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Old 12-09-2010, 11:01 AM   #1
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Default Shoulder Workouts (Long)

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.

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.

Most bodybuilding-style shoulder workouts are derivations of the following standard template:
Overhead press - 3 sets. Usually a Smith press, Hammer Strength press, or even a barbell or dumbbell press. While many of us start with a form of barbell press, I do not feel that's the norm for Average Joe.

Side Laterals - 3 sets.

Rear Laterals - 3 sets.
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.

Shoulder workouts tend to be like eating veggies. Guys do it, but they are not passionate about it.

In any case, I'm not here to ramble on about why guys don't care about shoulder workouts. What I do want to discuss is my own personal take on shoulder training. So here it is.

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.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

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:
Too many guys worry about doing "too much" front delt work on shoulder day while they completely ignore the beat down they are giving their front delts while benching.
See my point? 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.

My shoulder workouts tend to be something like this:

--Seated BTN Press
--Upright Rows or Dumbbell Press
--Side Laterals (or bulldozer laterals, which are more explosive)
--Front Laterals (sometimes...not always)

/End Long Post

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

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?

Destroy That Which Destroys You

"Let bravery be thy choice, but not bravado."

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