While intuitively one would think that the more you train, the better results you’ll see, in reality, a healthy balance between training and recovery is needed for ideal results, ergo, daily exertion is not in fact the best way to go. In this article, we’ll delve deeper into this answer, and the topic as a whole.
My Experience With Building Shoulder Muscles
It’s easy to get tempted into the idea of training more and more often when chasing a specific goal, such as better abs, bigger arms, or in this case, more developed shoulders. But I ask, how much is too much? If training twice a week is great, is thrice better? Every other day, even more so? Surely, putting in a little work EVERY day would be better still? Well, as intuitive as that may seem at first, reality can be surprising.
A 2016 study by Brad J Schoenfeld, Dan Ogborn & James W Krieger reveals that twice a week is in fact the sweet spot, as, with a post-training protein synthesis window (the process through which new muscle is built) of 48-60 hours, any further frequency is both redundant and counter-productive, as the now lesser rest between sessions will also inhibit the intensity one can bring, a factor which detracts from your overall results, in a “two steps forward, one step back” fashion, especially since there’s no proven benefit to said frequency increase in terms of muscle hypertrophy.
This of course is dependent on context, and also applies specifically to the goal of maximizing muscle growth; in more performance-focused contexts, such as that of an Olympic weightlifter, or a Strongman, what’s considered “ideal” changes, but for the purpose of muscular development, bi-weekly frequency is our best bet for achieving those massive shoulders we strive for, which leads us into:
Why Would You Want To Have Massive Shoulders?
It’s not like we don’t know the answer to that, the reason I want them is the same reason you do: it looks good, it looks strong, it commands a certain respect, and those things will make us feel powerful and confident. I know that’s why I wanted them, just as it’s why I wanted to develop the rest of my body: because a sturdy set of shoulders, a thick, wide back, a pair of strong legs, large arms, and a powerful chest, they all tie together to form an impressive overall physique.
One’s physique can’t be borrowed, can’t be purchased, can’t be delegated to somebody else that’ll put the work in for you, and it can’t be achieved without the proper consistency and dedication. It’s an undeniable testament to your work ethic, the fruits of your labor that speak for themselves and attest to what you’ve achieved.
All this is portrayed by you and your physique, simply by being.
And while every part of your physique is indeed important, the shoulders take a seat on the higher end of the priority spectrum. The way they fill out your clothing, the taper that a proper shoulder-to-waist ratio creates, helps us get that Dorito-shaped upper body that all men dream of.
So with all that said, let’s take a dive into the structure of the shoulders (deltoids technically) themselves, helping you gain a greater understanding of what it is exactly that you’re building, and how best to do so.
The 3 Main Muscles To Sculpt Your Shoulders:
To properly train and build your shoulders, or any muscle group for that matter, you should first have a base understanding of them; their function, their composition, their relationship with the surrounding musculature, etc.
While the shoulder is composed of more than just the deltoids themselves, such as the rotator cuffs, in this article I’ve decided to focus on the delts as they’re the primary drivers of size when it comes to the overall appearance of the shoulders, but not to undermine the importance of maintaining strong rotator cuffs as well for overall health and performance, as well as training longevity.
In order to help you achieve just that, I’ve put together a table that illustrates the three main components of the deltoids, the prime mover within the “shoulders” muscle group:
|Anterior Deltoid/“Front Delt”, highlighted red
|Lateral Deltoid/”Side Delt”, highlighted green
|Posterior Deltoid/”Rear Delt”, highlighted blue
|The anterior deltoid, colloquially dubbed the “front delt”, serves two main purposes, those being:
–Shoulder Flexion, i.e. to raise your arm up in front of or above you, for example, when toasting with a drink.
–Internal Rotation of the Arm, i.e. to twist your entire arm inwards, for example, when pouring out a drink onto the floor.
|The lateral deltoid, colloquially dubbed the “side delt”, serves one primary purpose, that being:
–Abduction of the arm, i.e. raising your arm up to your side, for example, when opening one’s arms for a hug (although technically, it doesn’t come into play until we pass the first 15° relative to the floor).
|The posterior deltoid, colloquially dubbed the “rear delt”, serves two main purposes, those being:
–Shoulder Extension, i.e to bring your arm behind you, for example, when firing up a “pull start” engine.
–External Rotation of the Arm, i.e. twist your entire arm outwards, for example, when turning your palms to face up when being handed something.
And now that we have said base understanding of the shoulders, we can move on to the action!
What Experts Say Are The Best Dumbell Exercises For Shoulders:
Now, whereas the article so far has been the equivalent of an appetizer, it’s time to dive into the main course, the actual training protocols. These are my suggestions in terms of actual exercises (, all dumbbell-focused lest a lack of equipment is problematic for some), in order to properly stimulate the muscle and incite the kind of growth we’re looking for, backed by the knowledge and expertise of figures such as Stefi Cohen DPT, Jeff Nippard, & Jeff Cavaliere MSPT (specific videos in question linked).
Now, while one can in fact focus on one of the three heads, isolation is impossible, and an ideal approach includes a wide variety of movements in order to ensure that we’re providing an adequately diverse stimulus to the muscle lest we fail to encourage proper development, so, with that in we’ll be splitting these exercises into four categories:
- Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Dumbbell Snatch
Front Delt Focus:
- Dumbbell Front Raise
- Dumbbell Press Out
Side Delt Focus:
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Lying Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Rear Delt Focus:
- Seated Rear Delt Fly
- Standing Rear Delt Fly
Any routine comprised of one exercise from each category will provide a thorough, well-rounded training experience that’ll target each head of your delts and ensure proper, well-balanced development, leading to that boulder-shoulder look that forms part of any well-built physique.
