If there's one muscle group that can truly set you apart from the rest of the pack, it's your shoulders. Unlike most muscle groups, the delts live in three dimensions, with heads in the front (anterior), sides (lateral), and rear (posterior). Whether you're wearing a tank top or a suit jacket, a pair of well-developed shoulders is noticeable from any angle. No other muscle screams “I lift hard and heavy” like the shoulders do.
But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. If you want your delts to stand out in a crowd, you need to train them evenly, work to eliminate muscle imbalances, and strictly focus on your form.
Make sure you are avoiding these five mistakes, and your shoulder training will produce the big results you've been looking for.
1. Doing Lateral Raises With Poor Form
Because the delts are made up of three heads—anterior, lateral, posterior—utilizing a variety of lateral raises is very effective for building both massive and proportionate shoulders. However, lateral raises are one of the most “abused” exercises in gyms, simply because trainees tend to do them incorrectly.
Guys often use too heavy a weight to achieve full range of motion, or they'll swing dumbbells up rather than using strict muscular power. Some guys will even turn their hands, rather than keeping them facing the floor, which fails to properly “isolate” the targeted head. In short, make sure your form on all laterals is strict, complete and performed with precision.
2. Pitifully Pressing
Although overhead presses most strongly activate the anterior (front) deltoid head, they are still the best exercises for manifesting overall muscle mass in the shoulders. Most “delt monsters” out there do at least one press variation in every shoulder workout.
But like lateral raises, overhead pressing exercises are also performed incorrectly much of the time. In an effort to use more weight, many trainees use a very short range of motion, only bringing the bar about halfway down before pushing back to the top. Now while this might look cool, the only thing these people are accomplishing is working more triceps than delts. Another common error is leaning back (again, often so guys can use bigger weights) during presses, which shifts much of the emphasis off the delts and onto the clavicular pecs. Sit upright and always use a full range of motion—and if your weight gives you trouble, lighten it up!
3. Using Limiting Equipment
I think that one of the reasons most top bodybuilders today show much more impressive shoulder development than from eras past is because of the incredible variety of new equipment we are so lucky to have at our disposal. While barbells and dumbbells remain the cornerstone of any intelligent mass-building program, the delts react quite well to the various angles and planes of motion that machines and cables offer.
Too many people get stuck using the same basic exercises over and over, even when they are no longer progressing. If you want to break plateaus and continue to grow, make sure you explore all your gym has to offer for shoulder training.
4. Lack of weight-room intensity
Developing a truly exceptional pair of cannonball delts is no easy task. We often see far more impressive chests and arms than shoulders out there in the land of iron.
Instead of shortchanging your deltoids, utilize all sorts of “intensity techniques” to increase TUT (time under tension) and the amount of punishment I was dealing to my delts. Every shoulder workout included a variety of one or more of the following growth tactics: Supersets, Tri-sets, Rest Pause, Eccentric emphasis, Pre-Exhaustion, Post Activation, 1 and ½ reps, etc.
It did not take long for my shoulders to “submit,” and now they match my chest and arms better than ever before. Always remember – “Muscles do not grow when you whisper at them. Most often you have to SCREAM!”
5. Failure to Warm Up
Although working the muscles of the rotator cuffs won't directly contribute to the appearance of your shoulders, it's vitally important for your overall mobility and muscle health! If you don't warm up your shoulders by using various internal/external rotation movements, you put yourself at risk for severe shoulder joint pain (or worse)—and nothing inhibits your bodybuilding progress toward huge delts like serious joint pain. Take some time to work those rotators, and in turn, your shoulders will remain pain-free and ready for battle.