5 Delt Exercises You Need
Here’s how IFBB Pro’s Shelace Shoemaker built her Olympia delts, along with some smart programming tips.
I had the good fortune to train IFBB Pro Shelace Shoemaker, who worked his way up to two back-to-back Olympias. She did it while dealing with old injuries, and without beating her body in the process.
Today, we’re sharing some insights into how we build Olympian shoulders, as well as some of Shelace’s favorite exercises. We’ll also provide some background information on how we wrote certain exercises to get the most out of them. Let’s jump right into the exercise.
Cuban presses are a great choice to start exercising. They’ll prep your shoulders, get blood to all the right places, and strengthen your rear delts and shoulder external rotators.
Do it from the slopes. Simply set your bench anywhere between a 30 and 45 degree angle. Compared to the standing variation, the Cuban press on the incline bench targets your rear delts more, keeping the movement tight and putting your shoulders in a more comfortable position.
Do 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps at the beginning of your shoulder workout. Gradually increase the weight until it becomes a challenge. Just make sure it’s not so heavy that you lose form.
Nothing beats the consistency of a big foundation. Over time, you may hit a plateau, and while many see this as a negative, a plateau is a good reminder that you’ve been exercising long enough that you can’t squeeze more out of it. many.
At this point, layer in a new key indicator, like the barbell shoulder press. Push it hard and hit a plateau. Then try going back to the dumbbell shoulder press after a month or two, or do a completely different exercise.
We prefer the seated dumbbell and barbell shoulder presses because the angle of the press at the shoulder joint is slightly different.
For Shelace, the seated version is easier on the lower back than the standing version. Shoulder presses tend to target the front delts more than other areas, so it’s important to take this into account when building the rest of your training program.
If your training is effective, you shouldn’t need to use more than one shoulder press variation per workout. Maybe two. But, if that’s the case, the second change should be another angle that fatigues those deltoid fibers slightly differently.
In the long run, lifters who include too many presses in a workout can end up with all sorts of shoulder problems. Those who are unlikely to win the genetic lottery with their shoulder anatomy and/or do a great job of maintaining good structural balance around the shoulder joint. Most don’t.
Start your shoulder workout with exercises that strengthen the shoulder external rotators, rear deltoids, and deep stabilizers, then move your key metric lifts more towards the middle of the workout.
In bodybuilding and training to look great naked, no one wins an award for the heaviest shoulder press. You’ll be judged on your looks alone (and on the beach too), if you can keep your shoulders healthy while working them out, you’ll win on stage and in life.
You can also lift weights using the seated barbell shoulder press as a key metric. The downside of the barbell press is that you lack freedom on a stiff straight bar. Your joints aren’t always as aligned as they are with dumbbells.
However, the advantage of the barbell is that it facilitates progressive overload and increases the minimum weight increments available. You can “encourage” the loading process instead of forcing it.
When training for aesthetics (with longevity in mind), do heavier presses halfway through your workout, not first.
Do 3-5 sets of anywhere from 5-12 repetitions. Your number of sets and reps will depend on your training phase and time of year (competition prep vs. offseason, etc.). If working in a lower rep range (5-7 reps), slow down the tempo and emphasize eccentric control. We want to always “control” the wacky stages that each rep opens!
Chest-supported lateral raises put you in the perfect position and arm path to target your inner deltoids. They also help eliminate body English. Using the scapular plane and raising the dumbbell forward about 30 degrees also better aligns the shoulder joint for maximum stability and fitness.
Powerlifters often switch between dumbbell and cable lateral raises, sometimes using different varieties in the same workout. Dumbbells max out the delts more at the top of the move, while cable lateral raises tend to overload the middle and bottom of the move more, depending on how you set them up.
So try adding a short pause at the top of each lateral raise when using dumbbells, or a short pause at the bottom to emphasize the stretch during the rope variation. If the medial deltoids are your weak point, consider placing them at the start of your workout.
Many elite bodybuilders work the medial deltoids before doing presses. This works great. Or, if they’re not very important, you can place them in the middle or towards the end of your workout. Finally, you can use some lateral raise variations in the same workout and do them at different points. Just make sure you work at different angles or points of maximum load.
If you’re still not sure where your delts are hitting the hardest, use these two lists as quick reference points:
PML = point of maximum load
- side raise with chest support
- Seated or Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Kettlebell Lateral Raise
- forward lean
- Cable Lateral Lift Variation: The cable goes straight up instead of through your body
- Lateral lifting of span cables
- X-Cable Lateral Raise
- Bench side lying dumbbell lateral raise
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Use purposeful momentum at the bottom (such as a triangle swing)
Bonus tip: A well-designed lateral lift provides a relatively even load.
Named after the coach of T country joe de franco, you can try various combinations here. It is usually 3-5 exercises, each performed one after the other in a mechanical descent.
Start with your weakest exercise, then switch to a slightly stronger exercise, then your strongest. Your deltoids will be screaming as you perform that last exercise. Typically, these exercises target multiple areas of your shoulders, but it depends on which exercise you choose.
This is one of our favorite shoulder shocks. Try to keep up with:
- Constant Tension Alternating Side Raises
- Alternating raises (see-saw raises)
- Seated Lateral Raise
- Centrifugal Lateral Raise
- Partial lateral raise (lower half)
Start with 8-15 repetitions. The weight you use should be based on your strength in the first exercise of the series.
You’ll want to leave the gym after doing this. Or at least spend the next 10 minutes admiring your triangle pumps in front of your bathroom mirror. So, it’s best to keep these at the end of your workout.