The shoulders can be an incredibly stubborn body part. If you are stuck in a muscle-building plateau then here are 7 science-based shoulder hypertrophy routines to shock your body into growth!
- Part 1: Overview Of Shoulder Hypertrophy Training
- Part 2: The Best Supersets For Shoulder Hypertrophy!
- Part 3: Bring Those Rear Delts Up To Par!
- Part 4: Fast Twitch Giant Sets For Cannonball Delts!
- Part 5: Train The Rotator Cuff And Lower Traps!
- Part 6: Train Like A Mad-Man With Japanese Drop Sets!
- Part 7: Blast Through Overhead Pressing Plateaus!
- Part 8: When All Else Fails There Are Still Tri-Sets!
- Part 9: Conclusion
This article is literally busting at the seams with shoulder hypertrophy routines that are science-backed. Perhaps even more important is the fact that these routines produce results in the real-world.
Every one of these routines has been thoroughly battle-tested by dozens of bodybuilders. I have tweaked and refined them over many years to produce results as quickly as possible.
Of course, none of these routines work UNLESS YOU DO! You still have to put in the work!
And let me tell you, these routines are no joke…
But those of you with the balls to push past your comfort zones will be rewarded with bigger, wider, rounder shoulders.
Enough with the chit-chat, let’s dive right into the action!
Part 1: Overview Of Shoulder Hypertrophy Training
One of the biggest reasons people fail to build big, round shoulders is that they just don’t know their anatomy!
You may think you know your shoulder anatomy, but I’m willing to bet there is a lot you don’t know. And this lack of knowledge is killing your gains!
To make this information easier to digest I have a few shoulder training laws I want to discuss with you.
Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to go through 7 of my favourite science-based shoulder hypertrophy routines next.
Shoulder training law #1: For maximum hypertrophy, you must train all 7 heads of the deltoid muscle!
OK, I know what you’re probably thinking:
“Has this guy lost his mind? There are only three heads of the deltoid muscle!”
No, I have not lost my mind (or at least not for this reason).
We have known sense at least 2010 that the deltoid muscle has 7 separately innervated muscle heads!
There are actually 3 anterior deltoid heads, 1 lateral deltoid head, and 3 posterior deltoid heads.
This is actually a very important finding. All of those “in-the-trenches” bodybuilders such as John Meadows who have argued that you MUST train the deltoids from a variety of angles were 100% on the money!
There is NO WAY you are going to maximally stimulate all 7 heads of the deltoid muscle with just a couple of movements. It’s not going to happen!
Yes, there are exceptions. Strongmen competitors have some of the biggest shoulders in the sporting world and they focus primarily on overhead pressing movements.
And Dante Trudel trained an absolute army of 250-300 pound bodybuilders whose shoulder training consisted of almost nothing but overhead pressing variations.
However, as a general rule of thumb, you MUST train the shoulders from a variety of angles when the goal is maximum hypertrophy!
Shoulder training law #2: for maximum hypertrophy you must use an enormous variety of rep ranges in your shoulder training!
Research on fast-twitch vs slow twitch muscle fibers has come a long way in recent years.
For example, we now know with precision the ratios of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers in all the major muscle groups for the typical untrained individual.
But out of all the bodyparts, the muscle fiber ratios of the deltoids is perhaps the most interesting.
The deltoids have AN ENORMOUS range of muscle fibers, fast twitch, to slow twitch, to more moderate muscle fibers, and even extremely slow twitch!
In fact, if there is one muscle group that DEMANDS a huge variety of rep ranges when training for maximum hypertrophy, it would be the deltoids (the quadriceps might be a close second here).
If you are stuck training in the 6-8 rep range, or the 12-15 rep range, or whatever, SNAP OUT OF IT!
Your shoulders will finally start to take off when you incorporate more variety into them!
Key Takeaways From Part 1
I want you to take the following two points away from this overview of shoulder hypertrophy training:
More so than the other major body parts, the shoulders require you to train with a large variety of exercise variations and angles and a huge variety of rep ranges.
If you understand these two points then you will better understand the method behind the madness of the following 7 routines / programs!
Part 2: The Best Shoulder Supersets For Hypertrophy!
Supersets are a classic way to train for hypertrophy.
There are a few different types of supersets, so I should probably clarify things here.
In this article I am talking about antagonistic supersets.
Antagonistic supersets involve super setting two exercises together for the same body part!
So you would perform exercise “A” (going to failure or stopping just shy of failure), rest 10 seconds, then perform exercise “B” (again going to failure or stopping just shy of failure).
