This article was originally written for MYPROTEIN.
Nothing makes a physique look more impressive than pair of broad, round shoulders. Big, wide shoulders fill out a t-shirt and give the body that universally admired V-taper shape. Here are some training tips, exercises, and advanced methods to build massive delts.
Hit the Shoulders From All Angles
Deltoids can be broken down into three specific muscle areas: anterior (front) delts, medial (middle) delts, and posterior (rear) delts.
To build impressive shoulders, you must train all three muscle groups evenly. Hitting the delts from all angles- including overhead presses, front raises, lateral raises, bent over flys, and more will keep the shoulders healthy and ensure that no area gets left behind.
Use A Variety of Rep Ranges
The deltoids respond to all rep ranges, from low to high, and should be trained as such.
For example, heavy overhead press variations can be performed in lower rep ranges (<8) to build size and strength (primarily in the anterior delts), while the medial and rear delts respond better to moderate to high reps (8-20). For a complete shoulder workout, use a varied approach.
Maximize Time Under Tension
Shoulders respond extremely well to longer time under tension – that is, the amount of time a muscle is under direct stress during a set.
There are a number of ways you can extend time under tension (aside from just adding more reps) including tempo reps, isometric holds, drop sets, supersets, trisets, and giant sets. All of these methods are excellent for increasing muscle growth in the delts.
Train the Rear Delts Daily
In today’s society, most of us are sitting at desk, driving in a car, or slouched over while texting and watching TV for a vast majority of the day. This, along with a ton of heavy pressing in most bodybuilding programs, results in bad posture and puts the shoulders at a greater risk of injury. To offset these circumstances, train the rear delts daily with light weight and high reps. A few sets of band pull aparts or face pulls during your typical warm up or cool down will work wonders.
The behind-the-neck press is a superior alternative to the typical overhead press because it targets all three areas of the shoulder more effectively (the overhead press primarily only works the anterior delt). To perform this exercise safely, lower a barbell behind your head to ear level and press back overhead.
Do not attempt to lower the barbell to your neck or use momentum to “bounce” the bar back up. Practice slow and controlled reps without fully locking your elbows to keep constant tension on the shoulders.
The Arnold Press was made famous by legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. The exercise is similar to a dumbbell overhead press, except you start the movement with your palms facing inward with your arms in front of your body. As you press up, you rotate your hands until your palms are facing outward at the top of the motion. This variation has more range of motion than the typical overhead press, resulting in more time under tension, and puts an additional stress on the front delts.
Cable Face Pull with Rope
The cable face pull using a rope attachment is a great rear delt builder because it allows you to use more weight than most other exercises for this body part. You can grip the rope using an overhand or underhand grip, and can vary pulling to either your forehead, nose, or chin. Keep your elbows up and drive them backward as you pull while really squeezing the shoulder blades.
Advanced Deltoid Variations
Dumbbell Lateral Raise – Run the Rack
Running the rack with dumbbell lateral raises delivers a monster pump and is a great way to keep the shoulders under tension for upward of 2-3 minutes. Grab a pair of dumbbells (let’s say 20 pounds) and do as many lateral raises as possible with good form. When you reach failure, immediately re-rack the 20’s, grab a pair of 15’s, and keep going. Do the same for the 10’s and 5’s. Try performing this sequence 2-3 times with minimal rest between sets.
Chest-Supported Dumbbell Y-W-T’s
This exercise is great for the rear delts. It will keep your shoulders healthy and can be used as a warm up or finisher. Get a pair of light dumbbells (10 pounds or lighter) and lie chest-down on an incline bench. Raise the dumbbells up and out in front of you so that they are in line with your spine to form a “Y” shape. Lower the dumbbells, and then raise your elbows (in a rowing motion) and rotate your shoulders (bringing the dumbbells near your ears) to form a “W” shape. Finally, lower the dumbbells then raise them out to your sides in a fly pattern to form a “T”. Try to do 10 of each without resting in between.
Take Home Message
The delts are a very complex muscle group. To build them, target them from all angles, use a variety of angles, and maximize time under tension. Emphasize rear delt training to offset the abundance of heavy pressing in training routines and the habits of everyday life. Use advanced training methods, such as drop sets and supersets to increase workout intensity and maximize growth.