In Part 1 of this discussion I covered the ins and outs (or is it the rights to lefts?) of broadening your physique by expanding your wingspan, a.k.a. lat width. Now it’s time to focus on the second major muscle group that helps make bodybuilders a nuisance at movie theaters and on airplanes worldwide–the deltoids.
Few things look as impressive on bodybuilders as wide, thick, round shoulders. There are tons of guys with big chests and arms, but nothing screams bodybuilder like having a pair of cannonballs hanging off your clavicles, challenging the stitching of every shirt you own. From any angle, onstage or on the street, it’s the shoulders that set off the physique.
To review the basic anatomy: The deltoid is a three-headed muscle, with anterior (front), posterior (rear) and medial (side) heads. While it’s extremely important to develop all three delt heads, the medial section is mostly responsible for width. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone actually overdevelop his or her medial-delt heads, have you? To put it another way, have you ever heard of a bodybuilder being criticized for being too wide?
Some of the most exceptional physique athletes of our time have been known for their incredible side-delt development, including Kevin Levrone, Paul Dillett, Gary Strydom and Chris Cormier. As soon as they walk onstage and turn to the front, their dramatic proportions are immediately evident, and much of that has to do with their shoulder width. Just as wide lats contribute to the length of your wingspan, a pair of bowling-ball delts will create the illusion of a smaller waist and more sweeping quads. If there’s a downside to such delt dimensions, it would be the need for custom-tailored shirts and having to walk sideways through some doors’but you can handle that, right?
So, what’s the secret to building your middle delts to superhero proportions? Well, the secret, if you want to call it that, lies in correcting a few training mistakes and using specific exercises, done in a specific manner, to selectively activate the side-delt fibers.
Before we move on to the actual shoulder-widening routines, however, let’s take a closer look at the most common mistakes made by trainees seeking to broaden their horizons.
Most trainees almost always include more than one overhead-press movement in their shoulder routines’and then they do a front-raise movement on top of that. Talk about inefficient shoulder training! While you should include a pressing movement in each delt workout, there’s no need for a second exercise that works the front heads. When the main goal is increasing your delt width, front raises become obsolete. Your primary concern is with the medial head of the deltoid, and nothing targets that better than lateral movements and wide-grip upright rows. That’s not to say you should ignore the anterior and posterior heads, but when you’re seeking to prioritize one muscle, or section of a muscle, you need to choose your weapons wisely.
Most bodybuilders who own well-developed deltoids almost always use lighter weights and execute each movement with precision through a full range of motion. Shoulder training doesn’t require ego, but excellence. Here’s a review of the basic movements, along with some common mistakes trainees make and some techniques for troubleshooting them.
1) Overhead presses. The most frequent mistake on this exercise involves an incomplete range of motion. In an effort to exercise ego rather than delts, many trainees perform half reps, bringing the dumbbells or barbell only about halfway down before pressing it back to the top. Hey, guys, it’s the bottom half of the movement that gives you the most deltoid activation. By only pushing through the top half, you give your triceps the brunt of the work. The solution is to lighten the weight and make sure you perform each rep through an optimal range of motion, which for presses is from just above shoulder level to just below lockout.
2) Lateral raises. This is one of the most poorly performed exercises in all of bodybuilding. The first problem is the amount of weight trainees use. When you use too much weight on lateral raises, you get a swinging motion. While it’s okay to cheat a bit at the end of a set, when you can no longer continue in perfect form, cheating at the beginning of a set is simply cheating your shoulders out of a proper workout. The bottom line is, this is not a power movement. Choose weights that allow you to muscle up the weight without swinging, heaving or using body English. If you lighten up and still have trouble, do the exercise seated.
The next mistake is not keeping the palms down, facing the floor, at the top. It’s perfectly fine to turn your hands down just slightly at the top, but turning them up, so your thumbs are higher than your pinkies, will take stress off of the side delts and transfer it to the front heads. Some people make this mistake because of a lack of focus, while others are going too heavy and forcing the more powerful front delts to take over in order to get the dumbbells to shoulder height. Concentrate and go lighter!
