Simple Yet Effective Shoulder Routine

Just as crossbeams give a room width and support, full round shoulders are key architectural elements of a physique. Deltoids are small muscles compared with quads, Iats and pecs, but what they lack in size, they make up for in structural importance.

My current approach to shoulder training produces a high-and-wide look. I base my current approach to delt training on simple principles.

First, I never forsake compound movements, such as overhead presses, and I hit the entire shoulder complex (the front, middle and rear heads) during every delt workout.

Second, I change exercises frequently, even if I just switch from cables to dumbbells on lateral raises. This continuously forces my delts to adapt to new stimuli.

Third, I perform no more than four shoulder exercises in a given workout, but I perform them with high intensity. Fourth, I train delts only once a week so they have ample time to rest and grow.

The following exercises represent a typical offseason shoulder workout for me. I change my workouts constantly, though, so for each exercise I also provide an alternate version requiring a different apparatus. Regardless of which bodyparts I’m working on a given day, I warm up my shoulders thoroughly before training them. The ball-and-socket construction of the shoulder joints provides maximal mobility but also makes them injury prone.

Before I start my working sets, I stretch, perform internal and external rotation exercises, and then throw what amounts to chest passes using a 10-pound medicine ball. I want to make sure my rotator cuff muscles (small but critically important) are warm before I start lifting heavy weights.

Dubbell overhead presses
15-12, 10, 8
One-arm cable lateral raises
15, 12, 10
Barbell front raises
15-12, 10, 8
Dumbbell bent lateral raises
15-12, 10, 8
Note: I pyramid my poundages when training delts, going heavier as the reps descend on successive set.


I usually perform overhead presses while seated because standing overhead presses place undue pressure on the lumbar spine. Also, sitting removes balance as a concern, allowing me to push more weight. Dumbbells offer increased range of motion and wrist-position flexibility.

To perform dumbbell overhead presses, I sit on a bench that has a back support and hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level. With my elbows bent 90 degrees, I press the weights to full extension; the press takes a two-count to complete.

The range of motion isn’t an arc. Bringing the weights together at the top would allow my delts to relax momentarily, when what I’m after is continuous tension. From full extension, I lower the dumbbells, controlled and slowly. The negative takes a four-count from start to finish.

Alternate exercise: Smith machine overhead presses

The disadvantage is that the machine movement is a fixed plane. The advantage is that you can really load up the bar with weight and just push.


I love how a cable provides continuous tension throughout the entire range of motion during this exercise. I stand perpendicular to a cable stack and, with the hand farther from the stack, grasp a D handle attached to a low pulley. Keeping my knees slightly bent and holding onto the metal support for balance with my free hand, I raise the handle sideways to shoulder height, pause and return to the starting position, maintaining a 10-degree bend in my elbow throughout. The same two-count peak contraction, four-count-negative timing sequence applies here.

Alternate exercise: Dumbbell lateral raises

Although this is basically the same movement as one-arm cable laterals, dumbbells allow me to change wrist and starting positions. The downside is that it’s much harder, if not impossible, to achieve continuous tension.


Many bodybuilders don’t do any exercises specifically for front delts, arguing that those heads are worked during overhead and bench presses. I agree; they are. I would argue, however, that presses don’t hit your front delts in the same way front raises do. If you’re a serious bodybuilder, you can only get the overall shoulder shape and symmetry you need by including front raises in your delt training.

I like to use a barbell for front raises. I stand holding a bar with an overhand grip, my hands and feet a little more than shoulder width apart. I bend my waist, knees and elbows slightly so that the bar rests across my shorts in the starting position.

From there, I raise it in an arc to shoulder level (no higher) during a two-count. With my arms parallel to the floor, I squeeze out a peak contraction. Then I lower the bar slowly back to the starting position during a four-count, really feeling the stretch. No need to go heavy on these. For some beginners, the bar alone will be enough weight.

Alternate exercise: Incline dumbbell front raises

When I do front raises with dumbbells, I sit on an incline bench set at a 45-degree angle. As I’m raising the weights to eye level, I find that the incline increases the resistance on my front delts.

Dumbbell Bent Lateral Raises

I love this exercise, which hits the rear delt heads. Holding the dumbbells at arms’ length, I bend my knees until my thighs are parallel to the floor. Then I lean my torso forward until my chest is almost touching the top of my legs. This exaggerated starting position isolates my rear delts. When my torso is higher, I tend to use my rhomboids a little more.

Keeping my elbows slightly bent, I raise the dumbbells out to the sides until my arms and torso are perpendicular to each other. As I raise the weights, I also dip my thumbs as if I’m pouring pitchers of water, a tweak that recruits my rear delts big time. After the two-count going up, I pause for a second and then lower the weights to a four-count.

Alternate exercise: Cable bent lateral raises

In this version, I stand between cable stacks and grasp handles attached to low pulleys so that each hand holds the handle attached to the opposite stack. I raise the handles out to the sides from there.


Again, this is my offseason workout. Six weeks out from a show, I eliminate one exercise. Two weeks out, I pick two exercises and superset them, 20 reps apiece, so that my entire shoulder workout lasts only about 12 minutes. The goal at that point is to hit ’em quick and hit ’em hard, so I can maintain muscle size even while the precontest dieting saps my energy.

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