as much as you possibly can, hinging at the shoulder.
You’ll need a heavier band to create the resistance necessary for muscle overload, because you’ve shortened the moment arm and increased the leverage.
8.) CROSS BODY LATERAL RAISE
I love this resistance band variation for building big shoulders because it stretches the middle delt more than almost any variation of a lateral raise, even dumbbells.
Start with the band extended across your body and then forcibly drive your arm up and across your body into abduction. Try holding it there for a second or two, resisting the eccentric resistance all the way across your body.
9.) BANDED HIGH PULL
The Banded High Pull looks exactly like the dumbbell high pull I always recommend for building bigger shoulders.
The band introduces the abduction that we need to hit our middle delts but adds external rotation that’s always beneficial to producing shoulders that are both strong and healthy.
Don’t let your elbows beat your hands to the top, same as when you use dumbbells. If you do, you’ll turn this awesome resistance band exercise into an ordinary upright row.
Keep your hands higher than your elbows at the top, which reinforces that external rotation I just mentioned.
10.) THE HIP HUGGER
Think you can build bigger shoulders just by pulling up your pants? You can, using this band exercise called the hip hugger.
Take two individual bands and double them up for added resistance. With your hands hanging at your sides, pretend like you’re pulling up a pair of pants.
With your palms facing your body, drag your hands up your legs and hips until your elbows flare out into abduction.
Hold the squeeze at least a second or two at the very top of the movement to extend time under tension.
RESISTANCE BAND EXERCISES FOR THE REAR DELTS
Now we’ll move all the way to the back side of the shoulders to the rear deltoid.
For the rear delt, I’ll show you two banded variations of the rear delt pull and how to do one of my favorite exercises, the face pull, with bands.
11.) BANDED REAR DELT PULL
To do this awesome rear delt band exercise, just wrap the band around your back and pull apart. But, how you grab the band is essential to getting the most out of this exercise.
Don’t grip the band in an overhand position. That tends to turn the exercise into a triceps exercise.
Instead, hook the band around your thumbs and rotate your hands so that your thumbs point up and your palms face out. Lead with the backs of your hands as you pull the band apart, focusing on moving the entire arm. That shifts all the load to the rear delt during this banded reverse fly.
By keeping the arms straight throughout, you keep that long moment arm we talked about earlier, keeping tension on the rear delt, making it the prime mover.
12.) ALTERNATING BENT OVER REAR DELT PULL
You can increase the intensity of a banded rear delt exercise one side at a time by doing the alternating Bent Over Rear Delt Pull.
The “down” arm adds shoulder stability all the way from the floor through the shoulder blade.
Either one of these posterior delt movements is a great way to target the rear delts and help to get them growing, especially if you’ve been ignoring them.
I love facepulls. You didn’t think we would leave them out, did you?
Banded Facepulls work great for hypertrophy, strength, and healthy shoulder joints. The extra rotation you need to strengthen the rotator cuff is built in.
To do a banded Facepull, loop the band around something immobile and upright, and grip the bands so that your thumbs face backward during the pull. This transfers the load from your forearms to your shoulders almost exclusively.
Pull back until your upper arms are parallel with your torso.
Facepulls are about as good as it gets for creating overload on your delts and building healthy and strong rotator cuffs.
Never underestimate the power of bands for building muscles. You just need to know how to use them.
This entire resistance band shoulder workout can be done with one to two sets of resistance bands but it’s a good idea to have a range of bands with varying resistance levels so you can introduce more exercises and progress your routines.
Whether you’re looking to build muscle, build strength, lose body fat or a combination of these, let me be your coach! Check out our ATHLEAN-X programs to see which one is the best fit for your goals and fitness level.
- You don’t need weights to create shoulder hypertrophy. You can build big shoulder muscles with resistance band training.
- Bands are versatile, portable, and convenient to store, perfect for when gyms are closed or when you just prefer to work out from home or outdoors.
- Use bands to isolate the individual heads of the deltoids, or the whole shoulder.
- We showed you 13 resistance band shoulder exercises: three for the overall delt, two for front (anterior) delts, five for middle (medial) delts, and three for rear (posterior) delts.
- A resistance band shoulder workout not only builds muscle, it helps prevent injury by strengthening the shoulder joints.
- Bands allow you to extend the range of motion under resistance beyond what you often get from dumbbells.
- Because resistance increases as you stretch the band, adding an isometric hold at the top of the motion increases the load and time under tension.
- The greater the variety of bands you have, the more options you have to vary the resistance.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.