*Note: These are merely my experience and thoughts, combined with the wisdom of others. A true doctrine of shoulder training deserves a book – which have been (and are still being) written by some incredible physique experts. One such coach is Nick Mitchell of the UK, who wrote a fantastic piece on shoulder training HERE*
With an increased level of difficulty to attain, comes increased desirability. A demand. Effortless capture of anything, tangible or intangible, commands very little respect.
It’s one of the governing laws of the world: supply and demand have an inverse relationship to each other.
This is especially true in the world of bodybuilding and physique enhancement. A pair of calves like those of IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski command your eyes. Compare this to the thousands of over-developed pectorals across the land, and you have something with far reduced impact.
Although it’s one of the most popular areas to train and ogle, outstanding deltoids (shoulders) are less than common. This applies to both men and women across the training spectrum.
Despite endless heaving presses, violent lateral raises, and more than a few “inventive” exercises, an imposing set of boulder shoulders are a rare sight. When you do see them – there is no choice but to admire.
A few reasons for this:
Recognition of Pain:
Anyone who has endured a targeted, gut churning, ball curdling deltoid workout will be familar with what I’m talking about. Great delts require immense work – painful labour that few are willing to embrace.
A nod of knowing respect is passed on to the initiated.
Mathematics and Science:
Ratios rule our societies. “Aesthetics” is not merely a pretty face, it is the culmination of lines, proportion and balance.
The Adonis Index has been spoken about endlessly – even so, it’s importance in the journey to an impressive physique cannot be overstated.
Humans love ratios. Whether we like it or not, mathematics governs much of what is deemed “attractive” and “appealing” for the population.
Those people that just have something about them, yet you can’t put a finger on it? Ratios.
The waist to shoulder ratio is one of the most sought after achievements in physique specialization. Bring out the shoulders an inch or two, and you’ve created the illusion of a smaller waist. Combine the increased shoulder width with actually reducing the fat around your waist, and we have a road map to creating a coveted silhouette.
This constitutes the top half of the “X” physique. Below, powerful calves and sculpted thighs complete the package. This will be discussed in future instalments if the demand presents itself [see above ;)]
The end result is a blend of math, science and art that rises above the crowd.
Impossible to Hide:
Calves, you can hide. Arms and thighs can be covered and masked to a certain extent. Razor capped shoulders, however, are impossible to disguise. From a well-fitting t-shirt, to a white button down, experienced deltoids radiate a superhero-like aura.
On the same note, putting an inch on your shoulders will create the illusion of having gained 10-15lbs of muscle – even if this is not the case.
Male or female, there will always be an alpha in the room.
There are very few things that can humble a man more, than a woman who out-paces him in shoulder development. Width exudes power and authority. An assumed strength.
Take, for example, the same speech written to be presented in a room of soldiers and yourself. Speaker number one is Will Ferrell, in all his juicy glory:
Speaker number two to be chosen, is Dwayne The Rock Johnson. The quintessential man if there ever was one. Nothing about him resembles a cone. He exudes presence:
Before exploding onto the battle field, football field, weight room, dance floor, stage, or even a party – who would possess the ability to motivate you? To inspire and intimidate you?
Clearly, the man with the monstrous deltoids.
Key Thoughts on Shoulder Training
Simply because this could very well be my favourite body part to train, Iv’e decided to put down a few points out of love. I love talking about training, and if I can answer some of the questions I’ve been getting through email, even better.
1)STOP Demonizing Lateral Raises
“Sissy move”, “useless”, “dude, just press heavy shit”. The general rejection of the lateral raise and it’s permutations in the realm of physique enhancement is tiresome.
Why, in the name of the great Steve Reeves, would you universally exclude the one movement that effectively isolates the area we are trying to exaggerate? Exclude training for performance exclusively, and assume the movement is being done properly.
There is a reason Larry Scott became known for his deltoids, and it sure as hell wasn’t heaving monstrous weight above his head.
Shoulders are a different beast. Embrace the isolation.
2)START to Reduce Your Pressing
Military presses, DB presses, and all variations of the like are excellent traditional shoulder developers. The problem lies in the over-development of the anterior portion of the deltoid.
All flat, incline and overhead pressing stimulates the anterior portion of the shoulder to a certain extent (depending on where your pec inserts along the humerus, this could have a greater or lesser effect). Given that most individuals are internally rotated already, placing a heavy emphasis on pressing movements tends to exacerbate the problem.
More importantly, when seeking the X Physique, relying on pressing can lead to what John Meadows and Larry Scott have called “surfboard syndrome”. A 2D effect. Decent from straight on, but as soon as you turn to the side, you disappear into thin air.
Not exactly beneficial in the mating game.
2D images are boring and flat. 3 dimensional objects stimulate the senses and draw the eyes. Here, we will focus less on the anterior deltoids, and place the majority of our emphasis on the places that matter. Reducing your chest work for a while wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
Am I saying to never press? Absolutely not. They are a key aspect to many an intelligent program and have a solid place in bodybuilding with a balanced physique.
Just, don’t rely on them exclusively.
