Weak Point: Shoulders
Unfortunately, we’re not all gifted with great shoulders. Some have narrow bone structures, while others just have straight-up stubborn delts. Next to calves, they may just be the toughest body part to grow. Fortunately, even lifters with crappy genes can build broad, imposing shoulders. It just takes a little bit of time and a lot of perseverance. Here’s how to do it!
Put Weight Overhead
You can certainly find broad-shouldered lifters who never perform the military press, but they’re few and far between. Before you start worrying about side raises, upright rows, or other dinky movements, you’ll need to focus on putting heavy-ass weights over your head. For anyone with naturally small shoulders, there simply is no substitute.
And just to be clear, I’m talking about the strict, standing overhead press. Feel free to throw in seated exercises as accessory work, but spend most of your energy on the basic press. Plenty of people will bitch and moan that you can use more weight when seated, but most of them have crappy delts. The standing position forces you to muscle the weight up with your shoulders, rather than leaning way back and turning the exercise into an incline press.
Don’t cheat and do push-presses, either. The military press is damn hard, and it’ll progress slower than any of your other main movements. You may be tempted to use “just a little” leg drive, justifying the cheat with heavier weights. However, it’s the press out of the bottom that makes the exercise so valuable. I don’t care how light you have to start out, stay strict! If you really want to push-press, do it after you’ve hit your daily goals on the military.
Pump Up the Volume
Your overhead press may lag behind your other lifts, but you can (and should) work like a dog to get it up as quickly as possible. Fortunately, most lifters can handle a lot of work on this exercise without overtaxing themselves. It’s not like a squat or deadlift, where you’re hoisting hundreds of pounds and frying your lower back.
There are tons of ways you can arrange your pressing in your program, but the best plans usually involve a heavy day and one or two lighter days. Try to have one day where you really get after some heavy weights for sets of four or five reps. It may be a “shoulders” day, but it could also be an upper-body day where you focus on overhead work instead of bench pressing. Then, add some sets of six or eight reps to your chest day, or another upper-body day. If you can recover well enough, you may even want to do some extra pressing after squats. The bar will already be right there in front of you in the rack!
Behind the Neck?
The behind-the-neck military press is one of the most reviled lifts in the strength training world, but NOT for good reason. Strangely enough, even super-strong guys will sometimes decry the exercise without having ever given it much of a try. This is pretty sad, since BTN pressing is simply awesome for building thick shoulders and assisting your front press.
If you lack the flexibility to press behind your neck, don’t just give up on it altogether. Like strength and speed, flexibility is an attribute you can dramatically improve if you’re willing to work. Start light, and complement your pressing with some equally-light behind-the-neck pull-downs with varying grips. You might also want to try limiting the range of motion, at least until you build the flexibility necessary to get the bar all the way down to your neck. Be patient, gradually up the weights, and reap the benefits of this awesome exercise. You’ll see jaws drop when you’re BTN pressing more than most people can military press, and you’ll have some equally impressive delts.
Feel the Burn
As is often the case, most lifters seem to take their shoulder training to senseless extremes. We’ve discussed the posers who think you don’t need to overhead press, but there are also plenty of guys who decry any type of raise. While dumbbells and cables may not be as exciting as heavy pressing, raises ARE necessary for building the biggest shoulders possible. There are tons of slow-twitch muscle fibers in the side and rear delts, and they’re simply not going to grow that well without some painful, high-rep raises.
What type of raise is best? Honestly, the exact exercises aren’t as important as the ways you perform them. I prefer dumbbell raises, but some bodybuilders swear by cables and machines. I’d say your best bet is to milk free weights for all they’re worth, but feel free to throw in some one-arm cable raises or reverse pec-dec if they tickle your fancy.
Really, you just need to pick one type of lateral raise and one type of rear raise per shoulder session. That may not sound like much, but you’re going to beat the absolute hell out of each of those exercises. Using a full range of motion and as heavy a weight as possible, stick to four to five sets of at least twenty reps, occasionally doing thirty or forty. Raises are a type of exercise that allows you to use some decently heavy loads for A LOT of reps – if you can handle the burn. And don’t be afraid to use some body English or limited range of motion once you’re too fatigued to do full reps. You can get away with pretty “sloppy” form as long as you feel your delts working.
How you fit raises into your program is up to you. If you’re running a body part split, you’ll obviously want to put most of them on your shoulder day. Since your shoulders are playing catch-up, you’ll also want to add some extra side raises on chest day, and some additional rear raises on back day. If you’re using an upper-lower type routine, then do one type of raise on every upper-body day, in addition to your heavy pressing. Do all of this stuff week-in and week-out, and you’ll see your shoulders blowing up in no time!