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Wednesday August 15, 2018

Shoulders: Strategies for renewed growth

Written by Chris Fernandez

Shoulders: Strategies for renewed growth

By Chris Fernandez

Part 3:Shoulders: Strategies for renewed growth
As with the previous article, I first want to review some of the more popular exercises for shoulders and briefly touch on those. Bear in mind that machines vary as well as names for specific exercises. What I may refer to as "Side Laterals" someone else might call "Side Raises." 
They both mean the same thing, namely raising a weight out to your side until your arms are parallel to the ground. Keep this in mind when reviewing these exercises. I will try and keep the names as generic as I can. As before, this is not an exhaustive list.
There are basically 3-4 different movements for shoulders depending on whether or not you wish to include rear delts into your workout or whether you include those with your back routine. Either way, they are not as important as the side and front deltoids, and should not be the primary focus of your shoulder training routine. Also, rear deltoids are worked when we perform various rowing movements for back, like pull-ups, seated rows, etc., so they are not going to be emphasized here. So if we remove the rear deltoids, then there are 3 movements for shoulders: Overhead presses, which can also be referred to as Military Presses, Side Laterals or side raises, and finally Front raises. Overhead pressing movements work the front and side heads of the shoulder, while the side laterals and front raises isolate the side and front deltoids respectively. Below is a breakdown of the exercises for each. I left rear deltoids for last, but included a couple of movements for them as well. Also, a quick note, I did not include upright rows in any of the exercises below. This was done because I feel that they are to dangerous for the shoulder capsule, and are not as effective as other movements. If you decide to do them start with a light weight, and stop if you feel any discomfort in the shoulder region.
Overhead Presses (AKA: Military Presses)
Dumbbell Presses
Barbell Presses
Free Bar
Smith Machine
Machine Presses (Hammer Strength, Lifecircuit, etc.)
Side Laterals (AKA: Side Raises)
Machines (Hammer Strength, Lifecircuit, etc.)
Front Raises
Cable (Rope or straight bar, on the low pulley)
Machines (Hammer Strength, Lifecircuit, etc.)
Rear Delts
Bent-Over Raises with Dumbbells
Machine Bent-Over Raises
Reverse Pec-Deck
Forgotten Shoulder Exercises
Now I wanted to go over 3 shoulder exercises that you may have forgotten about, or maybe have yet to really incorporate into your routine on a regular basis.
Smith Machine Military Presses: Want to add some serious size and strength to your shoulders? This is one of the best ways to do it. Unlike dumbbell presses, which by the way are great too, when you perform overhead presses on the Smith Machine, you don't have to concentrate on form as much, although it is still important, and can experiment with going heavy on shoulders and trying to break through strength plateaus. This exercise is my favorite. There are two ways to do these: 1) In front of your face, where you bring the bar down to just below your chin, and 2) behind the neck until your wrists are level with your ears and you make a "u" shape with your arms at the bottom of the movement. Now, I prefer going behind the neck, but be careful with this, it can be dangerous for someone with weak shoulders, or a history of injuries. As with the Upright rows that I mentioned above, discontinue this if you feel any discomfort or pain. Once you get the motion down, you can begin with a weight that you can comfortably do for at least 15 reps as a warm-up. Steadily increase your weight and challenge yourself and see how much you can do up to about 3-6 reps. You shouldn't try a 1 rep max on this exercise because of the danger that can be involved with your shoulder, and you always want to have a spotter on this one if you plan on going heavy. Either way, heavy of not, this is one of the most effective and simple of all shoulder exercises. And because you can go heavy on this without worrying about form as much, unlike dumbbells, gains will be made faster.
Front Raises with a Bar: We've probably all done front raises at one time or another, but have you ever tried them with a bar? This is a GREAT way to make your shoulders burn, and if done properly, should not take a lot of weight to get you there. If you can normally do a dumbbell raise with 30 lbs. for instance, then grab a bar that weighs about 30-40lbs total, (the equivalent to 2, 30lb. dumbbells). You need to start about 30-50% below what you normally use for one arm if multiplied by two because of the difficulty of this exercise and because you do not want to compromise form. Grab the bar about shoulder width apart with your palms facing down. Next, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, keep your back straight and begin raising the weight until your arms are parallel to the ground. Bring the bar slowly down until it touches your thighs and repeat. REMEMBER, no swinging or cheating. Try doing anywhere from 8-12 reps on this.
Cable Side Laterals: Like dumbbells, cable side laterals are a great way to isolate your side deltoids. Try these out for a great alternative to your regular shoulder work. First, find a low-pulley machine, attach a regular single grip attachment to it. Then stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent. Grab the pulley with your palm facing toward your body, and begin raising the apparatus across your body from left to right for your right side, and from left to right for your left side. When you are at the top of the movement, your arm should be parallel to the floor. Lower the weight until your arm passes your leg that is closest to the pulley and repeat. If the machine that you are using only has one side, then you are going to have to turn around to hit each side of your shoulders. If you are lucky enough to have a high-low pulley apparatus that has two sides facing eachother, then you can hook up each side, and simply switch sides for each delt and face the same direction. A mirror is a great help for this one to make sure that your form is good. Again, no swinging, or back bending. Reps should be from 8-15 as before. Concentrate on feeling the burn and use only your side deltoid, not your traps, or momentum.
3 Breakthrough Shoulder Routines
Routine #1: These routines that we are going to do incorporate some of the things that we have already gone over. They are somewhat simplistic, but then again, some of the best workouts you've ever had are the ones when you did basic movements well, like bench presses, and broke your records, or felt extremely pumped or sore the next day.
