Get your delts to grow from back to front and finally achieve the capped look. Bonus: This shoulder workout’s structure will save your joints, too.
Adopt this workout structure today. Not only will your delts grow faster, but you’ll also reduce the wear and tear on your joints. Here are five things to start doing, plus a full workout plan.
Don’t be one of those people with a great set of shoulders… but only from the front. As soon as these guys turn sideways, their delts seem to disappear. That capped look from every angle comes from having a good set of rear delts.
While exercises like presses (which mostly hit anterior delts) and lateral raises (mostly medial delts) get picked first and second, the rear delts always get neglected. And if you train them last, they won’t get much love when you’re fatigued.
So, target them first. Making them a priority will bring them up to par with the rest of your upper body. Use rear-delt flye variations to pre-fatigue them and get plenty of blood in the area before you move on to pressing work.
Options: Bent-over rear delt flyes with cables or dumbbells, standing rear-delt flyes with one cable or two, reverse pec deck, and supported rear-delt flyes as shown in the video above.
Start loving face pull variations and your shoulders will start looking (and feeling) a lot different. While many lifters are put off by the face pull’s limited loading potential, your goal isn’t to lift as much weight as possible.
Here, you’re trying to strengthen of your rear delts, external shoulder rotators, and a bunch of other cool muscles that help keep your delts strong and healthy.
For meatheads, face pulls are a far more appealing way to strengthen these muscles than the foo-foo alternatives. You can do face pulls frequently, though I never program them more than three times per week. That’s because I want you to challenge yourself, lift as heavy as you can with impeccable form, and recover so that you can add a little weight next time.
Even if you’re doing sets of 15-20, the idea is to get stronger in that 15-20 rep range. Doing them every day – even if you vary your rep ranges – just isn’t going to achieve that. Try 3-4 sets of face pulls either first or second in your workouts and before your first pressing exercise.
Options: Dumbbell face pulls, cable face pulls (shown in video), seated, standing, and chest-supported. Banded face pulls are okay as a warm-up exercise.
You’ll notice we’re two exercises into the workout and we’ve not mentioned any heavy press yet. This is arguably the most important thing to start implementing.
To build your physique and keep your shoulders healthy, your pressing exercises belong in the middle or toward the end of your workouts. I’m sorry if your ego gets hurt. And I’m sorry if your old-school strength coach or gym-bro friends say otherwise. No one will care that you’re pressing a few pounds lighter or arranging your exercises differently if your shoulders look bigger than ever.
So, try doing most of your isolation exercises first in your workouts before your heavy presses. For example, if your workouts normally include rear-delt flyes, face pulls, and lateral raises, do all of those first and then shoulder presses afterward.
Sure, use a full range of motion on most exercises, but there’s something to be said for limiting how far you lower the weight during heavy overhead presses.
Instead of allowing the dumbbells or barbell to travel all the way down so your thumbs almost touch your shoulders, stop at the point where your thumbs are about level with your ears.
Now, this isn’t about doing half-reps and lifting more weight than you probably should. But those who stay away from that few extra inches at the bottom experience less shoulder pain over time. And they do it while still growing their delts.
By pre-fatiguing the muscle and pumping plenty of blood into your delts, you’ll target your shoulders even better without needing super-heavy weight.
Another option is to use the reverse band method. This works perfectly in the Smith machine, where the addition of the band means you’re lifting less at the bottom of your shoulder press (where you’re weakest) and more at the top (where your strongest). See the video above for a demo.
The delts respond extremely well to methods that encourage a lot of metabolic stress. I don’t necessarily think they respond “better” to higher rep ranges, but switching tactics to chase the burn helps improve mind-muscle connection for better future gains.
Now, I bet most of the time you’re used to doing anywhere from 6-15 reps per set. Instead, finish your shoulder workouts with sets of 25-30 reps. Even up to 50. (Not a typo.)
Just pump as much blood in there as you can. Since your rear delts could likely do with that little extra help, then picking another rear-delt-focused exercise would be smart. Rear-delt swings, as popularized by John Meadows, fit that role nicely.
You’ve got the framework for a well-rounded (literally) shoulder workout. Now let’s put it all together using the exercises demonstrated in the video. Feel free to change the movements if something else works better for you:
|Supported Rear-Delt Flye
|Cable Face Pull
|Seated Lateral Raise
|Shoulder Press Variation
|1 min. or less
If you’re not already structuring your workouts like this, give it a go. If you make the switch long-term, you’ll start getting more compliments on your shoulders, and your upper body will also feel better for the long haul.