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Training Shoulders
by Anthony Millar of dotfitness.co.uk

As bodybuilders we are all pursuing the ‘perfect’ body which means fulfilling our full potential. The concept of a perfect body can mean different things to different people. For example some bodybuilders, both male and female prefer the ‘bigger is better’ trend and therefore model their physiques on the ‘mass monsters’ of their generation. Whereas others prefer the streamline aesthetic look pioneered by 3 time Mr Olympia Frank Zane which is again becoming more popular. These outlooks can differ greatly, in terms of training and eating habits. However, one aspect of bodybuilding has never attracted considerable debate, this is of course shoulder training or deltoid training. It is almost universally agreed that the building of broad, thick well balanced deltoids is paramount in constructing the perfect physique whatever your goals.

As bodybuilders we are all pursuing the ‘perfect’ body which means fulfilling our full potential. The concept of a perfect body can mean different things to different people. For example some bodybuilders, both male and female prefer the ‘bigger is better’ trend and therefore model their physiques on the ‘mass monsters’ of their generation. Whereas others prefer the streamline aesthetic look pioneered by 3 time Mr Olympia Frank Zane which is again becoming more popular. These outlooks can differ greatly, in terms of training and eating habits. However, one aspect of bodybuilding has never attracted considerable debate, this is of course shoulder training or deltoid training. It is almost universally agreed that the building of broad, thick well balanced deltoids is paramount in constructing the perfect physique whatever your goals.

Shoulders maketh the man, or women for that matter. It is true that the shoulders/deltoids have the ability to improve a physique markedly; for example from the front/back they add width to the physique which in turn creates a more dramatic ‘V-taper’ which gives the illusion of a thinner, tighter waist-line. From the side good deltoid development adds a tremendous amount of thickness to the upper body, whereas from the back, well developed rear deltoids can make a massive difference to a rear double bicep pose or rear lat spread. The shoulders are probably the most masculine of all muscle groups which is why I am writing this article so you can get straight down to the hard work in the gym.

The training of the deltoids varies considerable from individual to individual, as some things work better for some than others. Some people split the muscles in the shoulders up into two separate workouts, pairing them with other muscles (usually the chest or back). Some people prefer to train the whole shoulder area, again with back or chest work usually featuring. It is even been known for some of the genetically gifted to eliminate direct shoulder work entirely from their workouts as they play a secondary role in the contractions of many other muscles. Although I would argue that if your shoulders are a lagging body part then the best way to train these muscles is alone and all in one session. This allows you to focus your full energy and concentration on developing your shoulders. It is for these reasons that I choose to go into greater detail into this type of session.

Before we start, it makes perfect sense to identify the major muscles of the shoulder girdle that we choose to isolate and breakdown. In this case we are concerned with the posterior deltoid (front part of shoulder), medial head of the deltoid (side of shoulder) and finally the anterior deltoid (the rear of the shoulder). Note that I haven’t included the trapezius (traps) muscles in this workout. This is because effective back training including up-right rows and shrugs tends to bring the best out of these muscles. Nevertheless the nature of ‘pressing’ movements will ensure adequate stress is placed on the trapezius muscles. Your session should be kept relatively short, simple and straightforward, ideally lasting no more than 45mins with the use of no more than 12 working sets. Strict attention to intensity (see article on intensity) and proper technique should always take precedent over silly poundage’s that can only be managed in a dangerous and sloppy manner.

You also have to consider the order in which you want to train these muscles. It is important to keep this constantly rotating as not to allow the muscles to become too familiar with the stimuli. However, it has to be said that the backbone of any good mass building shoulder workout would be the involvement of ‘heavy’ compound pressing movements. These are usually performed first in the workout when your levels of energy and concentration are at there highest. Although it would be wise to include pre- exhaust (see chest article) principle every 4-5th session. In this case you would begin the workout training a smaller muscle group (usually the most lagging one) such as the rear/anterior deltoid to help balance out the proportions and to give the shoulders as a whole a more pleasing appearance.

We will now take the previous example of training the bigger more powerful front/posterior deltoid first, as this is going to be the most frequent agenda. It is universally agreed that the best exercises for this part of the shoulder are the pressing movements. These exercises lend themselves to a variety of versions. Personally it is my preference to choose a seated position with a 90-degree back support, choosing to press the free weights (barbells/dumbbells). The free weights allow for a greater, more natural range of movement, but this is only my opinion. But these pressing actions also call upon ancillary (muscles that act as stabilisers to the movement). Which in turn help to pack on more mass in and around the shoulder area. Although this does not mean that I do not alternate between machines (Smith machine) as well as a standing position. This again helps shock the muscle by ‘tricking’ the front deltoids into new growth. Try 4-5 working sets progressing in weight, whilst reducing the amount of reps from 12 to 6. It is important for you to be reaching positive failure (where you can no longer lift the weight with perfect technique) on the last rep or two on each working set. This principle applies to all of these shoulder movements.

If done correctly you will find this quite energy taxing, as they are compound, multi-muscle movements requiring effort from the front deltoid, traps and triceps. On completion you then need to turn your attention to the medial head of the deltoid, or the side of the shoulder. Free weights in this instance are again in my opinion the best option, as the side laterals are the only exercise to directly stress this muscle. Again contemplate doing 4-5 working sets to positive failure. Attention to strict form is crucial in this exercise, as the success of the movement is almost entirely dependent on strict form. This means bringing the weights up from the hips with elbows slightly bent. This should be the focus of the exercise with no other movement from the rest of the body. To squeeze a little extra blood into the side deltoids it is a good idea to raise the weights whilst slightly rotating the hand so that the little finger is higher than the thumb. As this is best done with free weights with dumbbells it lends itself to the variety of intensity techniques that are available to you (see article on intensity). This can help shock the muscles into new areas of growth and development.

The final muscles to be stressed are the rear deltoids if this strategy of shoulder training is to be adopted. The most natural and effective exercise in this case is the bent over rear lateral flyes. This is a simple movement in the same mould of the side laterals, although done in a bent over fashion. Although an excellent alternative is the reverse cable crossovers. This is slightly more difficult so make sure an instructor is at hand to monitor your form. However when mastered is a real asset to your knowledge. As with the other parts of the shoulder a good 4 working sets should suffice.

Pay close attention to every set and rep and try to make them of the highest quality possible. This routine will saturate the entire shoulder girdle with a great deal of blood. The ‘pump’ that this will create if completed correctly will truly open your eyes and give you an invaluable reference for further deltoid training. On a final note I cannot stress the importance of eating and sleeping correctly if your potential is to be realised.

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