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Photos by Ian Spanier
With so much attention paid to the “showtime” body parts like chest, arms, and abs, the deltoids often get lost in the shuffle. But if there’s one bodybuilder whose shoulders never get lost in the mix, it’s Steve Kuclo.
Known as the King Snake, Kuclo’s shoulders give him the classic American Hero image, and it’s not just for show: He’s a former firefighter and EMT. “Delts are a genetically gifted body part for me,” the Dallas resident says. “I’m wider than the average guy because of it, and it gives me a wider X-frame, so I’m fortunate in that regard.”
The deltoids are a group of three muscles (front, middle, and rear) that can be brought up with hard training and a little persistence. And we’re talking about doing not just more, and heavier, overhead presses to build size. According to Kuclo, raises can be just as effective at creating greater width, even though you’ll be training with much lighter weights compared with presses.
“I always tell people to do more lateral and rear delt raises, particularly the latter,” Kuclo says. “People often neglect the rear delts, but that’s a muscle that will really help create more width from a front-to-back perspective—like with side chest and side triceps poses. Even looking straight on, like with a front lat spread, good rear delts will help bring out more width.”
In the gym, Kuclo practices what he preaches, evidenced by the shoulder workout described on these pages. As you’ll see, much attention is paid to side and rear delt raises, including a brutal reverse pyramid drop set for standing laterals. Give it a try to bring up a weak pair of shoulders—or even to make a strong set of delts even stronger, as Kuclo does.
“Having a monster set of delts gives you that crazy wide visual that can take you over the top,” he says, obviously speaking from personal experience. “If you have width, you’ll look 20 pounds bigger in the same weight class.”
SEATED DUMBBELL SHOULDER PRESS
KUCLO’S COMMENTARY “I don’t go to full extension at the top of the rep—I’m not locking out the elbows, and I’m not clanging the weights together. By stopping a little bit short, like you see in the photo here, I’m keeping constant tension on the delts. Another thing I do on these is I arch my back a bit and press from there. On shoulder day [Friday], I do only one pressing exercise—either a dumbbell or barbell seated overhead press.”
STANDING DUMBBELL LATERAL RAISE
KUCLO’S COMMENTARY “I always try to lead with my elbows on laterals to remove the traps from the exercise as much as possible. Also, do your best not to swing the weight up; don’t use momentum. To keep tension on the delts, sometimes I’ll stop a little short at the bottom, where the dumbbells are a foot away or so from my legs—I typically do this with the lightest weight on the final dropset [20 reps]. When your arms are hanging straight down toward the floor with dumbbells, the tension is pretty much off the delts at that point. If you’re doing laterals with a cable, you wouldn’t have to worry about that, but with dumbbells it comes into play.”
SEATED DUMBBELL 45-DEGREE LATERAL RAISE
KUCLO’S COMMENTARY “I use a neutral, thumbs-up grip on this exercise, and I lift my arms up at around a 45-degree angle with my torso—so it’s sort of a cross between a standard lateral raise and a front raise. I don’t like to do much front delt work, since I’m already hitting that area with chest presses and shoulder presses, so this is about all the isolation I give it. If I do too much front delt work, I’m afraid it will overtake my chest. In a physique- based sport, you always have to be thinking about proportion. “Don’t go too heavy on this exercise. You should be using a little more than half of what you’d use for standing lateral raises. A lot of people go too heavy and don’t feel it enough.”
SEATED DUMBBELL REAR DELT RAISE
KUCLO’S COMMENTARY “I always try to keep my traps out of this exercise. To do this, reach out to the sides as you lift the weights up— reach out instead of back. I feel like this technique gets those rear delts to fire better. Another key for making sure the rear delts are working is turning the palms so they face behind you, not down toward the floor. When the palms are down, you tend to turn it into more of a rowing movement where you’re pulling with the elbows; this ends up hitting more of the upper back and upper traps than the rear delts. The key to this exercise is finding that sweet spot where the rear delts are taking on the brunt of the work, so try different paths of motion to find what targets that area best.”
HAVING A MONSTER SET OF DELTS GIVES YOU THAT CRAZY WIDE VISUAL THAT CAN TAKE YOU OVER THE TOP. IF YOU HAVE WIDTH, YOU’LL LOOK 20 POUNDS BIGGER IN THE SAME WEIGHT CLASS.”
NOTES: “In the off-season, I may take one more rest day per week,” Kuclo says. “But [pre-contest] I train six days a week. I’ve backed o training calves, since it’s a strong body part for me,” he says. “I train calves maybe every two weeks, usually after shoulders [in the Friday workout].”
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DEVELOP ALL THREE HEADS OF THE DELTOIDS TO LOOK IMPRESSIVE FROM EVERY ANGLE.
SHOULDER TRAINING SPLIT
*Increasing weight on each set (pyramid).
**Kuclo does a “reverse dropset” on each of the three sets, where the weight is decreased and the reps increase on each drop. One set = 50 lb. dumbbells x 10 reps, 40 lb. dumbbells x 15 reps, 30 lb. dumbbells x 20 reps, with no rest between weight changes.