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Smart Training: Deflated-Delt Dilemma

Q: My delts are about as flat as pancakes. Any rapid solution to the problem?

A: Wide, round shoulders have been built with both high loads and high volumes. Powerlifters and Olympic lifters have built impressive shoulders using low reps for multiple sets on compound exercises, such as presses and upright rows. On the other hand, there are plenty of bodybuilders out there with the fantastic deltoid development that comes from high reps, short rest intervals and isolation-type movements. I’m of the opinion that people achieve better deltoid development if they cycle in and out of both approaches.

I find that descending, or drop, sets and preexhaustion are particularly effective at promoting shoulder growth. When someone has problems adding mass to the middle-delt area, tri-sets or Omni-rep breakdown sets can solve the problem.

Tri-sets are three exercises performed one after another—back to back—before taking a rest. Here’s a good tri-set for the mid delts:

A-1 Standing lateral raises 3 x 8-12, tempo 4/0/X/0
A-2 Low-pulley upright rows 3 x 8-12, tempo 4/0/X/0
A-3 Seated dumbbell presses 3 x 8-12, tempo 4/0/X/0

Perform A-1, A-2 and A-3 in a series, take a two-minute break, and repeat two more times, for a total of three tri-sets.

Notice that on the standing lateral raises you should do the concentric, or positive, stroke explosively, as the leverage is disadvantageous in the exercise. For low-pulley upright rows I recommend using a rope attachment, like the one normally used for pushdowns. That will remove some wrist stress.

On an Omni-rep breakdown set you select one basic exercise and its variation and essentially destroy all the fibers that can be used in the movement:

1) Do 6-8RM of standing one-arm lateral raises with a 2/0/X/0 tempo. That targets the highest-threshold fibers in your delts.

2) Do 10-12RM of lean-away one-arm lateral raises using a 2/0/X/0 tempo. By changing the mechanics, you take the supraspinatus muscle out of it and change the strength curve for the medial deltoid. You also tap into the intermediate-fast glycolitic fibers.

3) Do 20-25RM on one-arm low-pulley lateral raises with a 1/0/1/0 tempo. By using a low pulley, you get even tension throughout the movement. The higher reps will finish off whatever low-threshold fibers that can still fire after steps 1 and 2.

Do not rest between steps 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. After performing all three exercises, take a 90-second break, and then repeat with your other arm. Do three Omni-rep rounds per arm. By the way, these routines are reserved for high-pain-threshold individuals. Wimps should stay away from them. Try each program for six workouts each. I’m sure your deltoids will become more massive and with noticeable roundness.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc­cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med­alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit IM

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