Work on your arms and you get big arms. Work on your abs and you get a nice six-pack. Work on your shoulders, though, and your whole physique benefits. You’ll get width to build the top of your V-taper, add pop to your upper arms, and start looking like a superhero.
Maybe you’ve been training your deltoids hard—or feel like you have, anyway—but aren’t seeing the kind of growth you’d like. Here are some valuable secrets to shoulder development you might not be familiar with, plus a single workout to put them all into action.
1. Thought You Were Done Pressing? Do It Again!
Most lifters do overhead presses at the start of their shoulder routine, when their strength and energy levels are at their peak. That makes sense because the heaviest compound movements deliver the most bang for the buck in terms of mass gains. However, for some stellar shoulders go a step beyond and follow up those initial presses with more sets later in the workout, after some dedicated lateral-head work. But, the second time, do them on a machine instead of with free weights.
Using barbells and dumbbells takes balance and coordination, both of which you have plenty of when you start your workout. As fatigue sets in you might still be able to do the reps, but can you keep the bar or the dumbbells balanced? Can you maintain your form? Probably not.
So, when things get a little wobbly, keep your shoulder workout going by getting under a machine that enables overhead presses, and hitting 3-4 more tough sets.
The machines will provide the stability you’ll need at this point in a tough workout. Plus, if you’ve already pre-exhausted your medial deltoid heads with lateral raises, you’ll be able to hit them much harder than you did the first time around.
This technique of pressing twice gives you the best of both worlds: maximum strength and mass-building benefits, and a more isolated hit of your side delts. Good stuff.
2. Want Impressive Caps? Add More Laterals
Presses build overall shoulder mass, but they don’t give you the round, capped look. For that, look to lateral raise movements.
Most people only do one form of laterals per shoulder workout—usually with dumbbells. If you’re seeing great results doing dumbbell laterals alone, don’t change a thing. If not, add a second lateral movement with either cables or a machine to take your delts to the next level.
Use free weights first, then follow up with cable or machine laterals. You really need to experience the pump and burn from two lateral movements to believe how intense it is!
3. Hit Laterals Again on an Off Day
Getting in more than one full shoulder workout every 5-6 days is probably a bad idea. After all, you still work your front delts on chest day and your rear delts on back day. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t do a little bit of extra work on your medial delts during the week.
A great way of sneaking in a little medial-delt work is to add in a few sets of lateral raises after another body part, such as chest or arms. Heck, you could even do them with legs or back.
It really doesn’t matter which body part day you do your bonus laterals on. Just make sure you don’t do them 48 hours before or after your dedicated shoulder training day. It’ll only add a few minutes to your workout, and, in return, you might see some very notable improvements.
4. Add a Twist to Upright Rows for More Medial Action
Lateral raises are a great way to work the medial deltoids—and so are upright rows. Use a barbell or dumbbells, but instead of pulling straight up, follow a movement plane that arcs up away from and then back into your body. Think of it as if you’re trying to pull the weight up and over your shoulders.
Use a wide, but not super wide, grip for this variation. If you’re using a barbell, place your hands about 3-4 inches wider than shoulder width. You’ll know when you’ve found your sweet spot when you feel your side delts pumping and burning. If you feel it more in your traps, your hands are too close together.
5. Rear Delts. Remember Them?
Posterior deltoids seldom get the time and attention they deserve. The way it usually works is that, after an hour of pressing and lateral raises, you might—might—feel compelled to do a couple of desultory sets of rear delt work. By the time you get around to them, your energy and motivation levels are probably in the gutter, and you’re ready to finish up and get out of the gym.
Stop going through the same old half-hearted movements. Instead, take a moment to stand sideways in front of a mirror and compare the development of your front delts to your rear delts. If your rear delts look like they’ve been ravaged by flesh-eating bacteria, it’s time to start giving them a higher priority in your routine.
To help your rear delts catch up, start by doing them first in your shoulder workout, using two different exercises for four work sets each. One of those exercises should be bent dumbbell lateral raises. The other should be either another form of rear laterals with a machine or cables, or cable-pulley high pulls with a rope attachment.
Once your rear delts match the development of your front and side heads, your shoulders will have a much rounder, 3-D look that’s impressive from every angle. From then on, it’s a matter of taking a balanced approach to your shoulder development, working each of the three delts equally.
6. Front Delt Workout? Don’t Waste Your Time!
I’ve never seen anyone with weak front delts—unless all of their other delts are lagging too. That’s because all pressing movements for both the chest and shoulders provide ample work for the anterior deltoids.
You only have so much time and energy for shoulder workouts. Don’t waste either on delts that are already getting plenty of stimulation. In my experience, there’s no need to perform front raises with a barbell, dumbbells, or a cable attachment. Your front delts are all set, trust me. Working them directly would be like hiring a tutor for someone getting straight A’s.
7. Give Your Delts the Gift of Rest
Your front delts and triceps take a brutal beating anytime you do pressing movements for your chest. To thrash your shoulders on the same day as a full chest routine makes about as much sense as training legs after an hour of wind sprints.
If you want your shoulders to grow, give them the best gift in the world by letting them get the rest they need so you can hit them nice and fresh next time it’s their day to train. Ideally, I’d put at least a day, or more, between chest and shoulders.
8. Lifting—Especially Lifting Heavy—Deserves Respect
If you’ve never suffered a serious shoulder injury, such as a rotator cuff or labrum tear, consider yourself among the lucky few. Not only are such injuries incredibly common, they’re also agonizingly painful and can make it much harder to train just about every other part of your body.
Unless you wreck your shoulders, you never realize how much you use them to assist with and stabilize most other exercises. Chest training with a torn labrum is impossible. Shrug with a torn cuff? No way! And squatting under a heavy load with a bad shoulder? It ain’t gonna happen.
That’s why you need to respect your shoulder joints and the tendons, ligaments, and cartilage in and around them. Always warm up, and do the rotator cuff strengthening exercises most people skip. And, most importantly, constantly pay attention to good form. Never give in to the urge to show off or do “stunt” lifts or test your 1RM regularly. The hypertrophy range of 8-12 reps per set is all most of us need for big, healthy shoulders.
Give lifting the respect it deserves and you’re one day closer to the kind of V-taper that turns heads.
Wondering how all these tips come together in a single routine? Put this into your next split and thank me later.
or Cable Rear-Delt Fly
4 sets, 12-15 reps
Ready to show off the shoulders you’ve developed? Craig Capurso’s “30 Days Out” program can help you look your best for an event like a physique competition, wedding, reunion, or photo shoot. He’ll take you through the entire month, day by day, to get shredded fast.