- Bowling balls.
- Round and full.
These are some of the popular words used to describe a muscular and defined set of shoulders you’d find in the pages of a bodybuilding magazine. Sadly, you can almost always be assured that the set of shoulders that make you so envious belong to a professional bodybuilder.
Should your hopes for constructing a set of eye-popping delts vanish in a cloud of smoke just because you assume the guy on the cover uses drugs, or can you piece together your own blueprint for physique-defining shoulders by picking out nuggets of information from the pros?
As much as drugs can help, they aren’t the super-soldier formula that turned Steve Rogers from a 110-pound girlie man into a 200-pound ripped and jacked Captain America. And they certainly aren’t the only reason that whoever is on the cover of this month’s magazine has the shoulders that you envy. They must be doing something right.
How to Really Train Your Shoulders
I’m a shoulder guy. I love training them, and I love the accompanying feeling that I get after my workout is done. I also love knowing how to add certain tweaks to my hand positions in order to better work the muscle, or uncommon variations on popular movements should I see the cute girl in the gym shoulder pressing and decide that her form needs tweaking.
Shoulder training has typically been very boring and straightforward. I remember seeing an old training tape of Lee Haney where he mentioned something along the lines of how you should shoulder press and then shoulder press some more or your delts won’t grow.
Luckily, we’re not in the business of blindly following others because we have all the information needed to question and get better results. Sure, the shoulder press is the first movement that a newbie performs when they start training since it allows them to push the heaviest weight. Heck, the most advanced, ripped, and jacked lifter in the world can still benefit from overhead pressing for that same reason.
You get into trouble when you accept that you can only develop round and full shoulders by overhead pressing because you heard some guy who swallows the pink candy ranting on it, or some 80-year-old guy told you the Russians did it back in the early 1900s.
Self-Assessment Comes First
No one likes looking in the mirror and being honest with what they see. Most of my clients hire me just to have an impartial eye since everyone wants to have a favorable opinion of themselves. Be brutally honest when you look at the pictures that you just took on your phone. Don’t lie to yourself and think you have bowling ball delts just because you want to believe it.
Every pro that has openly talked about shoulder training, more so than other body parts, has talked about finding what works best for them. So, how do you travel a similar path?
The easiest way is to look at your arm length. On average, the longer your arms are, the worse overhead pressing will be for you. Longer arms equal longer bones, longer muscles, and longer tendons. Thus, the force required to lift the weight will be greater (you’ll have to use less weight over the range of motion), and the tension on the desired muscle will be less during a full range of motion.
So, is overhead pressing the obvious choice for everyone? No! I don’t buy these armchair coaches that either insist that you always have to use a full range of motion or that bodybuilders have terrible form. These are the same people that hate on cookie cutter approaches, but did they ever stop to realize that there might be a reason why Jay Cutler, who isn’t a tall guy by any means, does what looks like mini-shoulder presses?
He does it because they work, and isn’t that what matters the most?
That’s my beef with overhead pressing. It’s not that I don’t think it’s effective; I just hate that it’s the golden rule of shoulder training. To get the most out of your shoulder workout and to keep the most tension on your delts, perform overhead movements with a partial range of motion. You’ll thank me later.
Don’t be Afraid of Going Heavy on Lateral Raises
Why is it just accepted as bodybuilding fact that you can only perform lateral raises in your workout after you’ve finished all your pressing? It makes zero sense, especially if you have long arms.
Cedric McMillan, who’s about 6’2″, won the Nationals back in October to get his pro card with an impressive physique. His only weakness was his shoulders, most likely due to his height. Well, what did he do to bring them up? It’s been openly discussed that he used heavy lateral raises for both low and high reps to help give his delts that capped look.
I don’t know why I never see people going all-out on lateral raises, either with dumbbells or a machine. You’re missing out on some brutally painful yet effective training.
Try this: Slide your hands all the way to the end of the handle on a set of dumbbells so that your pinky finger is touching the weight. Start the lateral movement as normal, and get ready to feel your side delts like you never have before.
Posture these days on most individuals isn’t good, and I bet you’re no different. If you just grab the handle on a dumbbell in a random position like you’ve been doing, you cause a slight, unnoticeable rotation of your forearm, which places more stress on your front delt, which is what we don’t want to do. Fight to keep your hands out wide and maintain the stress on the side delts.
For even further side shoulder torture, throw in a few sets of dumbbell lateral raises with your thumbs up. Rotating the thumb up changes shoulder joint space and allows for both a safer and deeper level of intense training.
Rest-Pause Reps Rock My World
The shoulder muscle is very complex in its own way. While not an overly massive muscle, it does have a very unique blend of both slow- and fast-twitch muscle properties. Thus, you have to come fully loaded to battle and work in multiple rep ranges or you’re leaving something in the gym.
Pre-contest trainer and IFBB pro Milos Sarcev has often talked about having his clients perform lower reps for pressing movements and higher reps for side laterals. Those are the rep ranges that he felt those muscles responded to best.
We’re going to step it up, though. During this focused phase of hitting our shoulders hard, we’re going to use rest-pause training on our first exercise.
Here’s what I want you to do. Using machine lateral raises as our movement, I want you to try your hardest, from workout to workout, to keep your rep ranges between 20 and 30 reps. You’re going to be adding a small amount of weight to the movement each week (two and a half pounds).
I want you to do 20 to 30 reps as a straight set. Your elbows must get to parallel with your shoulders to be a complete rep. This is brutal.
After those 20 to 30 reps, I want you to rest for 15 seconds to allow your creatine phosphate system to replenish. Then, I want you to do 10 partial reps with the same weight that you just used.
After a few weeks of this type of training, you’ll hit about 15 reps max. When that happens, just add another two and a half pounds. Once you’re around 10 to 12 reps, your delts should look noticeably different.
Why Doesn’t Anbody Use Static Training Anymore?
Have you ever seen someone actually using static training for any body part anymore? I’m not sure if it has to do with the lack of hardcore bodybuilding gyms these days or if people are afraid of being accused of actually flexing, but finishing off your movements with static holds has a myriad of benefits.
There are reasons why pros spend so much time posing; they need to learn how to flex and control their body for minutes at a time. For those of us who aren’t competing, we’re trying to push as much blood into the trained muscle as possible since blood carries nutrients and hormones that increase recovery. We also want to recruit as many muscle fibers as possible, and since we rarely perform any isometric training anymore, we’re missing out on a whole lot of growth potential.
So, after the shoulder movement of your choice, we’ll use the above example of machine lateral raises just for giggles.
Sit straight up in the lateral raise machine and lift the weight – yes, the same weight that you just used for 20 or so reps – and lift it five inches from the bottom and hold for 30 seconds. Sit up straight, flex your lats, and raise your shoulders. No excuses; 30 seconds or bust. This is building you big shoulders.
Get More Out of Your Shoulder Workout
I’m not going to rehash a bunch of research studies because I’m sure you’ve read them before, but I highly advise the use of beta-alanine pre-workout.
Think about this. I just described the brutal start of a shoulder workout. What happens during your second or third set? Those nasty little fatigue substrates that rob us of training efficiently are going to be high, and they’ll keep getting in the way more and more if you continue to train after that set. More work is required to build those rounded shoulders that’ll give you the look that Carl Weathers had in Predator.
Do Work, Get Delts
There’s no reason to ignore the most dedicated and intense field of physique transformation just because performance-enhancing drugs may be abundant. Everyone’s trying to reach a higher personal level, and to get there you need to use every tool available. Take these nuggets from the pros and get started on building your own wide frame.