With training and building that perfectly shaped, muscular body, ensuring symmetry is going to be a large focus for many. However, when it comes to making the upper body appear larger and more symmetrical, having well developed deltoids or shoulders can have a large impact on your physical appearance.
Having large shoulders not only makes you appear bigger, but it also helps tie together your arms with your chest and back. With deltoids being a smaller muscle and harder to grow for most compared to other muscle groups, having a large set of deltoids or shoulders is about as impressive as a great set of legs. So how does one go about effectively training for maximal shoulder growth?
The three primary muscles
First, we need to understand that the shoulders themselves are made up of three primary muscles, the Posterior, Medial and Anterior deltoid. The Posterior Deltoid is the rear deltoid or the back of the shoulder. This is what’s used when we flex the arm forwards in a front raise motion. The medial deltoid is what allows the arm to reach or extend outwards/sideways (such as with side lateral raises and upright rows). The final deltoid is the Anterior Deltoid. The anterior deltoid is located on the front of the body, and this is what is engaged when we flex the arm forwards, such as a front raise.
When it comes to training, the deltoids are 50% fast twitch and 50% slow twitch fibers. This means that half of your training routine should be with a heavy weight capacity (60-80% 1RM or 1 rep maximum). Performing this weight capacity with a controlled motion for around 6-12 reps is ideal for fully engaging the deltoids. The other half of your training will want to be with a much lighter weight load, around 50% of your 1RM for around 12-30 reps or even more. With this high amount of reps, it’s also a good idea to increase muscle stimulation by adding in supersets or giant sets as this will increase overall muscle stimulation, as well as metabolic activity. Training this way at some exercises for 12 reps at 60-80% 1RM and 12-30 reps at 50% 1RM is effective for training all of the 3 major heads of the shoulders.
Vary your form on your exercises
With each exercise we do, how we set up an exercise can play a large impact on the development of our shoulders. For instance, hand placement when performing shoulder press with either a barbell or smith machine will engage the shoulder muscles differently. The more narrow or close grip you have on the bar for a shoulder press, the more you are going to target the front/anterior deltoid. However, the wider your grip on the bar is the more you are going to target the middle/medial deltoid.
Switch up your routine
Just because a machine is shown to be used one way, doesn’t mean you cannot use that machine for something else or perform the same exercise with dumbbells or barbells. Try performing a standing dumbbell press instead of seated. The benefit of this is that it forces the body to engage the muscles for stability more, which results in a greater muscle activation in the shoulders slightly when compared to performing the exact same set and reps while seated. By having to stabilize the deltoids when standing to perform exercises, muscle activation will increase which means greater growth.
Building muscle mass
Add in slower contractions and focus on the negative portion of the motions. Remember that with regards to building muscle mass, the main focus in the gym should be on 1) creating as much muscle stimulation as possible, and 2) executing an exercise with a full range of motion while keeping a constant tension for as long as possible. What this means is that by using a lighter weight for lifts in order to focus on the pause on the contractions, while performing negatives for 3-10 seconds, we are able to increase muscle activation greater when compared to lifting super heavy for a few short reps with partial range of motion.
My advice for training with weights is to have half of your workout start with a super heavyweight for sets of around 8-15 reps. this would be for exercises like shoulder shrugs, dumbbell press and overhead press. For the other half of your workout, you will want to lower the weight load so you can perform anywhere from 15-30 reps on exercises like the front, side and rear lateral raises with dumbbells. Standing or seated shoulder press with a lighter weight when compared to before. By combining this heavy weight/low rep with low weight/high rep training, we are able to maximize muscle stimulation to ensure optimal shoulder growth.