Dense Delts Diversity Your Shoulder Workout

Dane Fletcher

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It would be easy to feature a garden-variety delt article that talked about well-rounded training and the use of specialized sets, such as giant sets or drop sets, and it would correctly represent what it is to train delts. Let’s face it, lots of things work for lots of people at one time or another. But the problem with most routines is they can only take you so far before they cease working and you have to move on to something else. Which is why it’s a misconception to generalize and say that any change is enough to shock the body into growth again. Truth is, not just any change will do. It must be the right change.

The other problem with most routines is the fact that 99% of them rarely address the actual mechanics at play within that muscle group (more on that later). So in either case, it’s not really right to judge a routine as good when it works for someone new to training. Any routine used at that point could stimulate growth; even the worst routine. The best judge of any routine is whether it’s the sort of routine you can stick with, at almost all times. Which isn’t to say that you don’t tweak it here or there or that you don’t configure your work and rest days differently, it’s just that the principles and exercises, and the manner in which you execute them, don’t change.

When anyone develops a personal philosophy, whether about training or something else, part of the character of that philosophy is that it means something special to the person developing it. That is to say, it works for them and makes sense to them in a way that is very individual. Its meaning is easily understood and applied, and because it likely encompasses many different aspects of importance to that person, it’s hard to want to change anything of a personally developed philosophy.

But when problems come up in our training that begin to challenge that self-developed philosophy, it’s time to broaden our minds and adopt a new mentality in the name of growth and progress.

The problem with most delt routines is that they either don’t include enough exercises, or what they do include doesn’t place enough emphasis on the parts of the shoulder that matter to overall size and shape. While many larger body parts grow quite amply as a result of work with compound movements, smaller body parts such as the shoulders really require a lot more specialization and attention to detail. It’s also really a game of intelligence with the delts—a cat and mouse chase that necessitates staying one step ahead of your body.

Let’s look at simple shoulder-capsule anatomy first because it’s important. Viewing anatomy for what it is, both in the human realm and in the personal realm of how we are structured as individuals, is logical, yet rarely considered. Puzzling indeed. This is what most people would refer to as “muscle geometry”… how we’re formed and how it is going to affect how we ought to train. Shape and arrangement are crucial for choosing to prioritize one kind of exercise or to prioritize a specific part of the joint cluster itself with a group of exercises that can target the area best.

Muscle shape also determines how functional the muscle will be under stress and in work conditions. It’s probably more complex an issue than looking at the differences between red and white fiber ratios because shape supercedes fiber concentration in spades. The shape and general architecture of the muscle determines the range of motion and the muscle’s ability to shorten and lengthen during work, affecting power and strength greatly. These configurations and measurements of angles within the muscle are called pennation angles; patterns that affect how much power the group can generate and tolerate.

The shoulders are dense and complex as muscle groups go, and contain very short muscles that are highly tolerant to work. They contain multiple, sliding pennation angles. Pennate angles within the shoulder are typically greater than in other muscles, no matter who the person is. But within this group, there are those with great angles and those with smaller than average ones. Muscle pennation is a complex topic and it isn’t the point of this article to delve into it. However, it does give us a birds-eye view into muscle architecture and how the whole enchilada works.

What’s the bottom line you may ask? Use the shoulders’ natural composition - natural muscle architecture - and pennation angles to build bigger, better delts.

One way to do this is to structure your shoulder routine to include isometric movements first to take greater advantage of pennation angles within the muscle to allow for greater increases in dynamic work. Using isometric tension, and the principles of muscle facilitation one can increase strength up to 20% within each workout.

Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you have constructed a workout that includes 2 exercises per area of the shoulder, plus one overall compound exercise, and have a total of 7 in the workout altogether. At the beginning of each section (front delt training, rear delt training or lateral delt training) use an isometric exercise to increase strength in that area prior to beginning training it.

For example: Let’s say that you begin your workout using shoulder presses with dumbbells on a 90-degree bench. Before starting a set using your heaviest weight, do a warm up set and then immediately take a weight that you could only press one time. Use a spotter and lift the weight to a point just prior to “lock out” with the elbows for half the time and lock out the other half. Hold it, in total, in isometric fashion, for approximately 8 seconds and then let it down slowly. Rest for 30-45 seconds and prepare to begin your actual heavy weight sets. Grab a weight that’s 20% heavier than normal and watch yourself lift it with the same ease as your normal max.

That’s the basis for this workout. Beginning with isometric work, moving into mass building, and finishing with shaping movements. The other part of this workout has to do with prioritizing neglected areas of the deltoid that can only give you the appearance of a more massive shoulder.

The most neglected area of the shoulder is the rear delt region. We personally don’t know anyone who works that area enough to actually affect a change in the overall appearance and impressiveness of the delt. And that’s a shame because it’s probably one of the most obvious areas to work to create a much larger appearance overall. Not only do the shoulders look more massive from the side when the rear delt is highly developed, a superbly developed set of rear delts only enhances the back to make it appear much more expansive and detailed. Remember, bodybuilding is about illusion, density and an overall look of completion.

Here are the goals of the workout:

1. To achieve greater strength during workouts by using isometric movements that precede the training of each area of the deltoid.

2. To specialize in the training of the rear delts

3. Using shaping movements and range of motion to take advantage of natural muscle architecture and the natural pennation of the shoulder joint

4. Working the muscle from multiple angles; even when to do so appears redundant

Let’s start with the list of 14 exercises and build a sample routine from there.

