Shoulder Training For Natural Bodybuilders It's simple. You just lift things and put them down.

One of the fastest way to spot a steroid user is to look at his shoulders. If they are abnormally large, 3D, veiny, round and out of this world looking, the owner is most likely on steroids such as Trenbolone. With that being said naturals can develop strong and nice looking shoulders, albeit not quite 3D.

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

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

image via: http://squatbenchdeadlift.tumblr.com/;

Don’t Do Too Many Exercises For Shoulders

You don’t need to do a lot of exercises for your shoulders. There are many people who perform 10 or more movements because the mainstream bodybuilding websites say so. This is how the fear of not training the so-called Rotator cuff, which is a system of muscles and tendons stabilizing the shoulder, has been spread among lifters.


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

The popular American strength coach Bill Starr is known for saying that when the overhead press was part of Olympic weightlifting events rotator cuff injuries were “unheard of”. Why? Because when you’re doing an overhead press the rotator cuff group of muscles and tendons has to work very hard in order to stabilize the shoulder. The result is a strong rotator cuff through isometric work.

Improving your overhead press will do a lot more for your rotator cuff than doing all kinds of isolation work. That being said, dedicated and isolated work have their place in warm-up and injury rehabilitation.

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

You Don’t Need A “Shoulder Day”

You don’t need a dedicated shoulder day since you can’t possibly train your chest and back without the shoulder being involved. During bench presses, push-ups and dips the front shoulder works incredibly hard. Simultaneously 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 bench press has a bad reputation and many believe it is the number one shoulder killer. They are right.

The main reason is that people tend to get obsessed over bench press numbers which equals higher frequency and bad form which in return produces shoulder injuries.

The shoulder is the most mobile joint and the weakest link during the bench press. Of course, you can injure a ton of joints and muscles when doing the bench press, but the shoulder remains number one candidate.

Part of the problem is using inappropriate grip and not tucking the elbows close to the body. Some can get away with it but not everybody. If that’s you, you need to use narrower grip and tuck your elbows closer to your body. This will actually increase the stress on your 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 and never allow them to move forward when you bench press.

This technique protects the joints when benching heavy weights and is rightfully incorporated. Unfortunately, restricted scapular movement is not natural and equals weak serratus anterior muscles which, ironically, is called the punching muscle for being used extensively during punches. That’s why people are advised to do push-ups.

The push-up allows the scapula to move freely which makes the exercise more shoulder friendly than the bench press. This does not mean that you must drop the bench press completely. However, you should not rely on it as the one only pressing exercise.

Related article: Bench Press Vs. Overhead Press

Side Lateral Raises Are Overrated

One of the most overrated shoulder exercises ever are lateral raises. There is no doubt that this exercise does very little for you. Why?

Because exercises such as overhead presses, handstand push-ups and push-presses will do a lot more for your overall shoulder development than some minuscule dumbbell raise which most people do with poor form to begin with.

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.

Have you ever seen a gymnast with poor shoulder development? No, because the sport is extremely arm and shoulder girdle dominant. Gymnasts may do lateral raises but only as part of rehab/prehab/warm-up routines. They don’t expect wonders from this exercise. That’s why naturals are advised to either drop this exercise completely or at least not make it the core of the workout.

It’s a fine movement, especially when done with isometric hold at the top, but betting everything on it is deprived of logic. 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 sealing because this places the stress on the front deltoid instead of the side one.

What about the rear delts?

If you are doing plenty of rowing exercises, you don’t need dedicated rear delt work. Wide grip rows are the best exercise for the posterior deltoid. Performing some sort of funky rear delt raises is inferior to exercises such as the Bulgarian ring row.

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

Can you develop strong shoulders without doing the overhead press?

Yes. Strong shoulders can be developed without doing overhead work. For example, a routine consisting of push-ups, dips, bench presses, heavy rowing and mobility exercises will do wonders for your shoulders.

The key is to never rely on the bench press as your main pushing exercise. If you have to choose one pushing exercise besides the overhead press, make it the push-up. It’s way more shoulder friendly than the bench press in the long run. Also, mobility work is always welcomed warmly by the shoulder girdle.

How many reps?

According to some the shoulder muscles consist mainly slow twitch fibers which means that they are built for high rep work. However, it’s best to keep the rep range in the medium: 6 to 10 reps per set seem to be just fine.

To summarize:

– The strict standing barbell overhead press is the default 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 period of time.

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

– Steroid users have such nice delts because of the drugs – NOT special workouts and exercises.

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