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I hear guys say it all the time.
“My shoulders won’t grow, I’ve tried everything.”
Let me break down what “everything” usually ends up meaning. It means they have done some high-rep dumbbell presses along with some too-heavy dumbbell raises. And the dumbbell raises tend to be sloppier than a soup sandwich.
Just like most things, it’s not only what you do, it’s how you do it that really counts. In this case, the exercise selection of presses and raises is fine. It’s the execution of the movements that is keeping their pebbles from becoming full blown boulders.
Let’s breakdown the issues so we can come up with some cures.
Issue #1 You Aren’t Taking Over Head Pressing Work Seriously
The first reason your shoulders aren’t growing is because you aren’t strong enough overhead.
Taking a half-ass approach to your overhead pressing is going to hold back your strength gains. This is a sure fire way to stunt your muscular growth as well.
Guys, hear me now. If you want to get really good at building muscle, you need to place getting really strong way up high on your to-do list. Many people view the overhead press as a secondary, or accessory lift to the all mighty bench press. But if your shoulders aren’t growing, it’s time to get serious about your overhead pressing.
The first step to take when trying to achieve boulder shoulders status is to begin your workout with bad intentions. That means it’s time to build nasty, bone crushing strength overhead.
I recommend working with a barbell instead of dumbbells, at least for now. This will allow you to work with heavier weights, and that’s exactly what we’re here for. Once you have a solid base of strength built up, you can switch to dumbbells. For now, though, focus on the bar and adding weight to it.
I also recommend doing your overhead pressing standing and strict. This allows you to engage your entire body while still focusing on the target muscle groups.
If you choose to do your presses in a seated position, that’s fine too.
To build the strength necessary to spark some new growth in your shoulders I recommend using between 4-6 sets, and 3-6 reps per set. Make every rep fast, and crisp.
This will allow you to work with weights heavy enough to develop brutal strength. It will also provide enough work volume to stimulate some growth in the muscle fibers.
Issue #2 Your Lateral Raises Are Out of Control
Every exercise is a tool in your toolbox, and none of them are the same tool.
Overhead presses are like a hammer. They should hit hard, heavy, and loud. There isn’t much finesse needed, and their job is to apply brute force to your working muscles.
Dumbbell raises are NOT a hammer. The problem is, so many people treat them like one.
Dumbbell raises become useless when you’re focused too much on how heavy the weight is. The focus instead should be on creating a controlled tension throughout the movement.
Here is a surefire way to know if you’re treating your dumbbell raises like a hammer.
If you feel the need to drop your upper-body a few inches at the top of the movement, you’re using too much weight. Most people do this to get under the weight when they can’t finish the movement with strict form.
Here’s the cure.
Stop treating your dumbbell raises like a hammer, and start treating them more like a paint brush. After your overhead presses, you need to put down the hammer and channel your inner Da Vinci.
Lighten up the weight, slow down the tempo, and keep the muscular tension constant.
Use a tempo of 2-1-2-0. This means 2 seconds up, a one second pause at the top, 2 seconds down, and immediately back up for the next rep.
This tempo is ideal because it will allow you to focus on the muscular tension throughout the movement. You will also experience a strong peak contraction at the top of the movement. These are gains you miss out on when using a weight that you are unable to control.
Your shoulders will respond well to long periods of time under tension and short rest periods. To do this, you will need to be modest in your weight selection. This will help you maintain a laser focus while keeping the tension on your delts.
I recommend using three to four exercises, consisting of a variation of dumbbell raises. Keep rest periods between 30-45 seconds, and each set should last between 45-60 seconds. 3-4 sets of each movement with 10-20 reps per set will do nicely.
If you’re thinking, “Those are some LONG sets!” You’re right. It’s going to burn, and you’re going to grimace. Your shoulders will also grow like weeds.
Lather, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.
The key to building an impressive set of shoulders does not rely on your exercise selection. It's more important to consider how you apply each exercise to your routine.
There’s a time and place for a sledge hammer, and there is a time and place for a paint brush. Knowing when to apply each tool is what will make or break your results.
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