Training

The 8-Week Plan for Killer Delts

We break down the structure of your shoulders to help you get huge.

by
Flex Your Delts
Stuart Weiss / M+F Magazine

DELTOID ANATOMY

Here, we illustrate the function and position of each of the three deltoid heads. The front delt originates on the collarbone, the middle delt originates on the front side of the shoulder blade and the rear delt originates on the back side of the shoulder blade. Each head converges into one common tendon that attaches to the humerus (upper-arm bone), allowing the deltoid to move the arm in a variety of directions. This is the reason there are a wide variety of delt exercises that move in different directions.

ANTERIOR (front) DELTOID— PINK

  • FUNCTION
    • Flexes upper arm and shoulder. Seen in such moves as front raises.
  • EXERCISES
    • Seated alternating dumbbell front raises

    MIDDLE DELTOID—RED

    • FUNCTION
      • Abducts upper arm. Seen in such moves as lateral raises.
    • EXERCISES
      • Standing dumbbell lateral raises
      • Seated dumbbell lateral raises
      • Standing cable lateral raises
      • Seated barbell shoulder presses *
      • Standing barbell shoulder presses *
      • Seated dumbbell shoulder presses *
      • Smith machine behind-the-neck presses*

    * These exercises involve all three deltoid heads, with the greatest emphasis on the middle and front heads. 

    POSTERIOR (rear) DELTOID—BLUE

    • FUNCTION
      • Horizontal abduction of upper arm and shoulder, Seen in such moves as bent lateral raises
    • EXERCISES 
      • Incline rear-delt dumbbell lateral raises Incline cable rear-delt lateral raises

    This eight-week plan, crafted to prompt overall shoulder size and width, is broken down into two phases, with each one maximizing a specific aspect of muscle growth.

    In phase one, comprising weeks one through four, you’ll use very heavy weight, lower reps and high-intensity techniques—negative reps, forced reps, extended sets and drop sets. These will overload your muscles, maximizing the amount of damage they sustain. That is key—when a muscle is damaged due to resistance training, new muscle cells replace the damaged cells and grow bigger and stronger in an effort to prevent further damage from a similar stress in the future. However, the more experienced a lifter you are, the less muscle damage you sustain because your muscle fibers are stronger. That is why you will need to train very heavy and with high-intensity techniques during this phase. That way, you will fully overload your muscles and will ensure the greatest possible muscle damage and growth.

    During this phase, follow a five-day split, in which you train shoulders and all other major muscle groups except for abs just once per week. (See the “Phase One Split”.) Training delts just once a week will optimize muscle recovery from the brutally intense workouts, allowing time for new muscle cells to replace the old ones and proliferate.

    In phase one, train delts alone on their own day; for all other muscle groups, follow your typical training program. Limit the use of high-intensity training techniques for the other muscle groups, to focus your body’s efforts on maximizing delt muscle growth.

    The shoulder workout begins with two sets of seated barbell shoulder presses, which include negative/forced reps. To do this, select a weight you can press for six reps. After reaching failure, perform three more reps as follows: take a slow, five-second cadence to lower the weight from overhead to your upper chest, then have your partner help you lift the bar back to the start (with no more force than needed to help you press the weight back up). Repeat this two more times.

    Next, do two more sets of shoulder presses using a technique known as extended sets, which allow you to continue an exercise for more reps by switching to a better biomechanical position (as in going from seated to standing). Do one set of seated presses for six reps to just short of failure, supersetting that with standing barbell shoulder presses for as many reps as you can, using the same weight as for the seated presses. Standing shoulder presses are easier than seated because you can use your legs to help you explode the weight up as your delts fatigue. Do two sets total.

    Next up are seated and standing dumbbell lateral raises paired as an extended set. Choose a weight with which you can perform eight reps of seated laterals. Stop just before reaching failure, then immediately stand up and continue the set until failure, using a slight bounce in your legs and body to help you complete more reps. After reaching failure, perform two negative/forced reps as described in the pressing exercise. Finish three sets in this manner.

    You’ll complete this delt annihilation by focusing on the front and rear heads with seated alternating dumbbell front raises and incline-bench bent dumbbell lateral raises, respectively, for three sets each. Perform the first set of each exercise as a straight set, doing eight reps to failure. For the second set, reach failure, then reduce the weight by 20-30% and immediately crank out as many reps as possible. For the third and final set of each exercise, perform two drop sets after reaching failure by reducing the original weight by 20-30% and immediately performing as many reps as possible, then reducing the weight again by 20-30% and going to failure. That wraps up the workout.

    PHASE ONE SPLIT

    • Monday | Chest & Abs
    • Tuesday | Legs & Calves
    • Wednesday | Off
    • Thursday | Delts
    • Friday | Back & Traps
    • Saturday | Biceps, Triceps & Abs
    • Sunday | Off

    FLEX YOUR DELTS: PHASE ONE WORKOUT

    Perform this workout every Thursday for four weeks. Each week, you should attempt to increase all weights used on all exercises by 5 to 10 pounds.