I am of the opinion that many a trainer and trainee are cutting themselves short by limiting -or excluding- direct volume training for the shoulders.
Bodybuilders and physique enthusiasts of old would prioritize their delts voraciously, sometimes overshadowing all other body parts in order to compensate for narrow clavicles and wide hips.
In my personal experience, and in learning from many great minds across the industry, shoulders tend to be a “work horse” of sorts, in need of shock, pain and skin splitting pumps to grow at an appreciable rate.
This requires getting extremely uncomfortable - and liking it.
5)Emphasize Higher Reps
The deltoids (all 7 heads) are made up of a variety of muscle fiber types, therefor benefiting from the full spectrum of training. However, most of the time (when training for hypertrophy), staying above 6 reps for any given exercise tends to be ideal.
For the posterior region, this is taken to an extreme. If ego-boosting heavy loads are thrown up, the deltoids tend to “shut off”, leading to abysmal stimulation.
Result: Pathetic shoulders>Pathetic shirt-filling ability>2D effect>Shunned by alpha males and females.
There is a solution, however. Simply check your ego at the door, grab a pair of light dumbbells or cables, and play up in the 15-40 rep range. Yes, 40. These will NOT all be full range, and that’s exactly what we are looking for.
Embrace some pain.
6)Much Deserved Attention to Tension
Unless you fall among the genetically elite (meaning we all hate you) with exceptional proportions, you will need to give the shoulders the attention they deserve.
Targeted pain sessions coveting one thing: Tension.
The more time under quality tension you can create, the faster your gains.
Beyond the beginning phases of training, “intensifiers” need be employed at some point in training to thoroughly shred the deepest fibers of the shoulder.
Drop sets, burns, partials, constant tension, cables, isometric holds, eccentric overload, double barrel reps, multiple angles, down the rack sets… The list is wondrously long, and is one of the joys of creative programming.
All of these serve to increase the time, quality and effectiveness of tension.
Pressing has it’s place, and one of my favourites is behind the neck pressing for individuals with decent shoulder integrity.
However, I’ve seen enough, and read enough tragedies of shoulders getting shredded to pieces (in a bad way) because of an insatiable, ego-driven appetite for loading the bar.
If you are going to press, take a page out of Larry Scott, Vince Gironda or John Meadow’s book and get a pump going beforehand. This effectively draws blood to the area, warms the shoulder joints, seeps synovial fluid and erases the ego.
As a side benefit, those who have trouble “feeling” an overhead press in their deltoids will find this helps a great deal in establishing a connection.
Some strategies for getting this blood flow:
- scott presses
- light side lateral raises
- band pull-aparts
- spider walks (John Meadows is to thank for this)
- partial presses with db’s or barbell behind the neck
- reverse pec deck machine
8)Strength Curves, Variety and Selection
Abduction, flexion, horizontal adduction, internal rotation, horizontal abduction, extension and external rotation. The seven portions of the shoulder have mixed muscle fiber make-ups, various functions, and infinite possibilities.
Knowing this, you need to vary your shoulder training often, playing with reps, sets, tempo, exercise, strength curve emphasis and grip. Every 4 to 6 workouts tends to work best, sometimes changing as soon as every second workout for an advanced trainee.
Play time! Using a variety of implements, different areas of the strength curve can (and should) be emphasized. A unilateral cable lateral raise, for example, emphasizes tension in a different way than a dumbbell lateral raise can.
Putting It To Paper
Let’s look at a possible advanced routine, manipulating some of the variables mentioned above. I say possible, because there is not one ideal routine, and your training should change on an intelligent schedule.
Delt Decimator 1:
Goals: Hypertrophy, HTMU activation, maximal blood flow, cell volumization, workout density, emphasis on side and posterior portions.
A) Band Spider Crawls (John Meadows) 3x 60 seconds continuous motion/tension – 45 seconds rest.(Check the video below.)
B1) Standing Behind Neck BB Press, Shoulder Width – 4x 8-8-8-8 4010 tempo – 30 seconds rest/transition.
(Elbows are kept out and under the bar, hands tight, ribs locked down, a strict pressing motion with a squeeze of the delts at the top. Rest 30 seconds as you transition to B2.)
B2) Seated DB Lateral Raise with isometric contraction at top – 4x 12-10-8-8 2013 tempo – 90 seconds rest.
(Sit with a short upright bench in a power rack holding two LIGHT dumbbells. Set the safety bars to just above or parallel to shoulder height. Perform a controlled lateral raise leading with the little finger until forearms contact the bars, push against the safeties for a 3 second count, lower the weight.)
c) Pulley D-Handle Side Lateral Raise – 5 x 20-25 -2020 tempo -
(Do all the reps for one arm, immediately switch to the next and do the same. After the second arm, rest no more than 45 seconds and repeat. Never lean back – if anything, slightly lean forward and bring the arm inline with the ears. No egos here.)
D1)Scott Presses -3 x 10 reps 3020 tempo – 10 seconds rest
(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.)
D2)Meadows 45 degree incline DB Swings 3 x 30 reps -75 seconds rest
(Fuck tempo here. Pump them out through the largest range of motion you can. These hurt like hell, so push through it and shove the last drops of blood you have into the area. Check the video below.)
