Honor our legends. John Brown, Shawn Ray, Dorian Yates, Chris Cormier and Ronnie Coleman are merely a handful of hall-of-fame-caliber athletes who, either personally or by example, taught me how to build my current physique. When I first arrived at Gold’s Gym, Venice, in 1995 from Riverside, California, and saw those guys, I was stupefied. I couldn’t help but be a tagalong. I hung on their every word and followed their every move. When they groaned, pumped and failed, I felt the burn as painfully as they did, until their every twitch became second nature to me.

What I noticed when they worked shoulders was that they powered each rep upward hard and fast — with free weights, no less. It was man against gravity, not man against levers and gears, and they fiercely fought the negative of the movement. The set ended only when the weight no longer moved, yet their deltoid muscles were still bulging and jumping like fire hoses ready to blow, refusing to quit. Failure was not abstract; it was absolute.

Those guys taught me that the shoulder complex needs three types of movements: movements by the arms to separately contract the three (anterior, medial and posterior) deltoid heads; vertical presses that require the stabilization of overhead free weights, to spread muscle-building stress over the shoulder girdle; and shrugs, to build the traps into a volcano of muscle that erupts out of the shoulder beam and forces the deltoids even wider. When I train, my repertoire of exercises isn’t that extensive, but I use a different workout each time, so I can pump my shoulders from every angle. Sometimes, the exercises change; other times, it’s the order. In either case, I apply what I learned from the legends: I power it up and fight the negative for all it’s worth.

To some, my power stroke may seem like cheating — it’s so explosive that it appears to be loose — but it’s just the opposite. I’m squeezing that bar with all my might, and because I never permit a pause or relaxation at any point in the set, I’m rock-solid steady throughout the movement. Here are sample shoulders and traps workouts from my arsenal.

PRESSES | I alternate seated dumbbell presses and barbell military presses in successive workouts. Both are indispensable basics for thickening the shoulders and widening the front-to-back measurement, from clavicles to scapulas.

Dumbbells allow me more freedom to involve the deltoid caps. By arcing the movement, I can put more mass onto the top of my delt caps than I can with the lifting motion of dumbbell lateral raises. I’m pressing with more upper-body muscles; whereas, for lateral raises, I’m lifting with only my deltoid heads. Presses don’t isolate as much, but they pump larger areas of my shoulder girdle.

Problematic with any pressing exercise is the temptation to relax the movement at the bottom before the upward push. To avoid this, I maintain continuous tension by lowering the dumbbells only to about earlobe level and the barbell to about chin level, slowing the pace as I go, tightening it, then “looping” smoothly into the press and exploding hard once it’s on the way.

REAR DELT RAISES | If I started my workout with presses, I’ve already pumped my medial and anterior delt heads, so before I deplete any more energy on those, I want to give the rear heads a good thrashing. For incline rear-delt dumbbell lateral raises, I guard against letting my arms drop down to rest. I resist the negative, stopping the movement before bottom-dead-center, while the stress is still on.

For the lift, I push outward and upward, so my lateral and rear delt heads do more of the lifting than my traps and lats. The dumbbells are kept level, with even a pronation bias, if possible, to build a cramping squeeze in my rear delt heads. The more range of motion I can get for these — i.e., the higher the lift — the fuller the pump. Heavy loose reps don’t work here; rear delts have to be squeezed and compressed.

SEATED LATERALS | I really pound the medial heads with two different dumbbell lateral raise movements in alternating workouts: seated with straight sets and up-the-rack pyramided sets. The seated position permits a stricter movement, but because my body is stabilized, I can still apply a lot of power. Again, I keep the dumbbells level, perhaps even slightly pronated (so the back ’bells are somewhat higher), and raise them as far out to the side and as high as possible, squeezing the contraction at the top and fighting the descent. I also stop the movement before the bottom, maintaining continuous tension.

This year, Ronnie Coleman made me add his up-the-rack dumbbell laterals and they’ve substantially increased the size and hardness of my deltoids. These are performed nonstop through four rapid pyramided sets of 25 reps, 15, 12, then eight reps, after which I take a 45-second to a minute rest, and then repeat. I go through each of these four-set sequences four times for a total of 16 sets.

SHRUGS | The trapezius is a vast inverted pyramid of muscle, but it needs to be worked from two different directions. Front barbell shrugs pull the entire trapezius complex upward and forward, thickening it all the way from its widest border near the rear delts to its lowest insertion in the center of the back. For dumbbell shrugs, the movement is straight up and down, which puts a nice peak on the top of my traps. As usual, the shrug is explosive, the negative is resisted hard and continuous tension is maintained throughout the set — I never relax at the bottom of the rep.


Seated dumbbell or barbell presses 4-5 8-12
Incline rear-delt dumbbell lateral raises 4-5 8-12
Seated dumbbell lateral raises 4-5 8-12
or up-the-rack dumbbell lateral raises 4 25-8
Front dumbbell raises 4-5 8-12
Barbell shrugs 4 8-12
Dumbbell shrugs 4 8-12