The final error is raising the dumbbells too high, which increases the involvement of the trapezius muscles and, more important, can impinge the highly delicate shoulder joints. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height’no higher.
3) Upright rows. When it’s done correctly, this can be a wonderful delt widener, but unfortunately, it’s usually done wrong. The main error is failure to raise the elbows higher than the hands at the top. Many people end up turning this movement into what appears as an awkwardly performed reverse curl.
Another mistake is to raise the bar far too high. That’s okay if you’re targeting your traps, but we’re looking to isolate the delts. Just make sure you focus on raising your elbows first. Sometimes it helps to think of two strings attached to your elbows and imagine that someone is pulling on the strings from above, allowing your elbows to rise first, while your hands simply follow underneath. You also want to relax your traps while bringing the bar no higher than shoulder height.
Lack of Angles and Variation
When it comes to broadening the shoulders, you have only a few basic movements to work with’but tons of variation on each movement. Too many people get stuck in a rut with their delt training. That occurs due to laziness or ignorance, but I assure you it can keep you from ever outgrowing that shirt you’ve been wearing since high school. Muscles are very adaptable and complex creatures. If you don’t at least occasionally use different angles and exercise variations to force unique fiber-recruitment patterns, you won’t reach your width potential. Here’s a list of variations on the exercises discussed above: 1) Overhead presses: dumbbell presses, one-arm dumbbell presses, Arnold presses, behind-the-neck presses, military presses, Smith-machine presses, machine presses (various manufacturers). 2) Standing lateral raises: seated laterals, cable laterals (starting with hands in front or behind the back), forward-lean incline laterals, machine laterals(various manufacturers), incline one-arm laterals (leaning sideways on an incline bench). 3) Barbell upright rows: cable upright rows (with bar or rope), dumbbell upright rows. Delt-Widening Routines Now that we’ve covered the do’s and don’ts, here are some workouts you can use to get so wide, your queen-size mattress will be forced to cede your bedroom to a king. Depending on how long you’ve been training, it may be best for you to stick with one routine for several weeks before moving on to the next. If you’re more advanced or someone who thrives on change and variety, feel free to alternate two of the routines from week to week’or even all three. Over time you may want to mix and match in order to create your own unique boulder-shoulder program.
Seated lateral raises 3 x 8-10
upright rows 3 x 10-12
the-neck presses 2 x 6-8
barbell upright rows 3 x 8-10
Arnold presses 3 x 6-8
One-arm cable laterals 2 x 10-12
dumbbell presses 3 x 6-8
laterals 3 x 8-10
Dumbbell upright rows 2 x 10-12
Note: When you’re specializing on a delt-widening program, train your rear-delt heads on back day.
A few of the exercises may be unfamiliar, so here’s a brief description of the more exotic ones:
Arnold presses. Start with a dumbbell in each hand, your palms turned in toward your body, as in the finish of a dumbbell curl. As you press overhead, rotate your palms so they face forward at the top. Be sure to drive your elbows back so they’re even with your ears through most of the range, as that’s very important for medial-delt activation. Do the reverse action for the eccentric portion of the rep.
Standing one-arm dumbbell presses. Stand with your knees slightly bent and keep your abs and low back tight in order to stabilize your body. Brace your nonworking hand on a sturdy object. Press the dumbbell with your elbow pulled back, in line with your ear.
Forward-lean incline laterals. Sit backward on an incline bench that’s set at about 70 degrees and lean forward against the incline. Then perform laterals without letting your torso leave the bench.
Dumbbell upright rows. Start with the dumbbells touching at the bottom. As you raise them, separate them and pull your elbows out wide.
With the information provided here, you should never again have to shoulder the burden of being narrow. As with anything worth having in life, a pair of melon-sized delts won’t be easy to build. It will take consistent gut-busting work to become truly W-I-D-E. But in the end, when the tailor’s tape is too short to measure your shoulders and buying off the rack is no longer an option, your smile will be almost as wide as your shoulders. IM