Do Machines Help Grow Your Shoulders Better Than Free Weights?
Another question that often comes to mind for many, especially given the ease and comfort that one of these two options provides is:
Are machines better than free weights? And in our particular case, are they when it comes to shoulder development?
Well, this is highly contextual, as there are those that would in fact benefit from a greater focus on guided exercises through the use of machines and other more elaborate equipment, but this is typically due to some sort of limitation on their end. The real answer for most gym goers is that they both serve a purpose.
Machines say, Hammer Strength machines, for example, are immensely beneficial when used correctly and most definitely have their place in almost any serious lifters routine, as they allow for a degree of focus and isolation on a particular muscle head or subsection otherwise unachievable through free weights, or any other means for that matter.
As long as a healthy balance is found between the two, which for most, is a free weight, compound movement as the focus of the session, with machine movements comprising a portion of the accessory exercises forming the rest of the workout, ideal results will be achieved.
The Top 7 Bodybuilders Known For Muscular Shoulders:
All this talk of fantastic delts and how to build them had me curious about the limits of what kind of shoulder development can be achieved when every factor is dialed to 11, so I did a little research and put together this list; here are seven of the most renowned sets of delts (and the individuals they’re attached to, as well), to help us get an idea of just what can be achieved with the right guidance and dedication:
1. Dallas McCarver:
The first example, a true phenom of the bodybuilding discipline, and a heartbreakingly unfortunate case, Dallas McCarver. While we’ll never get to see just how far he could’ve gone, what he did achieve will remain cemented as a legacy for the ages, and within that stellar physique, was a pair of enviable delts that showcased the kind of work Dallas put in, and the potential that lay ahead of him.
2. Markus Ruhl:
Second, we have Markus Ruhl, a retired german bodybuilder, who, of all beginnings, found his way into the weight room through the recommendation of his doctor after sustaining a knee injury playing football/soccer (at age 18!). Known for his monstrous size throughout, the cannonball delts that Ruhl brought to the bodybuilding stage are still renowned as some of the best in the game, an example of just how much sheer meat & muscle can be packed onto a frame with the right kind of dedication.
3. Paul Dillett:
Thirdly, somewhat of a meme legend, Paul Dillett! A record breaker, and my fellow countryman, Dillett was primarily known for his astoundingly girthy arms (28 inches at their largest), but these absolute slabs of shoulders musn’t go without recognition also; despite being primarily known for his appearance in numerous memes, his arms rather than his delts, and his unfortunate issues with cramping on stage, Dillett was a force to be reckoned with, and one of the fewer freakishly large bodybuilders above the 6ft mark.
4. Dennis Wolf:
Fourthly, and the second Fatherlander to make the list, we have Dennis Wolf, considered by many an uncrowned prince of the practice. Known more for his tighter waist and developed outer quad sweep, his delts were nothing to be scoffed at either, holding his own amongst the mass monsters despite finding himself, while still being one, on the smaller, more conditioned, tighter end of the spectrum.
5. Kevin Levrone:
Now, no discussion regarding delt development and aesthetic within an overall physique can be had without mention of our fifth name on the list, Kevin Levrone. This entry focuses more on the flow with which his delts fit into his well-rounded physique, Levrone cements his place in bodybuilding history as another example of an uncrowned prince, a peoples champ whom in the opinion of many, was left without the proper recognition; Mr.Olympia that never was.
6. Dan Green:
Now, bear with me here for a second. While, yes, our sixth entry, Dan Green, is not in any sense a professional bodybuilder, he is a professional powerlifter, and highly regarded in the lifting community as a whole, in large part due to his highly aesthetic physique (especially by powerlifting standards), within which we find his absolute phenom of a pair of delts, reaching caricaturesque levels of side delt development, the likes of which I’ve yet to truly see elsewhere without the suspected assistance of side enhancement oils. Dan Green gives us an example of what can be achieved even through training which does not focus so much on hypertrophy itself but rather uses it as a tool, a means to a different end, and serves as an impressive example of the potential to be found in an unorthodox approach.
7. Ben Pakulski:
Last, but not least, we have Ben Pakulski, another Canadian, somewhat more worthy of note due to his position as the two-time victor of the Mr.Canada competition, as we can easily see why. With a pristine, beautifully flowing physique and shoulder development unparalleled by his competition to spearhead the way, it’s completely unsurprising that he’s achieved what he has, and less of a surprise still that he finds himself on this list.
What You Can Do To Get The Shoulders You Always Wanted?
Now, after a list like that showcasing the best of the best, with the kind of delt development most save for the far few can only dream of, one question comes to mind; how can I achieve something even close to that? How can I make my way toward the physique that I’ve always wanted, and the shoulders needed to get there? Well, I wouldn’t pose these questions to you were I to not have an answer.
An ancient Greek philosopher (and wrestler! Which fewer people know) Socrates, is quoted as saying –“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable”, and this is something I truly believe; that we not only have potential to fulfill as a responsibility to ourselves but a duty as individuals to see just how amazing we can become, and the journey to realizing that potential starts with a single step, which I would love the chance to help you take, as well as those that follow.
I’ve been training for almost 20 years, and during this journey, it’s become not only my passion but my profession. I take that spark in others that I myself had, and nurture it to make sure that you reach that goal, that you mold yourself into ye person you envision, because I know just how daunting of a task it can seem, and how borderline impossible it can feel without the proper guidance. Through my app, “The Razor Virtual Training”, I can provide you with that guidance, by offering tailored, entirely personalized, 1-on-1 coaching from yours truly to help you fulfill said aforementioned potential.
Let me, Fred Chevry, be your coach, and help you achieve what’s yours.