Shoulders are like bass guitarists, offensive linemen or lettuce in a BLT. They’re an integral part of the mix, but they rarely outshine their teammates. It’s hard to name a bodybuilder with great delts who doesn’t also have a terrific chest, back or arms (or all of those). Shoulders tend to grow in conjunction with other upper bodyparts, partly because front delts get worked with chest, rear delts get stressed with back workouts, and all three delt heads may flex during arm exercises, such as triceps pushdowns.

For easygainers, the fact that shoulders tend to tag along with the expansion team means this area is seldom a glaring weak spot. For hardgainers, there are two unfortunate scenarios: Either the delts and traps grow as slowly as other upper-body areas or they grow even slower, sapped of their strength reserves by chest and back exercises and overtrained. The HUGE program is designed to make sure all your muscles get the right amount of work and rest. We have a two-pronged approach for deltoids.

  • Guard against overworking delts when training other muscles.
  • Focus on the targeted area – the delts – during each rep of every set.

The HUGE program groups the pushing muscles (chest, front and side deltoids, triceps) together on one day and the pulling muscles (back, rear deltoids, biceps, forearms) together on a separate day primarily to give the shoulders and surrounding joints ample time to recover. For example, if you were to train chest on Tuesday and shoulders on Friday, your powerful front delts (stressed by chest work on Tuesday) would still not be fully recovered by Friday for your delt work, and your poundages would suffer. It’s much better to train chest and shoulders on the same day and then allow the front delts a longer time to recover before the next chest and delt workout. The HUGE program allows a full six days between such workouts. (Traps are arguably a better fit on the “pull” day, but they’re part of our “push” day to better distribute the workloads between upper-body days. If you believe your traps are overstressed, try shifting exercises for them to the pull day after deadlifts.)

In addition to avoiding double delt taxation in your schedule, the other key to a proper workload is de-emphasizing your front delts during chest presses. As in the HUGE chest routine (see May 2003 issue), you should focus the stress of chest presses and dips in your pecs and away from your delts (and triceps). When pressing, always tense your inner lower traps and keep your shoulders pulled back. Our pec routine begins with four sets of incline presses. If your front delts assist too much during those four sets or the rest of the chest exercises, they’ll be overworked by the time you’ve completed the seated military presses in the shoulder routine.

Finally, because the three deltoid heads are relatively small and because they so often work in conjunction with the much larger pectorals, trapezius and latissimus dorsi, to isolate them, you need to maintain impeccable form throughout each rep. The natural tendency is to let the bigger “teammates” take up some of the work or find a groove that makes lifting the weight a little easier. Resist both temptations. Even slightly sloppy technique or minor cheating can rob virtually all of the stress from your deltoids (and increase the odds of injury). The HUGE program prescribes training every muscle with proper form, but this is crucial for delts.

Here’s a quick guide to the four exercises constituting the HUGE shoulder routine.

Front barbell raises
These work your front deltoid heads. Use a grip slightly narrower than shoulder width and, with arms straight, raise the bar to a position just a few inches higher than your head. Lifting the bar farther both lessens the stress on your front delts and increases the odds of a shoulder-joint injury.

Seated military presses
This exercise also stresses your front deltoid heads. Perform these seated, preferably with the seatback at an 80- to 85-degree angle. The key to shoulder presses is to bring your elbows slightly back during the descent. (An angled seat will make this positioning easier.) Never let your elbows come forward farther than your hands; doing so would risk rolling your shoulders into an injury-prone position. Stop the bar three inches above your sternum during the descent and three inches short of lockout at the top to de-emphasize your upper chest and triceps, thus keeping the stress on the delts.

Side laterals
This exercise works your lateral deltoid heads. Use dumbbells that allow you to maintain strict form. Remember that cheating can rob virtually all of the stress from your lateral delts – go too heavy on side laterals and you’re merely doing a version of the “funky chicken.” Don’t raise the dumbbells above shoulder level. Rotate your thumbs down as you approach the highest point.

This exercise focuses on your traps. Shrugs can be performed with a barbell or a machine for variety, but dumbbells allow for the freest range of motion. Don’t make this short lift any shorter; raise your shoulders as high as possible, and hold the contraction for one second.


  • Don’t assume the chest workout has warmed up your shoulders. Perform a warm-up set (15-20 reps) before each of the four shoulder exercises.
  • Maintain proper form throughout every rep to isolate your delt heads and guard against injury.
  • If possible, follow your movements in a mirror when training shoulders to ensure that your form is correct.

    A Smith machine is especially effective for shoulder presses, because it locks the bar into a safer straight-up-and-down position. On occasion, you may want to do Smith machine military presses instead of the barbell variety.

    Compound lifts, which directly work more than one bodypart together, are excellent for gaining mass, strength and coordination. Their drawback is that nontargeted muscles may stop your set before the targeted muscles are finished. For example, military presses primarily work front deltoids and triceps. Weak or tiring triceps can give out before you’ve fully taxed your front delts.

    The Weider Pre-Exhaustion Training Principle is the solution. This technique lets you focus on a specific body part during a compound lift by tiring it first with an isolation lift. For example, by doing front raises (an isolation lift) initially in the HUGE shoulder routine, you’ll tax your front delts. Then, when performing military presses (a compound lift), it’s easier to apply the stress to your shoulders and more likely they’ll give out before your triceps. Pre-exhaustion does rob some strength from compound classics, but it makes up for that by allowing you to zero in only on the targeted muscle(s).

    This routine won’t grow shoulders that outshine your chest, back and arms. What it will do, in conjunction with the rest of the HUGE program, is improve your shoulders at the same maximized rate as the rest of your muscles. Your deltoids and trapezius muscles are the ultimate team players, and if trained strictly with the proper volume, they can be integral to turning a struggling squad of body parts into a unified contender.