Shoulder Exercises

The Ultimate Shoulder Workout for the Advanced Lifter

Beginners need not apply for this hardcore shoulder routine that requires some heavy lifting.

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Shoulder Raise from Back - Black and White
Getty / Georgijevic

Broad, well-developed shoulders are the indisputable piece of anatomy that adds more to a physique than any other body part. The benefits go beyond cosmetic—both the cage fighter and the recreational YMCA basketball player gain an edge from having strong, developed deltoids.

Muscle & Fitness has great articles for the newbie and intermediate lifter on building shoulders, and this is where you need to get started—so, if you have less than two years of lifting experience, hit the archives for some great shoulder workouts for beginners.

Progressively overloading overhead presses builds your base, but after this necessary base is built the buck stops and some new extreme growth strategies are needed to build world-class shoulders that scare men and seduce women.

This series is dedicated to the advanced lifter who knows his way around the gym and is not afraid of high volume and heavy pig iron. Because of the importance of shoulders in your physique and functionality, we chose to kick off here.

If you have the will, we will show you the way. This is going to require some testicular fortitude because we are doing holistic training, i.e. a variety of rep ranges, tempos, and weight ranges at many different angles. 


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The workout

Because of all the pressing and the emphasis on what you see on the front side, the rear delts have taken a back seat in prioritization, and, consequently, development. Rear delts need to be directly trained; rows and pullups only won’t sufficiently build championship rear delts.

For these reasons, rear delts have the most to be gained as we strive for added size and structural balance. That’s why we will take an audible directly from Muscle & Fitness founder Joe Weider’s playbook, “Muscle Priority Training,” i.e. do what’s most important first. 

You are going to do the following giant set three times, moving exercise to exercise as quickly as possible. Once all three exercises are complete rest a minimum of three minutes and a maximum of four minutes.

Giant set 1

Exercise / Reps / Intensity

*Partial reverse flye / 30 / Maximum

**Bent over lateral raise / 6 / Maximum

***Reverse pec deck / 12 / Maximum

Notes

*Face down on an incline, the dumbbells should only move 6-8 inches, and let momentum aid you, have a 10°-15° elbow bend, intentionally focus on feeling rear delts work.

**Support forehead on top of an incline bench, so the movement remains a super strict isolation one. Use a neutral grip and hold the contracted position for one second.

***The reverse pec deck removes any stability requirements, finish off with 12 reps and hold each rep in the contracted position.

Check out the video below to see how it's done. 

The lateral deltoids (side delts) aesthetically are responsible for that 3-D look that separates advanced lifters from newbies, or from those working the day shift verses the night shift at the local male review.

The following giant set has the same execution strategy as for rear delts but it is done in a style called tri-contraction exhaustion, meaning we will exhaust the muscle eccentrically, isometrically, and concentrically—in that order.

Eccentrics are done first because they are underutilized, allowing us to go the heaviest and offer the most potential for growth.  Isometrics are next; hardly any advanced lifters utilize these contractions, regardless of the fact that they are proven to add size and strength, then we finish off concentrically.

Most bodybuilders never exhaust anything beyond concentric contractions so you will have a leg up, or maybe more fitting, be head and shoulders above the competition. 

Giant set 2

Exercise / Reps / Intensity

*Partner-resisted lateral raise / 5 / Maximum

**Crucifix hold / 30 Seconds / Maximum

***Sled drag /90 Seconds / Maximum

Notes

*These can be done seated or standing one arm at a time, have a partner resist the eccentric for a steady tempo of 5 seconds with the maximum amount you can handle.

**Hold the dumbbells statically for 30 seconds with your palms down, arms extended to the side and parallel to the floor.

***Focus on using your side delts, sacrificing technique to use weight will not cut it—if you are not feeling it in the right spot—use less—go 90 seconds straight focusing on quality reps not quantity.

See the moves performed in video below.

Finishing off

Without pressing the issue, no shoulder program would be complete without some overhead presses. We are going to do them differently; some say full range of motion will bring full development, others say do not lock the weight out and use continuous tension. Both have merits. That is why we will combine the two and finish off with three sets of ½, ½, full overhead presses.

This simply means do a seated dumbbell overhead press by performing the bottom half of a rep, then do a second bottom half of a rep, then on the third movement lock the weight out.  This sequence is one rep, do five reps for three sets as heavy as possible, resting two to three minutes between sets. 

Final thoughts

The horse has now been led to water, so it’s time to drink. You now have the keys to unlock shoulder development that will cause the admiration of men and women to go wild.

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