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7 Tips For Epic Shoulders

A set of muscular and strong looking shoulders is a great asset to have. When working with clients and discussing their goals the classic ‘V’ shape physique of bigger shoulders and a smaller waist is often mentioned, yet people don’t give their shoulders the attention they deserve and focus too much on training chest muscles. BIG mistake. Let me explain why.

It’s actually quite simple. Whilst it’s important to train your chest, a big chest will not improve posture or broaden your appearance like some solid shoulder work will. Over the years I have really focused on my shoulder training and had great results. Here are my top 7 tips to ensure you can pack some mass onto your shoulders whilst increasing strength and reducing the risk of injury:

1)   Train Your Shoulders Often

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If you want to support a muscle to grow, make it stronger and see epic progress then hitting the muscle group once a week will just not cut it. I hit my shoulders at least twice a week and it’s since upping the frequency have seen an increase in both size and strength. Plus Keris thinks I now look even better in a vest 😉

I tend to train my shoulders on the same day I train my chest. I like to have a little shoulder focused circuit at the end of the session. I also focus on them first in a workout on a separate day to keep variation.

2)   Look After Your Shoulders

The last thing you want is a shoulder injury! Your shoulders are involved in so many movements that it can often have huge repercussions if you neglect this area. Think pressing movements, pulling and even your squats too. It’s so important you warm up your shoulders properly, pay attention to your technique and make mobility and strength (through the entire range of movement) a priority. Some great moves for looking after your shoulders are:

Cuban Press

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Cable or Resistance Band Face Pulls

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You can incorporate these moves as part of your warm up or between exercises if you prefer or even away from your actual workout. What’s important is you get them done!

3)   Don’t Lock Out

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On an overhead press – be it with a barbell or dumbbells -stop just short of lockout at the top of the press in order to maintain tension on the shoulder, causing the most muscle building potential so to speak. If you lock out at the top and hold for too long the triceps will take over and we really want to keep the focus on the delts themselves. Of course the triceps are working too but it’s not our primary focus here. We are trying to build beast like shoulders.

4)   Tension, Tension, Tension

Shoulders respond really well to tension, which ties in nicely with the early point about not locking out. In addition to this, focus on more isolation movements for the shoulders. Lateral raises, front raises, rear delt raises etc would be great options.

Too often I see people swing their arms all over the place looking like they are trying to fly instead of training their shoulders. Let’s take the lateral raise for example. You stand with your arms at your side, palms facing you, you raise them up to about eye level, then as you lower them aim to stop the dumbbells about 5 inches from the body, to keep tension on the muscle. By coming all the way back to the body you will lose tension on the muscle as you are going somewhat across gravity as appose to against it.

For pretty much everyone I get to do this they have to reduce the weight because the burn is pretty severe, you have been warned!

5)   Slow It Down

Another thing that has worked really well for my clients (and for me!) is really slowing shoulder movements down, again to emphasise tension on the muscles. Instead of having your set of 8 over and done with in under 10 seconds, slow it down, feel the burn and create those oh so important micro tears to make the muscle grow.

I like to keep my shoulders under a good bit of tension so generally 4 sets of 8-12 using a 31X0 tempo works really well for me, especially on pressing movements. With isolation moves I tend to take the reps up to between 12-15 sometimes 20 reps. What does this mean?

Lets use the press for example.

1st number: Time taken to lower the dumbbells.

2nd number: Time spent at the bottom of the movement.

3rd number: Time taken to press the weight overhead. Please note an X means as fast as possible with good technique.

4th number: Time spent at the top of the press so in this instance no time at all.

6)   Vary Your Shoulder Training

Use dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands and cables. They are all great tools to use when it comes to hitting your shoulders. It can be all to easy to stick to one thing you’re comfortable with, but for me using a combination of the above keeps things exciting, hits the muscles from a different angle and simply provides a different stimulation. Be sure to mix up the rep range, amount of sets and time under tension. 

7) Train Your Back

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So there you have it. 7 top tips for epic looking shoulders. Yours in progressive, sustainable and enjoyable training – Matt “vest lover in any weather” Whitmore