Everybody has a favorite bodypart that they love to show off. Short sleeves allow the world to see a muscular pair of arms. If someone has a great pair of legs, there’s a good chance you’ll see them wearing short pants, long after the weather starts turning cold. Good abs? Open up that shirt! But even while fully clothed, nothing depicts the image of masculine muscularity more than a broad set of shoulders. Without that classic “V” shape that a well built set of delts provide, the other bodyparts will fail to impress. It all starts at the shoulders.

As imperative as the shoulders may be to a bodybuilder’s overall appearance, they are an often misunderstood bodypart. Often neglected, and more often–overtrained.

It’s critical to realize that the deltoids come into play in almost every upper body exercise. When working the pecs, either with bench presses, flyes, or cable crossovers, you’re also stressing the anterior deltoids. While hitting the back, the posterior delts get a workout as well. If you train shoulders the day after training chest or back, chances are that the shoulders may not be completely recuperated. If you wait too long, you’ll have to hold off for a while before you hit either chest or back again which can throw off your whole schedule. Compounding the problem is the fact that many bodybuilders will train the shoulders using similar movements to those used while exercising the chest and back. Performing seated dumbell presses the day after doing incline bench presses is hammering many of the same muscles, most notably the front delts, which absorb the majority of stress in both movements. The problem here is twofold. One–the muscles in question become overtaxed which will inhibit growth. Two–this over-exertion disallows the proper stimulation for the areas of the delts that need to be stressed – mainly, the lateral head.

The key to sensational shoulders is one of illusion. If the shoulder cap is well defined, it will look larger, and, consequently, more impressive than if they were merely a little bigger, yet smooth. By adding just a half an inch onto the lateral head of each deltoid, the “width” of the shoulders will appear to increase dramatically. Incidentally, wide shoulders will also make the waist appear slimmer, further enhancing the complete package.

So how do we properly stimulate deltoid growth while simultaneously avoiding overtraining? The answer may be in not doing much at all. Much movement that is. The deltoids are, for the most part, a small muscle group, made up primarily of slow twitch, red muscle fibers. That means that their growth will be limited in terms of overall size. When it comes to building bulging, round delts with deep separation, this muscle group responds extremely well to partial movements and static holds. And the emphasis should be towards targeting the lateral head and bringing out the detail.

The following routine is designed especially for that purpose. Some of these movements may seem odd at first, but stick with them. After a while, you may want to experiment on your own to find the range of motion that provides the best results.

Once you learn to control the “lack” of movement, you’ll start seeing striations throughout the entire shoulder region that you didn’t even know you had.

Don’t dismiss warming up the shoulders as a perfunctory endeavor. Shoulder injury is the number one debilitation commonplace to bodybuilders. Almost all shoulder damage can be avoided by properly warming up. The good news is that the shoulders pump easily. It doesn’t take too many sets to get a “burn” going. In this phase of the routine, work the exercise in its full range of motion and stick with a weight that’s light enough to complete at least 15 reps. Yeah, I know that seems like it’s on the high side, but again, these are slow twitch muscles we’re working with and we’re looking to get as much blood into the area as quickly as possible. (This also acts to “preexhaust” the muscles which is an extremely effective technique for instilling intensity without overtraining.) Begin with seated rotating dumbell presses. This will be a full range of motion.

Begin with holding the dumbells with your palms facing your chest. As you slowly raise the weight straight overhead, twist your hands so that the palms will be facing forward by the time they’re in the extended position. Pay special attention not to let the bells collide at the top of the motion. Keep them shoulder width apart. At the top of the movement, with elbows unlocked, “force” the elbows outward and backward. This “non-movement” will add stress to the delts. Slowly return to the beginning position. Due to the potential strain on the rotator cuff, it is crucial to use a light weight for this movement. It’s better to go too light than to go too heavy. You can always add more reps.

Immediately following the seated presses, stand up and with the same dumbells, perform a set of upright rows. A mistake a lot of people make when doing this exercise is that they try to get too much “height.” This puts undue stress on the wrists while accomplishing little in terms of muscle growth. Raise the bells just up to the upper chest. Make sure the bells stay approximately 6″ in front of the torso. Keep this movement strict without using momentum of any kind. No “swinging!” One way to assure against cheating is to pay attention to keeping your knees locked. This will prevent that little “jump” you so often see people employing while executing upright rows.

Rest long enough in order to complete this superset one more time. Now, you’re ready for the hard part.

Using a weight slightly lighter than you’re used to using for lateral raises, perform a lateral raise but STOP when your arms are parallel to the floor. Keep a slight bend in the elbows. Hold this position for a count of eight, then slowly lower the dumbells to the side. Now you know why a light weight is necessary! Shoot for 3 sets of 10 reps of these lateral “holds.” Prepare to be humbled by the fact that not moving a light weight can get pretty painful!

Lift a pair of dumbells overhead in the standard fashion, palms facing each other. Now w-i-d-e-n your arms so that your hands are further out to the sides, simulating the look a of a “W”. Do so a few short pumps and then hold the position for 10 seconds. Repeat the short pumps until you feel as if you’re being stabbed in the

shoulders with a hot knife. Resist the urge to whimper like a schoolgirl. (It’s only pain.)

Some people have a problem with presses behind the neck but if they don’t cause you discomfort, they can be the greatest movement for increasing shoulder width. This variation is particularly punishing–and effective. Begin a press in the normal fashion but at the halfway point between the starting position and the extended position, stop and hold the weight. Now, while the bar is in that position, perform some “mini” partial presses, moving the bar just a few inches. Now complete the press but on the descent, repeat the hold at the halfway point. More “partials”, then back to the start. Three sets should be plenty as long as you keep the rest periods between sets under two minutes. Once again, reps in the range of 10 to 15 is the theme. These are murder! But they work.

You’re almost out of the woods. Just one more movement and you’ll be cooked.

This is similar to a lateral raise with a cable but with a few variations. For one, keep the cable behind your back instead of in front of you. With your free hand, hold on to the supporting bar and “lean” your torso away from the rack. Raise the cable just a few inches and hold it. After about four seconds, you’ll feel quite a bit of tension in the medial delt. At this point, continue on up and complete the raise. When the delt feels as if it’s completely fried, tag on a few “cheating” lifts to properly insure a total thrashing! Just two sets with each arm should be plenty.

As you can see, this routine doesn’t involve a lot of exercises or a lot of sets. A good majority of the working sets doesn’t involve much movement! Yet, it targets exactly what you want to hit. The end result will be wider, shapelier shoulders.

Now give the shoulders a good stretch in all directions.

Broad, square shoulders are the hallmark of a great physique. Give this routine a try for a couple of weeks and see for yourself what a difference it can make. When your shoulders look better– everything looks better. You won’t even have to take your shirt off for people to notice. But you’re gonna look great in a tank top.

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