As a natural athlete, building big delts can be a challenging thing to do…
Unless you know how to train each muscle correctly… and that comes from understanding the function of each mucle.
As the shoulder consists of three heads, each head needs to be hit from a different angle by a different exercise.
When training shoulders with a compound movement, it activates all the heads, but some more that other obviously. For e.g. Military press hits all three heads, but the front head the most, the lateral head second best and the posterior head least. Whereas upright row hits the lateral delt the best, with posterior delt and frontal delt second best, depending on the angle of your body (forward or backward lean).
I like to do a compound movement for every head of my deltoid. Some movements hit two-three heads at the same time, and then, I’ll finish off with an isolation movement or two to finish off a spesific muscle I’d like to give special attention to.
Anterior delt exercises. Decending order:
Standing military press/dumbell overhead press > seated military press/dumbell overhead press > upright row while leaning slightly backwards > front raises (all variations)
Lateral delt exercises. Decending order:
Wide grip barbell upright row, standing upright > dumbbell upright row > military press/standing dumbbell shoulder press > lateral raises
Posterior delt exercises. Decending order:
Wide grip barbell upright row, leaning forward > dumbbell upright row > bent over lateral raises > reverse flies/face pulls
The right exercises
What do you need to set a good program up?
- Barbell (BB) overhead press (OHP/Military press)
- Dumbbell (DB) shoulder press
- Upright row (URR) (BB or DB)
- Lateral raises (strict or cheating)
- Facepulls/Reverse flies/Bent over lateral raises
The shoulder muscle responds best to heavy weights. Which is why it’s best to start the workout with this heavy compound exercise, to get the best muscle stimulus. This will provide the best growth for you anterior delt and is also a great compound movement for you lateral deltoid.
Heavy (3-6 reps) military press/seated dumbell shoulder press is the number one muscle builders and it’s the only exercise/s to start your workout with.
These two exercises doesn’t need to be alternated to keep the stimulus new, but you continue to progress by adding reps or weight each week. It’s called progressive overloading and that’s how you keep on packing on the mass and strength.
Through using EMG (electromyogram activity), this study shows that standing dumbbell/barbell shoulder press produces the best stimulus of all the exercises.
As a conclusion to this EMG study, using a wider grip on the BB upright row will activate the lateral deltoid the greatest, while using a narrower grip will activate the trapezius muscle fibers more.
Once again, using a heavier weight, achieved by doing BB URR and not DB URR, will give the best muscle stimulus and growth.
Leaning more backwards while performing the movement recruits more frontal delt to assist in the movement. While leaning more forward recruits more poterior delt to assist in the movement.
As you already hit you anterior delt optimally with military press, I don’t advise leaning backwards, but rather forwards, to hit your posterior delt with this compound movement.
Lateral raises hit the lateral side of the deltoid perfectly, and it’s one of the best secondary exercises to hit the outside head of the deltoid.
As this study shows, using moderate amounts of momentum can actually enhance the torque and the hypertrophy stimulus from the exercise.
Leaning more forward hits the anterior delt more and leaning more back hits the posterior delt more. I prefer to stand upright to hit my lateral delt the best.
This is to finish off your posterior delt, after a compound movement, to continue stimulating growth. As the military press and upright row will hit your frontal and lateral delts optimally, you need to focus a bit more on the posterior delt, if you’re looking for that ‘capped’ look.
The capped look is ‘seeing’ a difference between your deltoid, and lateral dead of your tricep. To achieve that, you need to train you posterior delt optimally, in order for it to ‘pop’ out.
As it’s the posterior delts responsibility for that capped look you need to optimally stimulate it: first with a compound movement and then with an isolation movement. The posterior delt doesn’t have to be killed by lots and lots of sets either to achieve that.
Take a moderate weight and do strict movements only. No cheating.
Also using a neutral grip, instead of a pronated hand grip will active the posterior deltoid muscle significantly better during reverse flies and bent over lateral raises.
The correct repetition range
Training with a heavier load results in better hypertrophy and strength. The best rep range to achieve heavy load is between 3-6 reps.
The time you spend resting between sets has a big impact on your workout.
Studies recommend 3-5 minutes of rest between sets. This will produce greater increase in absolute strength, as the intensity of the set will be higher, due to better recovery.
Long resting periods (3-5 min) result in significant greater hypertrophy and strength gains than shorter rest intervals (1 minute).
I advise the following on shoulders:
3-6 reps -> 3 minute rest
6-8 reps -> 90-120 sec rest
8-10 reps -> 60-90 sec rest
Three – four exercises are more than enough to stimulate every head of the deltoid optimally for maximal growth.
- Military press (4 sets x 4-6 reps) – compound movement for anterior and lateral head.
- DB upright row with a forward lean (4 sets x 6-8 reps) – compound movement for lateral and posterior head
- Lateral raises (4 sets x 8 reps) – isolation movement for lateral head.
- Face pulls (4 sets x 8-10 reps) – isolation movement for posterior delt.
Now you’ve hit every head with a compound and an isolation movement for optimal growth.
It’s not needed to hit the anterior delt with an isolation movement as it’s very rarely a lagging muscle.
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