Sean Hyson

Fitness Distilled

July/August 2015

Big Shoulders

posted on October 22, 2012
written by sean hyson

”Ma! I need more protein!”boulder

I wanted to talk shoulder training this time, but I had to resist titling this post “Bolder Shoulders”, “Shoulders Like Boulders”, “Dynamic Delts”, or any other such cheesy and overused fitness magazine names for a shoulder article. We’ll just keep it simple and call it “Big Shoulders”. No need to thank me.

If you’re going to zero in on any muscle group in the fall, it might as well be shoulders. Your arms are going to be covered by long sleeves, no one can see your abs, and your chest will likely be too shrouded to get credit either. But big delts don’t hide. You can still look wide and powerful in or out of a jacket or sweater.

Here are some things you should know about training the shoulders.


1) Lateral raises with dumbbells kinda blow

The range of motion isn’t very big. In fact, your arms have to come up about six inches or so before your deltoids even kick in. Before then, it’s your supraspinatus, a rotator cuff muscle, that’s doing the work. If you’re always doing dumbbell raises and always working the supraspinatus, it’s going to get bigger, and that can lead to shoulder pain. The rotator cuff is made up of small muscles that aren’t meant to hypertrophy to a great degree. Making them bigger knocks things out of whack—the supraspinatus will grow and squeeze against the acromion (the top of the shoulder joint), and this can even lead to a tear.

Apart from that, there’s little stretch on the deltoid in the down position of dumbbell raises when the weight is by your side. You can’t fully activate a muscle unless you can put stretch on it, so dumbbell raises aren’t as effective as cables. With a pulley, you get that stretch because the resistance comes from the side, rather than up. You feel the exercise immediately in the bottom position.

Learn from the master.arnold cable

HOWEVER, the position of the pulley is key. If it’s too low (close to the floor), the effect will be almost the same as using dumbbells. Set the cable to knee height if possible.


2) 100-rep sets bring up weak areas fast

I like Frederic Delavier’s method of doing these. He’s a bodybuilder and the author of the popular Strength Training Anatomy book series. He recommends:

Choosing a weight you can do 30 or so reps with and going for it. Then rest until you think you can get 50 reps and go for that. At that point, you can reduce the weight if the set feels particularly brutal, or stick with it, but keep grinding out a handful of reps at a time until you get to 100 total reps. There’s no better way to flush a lot of blood into a weak muscle (or, in this case, just one you want to prioritize), and such an incredible pump is usually a predictor of growth. This is also a harsh way to help you establish the mind-muscle connection in an area, helping you to feel it and focus on it in order to bring it up.

Try the 100-rep method on rear delts—a weak point for almost everyone. It should work well on bent-over cable lateral raises. Just make sure you’re not training shoulders in any way the next day. That means you shouldn’t even squat or deadlift for more than 24 hours, as those exercises work the shoulders more than people realize.


3) Pre-exhaustion is perfect

I think performing an isolation exercise before a compound one is usually a mistake, but for weak areas like the rear delts, it’s right on the money. Delavier articulates pre-exhaustion well, and I discussed it in an earlier post that you can check out HERE.


4) You don’t need a big range on presses

That is, if you have long arms. A big reach like mine is a disadvantage in most aspects of lifting, but it can be dangerous and counterproductive on overhead presses. Don’t lower the bar below your ears. This will prevent the delts from getting overstretched, which apart from causing potential injury will also prevent them from activating muscle fibers and performing a powerful concentric contraction.

Of course, using a slightly smaller range of motion means you can use heavier weights, so let that make up the difference.

5) A neutral grip for front raises works better

If for some reason your front delts are lacking—and most people who do bench and overhead presses don’t have this problem—do front raises with your thumbs facing the ceiling rather than with your palms facing down. This helps better isolate the front delt head and it lets you use a heavier weight. If you have an elbow injury or otherwise can’t do presses, front raises can allow you to keep meat on your front delts.

Less than strict form can be good for getting big weights up. Not so much for stimulating muscle growth.arch press

6) Always follow the same steps for bringing up any lagging area

These include putting the muscle first in your workout (the ol’ Weider “Priority Principle”), training one side at a time, increasing the frequency, developing the mind-muscle connection, and pre-exhaustion.

Most of these I’ve discussed already, and the others are pretty obvious. Training unilaterally lets you focus better on just one side at a time. This usually means you can use a heavier weight, too. As far as frequency, working a muscle three or more times a week is always a good idea if you can recover from it, so heavy, light, and medium days that are appropriately spaced out should be part of the plan. (Chad Waterbury has a good system for doing this, which I touched on in my last post.) Another idea is to do your presses and raises while seated. This will ensure stricter form and more tension on the delts.

Final training tip: If your delts are burning after a long set, raise your arms overhead or knock out a set of pullups. This clears the acid much better than just letting your arms dangle at your sides while you grimace and curse.


  1. Gravatar

    22 Oct, 2012


    If I want to apply the 100 rep method to trceps would I only do one excercise (say, close grip bench) for all 100?

  2. Gravatar

    24 Oct, 2012

    Sean Hyson


    Yes, only one exercise, but I wouldn't pick a compound lift like the close-grip bench. Choose a machine or cable isolation exercise.

  3. Gravatar

    26 Oct, 2012

    Harry Clarke

    Great post Sean. I like to drop sets which is similar to the idea of the 100 rep method but probably not as useful. How often do you do the 100 rep method and what body parts to you use it for?

  4. Gravatar

    27 Oct, 2012


    Great article Sean,

    Would throwing in 100 reps on leg extensions be a good idea for in between leg day(s)? Say I hit legs every Tuesday and Saturday, would it be ok to do 100 on Thursday or better to burn them out before the actual leg workouts?
    Thanks for your time

  5. Gravatar

    31 Oct, 2012

    Sean Hyson


    Once or twice a week. I haven't tried this particular 100-rep method, but I've used similar concepts in the past to bring up the rear delts and calves. It's better for smaller muscle groups than big ones like lats or quads.


    I think that's fine.

  6. Gravatar

    02 Nov, 2012


    So you think I would benifit from doing leg extentions 100 reps on a non leg day? or the 100 as a warm up before hitting legs?
    I have followed your advise this entire week in doing 100 rep as my first exercise on the body part of the day. Monday hit back but did rear delts 100 reps then jumped into back...chest day I did pec deck 100 times then jumped into chest, legs 100 leg extentions and next leg day hit 100 seated hamy curls...WOW....burn and pumped...thanks....
    thanks again on the advice on carb deplete and load...I shared that pic of my at my last show via twitter and came in tight and dry..3rd in heavy weight so this off season looking for any and all new advise...Thanks again

  7. Gravatar

    04 Nov, 2012

    Sean Hyson


    Don't do it as a warm up, but on a separate day is fine.

    Congrats on your progress! This is great news.

  8. Gravatar

    06 Jun, 2013


    Dear Sean,
    if I do ten sets of ten reps for lateral raise like GVT( German Volume Training) does it boost Hypertrophy?

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