Most people have at least one muscle group that’s a bit weaker and disproportionate. Some are struggling with skinny legs. Some have a narrow back or small chest. Others would do anything to have broader shoulders. The good news is that you can naturally bring up your lagging body parts. Diet and training are equally important.
Broad shoulders are an epitome of masculinity. They look great on women too. When you have wide shoulders, your waist looks smaller and your back larger. Not to mention that seeing your delts popping out to the sides feels really great. Your T-shirts will fit better and your body will look balanced and strong.
The Deltoid Muscle at a Glance
Let’s start with the role of the deltoid muscle. Commonly referred to as the shoulder muscle, it ranges in size from 84 grams to 366 grams or more. It has a triangular shape and boasts three main parts — posterior, middle, and anterior — which are connected by a thick tendon.
This muscle surrounds the shoulder joint and plays a key role in arm rotation. The anterior deltoid allows you to flex, rotate, and take your arms out to the side. The middle or lateral deltoid allows for arm abduction at the shoulder joint. The posterior deltoid enables you to extend and rotate the arm.
We use the delts for most activities, such as writing, running, picking objects, and so on. That’s why these muscles are subject to wear-and-tear and can get easily injured. Their width and size are largely determined by genetics. Your bone structure plays a role too.
If your goal to build wider shoulders, it’s essential to train all three deltoid muscles. The side delts are particularly important as they give you more shoulder width. By growing these muscles and also reducing your waistline, you can completely transform your physique.
What Should Your Workout Look Like?
Lagging shoulders are often the result of poor training. Many gym goers either focus on the wrong exercises or do too many reps with low weights. Contrary to popular belief, machines and isolation work are not the best options for training your delts.
Your shoulder workout should consist of big, compound moves, such as the military press and overhead press. These exercises add size and strength to your delts by recruiting more muscle fibers. Gym machines are safer and allow for greater variety, but don’t stimulate your muscles to the same extent as free weights do.
To fix lagging shoulders, work these muscles twice a week. For best results, train them along with your traps. However, beware that trap overdevelopment can detract visually from the appearance of width in your delts.
Since the shoulders are a big muscle group, perform three to five exercises per session. Start with heavy lifts, which require greater strength and power compared to isolation work. These may include:
- Arnold press
- Military press
- Smith machine shoulder press
- Hammer strength shoulder press
- Seated overhead barbell/dumbbell press
- Push press
- Kettlebell clean and jerk
- Barbell shrugs
- Incline barbell front raise
Next, continue with isolation exercises to fully activate these muscles and train them to failure. If you begin with isolation work, you’ll be too exhausted for heavy lifts. Compound movements, such as the military press, hit all three delt muscles. Isolation exercises hit just one or two of the major muscles found in your shoulder area.
When you’re done with the big lifts, perform two or three isolation movements. Let’s see a few examples:
- Dumbbell lateral raise
- Cable front raise
- One-arm cable lateral raise
- Bent-over dumbbell lateral raise
- Cable reverse fly
- Reverse pec dec
- Plate front raise
- Handstand push-ups
- Dumbbell snatch
- Upright rows
- Face pull
- Behind the neck press with barbell
- Front press with barbell
Each exercise has its role. The bent-over dumbbell lateral raise, for instance, hits the rear delts. It can be performed from a standing or seated position, and recruits smaller, stabilizing muscles in addition to the deltoids. This helps improve your overall fitness and body strength.
The one-arm bent-over lateral raise works even better. It’s one of the finest examples of unilateral training as it allows you to focus on one side at a time. Over time, it helps fix muscular imbalances and builds symmetry. The downside is that it also makes it easier to cheat, which can stall your progress and lead to injury.
We emphasize the military press for good reason. This compound exercise builds strength and power while adding size to your delts. The key is to use good lifting form. Common mistakes, such as pressing the bar too far in front of your body and using too much weight, can result in serious shoulder injuries. Plus, your muscles won’t work as they should, which will hamper their growth.
This movement offers a lot of bang for your buck. It enhances physical performance, builds core strength, and improves your posture. At the same time, it strengthens the shoulder girdle, which helps lower injury risk from other exercises. With regular practice, the military press can bring up lagging shoulders and give them a harder look.
The standing version yields the best results. According to a recent study, it requires greater stability compared to the seated version. It also leads to better gains in muscle size and strength, contributing to upper body development. Your abs and traps will get a lot stronger too!
Shoulder Training Rules to Live by
To fix lagging shoulders, focus on overhead presses. Aim for eight to 12 reps per set. In case you want more definition, perform drop sets and supersets.
Drop sets, for instance, involve lifting heavy for eight to 12 reps and then lowering the weight until you reach muscle failure. Larry Scoot was a big fan of this lifting method. He started to 90-pound dumbbells and worked his way to failure until he got to 30-pound dumbbells.
Dorian Yates does fewer sets but uses advanced lifting techniques, such as partial reps, forced reps, and negatives. Franco Columbo did lots of pressing movements.
This shows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to shoulder training. What works for your friend or gym buddy might not work for you. Experiment with different lifting techniques until you find the best approach. Stop believing everything you read in magazines or hear from friends.
Structure your workout around the two basic movements: presses and straight arm raises. Add new exercises to the mix along the way. Keep your routine varied to shock your muscles into growth. A typical training session should include o9verhead presses plus front, lateral, and side raises.
Don’t ignore progressive overload. Gradually increase the amount of weight you’re lifting. Focus on exercises that safely allow you to increase the load.
Behind-the-neck presses and upright rows, for example, carry a high risk of injury. For this reason, it’s recommended to use low to medium weights. Military presses, on the other hand, allow for a greater load, especially when done at the Smith machine.
The harder your workouts, the fewer you can do each week. You may have heard about athletes who train their shoulders three or even four times a week. However, they’re either taking anabolic steroids or doing lighter workouts.
Training shoulders twice a week is more than enough for most folks. This applies to any muscle group, not just the delts.
Remember that most upper body exercises recruit your delts to a certain extent. For example, the bench press works the entire upper body, including your arms, chest, shoulders, and core muscles. The same goes for the deadlift, push-ups, chest flyes, and other movements.
Even if these exercises don’t directly target the shoulders, they still engage these muscles. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to train your delts more than once or twice a week. Doing so will put you at risk for injuries.
Watch Your Diet
What you eat can make or break your progress. Lagging shoulders are often due to poor nutrition. If your diet is too low in protein and carbs, don’t expect your muscles to grow. The harder you’re training, the more calories you need.
Protein should come first on your list. Get at least one gram and a half per pound of body weight. Go up to two or three grams if necessary. Carbs are important too as they help your body recover from training and produce the hormones required for hypertrophy. The optimal amount depends on your weight and fitness goals.
Last, don’t forget about fats. Make sure your diet is rich in monounsaturated fats and moderate amounts of saturated fat. This helps maintain optimum testosterone levels and promotes muscle repair. Additionally, certain dietary fats, such as omega-3s, fight inflammation and support cardiovascular health.
Take your daily calories from whole and minimally processed foods. Beef, poultry, fish, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens should be on your menu. Nuts, seeds, avocado, and unrefined vegetable oils will provide your body with healthy fats.
Sports supplements can help too, so get what you need for muscle growth and repair. At a minimum, use protein powder, glutamine, BCAAs, and creatine.
Be patient – your delts won’t grow overnight. As long as you eat right and train hard, your efforts will pay off.