I've been doing my lateral raises religiously, but I'm still struggling to add size to my shoulders. What gives?
Big shoulders make a statement. If you walk into the suit section of Bloomingdales and the salesman tells you there is no way in hell you're going to fit in any of the suits he has for sale, you're on the right track. Awesome as that might be, not everybody has shoulders wide enough to make a tailor cry.
Over the years, the one body part I have been able to get enormously strong are my shoulders. I credit some of that to my training as a swimmer when I was young. I spent hours in the pool and swam for miles every day. Unfortunately, that much swimming put serious stress on my rotator cuffs. To keep my shoulders healthy, I had to build a unique routine that was both intense and safe. I combined some old school training methods from the golden age of bodybuilding with new school principles of growth to create the most effective workout possible.
If you want bigger, stronger shoulders, try this superset:
EXERCISE 1 & 2 Superset Seated Smith-Machine Close-Grip Military Press + Dumbbell Lateral Raise
2 warm-up sets of 12-15 reps, 3 working sets of 6-8 reps / 3 sets of 15 reps
I prefer to do the close-grip military press on the Smith machine because it allows me to perform the movement with the greatest range of motion without compromising form. Most people grip the bar wide, but anytime you flare your elbows, you can put your shoulder capsule in jeopardy and stress the rotator muscles.
By narrowing my grip, I am able to bring the bar all the way down to touch my clavicle without any impingements or discomfort in the shoulder joint. I find, if I superset this with seated side lateral raises, the burn in the shoulder is near unbearable.
On the last set of lateral raises, run the rack. Do 30 reps with 15 pounds, 20 reps with 10 pounds, and 15 reps with 5 pounds. Then go puke in the bathroom and get ready for the rest of the workout.
EXERCISE 3 Incline Barbell Front Raise
3 sets of 12 reps
Although it might seem strange to do this with a barbell, I think it helps to emphasize the negative portion of the lift. First, grab a relatively light bar and lay on the bench in the same fashion you would doing a press. Rest the bar in your hip crease and place both hands wider than shoulder width. With your elbows locked-out, raise the bar up in front until it reaches eye level. Pause at the top, and then go down slowly with a three-second count.
For an extra challenge, do another set prone. Put your chest on the pad and extend the bar in front of you. It's important to have complete control on the negative portion. Raise the bar to eye level, and then lower it back down. You may have to lighten the load to reach 12 reps.
EXERCISE 4 Scott Press
3 sets to failure (aim for 8-10 reps)
I love the ingenuity of the golden age bodybuilders. Larry Scott was one of my first inspirations. This is a modified dumbbell shoulder press where I eliminate as much triceps involvement as possible. Perform these seated to get maximum leverage.
The dumbbell starts just slightly in front of the body with a bit of inward rotation of the palm. From there it, the movement is backward and up without extending the elbow. The shoulder should hold all the stress. For this exercise, go heavy. Try to keep it in the 10-rep range, no more. Remember though, we're bodybuilding, not weightlifting. Don't get too caught up in how much weight you can move.
EXERCISE 5 & 6 Dumbbell One-Arm Bent-Over Lateral Raise + Dumbbell One-Arm Bent-Over Rear-Delt Row
3 sets of 12 reps per arm
To do the one-armed lateral raise, place one hand on the dumbbell rack to hold your body at a 45-degree angle. Extend your other arm outward like you're trying to throw the weight away from your body. Once you complete 12 reps, immediately move to a row. When you row, your elbow should be perpendicular to your body, turn your pinky slightly forward to stretch the rear delt, and raise the dumbbell straight up as high as you can. Do this until failure and concentrate on feeling the rear delt pull the weight, not your back muscles.
EXERCISE 7 Standing Reverse Cable Flyes
3 sets of 12 reps
Finish off your rear delts by using the cable crossover machine to do a reverse flye. Set the cable at shoulder height and remove the handles. Grab the cables themselves and cross your arms in front of your body for a maximum stretch. With a slight flexion in the elbow, pull the cables directly out to the sides, keeping your arms at shoulder height until they are slightly in front of the frontal plane of the body. Do not engage the larger back muscle and do not go past the frontal plane; the tension must remain on the delt. To get the contraction right, you need to concentrate on connecting your mind to your muscles.
EXERCISE 8 One-Arm Bent-Over Dumbbell Shrug
4 sets of 15-20 reps per arm
The most important exercise I do is a single arm bent-over dumbbell shrug. A lot of people fail to understand the anatomy of the trapezius because they only see the top portion on the mirror. The trap is actually a large, complex muscle. The majority of the trap muscle is connected to the scapula, so the best way to hit its most muscle fibers is to bend forward slightly so you can protract the scapula away from the center line. To do these shrugs, place one hand on the dumbbell rack and bend over to about 60 degrees. Let the dumbbell pull your arm all the way down, but maintain a tight core. Shrug the dumbbell back up as high and tight as possible. It's a great burner for your traps!
EXERCISE 9 Barbell Shrug
3 sets to failure
Finish with standard old-school barbell shrugs. Do three sets—heavy, hard, and to the point. Give it everything you have left and leave the gym pumped!
Keep your rest periods to a minimum. That way, your heart rate is always up and your body is moving throughout the workout. If you spend too much time resting between sets, you might cool off, which has negative physiological and psychological effects. I don't rest for more than two minutes between sets. Generally, it's enough time to change weights, catch a breath of air, and take a sip of water. I'll take a few extra minutes between exercises as I set up and prepare my mind for the next movement.