In the world of bodybuilding proportions are everything.
And it’s often said that complete deltoid development is what completes a physique.
In fact, back in the 50s and 60s before bench pressing really took off, shoulder training was a priority.
Physique training was all about width, proportions and aesthetics as people trained intelligently to develop that coveted taper to their body.
If you have a decent training pedigree, you should be well aware that each body part is unique in its loading parameters, exercise selections, and general training considerations.
Shoulder training very much depends on your individual genetic structure, and if you aren’t blessed with a pair of long, wide clavicles, you need to take a more intricate approach designing your programs.
For the genetically-blessed trainee, anything will work no matter how you train them. Listening to these people can be a mistake, especially if you’re not blessed with good shoulder development.
For many, lifting heavy weights overhead in a muscle-building rep range of six to 10 reps is the go-to prescription. To develop a strong base, this works well.
But what if your structure doesn’t allow this? Heavy pressing overhead on a regular basis can upset a lot of people’s shoulders. Today’s society of poor posture, compromised joint health, and terrible form means many need to rethink how they train their shoulders.
So, here we will be interviewing UP Senior Personal Trainer Nick Daniel, who’s had to work hard to overcome his own genetic limitations to build his shoulders to where they are now…
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What are the three main programming considerations you’ve taken into account when building your shoulders?
The main three considerations I’ve taken into account are:
1. Volume. The best way I’ve found to build mine is through very high volume.
2. Lots of angles. With all the different heads of the shoulder (EMG suggests there could be up to seven different heads), you have to hit all angles with sufficient volume. The only exception would be the anterior deltoids, which with all the other pressing you’re doing, require lower volumes.
3. Due to my own lack of joint range of motion in the shoulders, I include very little direct overhead work for myself. Occasionally, I will use partial overhead movements, but these are periodised in and out of my program. By limiting it to partial pressing, it keeps my shoulders healthy and pain-free, plus keeps the emphasis on the muscles I want. If I do press with a full range, it will be at a slight angle.
The old bodybuilding mantra of ‘hitting the muscle from all angles’ may be on the money when it comes to deltoid development.
You only need to take a look at the shoulder joint and examine all the angles and movement planes you can move it through to understand this. The list is vast, and so a variety of angles, volumes and ranges all make sense if you want to maximally stimulate the shoulders.
What are the three biggest mistakes you’ve made in building a bigger set of shoulders?
The mistakes I’ve made are all through a lack of knowledge. More specifically:
1. Overhead pressing and shoulder range of motion
After about 90 degrees your deltoids are mainly working isometrically as the scapulae are what move to allow the humerus to move above the head.
If you are trying to hit the deltoid muscles, going to 90 degrees is as far as you need, as then the triceps and upper traps are the prime movers.
This is why the overhead press is a great overall upper body builder, but for more advanced guys aiming for specific deltoid development, it may not be needed.
Also, if you have poor range of motion in the glenohumeral joint, you will have poor recruitment of the deltoids through the movement and overdevelopment in the trapezius muscles. This can potentially cause shoulder damage and an unbalanced physique.
2. Isolating the different muscles
To really build the specific deltoid heads you need to learn how to isolate. With the shoulder it’s more complicated, as the range of motion, angle of your body, position of your humerus and scapula all determine what head you hit.
This is why deltoid training can be very individual and everyone should learn their own anatomy and structures in order to maximise recruitment.
3. Not training my rear delts
The rear delts are a forgotten muscle, but without them it becomes difficult to attain a capped look to your shoulders.
Often a misunderstanding of the anatomy means people who are doing exercises such as rear delt flies are in fact training their scapulae adductors (especially the rhomboids).
Like any body part, what’s weakest should be trained first. Simply tacking on a few rear delt flies at the end of your workout won’t cut it.
For most people, they are leaving a lot on the table with their rear delt development, and so it needs to be a priority.”
Ensure that you stretch in order to increase mobility, watch the demonstration for the anterior and posterior banded shoulder stretch.
What is your favourite shoulder exercise and why?
This is a tough one, and in my opinion, it’s tough to beat a properly executed standing dumbbell side lateral raise.
When doing this I come up to just under 90 degrees and return to about half a foot away from my leg. I do this with a controlled 3010 tempo with my thumb/dumbbell in a slight downward position. This will keep continuous tension on my lateral deltoids.
To further this point, many of you will have heard of the ‘pouring a water from a pitcher’ analogy when performing laterals. What’s vital here is that it’s not just your wrists turning down. You need to internally rotate at the humerus, as well as keeping the little finger higher in order to achieve maximal recruitment of both lateral and posterior deltoids.
Why not try this workout to increase muscle strength.
What is the number one ‘secret’ tip you could give that we could implement straight away into our next shoulder workout?
Lots and lots of rear delt work. Look at a good set of capped delts against an average set; the difference is more often than not in the rear delt development.
The shape of my shoulders came on leaps and bounds when mine started to grow. Start your next workout with rear delts!
Great, so how can we implement all this in a workout?
For delts, I love giant sets. Using multiple angles with lots of time under tension works great for shoulder health and hypertrophy.
Really focus on the different positions of your body, along with the various contractions and pump it brings.
I’ve written a sample giant set workout, with varying levels of difficulty:
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Training for complete shoulder development is very much a blend of creativity, intelligence and pain tolerance. When the cards haven’t been dealt in your favour, you need to think about how you can manipulate your own structure and tailor your training to maximise progress.
Have a go with some of the strategies in these articles if you haven’t already, and as always, let us know how you get on!