A guy I know was so desperate to get bigger shoulders that last Christmas he asked Santa to bring him cannonball delts. Yeah, right. Now he's waiting for the Easter bunny.
Many people, based on the way they behave in the gym, seem to think that muscle growth can be achieved through wishful thinking and/or creative bargaining with fictional characters. You know who I'm talking about—the guys whose workouts consist of one (or two) sets wedged between chat sessions with the ladies on treadmill row about how they once bench-pressed an El Camino while chewing liver tablets before heading outside to deadlift Chicago. They may talk a good game, but their results show otherwise.
When I want to know how to build cannonball delts—or any other bodypart—I look for someone who's actually done it. That's why I sought out Dallas-based NPC heavyweight Armon Adibi, hoping to discover the secret of his delt development. Armon's chiseled muscle has made him one of the young bodybuilders to watch as he navigates the tough NPC national-level ranks.
Considering that he weighed in at 219 pounds at the '10 NPC Sacramento on November 6, you might be surprised to find out that Armon was "terribly skinny" in high school. His relative lack of size led him to pursue soccer and baseball, and he excelled in soccer, traveling abroad and playing against teams from several European countries. Through his soccer training, Armon was introduced to weightlifting, which is where he found his true calling.
After a couple of years of bodybuilding training, Armon entered his first contest, the Lee Priest Classic, and won the teen overall title. After that he tore up the NPC Texas circuit, taking his class at Ronnie Coleman's and John Sherman's shows as well as the overall at the prestigious Red River Classic.
In 2007 Armon decided to step it up and entered the NPC Junior Nationals, where he finished fourth in the light-heavyweight class and found out that he still needed to grow He's since gained more size, moving up to heavyweight, and at the '09 IFBB North American Championships, his first pro qualifier, he finished ninth. His most recent contest was the aforementioned Sacramento, where he took second in the heavyweight class. Clearly this is a guy who knows what he needs to do to grow. So let's get to his delt program.
Warmup: Dumbbell Laterals
Don't worry about weight on the warmup. That's good advice in life and in lifting. Too many people grab the biggest set of dumbbells they can lift and just start blasting away. It takes time to get going.
"All I'm trying to do here is get the muscles moving," said Armon. "I just think about moving the weight and getting things going."
Start with light weights, and loosen up. Just don't forget that the hard work is still to come.
Dumbbell Front Raises and Bent-Over Laterals
There are a million and one different theories on building delts, but you don't often see serious trainees deviating too far from the classics. So it is with Armon's delt workout.
He starts with dumbbell front raises followed by bent-over lateral raises. On both of those isolation movements he pyramids the weight and drops the reps on each successive set.
At all times Armon is trying to pump a lot of blood into the muscle. "My main thought is to keep raising the weight," he explained. "I never want to get complacent or stop shocking my delts."
Dumbbell lateral raises
(warmup) 2 x 15-20
Dumbbell front raises
(pyramid) 4 x 12,10,8,6
(pyramid) 4 x 12,10,8,6
Upright rows 3 x 10-12
Standing presses 4 x 10-12
Armon takes a different approach to this compound exercise from what he does on the first two movements, ditching the pyramid for three straight sets performed with a moderately heavy weight. The reason compound moves are beneficial is simple: They not only hit the target muscle but also strengthen the ancillary muscles that surround the target. That increases strength and stability and also leads to a more complete physique. As tempting as it is to sit on a machine and bang out isolation move after isolation move, it's the compound free-weight exercises that build true, functional strength.
There are many ways to perform a classic lift, ways that better hit the target muscle for you or that alleviate joint pain. Every body is different, so it's always important to be open-minded and creative enough to find a movement that works for you. Armon understands that.
"Dumbbell presses don't feel right on my elbow, so I prefer to do a variation," he related. "I like to put one foot in front of the other for a good base and then do the lift standing. It just feels better to me than the regular standing press."
Armon's stance may not work for everyone, but the lesson is clear: Don't be afraid to try something a little bit different from what everyone else in the gym is doing.
"I work fast," Armon said. Fast to him means taking no more than 30 seconds to one minute between sets. Partly he does it because of his desire to pump blood into the muscle. Partly it's because he's a busy man. "I train a lot of people in the Dallas area," he said, "so some days I'm on a pretty tight schedule."
On really tight days he relies on one of these 15-minute time-crunch workouts to get him through:
Lateral raises 3-4 x 10-12
Front raises 3-4 x 10-12
Bent-over laterals 3-4 x 10-12
Select a pair of dumbbells that will allow you to complete all movements with no rest. Each run through the three-exercise cycle is one tri-set. Rest for one minute, and repeat.
Upright rows 5 x 10-12
Standing presses 5 x 10-12
Select a pair of dumbbells that will allow you to complete all movements with no rest. Each run through the cycle is one superset. Rest for one minute, and repeat.
If you're honest about your times, either of those workouts will take around 15 minutes to complete and leave your delts shredded. That's good if you're on the road and/or faced with limited equipment. All you need is a set of dumbbells.
No doubt that 2011 will be a time of growth and patience for Armon Adibi. His plan is to spend most of the year putting on size as he prepares for the '11 NPC National Championships, which will be held in Miami in November. He plans to come in as a heavyweight, but at the upper limit for the class, 225, and you can be sure that he'll shoulder the challenge with all-around, proportioned development.
Editor's note: To contact Armon Adibi for training consultation, appearances or sponsorship inquiries, write to him at www.ArmonAdibi.com. IM