After properly warming up and stretching, you are going to begin your routine with Dumbbell Presses. These are best done in a special chair that has a back support that goes to about your upper back and can be found in most gyms. Start with a weight that you can handle for 15 reps. We are going to perform 5 sets total, each time increasing the weight so that by the end, you are doing a weight that you can only handle for about 6-8 reps. Be careful with this, because as the weight increases, your need for a spotter does as well. Make sure you have one with you to help you get those 6-8 reps at the end, even if they are forced reps.
After this, we are going to finish off our shoulder routine with a compound exercise that will again hit the front and side deltoids.
To get ready for this final exercise, grab a bar for front raises, and then two dumbbells for side laterals. Now our goal here is to burn out the muscle, not rip it from the socket, so make sure that you get weights for both that you can do at least 10 reps for each. The side laterals can be performed in the same chair that was used for the overhead presses.
First start with the front raises. Make sure that you can perform at least 10, albeit excruciating reps with good form. Then, with no rest, immediately, sit down, grab the dumbbells and perform at least 10 reps of side laterals with good form. Repeat this compound set 3-4 times. This is a quick routine, one that will get you out of the gym fast, but leave you unable to raise your arms above your head. Give it a try.
Routine #2: This routine is almost the exact opposite of the one above, but will shock your shoulders and again leave you pumped.
After properly warming up and stretching, we are going to start with front raises with dumbbells. This allows you to do each arm separately, and makes sure that we ensure symmetry for our shoulder development. Start with a weight that you can handle for about 13-15 reps for each arm. Then do 3 more sets and raise the weight each time so that you are able to do about 8 reps on each arm for your last set.
When finished with these, grab the side lateral chair and repeat the same process, namely, start with a weight that you can handle for 15 reps, and work your way up until you are struggling to do 8 for your last set, with good form.
A quick note here: Be cautious about using a weight that is any heavier than one that will allow you to perform at least 8 reps. Shoulders are the rare bodypart that do not perform well with heavy weights. The exception is overhead presses because you are using both the side and front deltoids. When you are isolating them, it would be wise to stick with a moderate weight, never too heavy, lest you risk serious injury and/or improper form, and diminished results.
When done with the side laterals, we are going to finish off our shoulders with some light military presses for burn out. These can be performed either on a machine or with dumbbells, but be advised, you won't be able to do nearly the same weight you would had you started with this exercise, and caution should be observed with form. Have a spotter handy for this, just in case. You want to be able to do at least 3 sets of 10 reps.
Once completed, go home, and start your recovery. By the way, this type of routine, or the one like #1, should not be performed often, perhaps once a month, maybe less depending on your recovery ability, injury history, etc.
Routine #3: This routine is slightly more taxing than the first two only because it involves one of the high intensity principles talked about in a previous Trainer's Corner. Again, exercise caution, and better judgment.
The only difference between this routine and the ones that we already went over is that in this one, instead of doing a compound set as in Routine #1, we are sticking with the same muscle group, either side delts, or the front delts, and performing a drop set on them.
After properly warming up and stretching, you want to start with an overhead pressing movement. This can be your choice. Perform about 3-5 sets of this, with an ascending weight pattern as before. Just make sure that you are properly warmed up and ready to go when you start the drop set movement part of this routine.
When you are ready for the drop set, choose whether you want to work your side delts, or front delts first. It might be wise to work your front delts first because they are the most taxing of the two. Then perform 2 sets with a weight that you can handle for about 10-12 reps. For your final set, grab a weight that you can handle only about 8 reps, one that you can handle for about 10-12, one that you can handle for 15, and one that you can handle for about 20 reps. We are going to perform one set, with all 4 weights all in a row as described earlier. Start with the heaviest one, perform as many as you can, drop that weight, rest for 3 deep breaths, and start the next one again for as many as you can. Keep going until you have finished with all of them for as many reps as you can muster.
Repeat this for the other head of the deltoids that you did not work the first time.
This should leave you totally exhausted and give you a great pump, and more importantly, soreness on your delts the next day.
The shoulders are an integral part of our training regimen. Do not neglect them. You use your shoulders for EVERY upper body exercise whether to stabilize, or as a secondary or primary mover. It is important that you not only stretch your shoulders properly, and warm them up properly, but also that you give them ample amounts of rest, and stop any exercise that you feel is "rubbing" you the wrong way, or hurting your shoulder capsule. Treat your shoulders right, and the improvements in them will lead to improvements in other areas of your training like chest, back, and arms.
Next month I will be finishing up our upper body section by talking about biceps and triceps.
Keep up the hard work,
This is the third in a series of articles by Chris Fernandez written to provide insight into each bodypart, and new ways to tackle that specific bodypart while working out. These reports will include a review of exercises that you are familiar with, as well as exercises that you may not be familiar with, along with ways that you can break through a plateau for that specific bodypart.
Chris Fernandez is the founder and president of He is a competitive bodybuilder and certified personal trainer, and has many years of experience in the fields of bodybuilding, strength training and lifestyle and weight management. Visit his site now for the best in sports supplements.

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0 #1 Samuel Clark 2010-07-21 01:52
You mention that routines 1 and 2 should only be performed once a month. #2 is essentially the same routine I've done week after week (except I do Arnold Press or Power-clean + press instead of overhead presses).

This could be the reason my shoulders are lagging.

What do you suggest fills in the other three weeks when not doing routines 1 or 2?

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