To Julian Smith's mind, one of the biggest challenges lifters face is avoiding boredom in the gym. He should know; he's been lifting consistently since his teens, which has helped him both build an incredible physique, and create a deep and comprehensive "little black book" of exercise variations to keep his mind and muscles stimulated.
"You have your bread and butter exercises—your military press, side laterals, and dumbbell raises," Smith says. "But too often, once you get fatigued doing these exercises, you start cheating by shifting your body weight mid-set to get more reps, which reduces stimulation of the muscle fibers you're targeting."
The solution? Stop simply looking to progress in weight, and look for ways to make lighter weights more difficult! This fairly high-rep workout from Smith can work as written, or as a template from which you can switch out new variations on old exercises. Just check out his exploding Instagram and Facebook for a few hundred examples.
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Standing Military Press
If you follow Smith on social media—which is pretty much becoming an unspoken law of the weight room at this point—you know that he does shoulder presses with barbells, dumbbells, cables, the Smith machine (yes, he loves that machine!), behind-the-neck, and even alternating behind and in front of the neck.
They all have their place, but they also all share a couple of characteristics when Smith does them: slow negatives, explosive concentrics, and strategic pauses at contraction (and occasionally elsewhere) to help ensure you're in control of that weight.
Smith says too many people do this basic move wrong by pushing the weight up and out in front of them.
"What you want to do is push the bar up and slightly over your head," Smith says. "This gives your delts the most bang for your buck."
He also recommends keeping your elbows down and slightly in front of your ribs, rather than pointed out.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
As with the military press, Smith has a bottomless well of raise variations he uses, but there's nothing wrong with milking everything you can out of the classic version first.
"Make sure that as you bring the dumbbell or the single-arm cable to your side, you keep your torso movement to a minimum," Smith says. "If you kick your legs and shift your body to help get the weight up, you're just moving body parts."
By keeping your body as stationary as possible during the entire movement, he says, you can put more emphasis on your delts.
Front Dumbbell Raise
"A tip I like to share with people for front raise movements," Smith says, "is to focus on contracting, raising, or pressing with your elbows, not your hands. This takes a lot of tension off your triceps and your biceps and puts a little more focus on your delts."
Alternate arms on this exercise, and keep your body stationary, even if it means you have to use an embarrassingly light weight. Nobody cares how much weight you can front raise!
Cable Seated Lateral Raise
This variation of a rear-delt staple is one of those moves where a slight tweak to the normal way of doing things—like using a cable instead of dumbbells—can make a huge difference. Even though you may be using close to the lightest weight on the selector, the stretch from the cables creates an instant mind-muscle connection. Make it through all 4 sets of 15 with slow, controlled reps, and your rear delts should be on fire.
Still, it can be tough to get yourself into position to do this exercise. If possible, ask someone to pull the handles over to where you're sitting on the bench. The pulleys should run under your knees. Keep your arms extended with your palms facing each other and a slight bend at the elbows. Take it slow, getting good stretches and contractions.
Upright Cable Row Lying on the Ground
You'll finish Smith's workout with a unique shoulder burner that you should be able to do in pretty much any gym, and are sure to return to in the future.
Doing the upright cable row while flat on your back takes your torso and feet out of the equation, so you can isolate your delts. No body English, no momentum. Just you, your shoulders, and the resistance. Keep it slow, and after 4 sets, you'll be—and feel—completely done.
If you like this workout, check out Julian Smith's program 30 Days to Your Best Arms on Bodybuilding.com BodyFit Elite.