Q: My delts are about as flat as pancakes. Any rapid solution to the problem?
A: Wide, round shoulders have been built with both high loads and high volumes. Powerlifters and Olympic lifters have built impressive shoulders using low reps for multiple sets on compound exercises, such as presses and upright rows. On the other hand, there are plenty of bodybuilders out there with the fantastic deltoid development that comes from high reps, short rest intervals and isolation-type movements. I’m of the opinion that people achieve better deltoid development if they cycle in and out of both approaches.
I find that descending, or drop, sets and preexhaustion are particularly effective at promoting shoulder growth. When someone has problems adding mass to the middle-delt area, tri-sets or Omni-rep breakdown sets can solve the problem.
Tri-sets are three exercises performed one after another—back to back—before taking a rest. Here’s a good tri-set for the mid delts:
A-1 Standing lateral raises 3 x 8-12, tempo 4/0/X/0
A-2 Low-pulley upright rows 3 x 8-12, tempo 4/0/X/0
A-3 Seated dumbbell presses 3 x 8-12, tempo 4/0/X/0
Perform A-1, A-2 and A-3 in a series, take a two-minute break, and repeat two more times, for a total of three tri-sets.
Notice that on the standing lateral raises you should do the concentric, or positive, stroke explosively, as the leverage is disadvantageous in the exercise. For low-pulley upright rows I recommend using a rope attachment, like the one normally used for pushdowns. That will remove some wrist stress.
On an Omni-rep breakdown set you select one basic exercise and its variation and essentially destroy all the fibers that can be used in the movement:
1) Do 6-8RM of standing one-arm lateral raises with a 2/0/X/0 tempo. That targets the highest-threshold fibers in your delts.
2) Do 10-12RM of lean-away one-arm lateral raises using a 2/0/X/0 tempo. By changing the mechanics, you take the supraspinatus muscle out of it and change the strength curve for the medial deltoid. You also tap into the intermediate-fast glycolitic fibers.
3) Do 20-25RM on one-arm low-pulley lateral raises with a 1/0/1/0 tempo. By using a low pulley, you get even tension throughout the movement. The higher reps will finish off whatever low-threshold fibers that can still fire after steps 1 and 2.
Do not rest between steps 1 and 2 or 2 and 3. After performing all three exercises, take a 90-second break, and then repeat with your other arm. Do three Omni-rep rounds per arm.
By the way, these routines are reserved for high-pain-threshold individuals. Wimps should stay away from them. Try each program for six workouts each. I’m sure your deltoids will become more massive and with noticeable roundness.
Q: What’s your opinion of powerlifting training for bodybuilders? I see some guys at the gym using the full paraphernalia that powerlifters use when squatting—supersuit, wraps, powerlifting belt.
A: Unless you’re in the final three weeks before a powerlifting meet, you should avoid knee wraps and the use of a weightlifting belt, which supports the lower back. If your lower back and knees are prone to injury, you must first restore proper body alignment by using corrective exercises, such as stepups and true abdominal-training techniques.
At the Athens Olympics, most of the world-record setters and medal winners weren’t using any belts for their snatches and clean and jerks, and those lifts are way more stressful to the lower back than deadlifts and squats. The trend became popular about 15 years ago as doctors and trainers realized that the belts had enabled the athletes to forgo abdominal work, which made them more susceptible to injuring their lower backs. The coaching staff emphasized extensive abdominal work with junior lifters so that they wouldn’t rely on the psychological crutch of a belt. As the years went by, fewer lifters were getting injured because their trunk muscles could now handle the heavy loads.