Nothing announces your presence like a standout set of shoulders. Build an impressive set of delts with this high-volume plan.
By Roger Lockridge
“Boulder shoulders” is a popular phrase in the fitness industry, today more than ever. Shoulders seem to be having a pop fitness renaissance. In the the ’80s, mainstream fitness culture was all about a big chest. The ’90s was the decade of the guns. The ’00s were obsessed with abs. (Abs never go out of style, but back then fitness bros thought you could be skinny and weak as long as you had abs.) Shoulders are taking their turn in the spotlight, and for good reason: Nothing shows off the shape of a physique like a broad set of shoulders that taper into a narrow waist. It creates a primal sense of attraction from both sexes. When humans see an optimal shoulder-to-waist ratio, the brain (and other parts) spontaneously starts getting excited.
Obviously, the shoulders are important when it comes to presenting a complete, powerful, and symmetrical physique. Whether you’re training for the stage, beach, or performance in the sport you love, the shoulders play an important role in whether you will win or lose. Big arms look good and having a big bench is cool, but the time has come for you to make shoulders a priority in your training.
The optimum strategy to build powerful delts is to focus on each of the three heads individually. That includes the anterior (front) head, the lateral (side) head, and posterior (rear) head. The anterior heads play a role in pushing movements, so they can receive some stimulation on chest day. Similarly, the rear delts help with pulling, so they are often recruited in back training. The lateral delts are recruited when it comes to the arms moving up and away from the sides of the body; they rely mostly on shoulder-specific exercises for stimulation and growth. We also added a movement for the trapezius. Although the traps are considered a back muscle because they run along your spine, the tops of the muscle are around the neck and shoulder area, so it’s popular to train traps with delts instead of on back day.
Lastly, don’t forget to give your shoulders some love. Perform an extensive warm-up, both broadly and specifically. Ease into your working sets slowly and don’t get too caught up in pushing heavy loads. Use intensity techniques, such as supersets, shortened rest periods, rest-pause, and time under tension to magnify the stimulation rather than increasing the weight. Finally, leave some time in our workout for prehab and mobility exercises. If you want shoulders that people will love, you have to give them some love first.
Standing Barbell Press: With a solid shoulder-width stance and slight bend in the knees, take the bar from the rack or pick it up off the floor and clean it to shoulder level. This is your starting position. Generate force from your legs by lowering your butt slightly. Push through your hips to stand back up and use that force to press the barbell overhead. Press to lockout, return to the starting position, and repeat. If you can’t control the weight, lower the amount you’re using. You should want to get stronger, but doing the movement right needs to be the priority.
Front Raise: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and hold them so your palms are facing each other. Keeping your arm straight, lift one dumbbell in front of you until your arm is parallel with the floor. Slowly lower it to the starting position, and repeat with the other arm.
Seated Lateral Raise: Sit on the end of a flat bench or on an upright bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand. While keeping a slight bend in your elbow, lift your arms and the weights straight out to your sides until your arms are parallel with the floor. At the top, turn your hands so your pinkies are a little higher than your thumbs. This will place a little extra emphasis on the shoulder area. Slowly lower the weight back down to your sides, and repeat.
One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise: Stand with a low cable pulley on your right side. Attach a single grip handle to the cable and grab the attachment with your left hand. Using force from your shoulders while keeping your arm straight, lift the handle out to your left side until your arm is parallel with the floor. Slowly lower your handle back to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat for the desired number of reps, and then do the same for the opposite arm.
Upright Row Superset: Grab a barbell with a grip a couple of inches inside shoulder width and let it hang with your arms in front of you. Keep the bar as close to your body as possible and lift the bar straight up until your elbows are even with your shoulders. The bar should be around your chest area at this point. Slowly return the weight to the starting position. This is one rep. Repeat for the recommended number of reps. Immediately switch to a grip a few inches wider and repeat for the same number of reps.
Bent-Over Lateral Raise: Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Keeping your back as straight as possible, bend at the waist until your upper body is parallel with the floor. Hold the dumbbells at arms’ length in front of you. While maintaining your bent position, lift the weights out to your sides while keeping your arms straight until they are parallel with the floor. You should feel a squeeze in the back of your shoulders. Return the weights to the starting position and repeat.
Dumbbell Shrug: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand with your back straight and chest out. Bring your shoulders up like you’re shrugging your shoulders, and hold that position for a second. Lower slowly to the starting position until you feel a stretch in your traps. Repeat. Feel free to use a pair of lifting straps so you don’t lose grip of the dumbbells during your set.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
(Warm-Up and Mobility Drills)
Standing Barbell Press 5 5 2 minutes
Front Raise 3 10 90 seconds
Seated Lateral Raise 3 10 90 seconds
One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise 3 12 90 seconds
Upright Row Close-Grip 2 15 None
Upright Row Wide-Grip 2 15 90 seconds
Bent-Over Lateral Raise 3 15 90 seconds
Dumbbell Shrug 4 25 60 seconds
Correct Don’t Neglect [Art Note: We did not shoot these.]
Shoulders need a level of care that goes a beyond most other body parts. Go ahead and beat the crap out of your biceps or calves or abs. You’ll just be a little extra sore for a few days. But one false move with your shoulders and you’ll be riding an exercise bike for six months, contemplating new positions to sleep in. That’s why each shoulder workout needs a completely separate mini-workout of internal strengthening and corrective exercise. Make sure you set aside 15 to 20 minutes before (and possibly during and after) your delt workout to properly prepare your fragile shoulder joints. Here is a sample shoulder warm-up that you can perform before any workout, but it’s especially important before training your chest and delts.
Plank Scapula Push-Ups
Get into a basic push-up position, with your legs extended straight behind you, feet hip-width apart. Rest your weight on your forearms by bending your elbows at 90-degree angles. Your bodyweight should be distributed between your elbows and your toes. Maintain a tight core so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. To begin, bring your shoulder blades together, allowing your body to sink into your shoulder sockets. Press into your forearms and spread your shoulder blades apart, elevating your body out of shoulder sockets. It’s a short range of movement in which the shoulders are only moving up and down, not forward. Be sure to maintain distance between the shoulders and ears throughout the movement. Perform two sets of 20 reps.
Get into a push-up position, with your hands under your shoulders and your core engaged. Spread your feet just slightly wider than you would in a traditional push-up. Brace through your core and torso, stabilize your right shoulder, lift your left hand, and touch your opposite deltoid. Slowly replace the left hand and repeat on the other side. Keep a tight push-up position throughout the movement, with your head in neutral alignment with your spine. Perform two set of 20 reps.
Take a lightweight exercise band and hold it in front of you with both hands at the level of your nipples. Stretch the band by moving your hands out to your sides, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause for a beat, and then slowly return to the start. Complete two sets of 40 reps with a one-minute rest between sets. The first 10 reps should be with your elbows extended and arms completely straight, using a pronated (overhand) grip. The next 10 reps will be with a supinated grip. Reps 20 to 30 will be done with a pronated grip but with your elbows bent and tucked tightly into your sides. For last 10 reps, use a supinated grip with your elbows bent.
Name: Parker Egerton
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