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The All-Dumbbell Workout to Train Your Delts

Stimulate growth and attain those cannonball shoulders you crave with this specialized approach.

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Dumbbell Press
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/MNPhotoStudios / Getty
Dumbbell Press
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/MNPhotoStudios / Getty

If there’s one muscle group that can help you stand out among the iron-pumping population, it’s definitely the shoulders.

The deltoids literally live in three dimensions, with individual heads in the front (anterior), side (lateral), and back (posterior). Anyone can clearly see just how well-developed your shoulders are (or aren’t) no matter where they’re standing around you. Few other muscles scream “I push and pull heavy stuff daily” like shoulders—especially when massively developed.

Furthermore: Dense, impossibly wide shoulders are not only noticeable in a tank top, t-shirt, or (of course) topless, but also when you’re wearing a dress shirt, sweater and even a fitted suit.

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Of course, wanting freakish delts and manifesting them are two entirely different endeavors. So if you’ve been hitting the gym hard, but you’re still sporting mere baseballs at the ends of your clavicles (when it’s cannonballs you desire), here’s some advice—and a special all-DB workout—that may just remedy that sad situation.

Key Shoulder Bodybuilding Tips

1. Train shoulders on their own: Many lifters try to work delts with other large muscle groups like chest or back. This is a mistake when looking to maximize the size and density of the shoulders—especially if they’re a stubborn muscle group for you.

2. Train shoulders more than once per week: As a coach to bodybuilders and athletes for over 25 years, I’ve found that frequent stimulation is the best way to ignite hypertrophy in lagging body parts, especially compared to areas that grow more easily. I recommend performing a full shoulders workout on your first and freshest training day of the week, and then doing a mini-delts workout (of about half the sets) a few days later.

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3. Control the negative: One of the best ways to stimulate hypertrophy is by slowing down the eccentric section of each repetition. This is important for not only presses, but also lateral raises and upright rows. If you normally lower the weight in 1-2 seconds, try bumping that to 4-5 seconds instead. Yes, you’ll have to use lighter weights, but you’ll likely experience twice the growth.

4. Get specialized:  If your shoulder size has hit a plateau, it may be time to offer them some figurative shock treatment. Intensity techniques like partials, dropsets, and rest-pause are often necessary to force sleeping muscle fibers out of their slumber, and back on an anabolic path.

Workout Directions

In addition to some specialized shoulder exercises, you’ll also approach each set with a specialized method of doing the reps.

Exercise 1: Rest-Pause. With this intensity technique, you’ll choose a weight that will allow you to reach momentary muscular failure in the prescribed rep range (10-12 in this case). At that point you’ll take a 15-second rest and again go to failure with the same weight. Finally, you’ll take a 30-second rest and push for as many reps as you can. That’s one rest-pause set.

Exercise 2: 1-and-½ Reps: This unique way of performing your reps will most certainly shock the muscle! Begin by pressing to the top. Then, lower slowly to the bottom and follow with a ½-press. Lower the weight yet again and then push to the top. That = a single 1-and-½ rep.

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Exercise 3: Drop Sets: This classic intensity technique has been around for decades, but it’s still one of the best ways to ignite hypertrophy in a lagging muscle group. Choose a weight that has you reach momentary muscular failure in the prescribed rep range (7-9, in this case). Once you can no longer do a full-range repetition in strict form, immediately drop the weight by about 20-30% and once again go to failure.

Exercise 4: Partial Reps: This technique is great for filling the delts with lactic acid, which produces a powerful, growth-stimulating burn. Once you have reached momentary muscular failure (with a complete range of motion), you will then continue performing partial reps until the point you can barely move the weight even an inch.

Routine

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Craft Cannonball Delts

The All-Dumbbell Shoulder-Shocker

Exercise
Equipment
Sets
Reps
Rest
Exercise 1 of 4

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
2
Reps
10–12 + rest-pause
Rest
90 sec.
Perform face-down on an incline bench. Do rest-pause sets, as noted above.
Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
2
Reps
7-9
Rest
--
Do 1-and-½ reps, as noted above.
Exercise 3 of 4

Dumbbell Upright Row

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
2
Reps
7–9
Rest
--
Do drop sets, as noted above.
Exercise 4 of 4

Lateral Raise

Equipment
Dumbbells
Sets
2
Reps
7–9
Rest
--
Do single-arm reps. Do partial reps, as noted above.
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