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Shoulder Size and Striations

Q: Do you work traps with shoulders or with back? Where do you recommend putting shoulder training in your workout splits, and would you mind sharing your favorite shoulder routine? One more thing: How do you get such deep striations in your delts?

A: Thanks for your question. I was pleased with the improvement I saw in my shoulder development last year, so some of the tweaks I made in my program apparently worked. Given my age and my problems in both shoulders—torn posterior labrum—it’s quite satisfying to find training adjustments that actually help me keep adding muscle.

Concerning traps, I consider the trapezius a back muscle. To be honest, I’ve done almost no shrugs in the past 25 years. During my first few years of bodybuilding training I felt that traps were one of my weakest bodyparts, and I was determined to shrug my way to bigger traps. I ran into a problem though. Every time I worked up to fairly heavy weights on either barbell or dumbbell shrugs, I would injure my neck or lower cervical area.

After banging my head against that wall for several years, I decided that it would be better to drop shrugs because my injuries were limiting my upper-body workouts. Since all of my powerlifting buddies had massive traps without doing shrugs and because my traps were always severely sore—in a good way—after my deadlift workouts, I decided I’d let deadlifts take care of my traps. That strategy has served me well. Since stepping up into the IFBB pro ranks, however, I’ve decided that I need to try for more trap thickness, and I’m considering adding a few sets of shrugs at the end of my back workouts. Instead of shrugging both shoulders at the same time, though, I’m going to do one-arm dumbbell shrugs to avoid injury.

Where I put shoulder training in my workout splits depends on whether I’m doing my off-season three-day split or precontest four-day split. In the three-day split I like to train front and medial delts after pecs. The front delts get a great deal of work during both flat-bench and incline presses for the chest, so it doesn’t take many sets to totally annihilate them with good ole overhead presses; I prefer dumbbells. I follow overhead presses with a lateral-raise movement done with dumbbells or cables or on a machine to pack mass on the middle delts.

I like to work rear delts after my back training in the three-day split. Your rear delts are heavily involved in every pulling movement, so you don’t have to beat them up for too long before they’re completely on fire. I prefer to do rear delts on a machine because it’s easier to stay in the right plane of movement, and I can concentrate on getting a searing contraction in the working muscles.

When I’m following the four-day precontest split, my fourth and final workout of the week is shoulders, biceps and triceps. Getting to do shoulders at the beginning of the workout feels really good when I switch to that program. Although I have to do more warmup sets of overhead presses, I can handle more weight, and I can get my shoulder girdle fully engorged after working through medial and rear delts.

Over the past two years I’ve made a couple of minor adjustments that yielded significant results in my shoulders. One tweak I made was doing a few high-rep sets of lateral raises after my chest workout during precontest training. I wanted to add a little more width to my shoulders without overtraining them. I typically keep those sets close to 15 reps and emphasize flexing the delts at the top of the movement.

Last year, as I prepared to compete in the Europa Super Show, I often switched from my usual dumbbell laterals to machine lateral raises. I found that the machine laterals placed a great deal more tension on the medial deltoids at the beginning of the movement, when the muscle is in the stretch position. Making just those two small adjustments has enabled me to add much-needed size and width to my delts, and I think you can see that it shows in the photos in IRON MAN.

Now, to address your question about deepening striations in the deltoids: When you have adequate muscle size, getting deep shoulder striations is a matter of dropping bodyfat way down. When bodyfat is low, you have less subcutaneous fat, which makes your skin thinner, and muscular striations will show through.

When I did my photo shoot with master photographer Michael Neveux last summer, Skyndex skinfold calipers measured my bodyfat at 2.3 percent. I reached that by a combination of weight training, very strict dieting and daily cardiovascular training. As I mentioned above, I weight-trained four days per week on the precontest split. My diet consisted of about 50 percent protein, 35 percent carbohydrate and 15 percent fat. At the beginning of my precontest training, about 14 weeks out, I did 20 to 30 minutes of cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach seven days per week. On the days when I didn’t work out, I did another 30-to-45-minute session at my usual weight-training time. During the last six weeks of my precontest cycle I added another 20-to-30-minute cardio session in the evening after I trained my last client of the day. Yes, it was a great deal of work, but the results were worth it.

Here’s my three-day off-season split:

Monday: Legs, abs

Wednesday: Chest, front delts, medial delts, triceps

Friday: Back (deadlifts, then lats), rear delts, biceps

Here’s my four-day precontest split—a slightly different plan for 2011:

Monday: Legs

Tuesday: Chest, light medial delts, light biceps

Wednesday: Abs (I don’t count this as a weight-training day)

Thursday: Back, traps, light legs—plus four sets of squats to warm up for deadlifts

Saturday: Shoulders, biceps, triceps

My favorite shoulder routine on the four-day split is the following:

Seated dumbbell presses: I usually do about four warmup sets—I’m old—followed by three all-out sets with a weight I can handle for eight to 12 reps. If my shoulders are feeling good, I use the eight-rep-maximum weight. If I’m having shoulder-joint pain, I back off the weight a bit and use my 12-rep-max weight, sometimes my 15-rep-max weight.

Dumbbell, cable or machine lateral raises: I do three all-out sets with my 12-rep-max weight, and for a final set I go a bit heavier but do a drop set. I burn out, and then drop to dumbbells that are five pounds lighter and repeat. I do four drops—for example, 30-pounders for six reps, maxing out with 25s, then 20s, then 15s, then 10s—with no rest between drops.

Rear-delt-machine flyes: I do five all-out sets with my 12-rep-max weight. If I’m training with a partner, I sometimes do drop sets on my final set.

I hope this helps with your shoulder training. Visualize cannonball-size shoulders, and approach every workout with maximum mental intensity. Write to me again in three or four months and let me know how it’s working for you.

Train hard and eat clean.

Note: See Dave’s new Texas Shredder contest-prep DVD at or

Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar. To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected]. IM



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