A ripped mid-section may look good on the beach, and a big set of arms certainly go a long way in a vest or t-shirt, but when it comes to building a physique that stands out, whatever you’re wearing, there’s nothing more impressive than a meaty set of shoulders.
If you want to upgrade your deltoids to boulder shoulder status, then this four-week workout programme is your ticket to Death Star delts.
How it Works
Training three days per week, you’ll begin each session with laser focussed attention to building the strength, thickness and size of your shoulders, before moving on to other muscle groups for balance and maintenance.
Each day emphasises a different area of your shoulder complex, or a different quality, moving from heavyweight lifts to high rep burners, to ensure complete deltoid development.
Repeat sessions A, B and C each week, making notes and following the ‘progression’ tips to ensure you’re making headway. Try to rest for 24-48 hours between each session, or perform a low intensity cardio or mobility workout on your rest days.
To fuel your quest for shoulder gains, ensure you’re taking on adequate calories and consuming enough protein, aiming for around 2g of the good stuff per kilogram of bodyweight.
YourFour-Week Bigger Shoulder Workout Plan
A. Barbell Complex x Max rounds
Begin with an empty barbell and complete the following three movements, without dropping your barbell. Rest for 120 seconds, adding 5kg to your barbell (2.5kg each side) in your rest period, before repeating. Continue in this fashion, adding 5kg each round. When you can no longer perform 3 strict presses, continue on with just the two remaining movements until you can no longer perform push presses, at which point you will continue resting and adding weight, until you can no longer safely perform 5 push jerks.
Make a note of your finishing weight for each movement and attempt to beat it each week.
A1. Strict Press x 3
Clean your bar onto your shoulders or take it from a rack. Take a breath and brace your core. (A) Press your bar overhead, avoiding flaring at the elbows (B) Lower under control to your shoulders and repeat for 3 reps.
A2. Push Press x 4
After final strict press take a breath, brace your core and dip at the knees (A) using your legs to help press your bar overhead (B). Lower under complete control with a slow tempo to your shoulders. Repeat for 6 total reps
A3. Push Jerk x 5
Push presses complete, you’re going to switch to a jerk, utilising a ‘double dip’ with your legs, dropping under the bar once you’ve powered it up, to help you ‘catch’ it in an overhead position, before standing up straight.
B. Bodyweight and Band Pump
Set a countdown timer for 15 minutes and complete as many high quality sets of the following circuit as possible. Rest as necessary to keep your form tight, focussing on full range of motion and a controlled tempo throughout. Pump up that chest, but keep those shoulders healthy.
B1. Dips x 10
Jump up on two parallel bars or gymnastics rings with your palms facing inward and your arms straight (A). Slowly lower until your elbows are at right angles, ensuring they don’t flare outward (B). Drive yourself back up to the top and repeat.
B2. Push-Ups x 15
Drop into a plank position, with your core tight and hands stacked below your shoulders (A), bend your elbows to bring your chest to the floor (B). Keep your elbows close to your body as you push back up explosively.
B3. Band pull apart x 20
Grab a band to pump up that mid back and offset all of that pressing— helping to bulletproof your shoulders. Hold your band in front of your body, slightly below chest height (A). Keeping your arms straight, explosively pull the band apart, squeezing your shoulder blades together. When the band touches your chest (B). Reverse the movement and repeat.
A1. High Pull 5 x 10
Stand tall holding a pair of moderately weighted dumbbells at your waist, in front of your body. (A) Keeping your core tight pull the dumbbells up towards your chin, driving your elbows up and back (B). Slowly lower back down to your waist under complete control. Avoid excessive movement in your torso. Rest for 90 seconds between each set. Choose a challenging weight, you should be struggling to hit all 10 reps by the final set. Try to go progressively heavier each week, but don’t drop below 6-8 reps.
B. Back and Shoulder Circuit
Complete six rounds of the following circuit. Rest minimally between rounds, but ensure your form stays tight. Focus on strict, controlled movements to ramp up the muscle building intensity in your back and the rear heads of you deltoids.
