Your Guide to Building Boulder Shoulders

In terms of the upper body, many people tend to neglect their shoulders, since they can be a stubborn muscle group to develop. Instead, they put an emphasis on other areas, such as their chest or arms. However, upper body training and training in general should entail all areas for symmetrical aesthetics and strength. So read on to learn the ins and outs of shoulder training.

The shoulders are also known as delts (deltoids). They are comprised of three primary muscles known as the posterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and anterior deltoid. The former two tend to need more attention since the latter is already targeted with chest training to some degree. Once again, symmetry is important, so never neglect any of the three areas.

Delt Training Mistakes

People tend to make four common errors when it comes to delt workouts.

1) favoring machines over free weights.

2) putting emphasis on isolation movements as opposed to compound movements.

3) doing too many repetitions.

4) not using enough weight.

Most Effective Deltoid Training Techniques

As stated, you should focus on compound movements. This is because these movements promote something important that is known as progressive overload. You should also lift heavy weight instead of lighter weight. As for repetitions, you should try to do around 5-8 per set. As for sets, do about 2-3 for each exercise. Finally, plan to train your shoulders around 1-2 days each week.

The Most Effective Deltoid Exercises:

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Start with the dumbbells in front of you, all four sides touching. Keeping the elbows slightly unlocked, raise them out to the sides to ear level. This brings out the medial delt and widens the shoulders. Unlike the lateral raise machine, you can give yourself forced reps at the end of a set by bending the arms more.

Press Behind the Head

This completes the movement you did in the previous exercise. On a Smith or press machine, start with the bar behind your head, about level with the tops of your ears, forearms parallel with each other. Push the bar completely overhead. You will be able to handle more weight in this partial movement, working the strong area of the delts with some residual trap work.

Rear Deltoid Machine

Seated, facing the machine, do a set with your hands above shoulder level, two sets at shoulder level, and a final set slightly below shoulder level. Keep your elbows slightly bent. You can substitute bent over flys for this one. Do these with your forehead braced against a high bench, a stool, or lying prone on a high bench. This prevents you from using body momentum and takes strain off the lower back. This is an important shoulder exercise since underdeveloped rear delts are so common among bodybuilders.

Shrugs on the Standing Calf Machine

Unlike barbell or dumbbell shrugs, you are not limited by your gripping strength. Stand under the calf machine. Raise your shoulders straight up as high as possible. Hold for 1/2 second, lower slowly. You don’t have to move your shoulders back, as your rowing and rear delt work gets thew muscles make that movement.

Standing or Seated Military Press

Barbell presses are great because they target each of the three shoulder muscles. Which variation of the two is better you ask? Well, the standing variation targets your lower back too, so do it if you need the additional training. If you already have enough lower back training, just go with the seated. Tip: The weight should come down to the pecs in a steady and slow manner. Don’t make the mistake of stopping at 90 degrees. Also, make sure the elbows are kept beneath the bar. Don’t let them stick out.

Seated Dumbbell Press

This one is especially effective at creating both strength and size.

Arnold Press

This one is kind of like the regular dumbbell press, but it incorporates more range of movement so that anterior delt doesn’t get over trained.

Lying Front Raise

Sit in front of the low pulley and attach a straight bar. Lie back. Take a grip 6 inch grip on the bar, palms down. Keeping your elbows slightly unlocked, raise the bar up to forehead level. This is the same as a barbell front raise, only you can’t use body momentum nor put strain on the lower back. The very best movement for isolating those front deltoids.

As with any training routine, your goal should be to continually make progress with the stated delt exercises. Specifically, you should continuously and gradually be able to increase the amount of weight that you can lift. This, in addition to eating the right nutrition and taking bodybuilding supplements, will be a major factor that affects the development of the shoulder muscles.

Deltoid Routine Tricks and Tips

Now you know why it’s important to target each of the three main delt muscles. You also now know to lift heavy when doing the stated exercises. But did you know that certain body weight exercises can complement them in order to enhance your definition? Some of the best body weight exercises for your delts are the dip, pullup, and pushup. Pullup and pushup variations, such as the wide grip pullup and elevated pike pushup, are effective too. Note that reps for body weight exercises are typically a bit higher.

