Shoulder Training For Natural Bodybuilders

| December 9, 2014 by Truth Seeker |

U.S. strength coach Bill Starr performs the overhead press

U.S. strength coach Bill Starr performs the overhead press | via http://squatbenchdeadlift.tumblr.com

One of the fastest ways to spot a steroid user is to look at his shoulders. If they are abnormally large, 3D, veiny and round as a cannonball, the owner is most likely on steroids such as Trenbolone. Having said that, naturals can develop strong and nice looking shoulders too.

Don’t Do Too Many Shoulder Exercises

Over the last decade, the answer to every shoulder issue has been: “Train the rotator cuff.” The result is a bunch of people doing silly exercises with pink dumbbells and tuna cans. While this is not bad by itself, it’s not required either.

The popular American strength coach Bill Starr is known for saying that when the overhead press was an Olympic lift, rotator cuff injuries were “unheard of”.


When you’re doing an overhead press, the muscles of the rotator cuff have to work very hard to stabilize the shoulder. The result is a strong rotator cuff acquired through isometric work.

Improving your overhead press will do a lot more for your rotator cuff and mobility than doing all kinds of isolation work. Having said that, dedicated and isolated work has its place in warm-up and injury rehabilitation.

However, this is not an article dedicated to rehab. If your shoulders are fine, the overhead press will be enough to develop a strong rotator cuff. Unless there is a legit injury preventing you from doing the exercise, this is is the best shoulder movement in general.

You Don’t Need A “Shoulder Day”

You don’t need a dedicated shoulder day because you can’t train your chest and back without hitting the deltoids. During bench presses, push-ups and dips, the front shoulder works incredibly hard. Conversely, when you perform pull-ups, rows and even deadlifts the posterior deltoid is also under pressure.

Consequently, a separate day for dedicated shoulder work is not needed and often does more harm than good by negatively affecting your recovery.

Is the bench press a shoulder killer?

The shoulder is the most mobile joint and the weakest link in a bench press. It remains the number one candidate for an injury.

Part of the problem could be the use of an inappropriate grip and excessive flaring of the elbows. Some can get away with it but not everybody. If that’s you, try a narrower grip and keep your elbows closer to your body. This will increase the stress on the front shoulder muscles while decreasing the stress placed on the actual joint.

Another problem with the bench press is that a proper one does not allow the scapula to move. That’s why you are always told to retract your shoulders. This technique protects the joints when benching heavy weights and is rightfully incorporated. Unfortunately, the restricted scapular movement is not natural and results in a weak serratus anterior.

And yet this does not mean that you have to drop the bench press completely. Just don’t let obsession and ego take the best of you.

Side Lateral Raises Are Overrated

One of the most overrated shoulder exercises ever would be lateral raises. Overhead presses, handstand push-ups, and push-presses will do a lot more for your overall shoulder development than a minuscule dumbbell raise.

Have you ever seen a gymnast with a poor shoulder development? No, because the sport is extremely arm and shoulder girdle dominant. Gymnasts may do lateral raises but only as a form of rehab/prehab/warm-up. They don’t expect wonders from this exercise.

And by the way, I don’t care how much burn you feel – you are still not getting 3D delts as a natural even if you do side lateral raises every day for 20 years.

Note: When doing later raises, make sure that at the top position the thumb is not over the pinky finger. The thumbs should never be pointing at the ceiling because this shifts the stress to the anterior deltoid.

What about the rear delts?

If you are doing rowing exercises, you don’t need dedicated rear delt work. Wide grip rows are the best exercise for the posterior deltoid.

Similar to all other “small exercises”, rear delt raises have a place in a shoulder workout only as rehab/prehab/warm-up.

Can you develop strong shoulders without the overhead press?

Yes. A routine consisting of push-ups, dips, bench presses, heavy rowing and mobility exercises will do wonders for your shoulders.

To summarize:

– The strict standing barbell overhead press is the king of shoulder exercises.

– Dedicated shoulder days are not needed.

– You can develop strong shoulders without the overhead press, but you will need a few exercises to take care of the scapula and the rotator cuff. Don’t use the bench press as your only pushing exercise for prolonged periods of time.

– Side lateral raises and isolated rear delt work are mostly a waste of time unless used for rehab/prehab/warm-up.

– Steroid users have such nice delts as a result of drug use rather than special workouts and exercises.

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