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Old 12-09-2010, 11:17 AM   #2
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Max Brawn

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That is not a long thread! Shoulder training is one of my favorite topics, and I will be back to open my pie hole and say a few things.

Errands to run. I'll edit this post later.

Love it Steve.

Yesterday I had someone take issue with one my shoulder training approaches, so I thought I would start a discussion on the topic and present my philosophy.
Great. I often wonder if people have really thought about why it is they are doing what there doing, or is it just because they are mimicing what they see.

Thats not meant as a shot at anybody but is a serious question. A lot has changed over the years, and a lot of it has not been for the better. If the pharmacy was shutdown in regards to this sport, I believe that we would see a shift in how things are programmed.

Bama mentioned Charles Glass. I really have an issue with Mr. Glass due to comments he made about fullbody training. He said it was a gimic. A gimic. Excuse me, but what exactly is he thinking? Thats another thread though.

Don't misunderstand my position. Yes, I like fullbody training, but I also realize that there is more than one way to train. I fully support the modern split system when used in the right way, by the right people. In all fairness, fullbody and splits each have highs and lows, but in the end one is not better than the other when viewed with a long enough lens.

I want to start by saying that I believe shoulder workouts to be an afterthought for most. I believe shoulders are one of the least-focused upon, and least thought out muscle groups. Shoulder training just doesn't excite many. It's certainly not on the level of chest, biceps or abs.
I agree with this statement fully. I have gone on record here as saying that shoulder training should be given a priority level above that of chest training. Chest training should be given a level of importance as that of isolation work. Even though it is a compound move. I place it's overall level of importance last on the list.

I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me, and thats ok.

I see no reason to do multi angle chest work, and have in recent history completley stopped all benching for long periods of time. With the right training I actually increased my bench max without benching.

I did that by focusing on delt work.

Most bodybuilding-style shoulder workouts are derivations of the following standard template:
I want to seperate this part as it is the tip of a larger issue as I see it. In fact it extends to the way the whole body is programmed in a lot of todays workouts.

First let me say that I do not consider myself to be some sort of guru when it comes to writing programs. I simply have my own philosophy based on what I've learned over the years. I'll also add that, I think people tend to overcomplicate this whole process. They base what they think they should be doing on what some chemical enhanced pro does.

They also do not understand the concept of maturity. Muscle maturity, and your own ability to do work. None of us started out lifting the weights we do today. We had to build up to them. In doing so we are maturing our muscles, and expanding there ability to do work.

There is a lot of information on this site, that if you can put it all together will be an eye opener for you. Here is the part about that amazes me.

Even when given the information, a lot of people denounce the research. Even though there is historical evidence to support and prove what is being presented.

There are a lot of very good programs that have been written. Not every program is appropriate for every person. Your overall conditioning level should really be a major aspect that you consider when chooseing a program to proceed with.

While I am NOT proclaiming that the above template is ineffective, I DO believe that most (not all, but most Average Joes) stick to it because they really don't care passionately enough about shoulders.
Agreed, and they don't understand the symbiotic nature of one movement to the next.

How often does someone say they can't work arms on back day because there arms are to tired after back work? All the freaking time. Seriously people, can you not see the corralation here.

Shoulder workouts tend to be like eating veggies. Guys do it, but they are not passionate about it.
Fundamental lack of knowledge as too, just how important strong shoulders are to the rest of the body. Just as a weak lower back inhibits so much of the total body strength. Weak delts will inhibit a lot of your upper body potential.

Shoulder Workouts

First let me start with a few observations.

1) Rear Delts. Rear delts are part of the three-headed monster known as the shoulders. They are rarely thought about, and as long as a workout includes rear laterals, most trainees don't think twice about them. They put in their rear lateral work on shoulder day and move on.

It is my opinion that rear delt work fits better (in a bodybuilding workout) with back training. Heavy rowing and pulling motions hit the rear delts hard. In fact, it is my strong belief that heavy rowing and pulling motions are the prime growth stimulus for rear delts.


I believe rows and rear laterals to be in the same family tree, so therefore I general do not structure rear delt work in on shoulder day. This is not to say you can't train rear delts with shoulders - you certainly can.

My greater point is that most trainees and trainers DON'T see the tie-in between rear delts and heavy back work, and therefore keep rear laterals on shoulder day because they know of no other option.

