The Important Facts About Building Bigger Shoulders
- In order to be serious about building bigger shoulders you should understand that your shoulders are a very complex yet highly unstable joint. They need to be taken seriously if you want to add size.
- Leaving them out and relying on your other training to build shoulder strength is a mistake that will make you prone to injury.
- Proper warm up and mobility drills will allow you to move decent weight in the proper range of motion contributing to faster growth.
- Watch the video in this post for a very simple yet badass shoulder training routine.
Shoulder training…you either love it and do it religiously (and properly for that matter) or you are from the school of…they get it from all of my other lifts.
If you fall into the latter category, chances are you have suffered a shoulder injury previously, are suffering from one now, or you want one in the future.
Having come from a genre of fitness that was focused in the expression of strength in all the wrong ways, I fell into the the latter category believing my shoulders received adequate attention from the volume of work I was doing in other areas such as the bench press and the thousands of pushups I was doing…among other things.
Because I failed to educate myself, during one glorious morning workout I was mid rep when I heard and felt a double pop in my left shoulder. Immediately followed by nearly caving my face in from losing control of the weight.
The ensuing MRI revealed a full depth tear of the supraspinatus tendon, often called a torn rotator cuff, because it belongs to a group of tendons that are part of the rotator cuff.
The information I am going to present to you in this article is directed at those who want to add some size to their shoulders, but also those who are really interested in a healthy shoulder function. As I can attest, not paying proper attention to your delts will surely increase your risk of injury as you train harder and begin to add heavier weight to your program.
Why Shoulders Are A Pain In The Ass
Your shoulders are actually a fairly delicate part of your anatomy. The shoulder joint is the least stable joint in your body likely due to the fact that it is actually very complex. It seems the more complex something is, the more there is to break.
There are more than ten muscles that directly influence the way the shoulder functions and it is a joint that articulates across multiple planes, coupled with the fact that it has a very long limb attached.
Complexity of joints and long limbs used as levers is like using plastic parts in a metal gun, the potential for breakdown is far higher.
The fact is, without proper attention to your shoulders, it is fairly easy to become unbalanced and develop nagging and persistent shoulder aches or common injuries such as SLAP tears in the tendons or torn rotator cuffs. Shoulder injuries are very difficult to manage because it becomes difficult to sleep, or keep a level of immobility the prevents further injury.
Along with developing strength imbalances, if you don’t pay proper attention to your shoulders your performance will suffer and the logical nexus from reduced performance is reduced size.
The last thing you want is reduced size and shoulders that are comparable to a brook trout…which is to say none at all.
Local Growth Factors Critical For Building Bigger Shoulders
There are a few key principles we have gone over in the past, such as the benefits of lactic acid and time under tension which increase local growth factors.
There is a correlation between the amount of TUT a muscle undergoes and the release of human growth hormone.
Growth hormone plays a crucial role in regulating not just your lean muscle mass but also your body fat levels, so maximizing its production is going to pay huge dividends over the long term.
If you have ever exercised with even a modicum of intensity then you are probably more than familiar with “the burn;” that is to say the production of lactic acid in your muscles.
The more you can tolerate the pain of lactic acid production within your muscles, the more progress you are going to see. Now the mechanism of growth related to the hypoxic state of your muscles, which then produce lactate accumulation and slower clearance rate of accumulated lactate which leads to the production of cytokines and other anabolic hormones.
Seriously, I could write extensively on every single mechanism in the chain of muscle growth but it would bore the shit out of you so let’s saw it off and keep it as basic as possible.
Suffice to say lactic acid triggers growth hormone secretion, as well as helping to mobilize stored fatty acids so that they can be burnt off to meet the increased energy demands being placed on the body.
In addition, local production of a variant of insulin-like growth factor, called mechano-growth factor (MGF), is thought to be particularly important to muscle development and metabolic stress, ie. mechanical tension or TUT, has been shown to increase its production.
We’ve all heard of the saying, “no pain, no gain” but perhaps in this context it would be more accurate to say more pain, more gains!
In fact, this couldn’t be truer.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Physiology compared different durations of time under tension and concluded with the following statement:
“These data show that greater muscle time under tension increased the acute amplitude of mitochondrial and sarcoplasmic protein synthesis and also resulted in a robust, but delayed stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis 24-30 h after resistance exercise.”
So to summarize, you should be utilizing the time under tension to maximize both your fat loss and muscular development due to the production of lactic acid and the subsequent release of growth hormone, and an increase in muscle protein synthesis.
How Do I Use It?
Let’s use an example of a Snatch Press (snatch grip with a barbell, seated or standing and push the weight overhead and lower behind your head).
Now you might be thinking that going all the way up and down in an exercise like this is the proper way for it to be executed, but sometimes truncating the range of motion or ROM is exactly what is needed to maximize time under tension.
Next time you perform this strict snatch press try stopping a few inches short of the lockout position, and as you come down, do so in a controlled manner.
If you really want to maximize the amount of tension on your delts then you might also want to try pulling the bar outward with your hands as if you are trying to rip the bar apart.
A word of warning: If done right this will hurt (in a good way… and please…suffer in silence! No one wants to hear your grunts and groans) and you will almost definitely need to use less weight than you have been using!
Start by using the empty bar for sets of 8 – 10 reps and see how you do.
You might feel silly squirming under an empty bar at first but your strength will quickly return to what it was, and the soreness in your shoulders the next day will be all the proof you need.
The goal of the workout is to use a series of complexes to keep the shoulders under tension in order to take advantage of the local growth factors (the ones we discussed briefly above) that will contribute to building bigger shoulders. Lactate accumulation, which promotes the local growth factors, is optimized when the muscle is under tension for 40-70 seconds. The complexes I have outlined here for you to try fall within that range.
Complex #1 –
A1. Seated Muscle Snatch
A2. Behind the Neck Press, Snatch Grip (seated)
A3 Behind the Neck Press, Clean Grip (seated)
A4. Bradford Press (standing – remember to squeeze the glutes when standing)
A5. Push Press (standing)
Complete 5 reps of each (thats the goal, if you can’t do 5 try doing at least 3) and move to complex 2.
Complex #2 –
B1. Six Way Raise
B2. Y Raise
B3. Inverted V Raise
Complete 6 to 8 reps of each movement.
Go through both Complex 1 and 2 – 3 times each with 90 seconds rest after you complete both complexes. Then begin again, complete both and rest 90 seconds. You are done once you have gone through both complexes 3 times.
I often wonder how much more effective my training both physical and tactical would have been had I paid proper attention to my shoulders. I spent a lot of time on the guns up at the high ready, and after recovering from being injured and ensuring I had proper shoulder strength and function, things got a lot easier.
Take the time to train these complex muscles so they properly stabilize and move your joint. By doing so you will avoid a lifetime of aggravation and unnecessary pain as well as having an aesthetically enhanced body.