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Photos by Per Bernal

It’s not about the weight. Steve Kuclo hoists heavy metal, but it’s not about the weight. He grows his shoulders by utilizing impeccable form and stressing the targeted deltoid heads on rep after rep. Lots of reps. Though he does only four exercises for delts, he racks up as many as 300 repetitions in each delt workout. That’s about twice the total for most bodybuilders, including Mr. Olympia. But, as Kuclo explains, he feels that higher reps and proper form are the keys to shoulder growth. It’s not about the weight. It’s all about the muscle.

FLEX: What’s first in your shoulder routine?

STEVE KUCLO: I always start with an overhead press, either Hammer Strength, dumbbell, or barbell military. With the Hammer Strength, I do a unique superset on that. First, I go the standard way, facing forward, for 12 to 15 reps, and then I turn around and face backward for another 12 to 15 reps. Another thing I do is I put a foam roller or some kind of pad between me and the seat back, which changes the angle a little bit.

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FLEX: Why do you do both the forward and backward presses one after the other?

STEVE KUCLO: They hit my shoulders in two different ways and work two different delt heads. The pad between me and the seat back helps to emphasize this even further. I feel the standard, face-forward presses more in my medial delts. Then when I turn and face backward, I feel those more in my front delts.

FLEX: Do you pause at all between the forward and backward presses?

STEVE KUCLO: Just 15 seconds or so, the amount of time it takes to get turned around and maybe strip some weight. I’m stronger facing forward than backward, and, of course, those first 12 to 15 reps are going to take a lot out of me. So sometimes me and my training partner, Dan Newmire, will need to reduce the weight for those second 12 to 15 reps, especially on the last couple of sets.

 

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Download Steve Kuclo's complete training program HERE.

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FLEX: You do your seated dumbbell laterals very strict. Talk about your form on those.

STEVE KUCLO: Some people use their traps more on these or they let momentum take over. I try to make the focus only the medial delts. I found a good groove when I was younger, and I’ve stuck in that groove. And this is one of the movements that I feel really hits exactly where I want it to. Form is crucial with this one. You really need to get the proper form down, raising directly out to your sides and bringing your elbows up to shoulder level with your arms bent. It’s easy to just go through the motion and get a little sloppy, but you need to keep your mind on the muscle and stay strict. That’s the only way you’re going to target your medial delts.

FLEX: Does doing them seated help with that?

STEVE KUCLO: Yeah, but I do them standing sometimes, too. I’ll switch it up. With seated you can stay under a little better control. You don’t use as much momentum as you do with standing.

FLEX: You do seated laterals for 15 to 20 reps per set, and none of your sets for shoulders are under 12 reps. Why do you like that higher range?

STEVE KUCLO: I think delts respond best to higher use a lot. Delts get worked pretty well with chest [front delts] and back [rear delts], too. Arms are the same way. Because those areas get a lot of work on other days, I like to focus more on the pump when I work them directly. I like that 12- to-15 range for delts and arms. For other body parts, I’m more in the 10-to-12 range.

 

 

Download Steve Kuclo's complete training program HERE.

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FLEX: Do you always do your dumbbell rear laterals lying down on an incline bench?

STEVE KUCLO: Yes, if I do them with dumbbells. I like the bench because it takes some of the momentum out of it. If you do them seated or bentover, you tend to go heavier and involve the back more. Sometimes I do them facing the seat back on a chest flye machine, or I’ll do them standing with cables at a cable crossover station. Whichever way I do them, it’s not a real heavy movement, because I’m trying to not activate my traps. A lot of people go too heavy on rear laterals and get their traps involved. It’s an isolation exercise for the rear delts, so you want to make certain you truly isolate them.

FLEX: Then you finish with barbell front raises. Is there a reason you prefer the barbell to dumbbells?

STEVE KUCLO: No, nothing in particular, just personal preference. With these I’m just trying to make sure I got everything out of my workout. I’m going for a “burnout,” so I’m aiming for at least 12 to 15 reps, but if I can get 20, I will.

FLEX: When do you work traps?

STEVE KUCLO: Sometimes I do traps with back, but I usually do them on shoulder day, after delts. I’ll do one or two movements. I like the Hammer Strength shrug machine for three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps. And I like to do a static hold at the top of each rep for one or two seconds. Another favorite is the standard barbell shrug. It’s tempting to really load on the plates for shrugs and shorten the movement. But the movement is short enough already. Don’t go too heavy and don’t shrug too fast. You want to stay under control at kind of a slow pace. I recommend holding the contractions. That’ll force you to go a little lighter but really work the traps.

 

 

Download Steve Kuclo's complete training program HERE.

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FLEX: Early in your career you were known for your strength. Do you still use big weights, like in the shoulder presses?

STEVE KUCLO: Yeah. I’m not doing low reps, but I’m going as heavy as I can with good form. Just last week I went up to 315 for 12 reps in the barbell shoulder press, which is pretty big. And with dumbbell shoulder presses, I’ll work up to the 140s or 150s. So I still handle some good weights.

FLEX: Do you do any forced reps?

STEVE KUCLO: Yes. Usually on the last sets of exercises, my partner will help out just enough so I can squeeze out a couple of extra reps.

FLEX: What’s the most important advice you have for bodybuilders who want bigger shoulders?

STEVE KUCLO: Proper form is crucial for shoulders. Pick a weight you can handle. You don’t want to swing the weight and use momentum. You want to work your shoulders throughout each rep and throughout each set. It usually takes a while to get it right, but once you get that form down you’ll know, and you can stick to that and then progressively add more weight. And the other key thing is rep volume. Too many guys go too heavy with low reps, and they don’t really feel their delts working. I think that a 12-to-15 range is best for delts. So, in my opinion, form and rep volume are the keys to filling out your shoulders. 

 

 

Download Steve Kuclo's complete training program HERE.

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 KUCLO’S SHOULDER ROUTINE  (watch the video)

STRAIGHT SETS

REST: 90-120 seconds

  • DUMBBELL LATERAL RAISE: 4 sets, 10-12 reps

On 4th Set: Perform Power Partial and Triple Drop Set

  • BARBELL MILITARY PRESS: 4 sets, 10-12 reps

On 4th Set: Perform Power Partial and Triple Drop Set

  • MACHINE SHOULDER PRESS: 4 sets, 10-12 reps

On 4th Set: Perform Power Partial and Triple Drop Set

Power Partial = Increase poundage on the 4th set by 30% and perform quarter to half reps in the strongest range of motion for that muscle.

Triple Drop Set = After going to failure, immediately decrease the weight and perform a 2nd set. Then immediately decrease the weight again and perform a 3rd set. A Triple Drop Set requires decreasing the weight twice, so the 4th set of each exercise actually contains 3 sets with no rest in between.

TRI-SETS (3x total)

REST: 30 seconds between exercises; REST: 30-40 seconds between sets

  • REAR PEC DEC FLY: 9-10 reps
  • CABLE LATERAL RAISE: 9-10 reps
  • REAR DELT ROPE FACE PULL: 9-10 reps 

GO TO FAILURE!

 KUCLO’S TRAINING SPLIT 

  • Day 1 | Quadriceps
  • Day 2 | Chest
  • Day 3 | Back
  • Day 4 | Off
  • Day 5 | Hams/Glutes
  • Day 6 | Arms
  • Day 7 | Shoulders

 

Download Steve Kuclo's complete training program HERE.