Many lifters struggle with delts – be it experiencing size, strength, or pain, the shoulders could be a difficult muscle to include right into a powerlifting routine. When i explain to the athletes I work with, that\’s precisely since the shoulders are extremely important! You use them like a major mover in the bench press so that as a stabilizer within the squat and deadlift.

Add in the extra compound work that you will find in many typical programs – movements like overhead or incline presses – and it\’s no surprise that the delts wind up overworked. And, as I\’ve explained before, overworking is really a quick route to suboptimal performance.

At the same time, you cannot rely on just the powerlifts to train the delts sufficiently. You have three areas of the shoulder that you need to remember: the front, medial, and rear delts. The flat bench press mostly works the leading delts, and while the squat and deadlift might strain the shoulder (and rotator cuff), they\’re unlikely to contribute much to advance in that area. For balance, you have to make sure to train your medial and rear delts, too, without overloading the leading delts.

So, shoulders are among the not many muscles where I strongly recommend that you simply rely heavily on isolation work for better size, strength, and all around health. But just as with any other group of muscles, you cannot just throw isolation exercises at them and expect great results: you need to be strategic in exercise selection, programming, and execution. There\’s no one perfect shoulder routine, but here are a few exercises I really find ideal for my delt development!

1. Dumbbell Upright Row

This is an unusual one, but it\’s also certainly one of my top picks. Many lifters have a problem with traditional barbell upright rows, due to limited wrist flexibility. The unrestricted motion of dumbbells removes that limitation, and allows you to get all of the advantages of a great exercise.

There are a few things you will want to keep in mind while practicing these:

  • Pull the dumbbell high – at least to ear level on each rep. If you aren\’t using the full-range of motion, your medial and rear delts are likely to lose out on a lot of the work they could be getting.
  • This is not a front raise! You\’re not bringing the dumbbell straight up in front of you. You want to pull it up, but additionally out and from your body. This can engage the 3 head of the shoulder (much like an Arnold press does).
  • You can go pretty heavy with these, and it is okay to utilize a little momentum to get the weight moving. If you do go heavy, though, I suggest that you employ wrist straps.

Now, that you can do these with two dumbbells at the same time, but I suggest that you simply do them unilaterally and use one hand to brace yourself against a bench. I\’ve found it simpler to carry out the movement that way.

2. Incline Lateral Raise

This the first is a variation from the standard bent-over lateral raise, but instead of bending forward at the waist, you\’re going to lie face-down on a low incline bench (about 30 degrees is a great bet). Bent-forward lateral raises are simple to cheat on and wish you to definitely really focus on your torso position to keep your body stable, so when you\’re centered on that, you aren\’t focused on training your shoulders.

Using an incline bench instead will help you to hit your rear delts just like hard, but without the need to stabilize your body. The secret here\’s to keep the traps relaxed. Powerlifters often have overdeveloped traps from heavy deadlifts, plus they can easily do more of the work on lateral raises than you may want. Depressing the scapula (pulling your neck down) can help to minimize that, as can bringing the dumbbells way to avoid it for your sides.

I highly claim that you stay with light weights and reps on these. There is nothing wrong with training lateral raises with household names, but I find that they\’re more efficient when performed properly regardless of the poundages used, so until you\’re very confident in your technique, stick with the lighter dumbbells.

3. Behind-the-Neck Press

Most everyone has heard of the behind-the-neck press, but few lifters carry it out. That\’s probably since it is gotten a poor rap for causing shoulders injuries, and also you do need to be very careful when performing it. Having said that, some of the greatest benchers ever have relied on the behind-the-neck press like a primary shoulder movement, and also you shouldn\’t bail around the movement without at least trying it out.

As always, safety first. It\’s okay to use a partial range of motion and only lower the weight to slightly underneath the surface of your head. In fact, if you don\’t have remarkable shoulder mobility, I suggest not attempting to lower the weight all the way down to your traps. And, while you can go pretty heavy on this movement, you don\’t have to. I\’ve found significant benefits from behind-the-neck presses with light and moderate weights.

I do suggest that, for stability, you carry out the behind-the-neck press seated. However, be sure to keep the abs tight! Many lifters turn seated presses into some bastardized version of an incline press simply because they neglect to brace their core while performing the movement. Don\’t make that mistake.

Shoulder Routine

This is a useful one to use following a lighter bench press day.

  • Behind-the-neck press: 4 sets of 6 reps with 70% 1RM, resting 2-minutes between sets.
  • Dumbbell upright row: 3 teams of 12 reps. Don\’t rest between sets – just alternate from one arm to the next until you have done three sets for every arm.
  • Incline lateral raise: 2 sets of 20 reps, resting 90-seconds between sets.

Wrapping Up

That\’s it! There\’s you don\’t need to overdo shoulder operate in a powerlifting routine. However, factors to consider to incorporate plenty of rotator cuff work – exercises like L-flyes and YTWLs – for shoulder health.

Editor\’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the recording would be the author\’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

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