Last week, I engaged the topic of effective deltoid training, and gave some examples of how to construct different workouts. Check it out HERE, then come back.
After several emails, it became painfully clear to me that a lot of gym-goers are in desperate need of variety.
“My god. Really, when I thought of shoulder training, it’s just always been the barbell press.”
“I thought Front Raises were meant to hit the side delts?”
“What are your favourite exercises for training shoulders, or which ones have you gotten the best connection with?”
“How do I use [insert given movement here] in my program? Is it best used with high reps or low reps?”
All questions I received. All questions I aim to answer. However, instead of replying to you all individually, Iv’e decided everyone could benefit from a blog post (or two). Spread the love, no?
Below are the first 5 of my 10 Fantastic Shoulder Shredders series. Why they are so awesome, how to execute, and the suggested usage of each is outlined in detail. Remember, you can include all of the “best” exercises in a sigle workout and still have a shitty session if key variables are not taken into account.
Everything works in a sequence, a flow. Desired training effect, time allotment, strength curves, geographical efficiency (more so in giant-sets), time under tension and other pieces of the puzzle must click.
Arm yourself with the weapons, and use them effectively. Capped delts, tight shirts, and tilted heads await.
1)Standing Behind The Neck Press (1 1/4 reps from the bottom)
I hastily walk the bar into the power rack, shoot my head around, and look back at the bar whilst cradling my ego. What an embarrassing poundage. I should be ashamed. There was no way in hell that bar was moving another quarter rep.
But, wait. What’s this? My shirt sleeves are practically expanding in front of my eyes, the pump incredible, the blood flow immense, the burn exciting. We have a winner!
Yet another case of lifting without an ego, the Behind The Neck Press is a prime exercise for those willing to put aside pre-conceived notions of “toughness”.
Ironically, clients (and myself) that have experienced shoulder pain in the past have zero issues with this fantastic bitch of an exercise. If you break it down, it’s basically a weighted wall-slide mobility exercise.
If traditional pressing gives you some issues, throw this exercise in the rotation to see how it works for you. Be warned, as you’ve seen above, egos have no place here. Utilizing 1 and 1/4 repetitions (bring the bar all the way down to touch the traps, up 1/4 of the way to contract, back down to the bottom, then pressed all the way up just short of lock-out) amplifies this effect. For those seeking a fantastic new stimulus for shoulder growth however, enjoy.
Suggested Usage: Standing 1 and 1/4′s are a fantastic start to a session. However, when thrown in during the mid-point or end of a workout, seated partial or 1/2 reps serve as an excellent finisher. Use good judgement, as near the end of a session your stabilizers and prime movers will be shot, making injury prevention a top concern.
2)Seated “Pitcher” Lateral
The ruthless butchering of the traditional lateral raise is laughable. Even seated variations somehow get morphed into a shrugged, flailing mess.
The “Pitcher” raise seeks to remedy this. I believe Vince Gironda was first to popularize the term, and can be seen performing and prescribing it in many of his courses. Incredibly simple, irrefutably effective.
The only way in which it differs from a traditional lateral raise, is in the internal rotation of the humerus. As coaches like Nick Mitchell have pointed out before, simply rotating the wrist downward does nothing. To visualize, imagine each dumbbell is full of water, and you’re aim is to “pour” them like “pitchers” into glasses in front of you. This will mean the little finger is always kept higher than the thumbs, and the side and rear delts are given preferred stimulus.
Combine this with locking down your abdominals into place while forcefully breathing outward, and you’ve got one hell of a delt decimator. Nothing but the arms and shoulders should be moving. No rocking, shrugging or flailing.
Suggested Usage: A very low-risk movement, the Seated Pitcher Raise can be used in any phase of the session. First thing, to stimulate blood flow. At the mid-point to attenuate the previous recruitment of high threshold motor units, or at the end, as a ruthless marathon of a drop-set to squeeze every last drop of juice from the deltoids. Take into account the goal of the session, and how each piece works together in flow.
3)Gironda Dumbbell Swing
Admittedly, I was skeptical when first implementing this exercise. I should have known better, given that Vince Gironda was once again behind it.
These were a feature in my previous article on shoulder training, Discussions of Deltoid Decimation. One arm is performing a traditional lateral raise while the other travels up and across the face, bending at the elbow. The bent arm should have the elbow pointing out from the body in front of you, with the forearm aligned in the same direction as the straight arm to cover your face. Observe:
Suggested Usage: Having experimented with different placings, orderings and pairings, it always comes back to a basic realization. This exercise seems to work best when the deltoids are already stimulated and “full”. Thus, pairing the Gironda Swings with something like the Behind the Neck Press (above) or Scott Press (below) in a superset can be ideal.
Rarely done right, often mistaken for the Arnold Press, and utilized by a select few; the Scott Press is a wonderful thing.
A fusion of a lateral raise and shoulder press, this exercise is unique. If done correctly, a powerful new dimension can be thrown at your shoulder shredding skill-set. In my last article mentioned above, I described the Scott Press as follows:
“This is NOT a shoulder press in the traditional sense. Think arcing up and back to “flex”, not “press”. Start with the humerus (upper arm) facing forward from the body, elbows up, with hands semi-supinated (facing each other). From here, simultaneously arc your arms up and back to 3/4 extension just above the head. To maintain maximal tension on the deltoids, do as Scott did and tip the dumbbells so that your little finger is in contact with the dumbbell and always higher than the thumb. Pull the elbows back as far as possible to maximally stimulate the side and posterior deltoid ”
Suggested Usage: Given it’s nature, the Scott Press can be used through a wide range of repetition and time under tension prescriptions. 6 reps is usually the effective minimum, 15 nearing the maximum if adequate stimulation is needed. I’ve seen this used at the very beginning, middle and end of a training session, all utilized effectively. Play around with the tempos, ranging from 4010 to 3030 depending on the desired training effect.
5)Rope Face-Pull with Maximal External Rotation
With the propensity for pressing and it’s permutations, the posterior portions of are oft left perplexed (enjoyed writing that). Really, rear delts are neglected. Everywhere.
The Face-Pull is a fusion between a rear delt and rotator cuff exercise. However, it must be done right to get the desired effect. No screwing around sticking your gut out.
The cable can be placed at a number of levels, but working parallel to the eyes, or slightly below seems to work best. The hands need to come to brow level, with a pronated grip on the rope attachment. In the peak of the movement, the hands and humerus should be externally rotated to the maximal limits of your ability while flexing the elbows back as far as possible.
This helps with the desired “3D” effect you should all be after. Give yourself some texture, some depth. Let those shoulders pop by giving the posterior some love.
Suggested Usage: Equally effective as a “primer” or “finisher”, the Face-Pull is a durable pocket weapon. Often, I’ll do a few sets do prepare for my main workout, then use them again near the end to maximize the pump.
Particularly excruciating, is the implementation of high-rep finishers when there is already a substantial amount of blood in the deltoids. 20-30 reps should do it, with a squeeze at the top. Resting in the stretched position -or with your arms straight- is not an option here. Go for constant tension, squeezing at the peak contraction with the elbows shot backward. Here’s Charles Poliquin giving an excellent demonstration:
We’ve covered some of my favourite movements thus far, all of which have played key roles in nearly every program I write. When I hear someone complain at the lack of variety when it comes to shoulder training, these are the exercises that immediately come to my mind. Yes, some are basic, but it is the organization, sequencing and execution of each that defines an effective training session.
Stay tuned for Part II, out soon, if we can get enough feedback for this short piece: