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The main shoulder muscle consists of three heads: the front, rear, and side deltoids. Whether you train a specific part alongside your chest or back can impact how effectively that delt head will be targeted.
As a general rule, training the front of the shoulder should take place on chest day, while exercises for the rear portion are better paired with back day. The side of the shoulder can be trained on either since they receive some stimuli from both chest and back exercises.
This comes down to the muscle recruitment relationship that chest and back exercises each have with individual areas of the shoulder. There’s more on this below.
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Determining When To Do Shoulders on Chest or Back Day
Oftentimes trainees will reserve an entire day for shoulders, which isn’t a bad idea. However, pairing a shoulder exercise with your chest workout can help you get extra volume in, especially if your delts are a lagging muscle group.
Shoulder exercises for the front delts should be performed on chest day. These muscles are both involved in exercises where the arm moves in front of the chest such as bench presses and front raises. This makes training the front delts directly after the chest more efficient.
I’d suggest reserving a separate day for your compound shoulder exercises such as the overhead press. This is because bench pressing and overhead pressing on the same day can over-fatigue the upper body. Adding one additional accessory delt movement at the end of chest day is plenty.
For example, your main shoulder workout of the week could look like this:
- Thursday (this workout would be after the initial chest/shoulder workout that’s shown further below):
- Barbell overhead press: 3 sets x 5 reps
- Side lateral raises: 3 x 20
- Rear delt raises: 4 x 15
This day is geared toward side and rear delt isolation exercises, with the main compound movement hitting the fronts. This amount of volume for a shoulder-specific workout will usually be plenty, assuming you’re also training chest in the same week.
That’s because the chest day exercises (bench, flies, dips) will greatly recruit the front delts and even the sides to some degree. For this reason, you’d probably only do one or two shoulder isolation exercises on the chest-focused workout. That could look something like this:
- Monday (this workout would take place before the shoulder workout):
- Barbell flat bench press: 4 sets x 5 reps
- Dips: 3 x 12
- Dumbbell chest flies: 3 x 15
- Front raises: 2 x 20
On the other hand, exercises for the rear head of the delts are well-suited after training back rather than the chest. Mainly because from an anatomical point of view, the back and rear delts support the shoulders in similar ways.
You should perform shoulder exercises for the rear delts on a back day as many back exercises stimulate the rear delts and vice versa. For instance, bent-over rows target the back and rear delts while rear delt raises hit the upper back too.
Training your rear delts directly after back can make it easier to isolate this muscle since it’s already pre-exhausted. This is ideal if you struggle to activate them with isolation exercises alone.
Speaking of isolating the rear delts, be sure to check out my article on why the rear delt raise is such an effective exercise for this.
With the previous example still in mind, you could schedule your back day on Tuesday with one rear delt-focused exercise. Then on Thursday, you’d do the shoulder workout that I showed above.
In this case, your compound back exercise, whether it be a bent-over row, face pull, or deadlift would count for the rear delts too. Here’s how the Tuesday back day would be set up:
- Conventional deadlift: 4 sets x 6 reps
- Lat pulldowns: 3 x 12
- Cable face pulls: 2 x 15
- Rear delt raises: 2 x 12
Here’s a table indicating popular shoulder exercises that make sense to pair with chest or back:
|Chest Day Shoulder Exercises||Back Day Shoulder Exercises|
|Machine or dumbbell overhead press (high reps, low weight)||Rear delt raise|
|Dumbbell front raise||Pec deck reverse fly|
|Arnold press||Rear delt row|
|Plate front raise||Incline y-raise|
Which day you train the side delts is a different story as both back and chest exercises recruit them for shoulder stabilization. Many trainees place them on chest day which is fine. However, exercises like lateral raises and upright rows target the side delts and engage the upper traps (a back muscle) too.
How To Train Shoulders On Chest Day
If you don’t have the time or desire to train more than three or four days per week then incorporate your entire front delt training on chest day. Since the chest and front delts are mainly push muscles this works out just fine and may even reduce the risk of overtraining.
Here’s a sample workout that incorporates chest, triceps, and front/side delts on the same day:
- Incline bench press: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Machine overhead press: 3 x 12
- Cable pec fly: 3 x 15
- Dumbbell side lateral raise: 3 x 15
- Dumbbell front raise: 2 x 12
- Overhead triceps extension: 3 x 15
This workout would be sufficient in a three-day-per-week workout split similar to this:
- Monday: Chest, triceps, front/side delts
- Tuesday: Back, biceps, rear delts
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday-Sunday: Active recovery
The benefits of doing a large chunk of your shoulder training on chest day include:
- More recovery time for your front and side delts.
- The delts will be pre-activated after the incline bench for the chest, improving your mind-muscle connection during the front and side raises.
How To Train Shoulders On Back Day
Like the front delts, you can crank out your rear delt training on back day instead of spreading the volume across two weekly workouts. The workout might take longer, but you’d spend less time in the gym per week.
Since rear and side delt exercises work the upper back to some degree, performing them with the back is a smart move. For example, reverse flies are a rear delt exercise but recruit the rhomboids and middle traps. Upright rows are a side delt exercise that works the upper traps too.
And if you’re looking to grow your upper traps, hold up for a second. I wrote an article on why the upright row can be incorporated on back day for this reason.
Along with the back, these two delt heads are considered pulling muscles. So, many pull exercises recruit all three areas.
This sample incorporates back, rear/side delts, and biceps together:
- Bent-over barbell row: 4 sets x 10 reps
- Straight arm pulldowns: 3 x 12
- Face pulls: 3 x 15
- Cable upright row: 2 x 12
- Reverse flies: 2 x 15
- Dumbbell bicep curls: 2 x 20
Here’s how you could schedule it:
- Monday: Chest, Front Delts, Triceps
- Tuesday: Back, Rear/Side Delts, Biceps
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday-Sunday: Active Recovery
There are endless ways to include shoulders in your routine. Hopefully how I’ve laid out these examples helps you find the method that you enjoy! I highly suggest you read my article further discussing training the rear delts with back versus shoulders.