Top 5 Exercises for Awesome Shoulder Development

Doug Hepburn Performing Handstand Push-UpYou may wonder why the F do I write an article on such trendy and obvious thing? Hell, you can search the internet and there will be tons of info on shoulder training. And I’m cool with it. However, I’d like to write the Rough Strength version. It’s the sum of my own training experience. Besides, there are lots of people who are new to training and they are wondering how to get those strong cannonball shoulders.

Why am I writing about shoulders? Why not legs? Why not biceps and abs? Because shoulders are the most masculine part of the body (along with traps). Nothing will make you stand out from the crowd like well-developed shoulders. Shoulder is one of the most complex joints, so it’s wise idea to develop them. If you noticed, all the upper body movement patterns are based on the shoulder position.

So here are Rough Strength top 5 exercises for awesome shoulder development:

5. Sandbag Military Press

On fifth place, there is sandbag military press. Here are photos of start and finish of the exercise:

Sandbag Overhead PressSandbag Overhead Press








Basic technique points are:

  • Keep your glutes and abs tight;
  • When you press the bag overhead, try to press it back, behind your head. This will ensure that you press it straight up;
  • Lock the elbows at every rep;
  • Always touch the chest at the bottom.

Here is a video of me push pressing 75 kg sandbag:

Of course, push press is not the same as legitimate military press, but, anyway, it’s close enough for you to understand what this movement is all about.

Why do I like sandbag military press for shoulder development? Read this article for overall sandbag benefits. I like this movement for its functionality. It teaches you to lift over your head an unstable always-changing object. It builds shoulder and triceps strength not many exercises will be able to match. I highly recommend you to use this exercise in training routine if your goal is maximal upper body strength and size development.

4. Kettlebell Seated Press

Kettlebell seated press is number 4. Unfortunately, I have no pictures or videos of this exercise. Anyway, I’ll try to explain it. It’s simple and effective. You seat on the floor. Take the kettlebell in one hand. Then press it overhead without holding anything with the other hand. You will notice that your shoulders get fried with much less weight comparing to military press. It happens because you can’t help yourself with your legs and lower back. Your shoulders work much more in this exercise. Why unilateral? Because there are big chances that you will fall if you press two kettlebells. If you are brave, you can do it bilateral.

This exercise will be like breath of fresh air when your military presses will stall. In addition, Kettlebell Sots Press can be in this category too.

3. Planche Push-Ups

Planche Push-Ups (as well as static Planche) would be number 3. Despite the fact that most of the trainers will put Planche Push-Ups in “horizontal push” category, it works slightly different muscles than classic exercises from this category. Bench press, for example, works mostly pectoral muscles with some shoulder and triceps involvement (for different people the level of involvement will be different). But Planche Push-Ups work mostly shoulder muscles and lats. Chest muscles and triceps don’t get as much work to do as in bench press. Anyway, this exercise is awesome for shoulder development and you can’t deny it. Hell, you are holding your body parallel to the ground and doing push-ups in this position. Your shoulders get a lot of action (ranging from stabilization to dynamic movement). Here’s my video with some straddle Planche Push-Ups in it (it’s old, now they are much better, need to make a new video):

You will definitely want to add these bad boys to your training regimen. However, here’s the word of advice for you. Don’t force your progress. It won’t come faster. Stay with tuck version as long as it takes to master it. Don’t be a fool. Planche is not a skill that you will be able to obtain overnight. Be prepared for several years of hard work. In the end it will be well worth it.

2. Clean & Press

Number 2 is clean and press. Classic exercise that gets forgotten all the time. Why do you want to clean the weight every rep? Because by doing so you will give your shoulders more work to do (especially the posterior deltoid). You will ensure good, well-balanced shoulder development and ton of usefulness as a side effect.

So the movement is composed of two parts: clean and press. The weight is on the floor. You come to it. Clean it. Press it. Lower it down. Repeat. Simple. Here’s just an ordinary clean & press:

You can do this exercise with any type of weight. Use barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbag, stone etc. Your fantasy is the limit. My preference would probably be kettlebells. Nevertheless, I like barbell clean and press too. As well as every another variation. Cool movement. Do it.

