But the delts are often poorly trained. Sloppy form is commonplace, leading to poor development and injury.
The mind-muscle connection is the key to building great shoulders; check your ego at the door and learn to effectively concentrate your efforts on the stubborn deltoid muscles.
Most of us don’t have huge, hulking chunks of prime muscle stacked on our shoulders, like Markus Ruhl in the picture. For most of us, the delts are a relatively small muscle group easily overtrained. Focusing your training is the key. It can be hard to obtain that elusive and satisfying pump telling you it’s game over, unless you effectively communicate with your muscles. Let’s take a look at this mind-muscle connection.
The great leader, Daisaku Ikeda once wrote:
“When our determination changes, everything will begin to move in the direction we desire. The moment we resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in our being will immediately orient itself toward our success. On the other hand, if we think, ‘This is never going to work out,’ then at that instant, every cell in our being will be deflated and give up the fight.”
You must focus every fiber of your physical and mental being on your lifting to achieve optimal results. It is key to understand the way your deltoids work and contract to train them to their full potential. How do you do this? You have to feel them.
Now for some shoulder anatomy. The deltoids are composed of three distinct muscles sitting next to each other, running vertically. The anterior or frontal deltoids sit, unsurprisingly, at the front of the shoulders, alongside the pecs. They pull the arm up and forwards. The medial or lateral deltoids form the bulk of the delts and create width. The lateral delts raise the arms directly to the side. The posterior or rear delts sit at the back of the shoulders, just above the triceps. They pull the arms backwards.
The diagram shows just how small the front and rear delt heads are. They are easily overtrained, as they play massive roles in other heavy lifting days. The frontal delts are worked during bench pressing, and the rear delts are heavily employed during back training. All of us have felt this, but some much more than others. If you are one of those people who feels severely bruised front and rear delts after chest and back day, consider breaking up your shoulder training. Instead of training all three heads on the same day, train rear delts at the end of back day, and front delts after chest training. That way you avoid effectively training these small muscles twice as often as other muscle groups, allowing them adequate time to recover and grow.
Taking Sheer Strength Labs Sheer Recovery Post-Workout Supplement helps your muscles kickstart their recovery by feeding them everything they need to begin protein synthesis.
As with all other body parts, the best exercises for packing on mass are big, compound lifts. For delts, this is the mighty shoulder press. For many years, the barbell was king here. Pressing behind the neck was commonplace, but now we know that leads to shoulder injuries for a lot of people. The front or military press has taken over as the best barbell exercise for shoulders.
To perform an effective military press begin with a natural feeling grip, just wider than shoulder width. Now, keep your shoulders back, your chest puffed out, and your shoulder girdle steady, press the bar above your head, keeping your elbows back to ensure proper engagement of the lateral deltoids. Feel the squeeze at the top of the movement. A common mistake people make is lowering the bar farther than necessary. You only need to lower the bar until the delts are fully stretched. This should be somewhere around chin level. Going lower only forces the shoulder girdle to move, taking effort away from the delts, and opening the shoulders and elbows up to injury.
The best pressing exercise for building boulder shoulders is the dumbbell press. This excellent lift allows you to hit the delts with heavy weights, while working them through a more effective and natural range of motion. It is also more effective at targeting the lateral heads, due to its natural arc. As with barbell presses, keep your shoulders and elbows back. Feel the squeeze at the top, and lower slowly, feeling the muscle stretch. Performing shoulder presses seated is a great way to eliminate cheating and momentum, as well as supporting the lower back.
The lateral raise is a highly under-rated shoulder builder. But it’s one of the most sloppily performed exercises in the gym. How many people do you see simply jerking weights into the air that are far too heavy, with their arms bent to 90 degrees? Most people use dumbbells that are up to twice as heavy as they need to perform this exercise properly.
Here’s how to get it right:
Begin by grabbing light dumbbells to warm up. Grab what you can comfortably do 20 reps without straining. Stand looking into the mirror with the dumbbells by your side. Slightly bend your arms and pull your shoulders down and back. Now, raise the weights slowly, feeling the lateral delts contracting. Don’t let your traps do the work, keep your shoulder girdle still. As you lift, slightly twist your hands, tilting the weights forwards as if you’re holding bottles, and you’re trying to pour water from them. Once your arms are parallel with the floor, you have reached the top of the movement. Squeeze for half to one second before slowly lowering the dumbbells back to your side. Feel the delts stretch and work. To eliminate momentum, perform laterals seated. One great variation is cable lateral raises. These keep constant tension on the muscle for a more thorough workout.
If you struggle to hit your lateral delts when performing pressing exercises, you should use lateral raises to pre-exhaust the lateral head.
Bent laterals are the best exercises for targeting the posterior deltoids. They should be performed in the same way as standard laterals, slowly and with a squeeze at the top.
The front raise (pictured) is an excellent way to exhaust your anterior deltoids. You should lift the weight up and towards your centerline to fully contract the target muscle.
Upright rows are also a great exercise for working the front and lateral heads. They lie somewhere between a shoulder press and a lateral raise in terms of intensity. Like all other shoulder exercises, perform them strictly, without shifting the work onto the traps.
There are many other fancy shoulder exercises that quite frankly put you at risk of injury. Sticking to the exercises mentioned above and their variations is the best way to build boulder shoulders. Delts respond extremely well to high-intensity techniques, such as drop sets, which can help you achieve that elusive pump.
Mix up your shoulder training to keep the delts guessing. Don’t always start with pressing exercises. Try pre-exhausting from time to time, or begin with upright rows. Do dumbbell presses one week, and barbell press the next.
Remember the mind-muscle connection is key to effective training and building boulder shoulders. Concentrate your efforts on the target muscles and don’t be tempted to use excessive weight. Taking Sheer Strength Labs Sheer NO2 Nitric Oxide Booster helps you train to skin splitting pumps.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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