Remember that you should plan on working out your shoulders about once or twice per week. Here are a few examples of effective shoulder routines that you could do:

1) Warm up first and then start out with the standing or seated military press (5-7 reps X 3 sets). Second, perform the side lateral dumbbell raise (7-9 reps X 3 sets). Third, perform the rear dumbbell raise (7-9 reps X 3 sets). If you still have a bit of energy remaining, finish the routine with the dumbbell front raise (5-7 reps X 3 sets).

2) Warm up and begin by performing some pullups (10-12 reps X 3 sets). Next, do dips (10-12 reps X 3 sets). Last, do pushups (10-12 reps X 3 sets). If you want more of a challenge, throw in some of the variations mentioned, such as the elevated pike pushup.

3) Warm up and start by doing the Arnold press (7-9 reps X 3 sets). Next, perform the seated dumbbell press (5-7 reps X 3 sets). Finish with the military press (5-7 reps X 3 sets). Add in your preferred body weight exercise if you want to make it more difficult.

As with any other type of routine, proper exercise form is crucial when training the delts. If you feel that you’re struggling to perform a specific exercise, try doing 1-2 reps less per set. Another option would be to slightly reduce the amount of weight that you lift. On the other hand, if you can reach the peak amount of reps for a particular exercise, add about 10 pounds to the weight. For instance, if you can reach the full 7 reps of the military press, put five pounds on each one of the bar’s ends. Keep repeating this cycle as you get stronger.

Another crucial aspect of any routine is rest. Be sure to rest approximately 2-3 minutes after every one of the sets. This allows the muscles to recharge so to speak for the next set. Rest in the form of sleep is important too, since it promotes the muscle recovery process. Get around 7-9 hours each night.

One last important point to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t push yourself too far. This can result in over training your delts. Over training can lead to adverse or unwanted effects such as injury.

The Mike Francois Dumbbell Routine

I learned this delt training tip from the great Mike Francois and who could argue with his delt development? It involves monopolizing 4 pairs of dumbells so you might want to try this at a time your gym is relatively uncrowded. As delts are my favorite bodypart to train I took to this routine like a bulldog to a meat truck:

Lay 4 pairs of dumbells {each bell on either side of you} as you are sitting on a seated, backed* bench. Use 10-pound increments from lightest to heaviest. I personally use {after a 2 set warm-up with 20′s for 20 reps} 50′s, 60′s, 70′s, 80′s. Press overhead while seated: 50′s for 8 reps.
60′s for 8 reps.
70′s for 8 reps.
80′s for 8 reps.

That’s one set. Rest 3 minutes. Then press overhead:
80′s for 6 reps.
70′s for 6 reps.
60′s for 6 reps.
50′s for 6 reps.

The second set. Rest another 3 minutes. There is no rest between poundages. The only rest is just long enough for you to drop the previous dumbells and grab the next poundage. After this 3 minute’s rest:
50′s for 4 reps.
60′s for 4 reps.
70′s for 4 reps.
80′s for 4 reps.

The low rep range from 6 to 8 means nothing since you are doing basically “giant sets”. That’s it. After a heavy-breathing break you can do your lateral raises, bent-over laterals, upright rows, whatever, etc…This is sure to pack on size. My delts grew like a feces-fertilized flower in 5 weeks doing only this routine, no laterals, uprights, bent-overs, etc.

Another little secret I learned from Mike is if you have no back problems do your seated overhead press on a bench with NO BACK. This forces your side delts to work on the press whereas with a backed bench your front delt heads would be predominant, as in the military barbell press. But go easy on the poundage if you try this.

The Bottom Line

Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your shoulders or deltoids like many other people. This will cause a lack of overall symmetry. Yes, they can be a stubborn muscle group, but they are definitely doable with the right training routine, nutrition plan, supplementation, and so forth. Cheers to achieving boulder shoulders!

What is your favorite shoulder exercise and why? Post below in the comments!

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