John Brown, Shawn Ray, Dorian Yates, Chris Cormier and Ronnie Coleman are merely a handful of hall-of-fame-caliber athletes who, either personally or by example, taught me how to build my current physique.
Those guys taught me that the shoulder complex needs three types of movements: movements by the arms to separately contract the three (anterior, medial and posterior) deltoid heads; vertical presses that require the stabilization of overhead free weights, to spread muscle-building stress over the shoulder girdle; and shrugs, to build the traps into a volcano of muscle that erupts out of the shoulder beam and forces the deltoids even wider.
I alternate seated dumbbell presses and barbell military presses in successive workouts. Both are indispensable basics for thickening the shoulders and widening the front-to-back measurement, from clavicles to scapulas.
Dumbbells allow me more freedom to involve the deltoid caps. By arcing the movement, I can put more mass onto the top of my delt caps than I can with the lifting motion of dumbbell lateral raises. I’m pressing with more upper-body muscles; whereas, for lateral raises, I’m lifting with only my deltoid heads. Presses don’t isolate as much, but they pump larger areas of my shoulder girdle.
Problematic with any pressing exercise is the temptation to relax the movement at the bottom before the upward push. To avoid this, I maintain continuous tension by lowering the dumbbells only to about earlobe level and the barbell to about chin level, slowing the pace as I go, tightening it, then “looping” smoothly into the press and exploding hard once it’s on the way.
If I started my workout with presses, I’ve already pumped my medial and anterior delt heads, so before I deplete any more energy on those, I want to give the rear heads a good thrashing. For incline rear-delt dumbbell lateral raises, I guard against letting my arms drop down to rest. I resist the negative, stopping the movement before bottom-dead center, while the stress is still on.
For the lift, I push outward and upward, so my lateral and rear delt heads do more of the lifting than my traps and lats.
The dumbbells are kept level, with even a pronation bias, if possible, to build a cramping squeeze in my rear delt heads. The more range of motion I can get for these — i.e., the higher the lift — the fuller the pump. Heavy loose reps don’t work here; rear delts have to be squeezed and compressed.
There is no “bottom” of the movement: full muscle bellies require continuous tension, so I come down to about a half inch above the end of the tension arc before powering the weight back up for the next rep. Maintaining tension is also safer; it avoids the snap transition from momentary relaxation to full power, and it keeps pressurizing the pump.
SHOTS TO THE MIDDLE HEAD
I really pound the medial heads with two different dumbbell lateral raise movements in alternating workouts: seated with straight sets and up-the-rack pyramided sets. The seated position permits a stricter movement, but because my body is stabilized, I can still apply a lot of power. Again, I keep the dumbbells level, perhaps even slightly pronated (so the back ’bells are somewhat higher), and raise them as far out to the side and as high as possible, squeezing the contraction at the top and fighting the descent. I also stop the movement before the bottom, maintaining continuous tension.
This year, Ronnie Coleman made me add his up-the-rack dumbbell laterals and they’ve substantially increased the size and hardness of my deltoids. These are performed nonstop through four rapid pyramided sets of 25 reps, 15, 12, then eight reps, after which I take a 45-second to a minute rest, and then repeat. I go through each of these four-set sequences four times for a total of 16 sets.
I’ve tried all sorts of reps, but my fullest pump comes from reaching failure in the eight- to 12-rep range. I’ve always taken great pride in training very heavy, but “heavy” is still the most weight I can power up with every last grit of strength I have, for at least eight reps. Depending upon how I feel that day, the weight might change but never the reps. Always, I get at least eight.
The trapezius is a vast inverted pyramid of muscle, but it needs to be worked from two different directions. Front barbell shrugs pull the entire trapezius complex upward and forward, thickening it all the way from its widest border near the rear delts to its lowest insertion in the center of the back. For dumbbell shrugs, the movement is straight up and down, which puts a nice peak on the top of my traps. As usual, the shrug is explosive, the negative is resisted hard and continuous tension is maintained throughout the set — I never relax at the bottom of the rep.
Many, if not most, bodybuilders consider the traps to be part of the back, for no more logical reason than that they appear to be part of the back; they’re integral, also, with the shoulder girdle in lifting it and helping to contract the rear delts. To me, the shoulder complex consists of the shoulder beam, the three different deltoid heads and the traps. The traps, however, cannot be pumped to maximum capacity in the same workout with the other shoulder components. Too much energy would be expended before all of the muscles could be completed; therefore, I save traps for back day, when they have full strength. FLEX