Q. My V-taper is just plain sad. How do I build my shoulders so I look bigger and broader?
The "strengthetics" revolution continues with the return of the V-taper! Yes, a slim waist is integral to a great taper, but broad shoulders are even more important. Hold on to your butts because I'm offering you the opportunity to put your muscle where your mouth is and back up that charming pretty boy look with some real power.
The best quality of any statuesque body is a set of round, strong shoulders—the ones that look like over-inflated balloons. The problem is, not many guys can brag about their shoulders. Most dudes have overpowering front deltoids born from years and years of heavy bench press. I was guilty of this when I first started working out. It took years before I learned that there was a rear deltoid!
Although the bench press is great for your chest and anterior deltoid, if it's your biggest focus, your shoulder girdle and chest will quickly dominate your physique. A giant chest and shoulders can give you the appearance of the hunchback of Notre Dame. To fix this imbalance, most people hit their back. More back work typically works because it improves your posture and rounds out your physique.
Unfortunately, extra back work still misses the posterior head of your delts—an important piece to building that masterpiece physique. This article will help you build strong, powerful shoulders that pop from all angles.
My approach to training balanced shoulders varies from client to client, but I usually prescribe a routine based around the medial and rear deltoids. By putting some extra focus on the middle and rear head of your delts, you'll add shape and size you didn't even know you could have. Hitting your delts in this way will also increase your strength so you can officially come out of the wuss zone.
Your V-taper is officially on the way. Here's how you'll build it:
EXERCISE 1: Lateral Raises
Every workout begins with lateral raises, and I don't mean the sloppy, throw-the-weight-around kind. The weight will start at your sides, not in front of your body, to prevent you from using your back to cheat the motion. Control the tempo as you raise the weight. Pause at the top and descend slowly.
Your elbows should always be slightly higher than your hands and your pinky should point up at a 45-degree angle. By twisting the hand slightly and keeping the elbows high, you engage more of the medial and rear deltoid while eliminating some work done by the anterior delt. You don't have to force your shoulder higher than is comfortable. If you raise too high, you may feel some impingement. Remember: You're working the muscle, not the joint.
EXERCISES 2 & 3: Overhead Press
After lateral raises, you'll do two pressing exercises. I like to vary my pressing exercises with seated dumbbell or military press, standing barbell press, or standing single-arm press. In this program it is imperative that you include at least one standing press variation to build core strength and stability.
EXERCISE 4: Around the World
Follow presses with 2-3 sets of what I call the "around the world" exercise. This move is simple, but it's effective. It's essentially a dumbbell flye for your shoulders. Sit in a 90-degree bench and raise two dumbbells above your head. With your palms facing forward, move the dumbbells out and down, and then raise them back up.
Your range of motion will depend on the strength and flexibility of your shoulder joint, so stop at the bottom where you don't feel pain in the joint. This exercise will pull the top of your chest and the anterior delt to make a nice, round shape in your shoulder-chest tie-in. You'll also notice the separation between the biceps and shoulder when you do these.
EXERCISE 5: Low-Cable Face Pull
Set the cable as low as possible and stand a few feet back. Pull the cable right up to your face while rotating the shoulders up and pulling the rope apart. This is a complex movement, but it's crucial that you rotate your shoulders back and pull the rope apart at the same time. The rope should end up right at the bridge of your nose and you should feel tremendous tension in the back of your shoulders. Keep these sets in the higher rep range—around 12-15—to really get the burn and pump into the shoulder.
EXERCISE 6: Single-Arm Cable Pull-Across
For this movement, we deal with small muscles that are deep and sometimes hard to concentrate on. Form is paramount. Set the cable in a cable machine so it's about to your nipple line. Remove all the attachments and grasp the safety ball at the end of the cable. Face your body forward as if you were doing cable cross-overs. Reach your left hand across your body to grab the right pulley, and step a few feet back so there is constant tension on your arm. Your hand should be slightly lower than your elbow, and your elbow should be slightly lower than your shoulder.
Use your rear delt to bring your straight arm across the body and pause once you reach outside shoulder width. Do this exercise slowly so you concentrate on using your rear delt. We're not going all the way out, because we want the rear delt to do all the work, not your back. Return slowly back to the starting point without losing tension on the muscle. Repeat for reps. Never put the weight stack down, and do not lose tension on the muscle.
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These little manipulations to your current routine will help shape and mold the big shoulder caps you spent years dreaming about. Bigger, stronger, better-looking shoulders are only a few workouts away.