This routine can be a bit of a shock to those not accustomed to high volume and still wet under the ears in the weight room. As such, intermediate training age is a recommended prerequisite.
If time and simplicity is of the essence, give the following suggestions a try:
Delt Decimator 2:
Innocent on paper. Give it a run through, champ. Leave the ego in your purse and execute with conviction.
A) Reverse Peck Deck, 4 sets 12-15 reps, 2021 tempo 45-60 seconds rest.
(Just to get the shoulder joint lubricated, warm and pumped. Protract [opposite of pulling together] the scapula and shove your chest into the pad. Lock it down. Drag the arms backward and pause for one second in the contracted position. DO NOT go to failure. Instead, seek a pump and maximal blood flow.)
B) Down the Rack Side Lateral “Pitcher” Raises, 8 sets of 8 reps each, 2020 tempo, 75 seconds rest between sets.
(1 set involves handling the heaviest dumbbells you can with strict, stimulating form for 8 repetitions. At or just before failure, drop the weight 5-10lbs and complete another set of 8 reps. Repeat this until you have gone “down the rack” through the entire weight range.
Prepare for rapid drop off. This is NOT an excuse to bastardize form. You can thank Mike Demeter for this one in particular. “Pitcher” raises are simply side laterals while making sure to “pour the water” out of the dumbbells by internally rotating your humerus [so the little fingers are up] at the top of each rep. Slightly bend the elbows.)
c) Band Pull-Aparts, 2 sets of as many reps as possible, 1011 tempo, 30 seconds rest
Delt Decimator 3:
Simple and effective. After the initial exercise, a tri-set allows for a great deal of work to be done in a short amount of time. pay close attention to tempos, and move as efficiently as possible between exercises.
A) Face Pulls with external rotation, 3 sets 20, 15, 10(3)* reps, 2011 tempo, 75 seconds rest
(*On the last set of 10, perform a double drop-set. Hit the first ten reps, coming to failure, immediately drop the weight and perform another ten reps, drop the weight and repeat once more.)
B1) Seated Dumbell Press, Neutral Grip, 4 sets 8 repetitions, 4010 tempo, 10 seconds rest
B2) Gironda Swing, 4 sets, 12 repetitions, 2011 tempo, 10 seconds rest
(A unique movement that should not be judged until given a chance to prove itself. The swing combines bringing one arm up in a traditional lateral raise, while the other arm comes up and across the face, humerus pointing forward from the body. Be sure to note the tempo, and pause for a second at the top.)
B3) Chest Supported Laterals, 4 sets, 15-20 reps, 2020 tempo, 120-150 seconds rest
(Set an incline bench to 80-90 degrees, sit upright with your face toward the backrest and press your chest into the pad while completing strict reps. Squeeze! You should be biting the upholstery during the last few reps.)
Delt Decimator 4:
This is for those with only 1-2 sets of dumbbells and an adjustable bench at hand. Set up as a giant set, it plays with mechanical advantage in a circuit. Move as quickly as possible between exercises. Given the geographical efficiency, you won’t have to run around the gym slapping assholes for taking your equipment. Feel free to start off with fewer sets by trying just 2-3 at the end of your regular session for another body part.
A1)Chest Supported, Bent-Over Laterals 4 sets, 15 reps, 20×1 tempo, 10 seconds rest
(Place your chest on an incline bench at 45 degrees, protract the shoulders and lead with the little fingers.)
A2)Seated Dumbbell Laterals, 4 sets, 10 reps, 20×2 tempo, 10 seconds rest
(“Lock it down”. Flex the abs to lock the ribcage as you squeeze the deltoid up to just above parallel, again, never letting the index finger come higher than the little finger. Note the pause at the top!)
A3)Standing laterals, 4 sets, 10 reps, 2020 tempo, 10 seconds rest
A4)Standing Scott Presses 4 sets, 10 reps, 3020 tempo, 10 seconds rest
A5)Seated Neutral Grip Press 4 sets, 20 reps, 1111 tempo, 3 minutes rest and repeat
A few different methods for you to try, learn from, and get feedback on what you connect well with. Remember, there is no ultimate, god-like, powerful protocol that will serve up gains on a silver platter for all your training years.
This is excellent. If one routine, method, philosophy or dogmatic cult held the key to perpetual progress, my job would be extremely boring. The joy of training would be lost.
So, embrace the change. Accept the ebb and flow. Resolve to dig out of each rut with vigour, creativity, and a touch of vanity.
This has gone on far too long, and I hereby swear to provide shorter content. As ever, if you liked this, then “Like” it! In fact, Tweet the shit out of it as well. Then, follow me on both platforms, and be on the lookout for a new YouTube channel. However, sound off below:
1)What is one body part you just cannot get a good connection with?
2)If you try any of these routines, please, let me know how it went below.
3)Shoot your email into the sidebar to be notified when I drop content like this – and, receive some goodies not put up on the blog ;) We all like goodies. And some delicious goodies are on the way, indeed.
Now. Go blow up those delts.