  • TOTAL DELT - Smith Machine Press (Behind/ In front)
  • TOTAL DELT - Seated Dumbbell Press
  • TOTAL DELT - Arnold Presses (Begin with palms facing inward; into traditional press)
  • REAR DELT - Seated DB Bent Over Lateral Raise
  • REAR DELT - DB Lateral Raise on an Incline Bench (Chest down on incline bench)
  • REAR DELT - Lateral Raise on a Flat Bench (Chest down on flat bench)
  • REAR DELT - Face Pulls w/ Rope (Facing high cable pulley/ pull rope ends toward face)
  • LATERAL DELT - Cable Laterals
  • LATERAL DELT - Dumbbell Laterals
  • LATERAL DELT - Lying One Armed Lateral Raises
  • FRONT DELT - DB Front Raises
  • FRONT DELT - EZ Curl Barbell Front Raises (show various angles)
  • FRONT DELT - Cable Front Raises with Rope (Back facing low pulley/ cable between legs/ lift ends of rope)
  • TRAPS - Upright Rows/ Shrugs (Smith Machine) First off, using the list, choose at least two exercises from each category (except traps) for each workout. Try to vary exercises throughout the week to include all of them. These particular movements have been chosen because they address the various pennation angles within the shoulder. Most also require impeccable execution of form. Should you have questions as to the form needed to ensure correct application, consult photo representation either from this article or from various sources online.

    When executing these exercises multiple angles should be utilized within each exercise itself, and also in how you have chosen and combined the exercises. For instance, you see represented a great deal of the same kind of rear delt work, but it is approached from 3 very different angles. This is part of the goal with work on pennation angles, in order to create a better developed deltoid.

    We recommend using just one total delt exercise. This is quite contradictory to what most people suggest when they say that mass is only gotten through compound movements. That may be true when it comes to quad development, but it is not the case with shoulder work. In fact, most injuries to the shoulders are sustained either during a workout using too much weight in a poor or compromised angle during a compound movement, or during sleep.

    We can’t help you during the hours of your slumber, but we can recommend to skip the macho trip in the military press, and to always use the Smith machine. If you have had prior shoulder injuries, such as superspinatus tears or rotator cuff issues, to utilize a bar that begins just over the collar bone rather than taking it behind the neck.

    Sample routine:

    The only thing ordinary about this routine is the fact that we recommend training the shoulders 2x per week. More specifically, you must train the shoulders every 3-4 days in order to allow for ample rest and for hitting it hard when you actually work them.

    The Workout:

    (8-9 exercises per workout)

  • TOTAL DELT - Smith Machine Press (Behind/ In front) 1 x 1 - Isometric set using 1 rep max weight3 x 8 - Standard set using 15%-20% more weight than normal
  • REAR DELT - Seated DB Bent Over Lateral Raise1 x 1 - Isometric set using 1 rep max weight3 x 8 - Standard set using 15%-20% more weight than normal
  • REAR DELT - DB Lateral Raise on an Incline Bench (Chest down on incline bench)3 x 8 - Standard set using 10% more weight than normal
  • REAR DELT - Face Pulls w/ Rope (Facing high cable pulley/ pull rope ends toward face)1 x 10 - Use 80% of max weight – pull at standard angle to hit center of RD2 x 10 - Use 65% of max weight – raise hands higher in start position
  • LATERAL DELT - Dumbbell Laterals1 x 1 - Isometric set using 1 rep max weight3 x 8 - Standard set using 20% more weight than normal
  • LATERAL DELT - Cable Laterals3 x 12 - Standard sets using your normal weight
  • FRONT DELT - DB Front Raises1 x 1 - Isometric set using 1 rep max weight3 x 8 - Standard set using 20% more weight than normal
  • FRONT DELT - EZ Curl Barbell Front Raises (show various angles)2 x 8 - Standard set using normal weight, and pronated wrists and hands2 x 8 - Standard set using normal weight, and suppinated wrists and hands
  • TRAPS - Upright Rows/ Shrugs (Smith Machine) 1 x 1 - Isometric set using one rep max weight3 x 8 - Standard set using 15% more weight than normal Choose exercises from the prior list in this ratio, and always begin your training with one standard/compound movement and then move right into the rear delts. Unlike other workouts, this moves from back to front, rather than from front to back, or side to front to back. We suggest prioritizing the rear delts because they can give you the added density you need on a stage to look head and shoulders above the crowd (forgive the pun).

    You’ll probably notice a few other things during this workout as well: Because you’ll use various angles either within the exercise itself (such as rope pulls for rear delts), or within the scheme of working that entire area of the delt (as in choosing 3 different body angles for the rear delts: bent over, 45 degree incline, flat bench, etc. , you’ll feel soreness you haven’t felt since being a gym newbie.

    What’s more, in a few months, or at your next competition, you’ll notice just how you’ve reaped the benefits of doing this. In fact, the more often you can practice this, without compromising the point of the movement, the better development you’ll get because it will be addressing different pennation angles, even with the slightest of changes.

    You’ll also notice, quite pleasantly, that your strength will increase even as you move through the workout because of the utilization of isometric opening sets in each shoulder category. You will be amazed at how much more strength you have at your disposal, at least within the first sets of the first exercise for each area of the delt.

    Bottom line, this is the kind of routine you can progress with over a continuum without having to replace it with the latest fad or workout gimmick. This routine offers no gimmicks—it’s a pure routine that allows you a great deal of flexibility and ingenuity. You won’t really appreciate the simplicity and beauty of that until you actually begin reaping the rewards and see that the rewards are limitless, based on how you work the routine. Once you do, we’re sure that you’ll be begging for something similar for every other body part.

    Hey, we aim to please.

    About the Author: Dane Fletcher is the world's foremost training authority. He writes exclusively for, a leading online provider of creatine and steroid solutions. For more information, please visit .

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