Shoulder Exercises

Pick Up Your Delts

Use pre-exhaustion to isolate your shoulders and compound your gains.

Pick Up Your Delts

Stop disrespecting your shoulders with the same monotonous parade of presses each week. It’s time to rebuff those dulled delts with this wicked pre-exhaustion routine. Pre-exhaustion means fatiguing an isolated muscle group with single-joint exercises, like straight-arm raises and laterals, before moving on to the heavier multijoint movements, like presses - and it can take your training to the next level.

The Weakest Link 

Structurally, the deltoids are incredible muscles - three heads, surrounding the front, back and side of your shoulder joint, capable of moving the upper arm in many directions. Logically, they require variety and precision to be overloaded sufficiently.

In designing this workout, we’ve used the pre-exhaustion principle method above, and here’s why. You typically do presses at the start of your shoulder workout, when you’ve got ample energy to move big weights. Four sets later, you can’t hoist that dumbbell for another rep. Okay, your shoulders must be pumped - good work. But wait, what if your triceps were a bit weaker relative to your delts? Once those tri’s get fatigued, you can’t continue to pound your shoulders. That lack of overload has undoubtedly impeded the deltoid development of many a trainee.

By pre-exhausting the delts, you’ll level the playing field. Think of it as the old chain-is-only-as-strong-as-the-weakest-link theory. “Pre-exhaustion is great for throwing a different twist into a stagnant shoulder workout,” says IFBB pro Garrett Downing. “You’ll get a better pump in your shoulders and be less likely to injure yourself.”

Rebuffing the Routine

After a brief warm-up on a shoulder-press machine, grab a pair of dumbbells. Your goal is to fatigue your shoulders while sparing your triceps, which are involved in pressing movements; lateral raises, where your arms are in a fixed position, are a good choice.

Visualize that the working head of your deltoid is a sponge. On the negative portion of the rep, the sponge is soaking up water, expanding and getting heavier. As you move into the positive phase (concentric contraction), you’re trying to wring every ounce of water out of that sponge. This will facilitate peak muscle contraction on every rep. “Don’t rush a shoulder workout,” advises Downing. “If you try to lift too much iron too fast, you’ll just end up hurting yourself.”

Once you’ve finished with your three dumbbell exercises, your delts should feel warm and ready to move to the compound exercises. “After priming my shoulders with dumbbell or cable laterals, I’m ready to begin my pressing movements [using slightly lighter weight than normal] without fear of pushing my shoulders past the limit with heavy weights,” says Downing. “Coming off a slight injury to my shoulder, I find it’s important to get a lot of blood into the working muscles and warm up my joints before I press.”

This workout employs the Smith machine rather than free weights. The Smith machine keeps the barbell balanced by moving on a track; therefore, your small stabilizers aren’t required to balance the load. Granted, working your stabilizers is great for keeping your shoulder joints healthy and strong, but this workout is designed to shake things up.

After finishing up on the Smith machine, you’ll move to upright rows, which will pound the anterior and middle heads of your delts, and your traps, as you abduct your upper arms to raise the weight. “I like to use upright rows as my finishing movement,” states Downing. “It really gives me a great overall pump across my traps and shoulders.” Though pre-exhaustion is a great tool, you should use it sparingly - say, once every couple months or so. Try our pre-exhaustion routine for yourself, and you’ll conquer your delts on the way to a bigger, broader physique.


NEXT: The Moves >>