5 Tips for Bigger Shoulders
Shoulders are a body part that all bodybuilders must develop to their fullest. You can’t have a V-taper without wide shoulders, and great deltoids are a critical component of any great physique. When you run down the list of the best bodybuilders of all time that includes men like Steve Reeves, John Grimek, Bill Pearl, Larry Scott, Sergio, Arnold, Lee Haney, Dorian, Ronnie, Flex, Kevin, etc, every single one of them had fantastic shoulders.
Broad, round shoulders exude rugged power. Without them, a physique looks weak and small. Think about the ‘Jersey Shore’ types who only have arms and abs. Nobody ever said, “Wow!” when a wannabe like that walked into a room, except maybe a 13-year-old girl who thinks Justin Bieber is jacked.
So today, let’s talk about how to maximize your shoulder development. I will break it down into 5 guidelines.
1. Press first if you can, last if you must
Overhead presses are the foundation exercise of shoulder mass. Anybody you have ever seen with great shoulders built them with plenty of pressing. In my early years, I did a lot of behind-neck presses with a barbell. Those are better at involving the entire shoulder complex than presses to the front, but over time they wreak havoc on your rotator cuffs. I eventually was able to handle 315 on that exercise, and did indeed build some very nice shoulder mass. I also wrecked my cuffs. I eventually switched over to seated dumbbell presses as my overhead press of choice, and I feel those are equally effective. If you have no shoulder injuries or issues, I would press first while you’re fresh. Be very sure to warm up as much as you need to, and never do sets of less than 6 reps. You’re better off staying in the 8-12 rep range. Machine presses can be good too, but I feel free weights are simply better. If you do have an injury or chronic type of issue, you are better off pressing later on if not last in the workout when you won’t be able to go as heavy even if you wanted to. The bottom line here is, work hard but stay safe. Once you injure your shoulders, it’s a challenge to ever regain the same degree of stability in the joint that you originally had. And shoulder injuries will affect just about everything else you do with weights, just like a lower back injury does.
2. Don’t skimp on laterals, and do them right
Lateral raises are the only way to isolate the medial or side delts. For that reason, you should always include them in one form or another. You can use dumbbells and do them either standing or seated, or choose cables or lateral raise machines. Dumbbells are very effective, but you can’t just throw them around. That’s a common sight when using weights that are too heavy for you. Even very big, strong bodybuilders rarely need to use more than 50 pounds in each hand if their form is proper. So if you are half the size of a typical Mr. Olympia competitor, don’t even think about going that heavy. I guarantee you that your form will suck, and your side delts will hardly get any stimulation at all from swinging the weights up with momentum. You should be able to forcefully contract your side delts for a split second at the top of every rep, and you should get a pump after 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. If not, use less weight because you’re not doing those laterals correctly.
3. Work your rear delts.
The rear delts are a full one-third of your shoulders, yet most bodybuilders neglect them like a Teen Mom bent on partying her young life away with bad boys neglects her baby. So many guys have shoulders that look good from the front, but when they turn sideways – yikes! It’s like flesh-eating bacteria consumed their posterior deltoids. I suggest starting with rear delts instead of finishing with them on shoulder day. Odds are that your rear delts lag badly behind, and desperately need to be prioritized rather than being given a few half-assed sets after you’re already exhausted from presses and side raises. I like bent dumbbell laterals, that same movement face down on an incline bench, and machine rear laterals on the pec flye machine (facing into it).
4. Add in wide-grip upright rows.
One exercise I have found incredibly valuable over the years is the wide-grip upright row, done with either a barbell or dumbbells. The crazy thing is how few bodybuilders do these. Why is that? I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t really know about them, or if they heard somewhere that they are dangerous. The form I have found best is to pull in an arc, as if you are trying to pull the bar or dumbbells ‘up and over’ your shoulders. If you don’t do these, you really are missing out.
5. Give your shoulders a chance!
The shoulders are involved in exercises for many other muscle groups, such as the chest, back, and even the arms. As such, you need to be careful to make sure they are able to recover. I don’t feel anyone should train shoulders the day before or after chest. If they are a weak point for you, I wouldn’t train them the day before or after back, either. As far as training them after chest on the same day, that’s something only someone who has shoulders that grow very easily should even think about. Otherwise, they will be halfway trashed by the time you start working them.