Many lifters approach shoulder day with the idea of pushing as much weight as possible, as hard as possible, for as long as possible. This may work in the short term, but after a while you'll become acquainted with a hard-hitting member of the "itis" family, be it tendinitis, bursitis, or one of their other inflammatory cousins.
While the allure of training at full throttle all the time may appeal to your hardcore nature, IFBB physique pro and Cellucor-sponsored athlete Craig Capurso has found a three-speed approach that's far more effective—not just on shoulder day, but for his entire physique.
Craig's approach to building high-definition deltoids, which is part of his personally designed Muscle Mash program, starts with power moves, progresses to more focused exercises in which he locks in on the mind-muscle connection, and finishes off with movements and speeds designed to maximize the burn in the muscle.
Before diving into Craig's workout, heed his five key pieces of shoulder training advice.
1. Tune Your Training Split
It may seem unnecessary to start a shoulder-training article with a word on your training split, but from Craig's perspective, it's imperative.
"Shoulders are often used with other exercises when training chest (front delts) and back (rear delts), so be careful how you structure them in your training plan," he says. "Do too much and you may sideline yourself for a week, but do too little and other muscles may begin to overpower them."
What you don't want, he says, is to train upper body three days in a row, so how you set up your split shouldn't be random. Further, Craig recommends dialing down your volume and intensity a bit if you're focusing on shoulders. "If you're going to specialize on bringing up your delts, you may want to back off your chest intensity since your delts are called into play on bench pressing exercises as well," he says. Doing so will allow you to give more for each shoulder workout you perform.
2. Get Warmed Up
Shoulder injuries are one of the most common injuries that can take a trainee out of the game for a few weeks or more, so you need to protect those joints. "I start my shoulder workouts with some dynamic warm-up sets that target the delts specifically, such as light lateral raises, and some standing dumbbell presses before actually sitting down to check my form and load the weight up for a major multi-joint movement," Craig explains.
Doing warm-up sets shouldn't be confused with wasting your time. Warming up is critical, especially the stronger you get. Not only will you lower your risk of injury, but by the time you get to your heaviest set, you'll be able to push more weight than you would've been able to do otherwise. Just don't take your warm-ups anywhere close to muscle failure, Capurso advises, or you'll compromise your strength on your heavy working sets.
3. Prioritize the Big Lifts
When it comes to arranging his workouts, Craig's game plan is to always start big. "I structure all my training around exercises that engage the greatest degree of muscle mass," he says. With big compound movements, any target muscle group can be pushed with heavy sets.
When training shoulders, the biggest move in the game is the overhead press and its many variations. Whether done with a barbell or dumbbells, overhead presses are the bread and butter of power shoulder training.
"I always start off with a power movement that's strength-oriented," says Craig, who opts for a clean and press as his initial shoulder move in this workout.
4. Connect Your Mind and Muscles
Craig correctly notes that many trainees oftentimes say they "don't feel" heavy exercises, in part because they're just focused on moving the load. His answer: Reduce the poundage toward the middle of your workout, train more deliberately, and focus on connecting with the target muscle.
"You'll feel the muscle to a greater extent when going lighter or using a slower movement speed, because you can really amplify the mind-muscle connection," says Craig.
Here's where Craig adds single-joint movements like front raises, overhead shoulder flyes, and lateral raises. "I may not go as heavy on these sets, so I'll usually increase the number of reps and really focus on getting a squeeze with them," he says. By utilizing supersets and slightly higher reps, Craig is able to work for enhanced muscle definition.
5. Finish With a Bang
Craig's choice for a finishing move has a singular goal: to light a fire and initiate a massive burn. "I like to finish my workouts with a burnout set, and oftentimes it means doing slow movements or what I call static holds (isometrics). The weight will be one in which I can really hold and squeeze each rep," Capurso says.
In the workout below, Craig supersets a full minute of car drivers with a 45-pound plate and barbell upright rows for 3 sets that sear in an intense burn. He's also done lateral raises as a finisher, pausing at the midpoint.
Here's Craig's three-part shoulder workout that builds size and definition, finishing with an intense muscle burn.