How Often Should You Train Shoulders to Build Muscle?

Is there a "right" or "wrong" answer when it comes to shoulder training frequency?

Training frequency is dependent on many variables, such as training age, ability to recovery, sets and reps per session, total training volume per week, and overall goals. For individuals looking to increase shoulder size, a common thought process would be to simply train the shoulders MORE; which may or may not be the best solution.

Therefore, in this article we set out to discuss:

  • Shoulder Anatomy Overview
  • Weekly Training Volume Recommendations
  • Recommended Training Frequency
  • Common Mass Building Shoulder Exercises
  • Sample Shoulder Workout Splits (3 and 5-Day Splits)

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

How Often to Train Shoulders
Photo By hurricanehank / Shutterstock

Shoulder Anatomy Overview

Below is a brief overview of the shoulder muscles. The shoulder has three (3) main muscle heads: anterior, lateral, and posterior head.

Front Delts

The front deltoids, also known as the anterior deltoids, are primarily responsible for shoulder flexion. This aspect of the deltoid muscle is most active during exercises like front raises and overhead presses.

Side Delts

The side deltoids, also known as the lateral deltoids, are primarily responsible for shoulder abduction. This aspect of the deltoid muscle is active during movements like lateral raises.

Rear Delts

The rear delts, also known as the posterior deltoids, are primary responsible for shoulder horizontal adduction. This part of the deltoid muscle is active during movements like the bent over side raise or TRX reverse flye.

Weekly Training Volume Recommendations

When determining the training frequency of the deltoids (shoulder) muscles a lifter must first determine the ranges of which growth can offer. Failure to train the muscle enough can result in not adequate stimulus being placed on the muscle to demand adaptations. On the other hand, too much training volume can impede recovery and the growth processes.

Below are some guidelines regarding general weekly training volume that Dr. Mike Isreatel recommends.

Side and Rear Delts

The side and rear deltoids are often able to have more direct training volume done to them since they are not often the primary mover in most pressing movements. Unlike the front deltoids, these heads of the deltoid are often more difficult to isolate and therefore should be done with dedicated isolation movements. Generally speaking, each head of the deltoid can be 8-12 total sets per week. This can often be done splitting up overall training volume into 3-4 sets each, 2-3 times per week. 

Front Delts

The front deltoids are often used in most pressing movements, and therefore using higher amounts of volume for these can impede recovery and growth. Generally speaking, 6-8 sets of dedicated front delt work per week will suffice, which includes overhead pressing and isolated movements.

Recommended Shoulder Training Frequency

When determining what frequency (times per week) you should be training the shoulders, you need to determine how much dedicated shoulder training you want to perform each session.

The key is to be sure that your total weekly volume for the week falls within the recommended ranges above.

Therefore, if you can perform 3-4 sets for 2-3 days per week, you will hit your total volume training recommendations. Use the lower workout splits for more shoulder training ideas.

Shoulder Training Frequency
Photo By Oleksandr Zamuruiev / Shutterstock

Common Mass Building Shoulder Exercises

Below are a few common mass building shoulder exercises. Note, an effective shoulder training program should target the individual muscle heads in the appropriate training volumes and frequencies.

Front Delt

Rear Delt

  • Cable Face Pull/Barbell Face Pull
  • Reverse Flye

Side Delt

3-Day Shoulder Split

The below workout is a 3-day workout split for shoulder mass. This is a common shoulder mass building split can be used in most upper/lower workout splits.

Day 1

  • Push Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • TRX Reverse Flye: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 2

  • Cable Face Pull: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Lateral Delt Raise Machine: 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Day 3

  • Dumbbell Military Press: 4 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Upright Row: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Bent Over Flye: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

5-Day Shoulder Split

The below workout is a 5-day workout split for shoulder mass. Adding the below exercises to your current routine can be done without changing over variables, but be sure that you then omit all other shoulder work you are currently doing (and monitor overall pressing volume).

Note, that if you are training shoulders this frequently, you need to adhere strictly to only doing 2-4 sets per movement, per day, often just one shoulder movement per day.

Day 1

  • Overhead Press: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • TRX Reverse Flye: 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 2

  • Lateral Raises: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 3

  • Reverse Flye: 4 sets of 10-12 reps

Day 4

  • Upright Row 4 sets of 8-12 reps

Day 5

  • Pin Press: 4 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Bench Supported Reverse Flye: 2-3 sets of 10 reps

Want More Shoulder Training Tips?

Here are a few shoulder strength and mass training guides and workout ideas for strength and fitness athletes alike!

Feature image from hurricanehank / Shutterstock

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

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