1. Handstand Push-Ups

And number one is, of course, Handstand Push-Up and all its variations. I can go on and on talking about this exercise. So to save your time I only say that Handstand and Handstand Push-Up are synonyms of awesome shoulder development. This includes all the variations: Handstand, Press Handstand, wall-assisted Handstand Push-Ups, freestanding Handstand Push-Ups, 90 Degree Push-Ups, Planche Press to Handstand etc. Why I like it so much? Because all you need is your body and occasionally some wall. The benefits are tremendous.

Handstand Push-Ups are my best choice for shoulder (as well as upper body) development. You can find me doing full range of motion wall-assisted Handstand Push-Ups in one of the videos above.

Exercises to Keep Your Shoulders Healthy

The exercises I mentioned are less harmful to your shoulder joints than everybody’s favorite bench press, but, anyway, it’s a good idea to develop rotator cuffs and overall shoulder health and mobility. Here are 2 ways to make it happen:

1. Cuban Press or Rotation

The most boring video ever but very good exercise for shoulder and particularly rotator cuff health. What’s the difference between press and rotation? In Cuban Press you press the weight up after the rotation and lower it fully between reps.

2. Scapula Mobilization by Ido Portal

It is very sound routine for scapula mobilization. Use it.

And Don’t Forget Pulling

It is always a good idea to balance out your pushing work with pulling. So when you construct your routine don’t concentrate blindly on pushing. Throw in some pulling like pull-ups, front lever rows, kettlebell rows, high pulls, snatches, cleans etc. Always try to maintain structural balance as much as possible. This way you will ensure that you won’t get more injuries.

Closing Thoughts

So there you have it. Rough Strength version of top 5 exercises for awesome shoulder development. Use it wisely. And finally build some cannonball shoulders you will be able to crush walls with. Thanks for reading. You will do me a great favor if you like and share this post with friends.

Play rough!


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I’m always ready to help you.

P.S. What are you favorite shoulder exercises?

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17 thoughts on “Top 5 Exercises for Awesome Shoulder Development

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      It all depends on intensity. If everything is done with right amount of it and with close to perfect technique then there’s almost no way to injure yourself.

      – Alex

  1. Shawn Meadows

    What happened to you ? Perhaps get a second opinion ? I don’t know what ales (?) you, but I’ve heard people say this stuff before and they’ve sourced second opinions and literally get, a different opinion. I also know of people who have been rehabbed by going sensibly overhead – like perhaps russian KBS and a regime of mobility and small assistance work (like small band shoulder rotations, scapular push-ups etc). I bet that Jeff Martone guy was probably told not to go overhead too .. bamm. As for HSPU – I have an old separated shoulder injury which flares up from time to time (basically reaching across in front of me is painful/restricted and it hurts right where the collar bone meets the shoulder). When it does, I can press, snatch and heavy KBS etc no problem, I can also hold a handstand no problem. But if I try to to a HSPU – that’s when the shoulder hurts. To me, there is way more pressure and far more things that can go wrong with “overhead” when doing a HSPU than with a press. Ring Dips will also be a struggle. So if it were me – I’d seek a second opinion just to be sure and really work on a rehab/mobility program (provided by someone you can work with rather than ad-hoc youtube vids) before trying too much. Even if you feel great …. that may simply mean there is no pain … but you may not have any strength there to stabilize that joint and will just furg it up again.

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author


      My info is not for everyone. Use your common sense. If you have shoulder injury that bothers you during overhead work – first, work to it slowly. Secondly, if it doesn’t go away – drop it. In my experience, HSPU is the most healthy overhead press exercise ever (of course, if done gradually and not stupidly).

      This stuff works for me and my healthy clients. Do what works for you. That’s all just advice.

      – Alex

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  4. charles

    This is all very good training info! These are good movements for building real strength. These are not pussy exercises that many trainers advocate like lateral raises. It’s about time someone started promoting some real and hard exercises that actually take some effort to do. Keep up the good work! (This is why it’s called rough strength.)

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