Science Based Shoulder Training
Well developed shoulders complete a physique and are vital to athletic performance. Here's how to optimally train them:
1️⃣ Best Strength Exercise: The standing barbell overhead press is tremendous for upper body strength development. If you’re not already doing it, I highly suggest you do. This movement is great for progressive overload which is vital to muscle strength and size.
2️⃣ A note on dumbells for pressing: It could be argued that DB’s are better for overall muscle activation in the shoulders for many reasons. The current literature shows barbells to be superior for overall strength and size but DB’s certainly have a place in overhead pressing. DB’s allow you to get a better stretch in the front delt which leads to more breakdown of the muscle and eventually growth. Also, they allow for a more natural movement because the arms can move independently. For that reason, I think it’s a good idea to include DB pressing into your routine for shoulders.
3️⃣Highest EMG activity: ▪️Front (anterior) deltoid: The seated barbell press has been shown to nearly 100% of maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) which makes it the best for targeting the anterior delts. ▪️Side (Lateral) deltoid: A standing dumbbell lateral raise with the arms nearly fully extended shows roughly 100% MVIC, making it the best move for targeting the side delt. ▪️Rear (Posterior) deltoid: If you have access to a reverse pec deck machine where you can keep your arms at a 90* angle for reverse fly’s, use that since it elicits about 110% MVIC. However, if you don’t, a dumbbell reverse fly will do the trick since it shows 100% MVIC as well for the rear delts. ▪️Rotator cuff: The side lying DB external rotation is a great exercise to target the rotator cuff and should be done before any bench or overhead pressing.
4️⃣ Range of motion: Getting a good, deep stretch at the bottom of DB and barbell presses will really tax the front delts and should be done if trying to isolate them. Touching your shoulder/clavicle area is best. You’ll need to use less weight, but your front delts will be stimulated more. With lateral raises, going to shoulder height with your hands will be good. With rear delts, pinching your shoulder blades together and going far back to feel a squeeze in the rear delts is best.
5️⃣Accessory Exercises: Some other very good moves for the delts include facepulls and barbell or dumbell upright rows if done properly to avoid impingement. Also, isometric holds for external rotation as shown in the picture, are great for shoulder health and show nearly 145% MVIC!
6️⃣Volume: Volume expert, Dr. Mike Israetel states the lateral and rear delts can be worked 2-6 days per week with a weekly volume of 16-22 sets being optimal. However, he also states the front delts don’t need much isolation. In fact, studies have show the front delt of lifter to be 6 times the size of a non-lifter! Front delt isolation such as DB front raises should kept to a minimum. 6-8 weekly sets, which includes compound moves like overhead pressing, will be best. Reps should be kept between 8–15 most of the time.
7️⃣Tips and tricks: When doing lateral raises, at the top of the movement pretend like you’re pouring a cup of water out for a 16% increase in MVIC of the size delts! The extra activation will add up over time, leading to more gains!💪Also, leaning toward the arm your working when doing 1 arm lateral raises is a great idea since it leads to more activation. Slow eccentrics always help with breaking down the muscle which is critical for muscle growth. Eccentric-focused reps are a great addition for any hypertrophy-focused plan.
8️⃣Sample Shoulder Workout:
➖Side lying DB external rotations: 1x20/arm
➖Standing barbell press: 3x8
➖Seated DB press: 3x10
➖Standing lateral raise: 4x10
➖Upright rows: 3x12
➖Rear delt flys: 4x15