Ask most gym goers, “what is the best exercise to build up your shoulders” and the answer will usually include some kind of overhead press whether it be with a barbell, dumbbell, strict or explosive.
The overhead press is an essential exercise and should be a mainstay in your program in different forms, however if you have lagging shoulders or you desire deltoids that really stand apart from the rest there is much more that can be done.
In this article we will focus on the anterior (front), posterior (rear), and medial (side) deltoid heads for simplicity purposes.
The head that is predominantly trained and generally overtrained is the anterior deltoid. If you include bench pressing, incline pressing or dips regularly in your programming your anterior delts should be nicely developed and won’t require any direct work so ditch the front raises and instead focus on the lateral and posterior aspect of the delts.
As the deltoids are smaller muscles they respond well to frequent training, variety and metabolic stress.
Frequent training means we will be hitting the delts once every five days using three different routines and rotating between them.
Training with variety means we want to incorporate a large number of different exercises, with different implements, rep ranges, tempo’s and rest periods.
Metabolic stress refers to the build up of metabolites like lactic acid which leads to the burning sensation you feel during exercises. As Larry Scott says "If you really want ‘cannonball’ delts, you have to work them until you feel they’re falling off the shoulder girdle”. Larry Scott won the 1965 Mr Olympia and became known for his impressive deltoids although he was quite narrow shouldered but won due to the endless amount of hard work he put into his shoulders.
Below are three different routines, all hitting different aspects of the deltoids predominantly focusing on the medial and posterior heads of the delts. Perform one routine every five to seven days, all three routines will take between 15 and 21 days and perform each routine 6 times in total.
Routine No. 1
Tri-sets - Posterior Deltoids
In routine No. 1 Tri-sets are used to hit the posterior deltoids, stick to tempos, rest periods and use strict form assuring to initiate movements by contracting the delts.
A1: Standing Cable rear felt fly, w/ 2 sec hold
6 to 8 reps @ 20X2 tempo, 10 seconds rest
A2: Bent over Cable rear delt fly
8 to 10 reps @ 20X1 tempo, 10 seconds rest
A3: Seated Rope Face Pull, strict form
10 to 12 reps @ 3010 tempo, 120 seconds rest
Repeat 4 times total
Routine No. 2
Tri- Sets - Medial Deltoids
A1: Lean Away Single Arm DB Lateral Raise
6 to 8 reps @ 3011 tempo, 10 seconds rest
A2: Standing single arm cable lateral raise, low pulley, cable behind legs
6 to 8 reps, @ 3010 tempo, 10 seconds rest
A3: Single Arm Standing DB Lateral Raise, flexion to extension
6 to 8 reps, @ 3010 tempos, 30 seconds rest before completing on other arm
(The elbow is bent at 90 degrees, when you reach the top of the concentric range, extend the elbow lengthening the resistance arm and increasing the load for the eccentric portion)
Perform 4 circuits on each arm
Routine No. 3
Drop sets with Heavy Partials for the Posterior Delts
Use a rear delt fly machine or cable machine for this routine, if have neither use bent over DB Fly's with your head resting on an incline bench to avoid cheating.
Pick a weight you can do for 6 to 8 reps, lift to failure,
lighten the load by 20% and go for another 6 to 8 reps,
lighten by another 20% and perform another 6 to 8 reps.
Now finally, increase the weight to 20% higher than the original weight,
perform 4 to 6 partial reps, stopping for a 2 second pause @ the top of the partial.
It might look something like this
8 reps of rear delt machine flyes at 50kg
7 reps of rear delt machine flyes at 40kg
7 reps of read delt machine flyes at 30kg
4 partial reps of rear delt machine flyes at 60kg with 2 second holds
Take a two minute break and repeat this 4 times total.
Building Big shoulders will come by focusing on the medial and posterior aspects of the shoulder. Use these three routines rotating between them every 5 to 7 days, for the next 12 weeks. Ensure to focus on feeling the deltoids work, making sure to initiate all exercises by contracting the correct muscles and you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Go build yourself some Cannonball delts!