I’ve tried everything but my delts won’t grow. I do every machine (see workout at right), as well as raises from every angle with dumbbells, cables, bars – you name it – but I’m still narrow and thin up top. Help!

We love the variety and novelty of the moves in your delt routine. Because the shoulder joint moves in multiple planes, you need to train from all angles and with all available equipment to achieve full development. However, you might be overthinking things here. More specifically, you seem to be forgoing the tried-and-true basics in favor of novelty. It’s time to reintroduce good, old-fashioned free-weight overhead presses into your routine.

Rather than doing a machine press for your second exercise, switch to a barbell or dumbbells for your overhead presses and make that your first exercise so your delts are fresh (don’t worry, you can go back to pre-exhausting with laterals soon enough). There are many different types of overhead presses, including barbell in-front-of-the-head and barbell behind-the-neck presses, dumbbell overhead presses, Arnold presses, and even Smith machine and Hammer Strength overheads. If you use all of these variations, subbing them in and out of your routine on a regular basis, your workouts will always be fresh and you’ll be more likely to bust through delt-building plateaus.

Keep your rep ranges on overhead presses primarily in the hypertrophy range (8-12 reps), with the occasional heavier set (5-6 reps) mixed in. And you can keep doing what you’re doing with your laterals and front raises – just make sure overheads take precedence for the next few months. This formula should lead you to a bigger set of delts while still promoting shape and symmetry.

Pimped Out Delt Routine

Exercise Sets Reps
Overhead Barbell Press* 4 12,10,8,6
Arnold Press 3 8-10
Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 10-12
   – superset with –
Dumbbell Front Raise 3 10-12

* Rotate in behind-the-neck presses and overhead dumbbell presses as your first exercise every workout.