Therefore, when we consider the standard shoulder template above, we are generally looking at only (about) 6 quality sets for shoulders each week. ...which leads me to my next point.

2) Training volume. This is a fascination of mine. I find it curious that trainees and workout designers are satisfied, for the most part, with only 3 heavy weekly working sets for shoulders. Yes, I understand that side laterals are in the mix, but even considering side laterals, weekly shoulder training volume is minimal.

The average bodybuilding-style workout usually features:

--12-16 working sets for chest
--9-12 working sets for biceps
--9-12 working sets for triceps
--12-16 working sets for back
--6-9 working sets for calves
--A mountain of work for abs


But for shoulders most workouts stick with 3 heavy sets of presses and an isolation exercise as a finisher. (And then rear laterals)

Again, I am not stating this is ineffective. If it works for you, great. My reason for mentioning the previous 2 points was to help you understand why I structure shoulder workouts as I do.

My Shoulder Training Structure

When structuring a shoulder workout, I use the following guidelines:

I use 2 heavy, compound lifts. I don't feel satisfied with a minimal amount of heavy working sets for shoulders.

I add to this a side and/or front lateral.

I generally train rear delts with back because I feel they are best trained after a rowing session.

I like to use 2 of the following, usually for 6 total sets:

--BTN Presses
--Military Presses
--Seated DB Presses
--Arnold Presses
--Upright Rows

Some of these lifts have a great front delt focus than others. I don't obsess about front to side delt training balance.


Because I believe that front delts are hit hardest on your chest day, with a battery or dumbbell and barbell presses, and dips (if you use them). I have always had the greatest amount of front delt soreness from chest workouts.

This is not to say that front delt work on shoulder training days isn't important. It is, of course. My greater point is this:

I will bet you that 9 times out of 10, if you structure a shoulder workout with 2 heavy compound lifts, or you add in a front lateral raise to the generic shoulder template, some forum poster will attack you because you have too much front delt work.

So it has become completely acceptable to bomb your front delts on chest with 3 heavy bench-style exercises, but it is also completely unacceptable (for most) to structure a shoulder workout with 2 compounds lifts, and maybe a set of front laterals.

Most of this goes back to a lot of what I said earlier.

They can't articulate why they are doing what they are doing. They are doing it because everybody else is doing it that way. This aspect drives me nuts with people.

This has been a whopper of a long ramble, and I am sorry if I wasted your time.

Not a waste of my time.

Day in and day out I see young lifters on bodybuilding forums doing 9 to 12 heavy and intense sets for biceps, etc., yet they have a minimal shoulder workout.

More than this, they attack (or a better word might be parrot) the thought that one compound lift is enough, and any additional front delt work on shoulder day is dangerous in some way.
Covered in my previous responses, but I agree with this.

Anyone who knows me knows that I generally structure workouts with with a hit and run approach. I prefer hard, brutal sessions that take about one hour. I am not one to use or advise high volume. It's not that I fear high volume, nor do I feel high volume is useless. Some CAN use it.

One thing I don't want to do is to teach high volume to young trainees. I believe they should start slow and add in volume if needed over time as they learn their bodies.

I don't believe two heavy compound lifts for shoulders is too much. I don't believe two compound lifts AND the addition of a front raise is too much. I believe in training the shoulders with a slightly lower heavy compound stress than the chest.

I know my shoulder workout approach goes against the grain, but I can live with it. In my prime in 1997, as a small-boned lifter, my (natural) strict seated BTN press 1RM was 275+. I was also doing seated (strict) dumbbell presses with 120 pound dumbbells. Even this year at the age of 42 I was able to perform a strict seated BTN press of 225 for 5 reps. No e-stats here, the video is on Youtube.

If you want to use the standard shoulder training template, have at it. I would never try to tell you that there is a magic workout for everyone, or that the standard template stinks. I know many bodybuilders that thrive on 3 sets of presses, 3 sets of side laterals and 3 sets of rear delts.

My point in writing this tome was to explain my shoulder training philosophy, and to get you to think long and hard about your shoulder training workout.

There simply aren't many heavy compound lifts for shoulders, and this is a sticking point for many.

At the end of the day there is only one question I ask myself:

Why am I doing 6-10 heavy sets for chest each week and only 3 heavy sets for shoulders?

I like it.

Last edited by glwanabe; 12-09-2010 at 02:16 PM.
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