If you're like me, you've probably experienced shoulder pain at one time or another. In fact, my sholder and rotator cuffs are always sore. The trick is to learn to train around shoulder injuries.
Believe it or not, you can get a pretty darn intense delt workout even if you have nagging shoulder pain. Simply by making a few minor changes in your routine, you can develop massive shoulders.
Intensity Shoulder Shocker
Seated dumbbell presses 1 x 10 (warmup) - 3 x 5-7
Triple Threat *
Standing dumbbell presses - 2 x 15
Front raises - 2 x 15
Dumbbell upright rows - 2 x 15
Partner-assisted lateral raises** - 2 x 18
Incline-bench reverse flyes*** - 1 x triple-drop to failure
Bent-over reverse cable crossovers - 1 x triple-drop to failure
*Use the same pair of dumbbells for all three exercises.
**Perform eight reps with partner assistance, followed by 10 reps without it.
***Start with 15-pound dumbbells; do eight reps before the first drop.
Start Out Heavy
Here's a point with which many trainers and bodybuilders may disagree: You don't have to go super-heavy to build big shoulders. The rotator cuff isn't engineered to withstand huge poundages in awkward position.
Now, there's nothing wrong with using heavy weight on shoulder presses. My point, however, is that, compared to legs, the shoulder is a small muscle group. A good rule of thumb is to start with an exercise you like to go heavy on; say, seated dumbbell presses. The seated dumbbell press is a safer exercise than the barbell variation because your shoulder isn't in as vulnerable a position when you use a barbell. It's also a great exercise to start with because you can go heavy while your shoulders are still fresh. With the dumbbell press you can work around any shoulder pain by repositioning the arc of the press.
I suggest one warmup set of seated dumbbell presses and three work sets. If you like to go heavy, this is your chance. For your work sets choose a weight that allows you to get five to seven reps. This is the only exercise you use heavy weight on, so you want to push the intensity.
Standing Dumbbell Press – Front Raises – Dumbbell Upright Rows
If you can't tolerate excruciating pain, you should stop reading now. If you're like me and you look forward to pain that will turn your stomach, this is for you. The set is made up of three separate exercises done back to back with the same pair of dumbbells: standing dumbbell presses followed by standing front raises followed by dumbbell upright rows. Start with a weight that allows you to do 15 reps on the standing presses. When you finish the set, go immediately into a set of front raises with the same dumbbells for 15 reps. Then, without resting, finish with 15 reps on the upright rows.
If your shoulders don't start burning, you probably aren't using enough weight. If you can barely get five reps on the upright rows, you're using too much. This is a great all-around shaping exercise for your shoulders. The point of the triple threat set is to turn up the intensity a level or two. It takes guts to perform a giant set like this one, but the resulting shoulder growth is well worth it. Do two triple threat sets and watch your delts grow.
Partner-Assisted Negative Lateral Raises
As the name suggests, you'll need a partner for this exercise. The funny thing is, you only need a pair of 10-pound dumbbells. It's fun to watch the big guys laugh when I tell them they only need 10-pounders because I know they won't be laughing when the set is over.
Grab the dumbbells and sit on the end of a flat bench in front of a mirror. Have your partner sit directly behind you facing the same direction. Hold the dumbbells out to your sides and have your partner firmly push your arms down. Resist your partner's pressure as much as you can, but don't resist so much that your arms stop or lock out. When your arms are down against your sides, immediately raise them back to the starting position without your partner's resistance. Repeat for eight reps, concentrating on the negative, or downward, portion of the movement. After eight reps with your partner's resistance, do another 10 reps on your own. Believe me, 10 pounds have never felt so heavy. Do two complete sets and get ready to be too weak to hold your water bottle on your own.
Rear-Delt Drop Sets
Many bodybuilders neglect their rear delts because they can't see them, but it doesn't take much to get a killer burn there. I like doing drop sets with relatively light weights to sculpt the area.
When it comes to rear delts, you don't have a lot of exercises to choose from. This program calls for two different movements. For the first exercise you need a stationary incline bench. Turn it in the opposite direction from the way you'd use it for incline presses. Put your chest up against the top of the bench so you're looking straight into the mirror. Grab a pair of 15-pound dumbbells and do reverse flyes. Once your rear delts are burned out, pick up a pair of 10-pound dumbbells and rep till failure, then switch to a pair of five-pounders and keep going. You should feel a great burn in the rear delts.
The second rear-delt exercise is drop sets of bent-over reverse cable crossovers. That sounds like a mouthful, but it's actually a very simple movement. Use a weight you can handle for about eight to 10 reps on your first set. Stand in the middle of the cable rack. Grab the lower-left cable handle with your right hand and the lower-right handle with your left. Bend over to form a 90 degree angle and raise the handles toward the ceiling as if you were doing bent-over laterals. Once you've burned out your rear delts, immediately drop the weight by 20 pounds and get out as many reps as you can. Then lower the weight one more time and give your rear delts the benefit of that final drop.
Sit Back and Watch 'Em Grow
These are only a few sample exercises for blowing out your delts. As long as you don't feel any unnecessary pain in your rotator cuffs when doing your favorite shoulder exercises, you can integrate them into the routine. Remember, your shoulders are small muscles, so don't overdo it. Use heavy weight for your presses and light weight when you raise the iron away from your body.
The timing of your delt workout is also important. Therefore, you may want to work shoulders and chest on the same day. If you don't, make sure you give your shoulders at least three or four days' rest after your chest workout.
Also, I'm not a big fan of machines when it comes to shoulder training. My experience has been that the machines sort of lock you into one position. Everyone has a different pathway of movement on shoulder exercises. Machines, even the best ones, seldom take that into consideration, which is another reason that I like dumbbell movements for quality shoulder growth. Finally, if you're experiencing persistent rotator cuff pain, take a week or two off from direct shoulder work. I guarantee that the amount of stress you put on your shoulders while working your upper chest will cover you until the pain has subsided.