How To Build Big Shoulders – Arnold’s Top Tips

How To Build Big Shoulders Arnold's Advice

Do you want to know how to develop cannonball delts? Arnold’s tips, tricks, and favorite exercises on how to build big shoulders revealed.

The deltoid muscle forms the rounded contour of the shoulder.

The three heads of the deltoid muscle are:

  • Anterior Deltoid: Involved in lifting the arm to the front.
  • Medial Deltoid: Involved in lifting the arm to the side.
  • Posterior Deltoid: Involved in lifting the arm to the rear.

The trapezius is a muscle that extends beyond the neck and between the shoulder blades.

The basic function of the trapezius involves lifting the entire deltoid muscle,  drawing the shoulder blade in different directions, and assisting in head movement.

Location of Arnold's delts and traps
Wide shoulders are a staple to the V-Tapered physique that so many men strive for. The two factors that contribute to the appearance of big shoulders are:

  • Shoulder width
  • Deltoid development

Keep in mind:

No two people have the exact same genetics.

You may be naturally wide or naturally narrow.

Considering that everyone has a different body type, different training methods will vary in effectiveness.

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Consider these professional bodybuilders who all had world class shoulders but used different training methods to achieve them:

  • Larry Scott built huge shoulders by doing an insane amount of drop sets. He would start with 90lb dumbbells and work his way to failure on each set until he got to the 30lb dumbbells.
  • Franco Columbo developed massive deltoids by doing a lot of pressing movements. He had to do a lot of rear delt isolation work to bring balance to the structure of his shoulder.
  • Dorian Yates focused on doing short but intense workouts to build his mammoth shoulders. He would do few sets but used techniques such as negatives, forced reps, partial reps, etc.

The point is:

There is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to training. You will have to figure out your personal goals, what areas you are lagging in, and choose the exercises which best suit your preferences.


From left to right: Larry Scott, Franco Columbu, Dorian Yates

Training The Shoulders

There are two basic movements when it comes to training shoulders:

  • Straight arm raises
  • Presses

For full shoulder development it is important to do front raises, side raises, and lateral raises.

Raises work well to isolate the individual heads of the deltoid. There is minimal involvement from the other muscles and therefore you will be using a relatively lighter weight.

With shoulder presses you begin with your arms bent with the weight around shoulder height. You proceed to lift the dumbbell or barbell over your head.

Due to the fact that you are straightening your arms and lifting them upwards presses also involve the use of some tricep.

You can alter the focus of the pressing movements by varying technique, i.e. you can do behind the back shoulder presses, vary between barbell and dumbbell etc.

In The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals that he used a lot of power lifting methods to develop his massive shoulders.

He says that power lifting is especially beneficial when you are starting out.

Working your shoulders with heavy weight proceeds to help with overall development.

So many power lifting exercises like the bench press, deadlifts, and bent over rows utilize the shoulders.

Arnold Training Shoulders

Beginner Training

For beginners Arnold recommends exercises such as the clean and press, heavy upright rows, push presses, as well as lateral raises.

Starting off with such movements will have you on your way to building up shoulder mass and strength so that you can proceed to move on to more advanced training methods.

Advanced Training

When you have some years of training under your belt, bodybuilding becomes more than just about building mass and strength.

With regard to shoulders,  you should be working towards complete shoulder development, i.e. separation between all three heads and the trapezius.

In The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold advises advanced lifters to incorporate exercises such as:

  • Behind the neck shoulder presses for further development of the front and side delts
  • Bent-over laterals for the development of rear delts
  • Shrugs for bringing out the traps
  • Machine presses which allow for more range of motion than a barbell
  • One-arm cable laterals for isolating the side delts
  • Bent-over cable laterals for further emphasis on the rear delts

Weak Point Training

If shoulders are your lagging body part you will have to put in an extra effort to really bring them out to their full potential.

In The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold reveals techniques you can incorporate into your training to boost shoulder development:

  • Stripping method: You start off with the heaviest weight you can lift for say 8 reps. Then proceed to decrease the weight and do the reps till failure. Continue this process until you reach the lightest weight. When using machines you just keep moving the pin one plate lighter after each set.
  • Super-sets: Arnold recommends super-setting pressing movements with raises. For example, do a set of barbell press directly followed by some front dumbbell raises. This will completely obliterate your front delts. If you want to take it to the next level you can even do a tri-set: Shoulder press, front dumbbell raises, and upright rows.

To really isolate the deltoids during raises turn your hand so that your little finger is slightly higher than your thumb. Visualize pouring water out of a pitcher.

