Pad your shoulders – with muscles!

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High rep workouts are far from being cheery and fun. They are pretty painful, but they are effective too - and the feedbacks from you confirm that.

Unfortunately shoulder muscles are likely to get “burnt out” even by conventional training methods – and in this case it will be worse. So you might find it helpful to get some citrulline malate, beta alanine, BCAA, or a food supplement that contains all these agents, so that you can delay the fatigue... You should also control your diet – otherwise workouts, and even supplements are rather pointless –, and you are sure to fail during such workouts when your nutrient levels are insufficient. In the worst scenarios all processes can go in reverse: you expect development, but get overtrained instead, and because of that your performance will actually drop, moreover you get significantly higher chance of injuries.

So combining the appropriate food, supplements, and workouts will get you results – but not when managing them separately!

Some thoughts about the method...

Many people think that they must use large weights to increase muscle size and strength. Actually it might be true for those who focus on increasing their 1 rep max, but the ones with inducing muscle growth in mind should really try the high rep counts. While doing this program it is crucial to let go of all your relevant preconceived ideas (about “cutting”, “small weights = small muscles”, etc.) Apart from that we should really point out that when the program requires you to do 20 reps of an exercise, then choose a load that you can do 15-16 reps with – and your job is to work your rep count up to 20. When you reach 20, you can increase the load. It almost certain that your previous program was different, so the huge change in methods will bring results in itself. If you find that your development comes to a halt following this method too – and it might happen – then you can change back to the “more traditional” 8-12 rep counts for a while. But be prepared to be amazed about how easily you can do 8-12 reps with huge weights after months of working out with 15-30 (or even more) reps per set.

The exercises

Shoulder muscles have three heads: anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (back). It is a well known fact for most of you. The workout programs should be designed so that all three heads receive the right stimuli to grow. The front part (anterior) of the deltoid can be involved in workouts by doing presses and forward raises, the side part (lateral) can be targeted by various lateral raises, and the back part (posterior) can be worked by doing bent-over lateral raises or using posterior deltoid machines – that is basically a reverted pec-deck machine.

Shoulders represent a relatively small group of muscles, so you do not need to invest a lot of work in them. In case this is the muscle group that lags behind, then you can include one or two extra sets, otherwise 10-12 sets are more surely enough to call it a day. Note: Even as much as 9 workout sets (counted with the warm-up sets excluded) can conclude a full shoulder workout when executed properly.

The workout program below includes three exercises: one press, one lateral raise, and one bent-over lateral raise. These exercises can be substituted by other ones that require similar motion ranges. Do vary your workouts so that you can find the combination that works best for you.

Military presses

Description of the exercise

The first, and probably the most important recommendation: NEVER EVER do behind-the-neck presses if you wish to maintain the health of your shoulder joints. You can do military presses instead in a sitting or standing position if your body structure allows you to do so (the standing version is not recommended for those above a certain body height). After the warm-up choose such a weight for your first set that you can barely do 20 reps with. Let’s underline the word barely – that means 21 would be too hard! If you are done with this first set, then increase the weight to change your max rep count to 15 or 16. Do two sets using that weight with as many reps as you can. Your task is to increase your rep count by 1 each week to reach 20 eventually. You’ll see that the +1 rep/week is a quota you can just meet, so if you cannot increase rep counts or weights at any other exercises, you can still rate your program as ‘progressive’ because of the increase in the amount of work accomplished. You are more likely to achieve your goals too when taking such small steps rather than aiming for fanciful goals. So do not go for 20 reps next week as it will be too much. :)

If you still have some energy left to use, you can do another 20-30 reps set with smaller loads, but it is possible that you are out of breath already – and it is absolutely normal too. 3 working sets at this repetition count is enough.

This exercise can be replaced by: Dumbbell presses sitting or machine presses (if the gym has shoulder press machines).

Tip: Occasionally – meaning once in a while – you can go for 50 rep sets too. E.g. when you are bored at doing the same thing over and over. Variations are good for your spirit, and it also promotes your development when you trick your muscles every now and then!

Lateral raises

Description of the exercise

Lateral raises are amongst the hardest of all exercises – and that’s not a joke. Lateral raises are executed wrong by about 90% of even those who focus on form over weights. One of the major benefits of high rep workouts is that you definitely know which muscles are involved in the exercise. Choose such a weight for your first set that allows you to do at least 30 reps in perfect form. It is probably 2 or 3 kg (4 kg at max) – if you really execute the motions fine. If you feel it to be very easy, then you do it wrong. ;) You can increase the weight for the successive sets, even in a pyramidal manner, but never drop the rep count below 15! Do a total of 4 sets (including the very first set of 30 reps). Your shoulders are guaranteed to be pumped and on fire. And what’s more: if you executed the exercises right, your anterior deltoids are not burning!

This exercise can be replaced by: any kind of lateral raises in machines with low pulley cables or other appropriate machines. The main thing is to keep your focus on the form – weights don’t really count here! If execute the exercises right (in good form) then you have your shoulders bulging by the second set, and you feel your lateral deltoids really pumped up and burning.

Tips for executing the motion in good form:

  • Keep your torso motionless and stable all the time while working out.
  • Always start the motion from the side of your thighs (and not from a position where the dumbbells meet in front of your body).
  • When raising your arms, focus on your elbows – and not on the weights. Your elbows must be kept higher than the weights ALL THE TIME while executing the motions!
  • Hold the dumbbells so that your thumbs point forward and down (as if you were pouring liquid from a bottle).
  • Do not raise your shoulders during the exercise as it would involve your trapezium muscles too.
  • Your elbows should always point outwards – it should not move backwards, so keep it in a forward position in the entire motion range. In other words: always keep your elbows in the coronal plane of your torso. This might be the hardest thing of all. It is easiest to think of your arms as if they were in plaster from shoulder to wrist, so the all the motions are initiated by the shoulders only. It is advisable to practice the motion in front of a mirror, and with no weights in your hands. Let your arms relax besides your body, and rotate your arms inwards as far as you can while keeping them on your sides. This makes your elbows “turn” to face to the sides. There you have it, so do lateral raises keeping this position of arms (in front of a mirror or even at home), and after about 50 reps you will feel what you should feel. Even the video above shows imperfections of form!

Always use weights with which you can still do execute the exercise accurately. Just to give you some insights on the weights used: 8 kg dumbbells represent a really good, and advanced level at this exercise!

Bent-over lateral raises

Description of the exercise

Bent-over lateral raises are the best to work the posterior deltoids directly. You can do it sitting with your torso bent over your knees, or standing with your torso leaning forward. The direction of the stimuli will be the same. Do 3 or 4 sets of 20 reps. Keep in mind that your arms should not move forward (as trapezium muscles would take the some of the burden), nor backward (as back muscles would steal the show). Try to keep your arms hard-set (as if plastered up), and do not move your shoulders up and down.

This exercise can be replaced by: Using a back deltoid machine, or doing back deltoid exercise in a top pulley machine.

And that’s all you need for the magic. Did you expect something more complicated? This workout includes everything you need to work the three heads well. You will also see that this program is tough enough too... You can link the workout of your trapeziums to the shoulders training or to your back workout, it does not really matter – we cover that topic in the ‘back workout’ section.

Related workout routines:

Pain is your friend!


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