B1. Pull-up (or lat pulldown) x 5
Grasp a pull-up bar with an overhand grip, shoulder width apart, lift your feet from the floor, hanging freely with straight arms. (A) Pull yourself up by flexing the elbows whilst pinching your shoulder blades together. When your chin passes the bar, (B) pause before lowering to the starting position. If you can’t perform 10 chin-ups, use a band for assistance or switch to the lat pulldown machine.
B2. Rear Delt Flyes x 10
Lay prone on a bench, or hinge at the hips until your torso is parallel to the ground, holding a pair of dumbbells with arms at full length (A) With a slight bend in your arm, raise your dumbbells up away from the ground, finishing in a ‘crucifix’ position (B), pause here, squeezing your shoulder blades together before slowly lowering your dumbbells back to their starting position. Repeat.
B3. Dumbbell Rows x 15
After your final flye remain prone on your bench or in your hinged position (A) Maintaining a flat back, row both dumbbells towards your hips (B), squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower under control to the start before repeating. Control the bells and avoid moving your torso and using momentum to help.
B3. Band Pull-Apart x 20
Pull-aparts are back, because they’re really that good. Hold your band in front of your body, slightly below chest height (A). Keeping your arms straight, explosively pull the band apart, squeezing your shoulder blades together. When the band touches your chest (B). Reverse the movement and repeat.
A. Rest/Pause Sets
Pick weights that you could perform no more than 20 reps with, but no less than 15 for each movement. Your goal is to complete 50 reps of each movement (one movement at a time) in as few sets as possible. Max out on your first set, repping out until you longer perform a single rep with good form, rest for 15 deep breaths and repeat. Your reps will drop off exponentially and you may end up finishing in sets of 2-3 reps, but continue in this fashion until you hit 50 reps, before moving on to your next movement. Make a note of rep breakdowns for each movement and attempt to improve each week. If you manage all 50 in 3 sets, go heavier the following week.
A1. Arnold Press x 50 reps (rest/pause style)
Lift a set of dumbbells onto the top of your chest, palms facing inwards (A) Press upwards, slowly rotating your palms outwards as you do, until your arms are locked out overhead. Pause here (B) before reversing the movement, under control, back to the starting position.
A2. Seated Lateral Raises x 50 reps (rest/pause style)
Sit on a bench holding a pair of light dumbbells at your sides (A) Raise both arms up, straight, either side of your body until they’re parallel to the ground (B). Pause here before slowly lowering the dumbbells under control to your sides. Repeat.
A3. Plate Raise x 50 reps (rest/pause style)
Hold a weight plate or pair of dumbbells in front of your body. Stand tall and brace your core (A). With minimal movement from your torso and keep your arms at a fixed angle, raise the plate all of the way up, until it’s above your head (B). Slowly lower the plate back down to the starting position, under complete control.
A4. Band pull-apart x 100 (rest/pause style)
Hold your band in front of your body, slightly below chest height (A). Keeping your arms straight, explosively pull the band apart, squeezing your shoulder blades together. When the band touches your chest (B). Reverse the movement and repeat.
B. Leg Circuit
This may be a shoulder specialisation programme, but that’s no excuse to skip leg day; the anabolic hormone release from hitting those quads and hams is worth it alone. This short sharp circuit will keep those pins ticking over while you focus on building boulder shoulders. Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes, resting just as necessary to keep your form tight.
B1. Front Squat x 6
Clean a pair of heavy dumbbells onto the front of your shoulders (A). Take a deep breath, bracing your core and drop into a front squat until your thighs pass parallel to the ground (B), before driving back up. Keep your torso upright and form tight throughout.
B2. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift x 8
Drop your dumbbells to your sides, feet at shoulder width and glutes tensed (A). With a slight bend in the knees, push your hips back and slowly lower the bells towards the ground (B), maintaining a flat back. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, pause and explosively return to an upright position. Repeat.
B3. Dumbbell Deadlift x 10
Continue on with your deadlifts, this time unlocking your knees (A) to allow your quads to assist in the lift. Engage your lats and stand upright, ‘pushing the ground away’ with your feet. (B). Your arms should be hanging straight throughout this movement, think of them as hooks.
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