Remember that proper technique is key. If you are using momentum to get the weight up during raises it is unlikely that your deltoids will get the full effect.

Arnold’s Favorite Shoulder Exercises

In The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding Arnold reveals the exercises he used to develop his massive boulder shoulders.

Arnold Presses

To quote Arnold directly:

This is the very best deltoid exercise I know, and I always include it in my shoulder routine

The Arnold Press works to develop both the front and side heads of the deltoid.

By lowering the dumbbells down in front  you are able to get a wider range of motion than a standard pressing movement.

Military Press

Arnold refers to the Military Press as:

the granddaddy of shoulder exercises

You can perform the Military Press standing or seated.

From the seated position the movement is stricter.

Clean and Press

The Clean and Press works to train the front and side delts and also builds overall body mass and power.

The Clean and Press involves lifting the barbell from the floor to the starting position of the Military Press.

Arnold says that the Clean and Press will help you:

develop a truly Herculean look.

Push Presses

With the Push Press you are meant to use leg drive to move a weight that is heavier than you are usually used to.

Arnold used the Push Press in two ways:

  • In power lifting: to get a barbell up that is normally to heavy for the Military Press
  • In bodybuilding: forced reps at the end of a set when your muscles are too tired to carry on with strict form

Standing Lateral Raises

Lateral raises are the fundamental movement to really bring out the outside head of the deltoid with a secondary benefit to the front and rear heads.


Strict form is necessary for you to get the full benefit from this exercise.

One-arm Cross Cable Lateral Raises

Using a cable to perform side raises provides two main benefits:

  1. Isolation of the separate sides of the body
  2. Constant tension on both the eccentric and concentric motion.

Front Dumbbell Raises

Front Dumbbell Raises work to develop the front head of the deltoids through the entire range of motion.

Traps are worked at the very top of the movement.

To reduce involvement from other muslces and to further isolate the front delts, perform this movement sitting on a bench.

Cable Cross Overs

These really work the rear head of the deltoids.

With cables you are able to get a longer range of motion and have continuous tension on the muscle throughout the movement.

This is Franco Columbu’s favorite rear delt exercise.

Columbu was Arnold’s long time training partner and had awesome rear delt development.

Lying Side Laterals 

These work the rear and side deltoids.

They should be done with a relatively light weight and performed with a very strict movement.

Arnold’s Favorite Trap Exercises

Without developed traps your physique will look incomplete.

Upright Rows

These work to develop both the traps and the front deltoids.

Upright Rows encourage further separation between the delts and pecs.


These work to bring the thickness out in the traps.

You should perform them using heavy weight and feel the contraction in your traps.

You can do these with either dumbbells or a barbell.

Arnold’s Shoulder Workout

Arnold's Advice on How To Build Big Shoulders

How to Build Big Shoulders At Home

If you are unable to go to the gym you can work on building your shoulders at home as well.

Doing 100 pushups daily is a good way to jumpstart your shoulder development.

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How to Build Big Shoulders with Dumbbells 

You can even purchase a pair of dumbbells and perform shoulder presses and side raises at home.

What Does This Mean For You?

Where you are in your training career and where you want to go will determine what type of shoulder workouts you should be doing.

If you are just starting out, a simple routine consisting of presses and raises will work well for you.

If you are looking to overcome a plateau in your shoulder development check out this shoulder workout which is solely targeted at bringing out lagging shoulders.

Arnold has revealed his tips on how to build big shoulders.

Now it is time to take his advice and put it into application.

Also check out Arnold’s Top Tips on:

Complete Bicep Development 

Complete Shoulder Development

Complete Chest Development

Complete Leg Development

Complete Calf Development

Complete Ab Development


  1. says

    This is a really through post on shoulder training. I’ve mostly used the standard military press and lateral raise in my shoulder workout, but now I think that I’ll utilize the push press to help load up some heavier weights.

    • Adam says

      I like to do the push press after I have reached failure with the standing military press. Really adds that extra burn at the end.

  2. Joey says

    It’s all great info and all but it’s also hard to take all this in given how Arnold took steroids. Yea it’s easier to workout and see those results a lot easier when ur on the juice.

    • says

      Joey you are spot on regarding steroid use. It is to easy to tell others how to train and get big when the Bodybuilding world is riddled with Steroid users and has been since the early 1950’s..
      I am in my 70’s now. I have been Bodybuilding totally Steroid free since i was 15 years old and i am
      training heavy and healthy to this day.

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