    • Seated Barbell Presses | SETS: 2 | REPS: 6* | REST: 2-3 min
    • Seated Barbell Presses | SETS: 2 | REPS: 6† | REST: No Rest
      • superset with Standing Barbell Presses | SETS: 2 | REPS: Failure | REST: 2-3 min
    • Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8‡ | REST: No Rest
      • superset with Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: Failure | REST: 2 min
    • Seated Alternating Dumbbell Front Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8** | REST: 2 min
    • Incline-Bench Bent Dumbbell Lateral Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 8** | REST: 2 min

    * After the sixth rep, perform three negative/forced reps.
    † Use the same weight for both exercises.
    ‡ Use the same weight for both exercises; when you reach failure on the standing laterals, perform two negative/forced reps.
    ** On the second set, do one drop set; on the third set, do two drop sets.

    In phase two, comprising weeks five through eight, you will still follow a five-day split, but you’ll hit your delts in twice-weekly training sessions. One will be a light and short workout following chest; the other, heavier and more intense, will fall later in the week, after a full day of rest from the gym.

    In the first phase, we focused on muscle growth via muscle damage and regeneration of new muscle fibers. After four weeks of training this way, your muscle fibers will be resistant to further damage, so now we switch focus to training that will maximize growth by another mechanism—spurring an increase in activity of specific genes that prompt protein synthesis in muscle cells. Since muscle is made of protein, the more protein it builds, or synthesizes, the bigger the muscle gets. Promoting gene activity by training your delts every three or four days keeps protein synthesis at higher levels.

    The first delt workout of the week is scheduled for Monday, following chest. It’s comprised of cable exercises. The cables’ line of pull allows you to keep constant tension on the deltoid muscle throughout the entire range of motion, helping target more muscle fibers within the delts.

    The workout starts with two-arm standing cable lateral raises to hit the middle delts, and finishes with incline-bench bent cable lateral raises for the rear delts. There is no specific front delt work in this workout due to the fact that it follows chest training, which significantly involves the front delts. For each exercise, do four sets, resting one minute between sets. For the first set, choose a weight with which you can get 20 reps; for the second set, increase the weight so you’re done at 15 reps; increase the weight again and do 12 reps for set three; and finish with one final increase to max out at 10 reps. Depending on how fatigued you get and how fast your muscles can recover in just one minute, you may find that you don’t need to increase the weights to hit those lower rep ranges in each successive set; fatigue alone may prevent you from being able to do more than the target number of reps.

    The second workout of the week is slated for Friday, following a full day of rest on Thursday—this will ensure that your energy levels and mindset are up for the intensity required. The session consists of pre-exhaust superset training, which involves performing one set of an isolation exercise, such as dumbbell lateral raises, followed immediately by one set of a multijoint exercise, such as seated dumbbell shoulder presses. This technique fatigues the targeted muscle, in this case the middle delt head, so that during the multijoint exercise the targeted muscle becomes the weak link. This ensures that you fail on the multijoint exercise when the targeted muscle fails, and not the assistance muscle (in this case the triceps).

    Superset seated dumbbell lateral raises with seated dumbbell shoulder presses; then do standing dumbbell lateral raises with Smith machine behind-the-neck presses; and finish with seated alternating dumbbell front raises and incline-bench bent dumbbell lateral raises for a well- rounded (pun intended) delt routine that targets all three heads.

    PHASE TWO SPLIT

    • Monday | Chest & Delts (light)
    • Tuesday | Back, Traps & Abs
    • Wednesday | Legs & Calves
    • Thursday | Off
    • Friday | Delts (heavy)
    • Saturday | Biceps & Triceps
    • Sunday | Off

    FLEX YOUR DELTS PHASE TWO TRAINING

    WORKOUT 1 (MONDAY)

    • Standing Cable Lateral Raise (both arms) | SETS: 4 | REPS: 20, 15, 12, 10 | REST: 1 min
    • Incline-Bench Bent Cable Lateral Raises | SETS: 4 | REPS: 20, 15, 12, 10 | REST: 1 min

    WORKOUT 2 (FRIDAY)

    • Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 12 | REST: No Rest
      • superset with Seated Dumbbell Presses | SETS: 2 | REPS: 10 | REST: 2 min
    • Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises | SETS: 2 | REPS: 12 | REST: No Rest
      • superset with Smith Machine Behind-the-Neck Presses | SETS: 2 | REPS: 10 | REST: 2 min
    • Seated Alternating Dumbbell Front Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10, 12, 15 | REST: 1 min
    • Incline-Bench Bent Dumbbell Lateral Raises | SETS: 3 | REPS: 10, 12, 15 | REST: 1 min

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