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One of the worst feelings in the world is the anticipation of delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMs) that never materializes. You may feel a little tight the next day, but it’s not the kind of soul-rending ache in your muscle bellies that you typically associate with growth. These are the times when you typically commit to crafting (or adopting) a delts workout routine designed to remind those muscle fibers, whose growth-resistant antics now border on contempt, who is really in charge.
And when it comes to your shoulders, this type of beatdown is even more important. Trained to some degree on every other workout day, your delts are quick to become complacent. But with a careful mixture of exercises and the proper manipulation of training variables that push your muscles beyond failure, your shoulders can see impressive and oftentimes rapid growth.
No matter how hard you’re hitting your delts workout on any given day, make sure that you precede your working sets with a more-thorough than-normal active warm-up. Going beyond the tired ritual of “a few light sets” before your heavier work, a more dynamic warm-up helps you increase core body temperature and increase blood flow to working muscles, which is even more important when we’re talking about the more delicate structures of the shoulder joints.
Spend 5-10 minutes performing activities that engage your shoulders, such as jumping jacks, shadowboxing, arm circles and band work to properly lubricate the joints. Bonus: This type of warmup can also enhance central nervous system recruitment, which means you’ll be stronger and more efficient for every rep of the workout to come.
It’s pretty standard practice to begin your shoulder routine with some heavy over- head presses. Done standing or seated, overhead presses build crazy strength by bringing your triceps, upper pecs and even your abs into play to help you move more weight. The goal here, however, is beefier delts and, sometimes, a simple reduction in weight is advisable. But that doesn’t mean you have to scale back the intensity. By simply alternating sides with each rep, you can create a new stimulus for growth. But here, we’ll dial it back yet another step by keeping one dumbbell stationary—either in the up or down position—to further increase the total time that your delts are under tension. This increases the time the delts work for, fatiguing your muscles in a different way than with normal presses, and igniting that deep burn you haven’t felt in a while.
The presses are followed by the wide-grip upright row. As with the overhead press, the upright row takes advantage of multiple muscle groups to complete each rep. This goes tidily into the overload category that is the hallmark of sustained growth, while adding dimension and height to your traps, better framing the tops of your delts as a result.
In physique speak, it can be argued that the medial deltoid head is the most critical of all muscles. That’s because wide-reaching middle delts that cover a lot of ground can give your waistline a smaller appearance–no crunches or crash diets required. Here, you’ll will yourself through three absolutely brutal drop sets that call for you to rep your way into a lactic acid frenzy as you work your way down the dumbbell rack. This will flush your delts full of mass-making blood and nutrients and set the table for a flamboyant cameo by your old friend DOMS.
Some work on the reverse pec deck caps off your shoulder day but it comes with a twist: five-second holds on each rep. Most guys like to fly through their reverse flyes. Because rear delts are usually (and sadly) trained last, fatigue levels generally dictate sloppier form. Here, the extended hold forces a better mind-muscle connection and breeds greater emphasis on controlling the weight during moves for this small but crucial muscle group.
The usual recommended scheme for a drop set is 1-2 drops, each one reducing the weight by 20-30 percent. Here, you’ll abandon the science in favor of shock value because when your muscles have plateaued, what is customary no longer suffices. If you can do 15 reps with 50-pound dumbbells, we salute you—it’s a long way down to the 5s from there. But no matter what your working weight is, this journey down the rack will guarantee that you take this key muscle group to a place it is loath to go and from whence it shall return bigger.
Time Under Tension
With your alternating overhead dumbbell presses, you’ll perform two sets where one dumbbell “rests” in the bottom position for each rep and two sets where one “rests” at full extension. Performing one clean rep while holding the opposite side in a static contraction takes some getting used to—absolute concentration will be required in order to maximize muscle recruitment and to keep you off the trainer’s table. If you’ve never tried a set like this, mix in a few additional sets with a lighter weight to practice cadence and control.
Tip: When it comes to time under tension, weight selection is key. If you cannot complete the assigned number of reps on each of your four sets, then it’s time to reduce the weight. The cumulative amount of time that your muscles are under load, in this case, trumps total resistance.
The wider grip is more comfortable than the more frequently used close-grip version and generally better for your shoulders. Keep the bar close to your body the entire time, focusing on driving your elbows toward the ceiling on each rep.
Tip: If you find that you are experiencing any discomfort with the movement, try making some adjustments before abandoning it entirely. First, try flirting with your hand spacing. Second, make sure that the bar is close to your body throughout. third, try dumbbells.
For a laser-like burn on your delts, keep the your elbows and wrists in line with your body. Allowing the dumbbells to touch in front of your body temporarily takes the stress off your middle delt head and transfers the focus to the infraspinatus.
Tip: To further engage your middle delt head, take your arms slightly above parallel at the top of the movement, but not so high that the traps begin to engage.
Use a Machine
Using a machine for rear-delt work is preferable to dumbbells but it doesn’t put your lower back in peril and allows for a stricter movement.
Tip: To keep the emphasis on your rear delts, if the machine allows it, use a palms-down grip rather than a neutral one.