Supersets allow you to prolong the time under tension of a set beyond what is normally possible.
They are kind of like drop sets, except instead of reducing the load, you switch to a new exercise.
Here is a great superset workout that you may want to try.
- A1: 75 Degree Incline DB Press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 sec rest
- A2: Standing cable rear delt pull apart, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Standing partial lateral raise, 3 x 25-30, 1/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Band pull-apart, 3 x 25-30, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
Please note: you may want to read my article “How To Read A Workout Program” if you are having trouble reading this routine. It will walk you through step-by-step on how to read a workout routine where all of the loading parameters are clearly defined.
Note: you will need a mini-band for this last exercise.
This routine works best as an accumulation-style workout.
One of the great advantages of this routine is the variety of exercise angles and rep ranges. As discussed earlier, variety in rep ranges and exercise angles is crucial for maximally developing the deltoids.
Trust me, the “burn” you will get on this routine is out of this world!
Part 3: Bring Those Rear Delts Up To Par!
The rear delts are by far the least developed of all the deltoid heads.
Of course there are really three separate heads that make up the rear delts, but for the rest of this article we will simply refer to them as the “rear delts.”
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First of all, most people have a very poor “mind-muscle connection” with the rear delts.
In more scientific language we might say that most people have a poor ability to neurologically activate the rear delt musculature.
They tend to get overpowered by the larger traps and lats during pulling movements.
However, an even bigger reason is people tend to neglect the rear delts in their training!
After all, you can’t see the rear delts in the mirror. And the “mirror muscles” (chest and biceps) tend to get the most attention by the amateur bodybuilder.
An easy way to fix this mistake is to specialize on the rear delts for a while.
Here is a great routine for accomplishing just this task:
- A1: Standing behind the neck press, 4 x 8-10, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Bent Over DB Lateral Raise, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Cable Pull-Apart, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/1/1, 10 seconds rest
- B3: Rear-Delt Pec Dec, 3 x 25-30, 2/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
EMG studies have shown that out of all the overhead pressing variations, the behind the neck press stimulates the rear delts the best.
This could be another reason why the rear delts are so underdeveloped: how often do you see someone doing a behind the neck press with impressive poundages?
If you have poor shoulder health then you may want to replace the behind the neck press with the standing military press, just to be on the safe side of things.
However, if you have good shoulder mobility and no prior injuries, then the behind the neck press is an AWESOME shoulder builder that you should use from time to time!
The heart and soul of this routine, however, is in the rear-delt tri-set that follows the first exercise.
This triset works the rear delts from a variety of different angles and rep ranges to fully exhaust all of the available motor units in this muscle group!
I guarantee you that after 3-6 times through this routine your rear delts will really start to “pop” on the backside of your body!
Part 4: Fast Twitch Giant Sets For Cannonball Delts!
So far we’ve mostly emphasized higher rep ranges for the delts. While this is a smart choice, the delts also have a decent percentage of faster-twitch muscle fibers.
If you want to maximally develop all of the muscle fibers of the shoulders then you have to include some lower-rep training!
One of the problems of lower-rep training, however, is that it is difficult to build up a lot of volume and muscular fatigue in a 60-minute workout.
If this has been your experience so far, then I have just the thing for you:
fast-twitch giant sets!
Unlike more traditional Milos Sarcev style giant sets, fast-twitch giant sets involve keeping the rep ranges for all the exercises in the 4-8 rep range (or thereabouts).
The lower rep ranges do a superior job of recruiting the higher threshold motor units. However, the giant sets routine format still allows you to accumulate A TON of volume and really thrash the target muscle group from many anges.
This is a recipe for growth if I ever heard of one! I hope I have peaked your curiosity.
Here is the routine:
- A1: Face pulls with max external rotation, 5 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, no rest
- A2: Seated side lateral raises, 5 x 5-7, 3/0/1/0, no rest
- A3: Seated Scott Press, 5 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, no rest
- A4: Bent over lateral raises, 5 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, no rest
- A5: Seated (no back support) barbell press behind neck**, 5 x 10-15, 2/0/1/0, 240 sec rest
**Perform only the bottom-half range of motion to keep maximum tension on the deltoids.
(Note: for this routine you are only performing the bottom half of the movement. Once you reach the top of your head you should start lowering the barbell back down).
In addition to its hypertrophy benefits this routine works AWESOME for increasing your work capacity and dropping excess body fat if your diet is dialed in.
OK, I cheated a little bit on the fifth exercise of this giant set as the reps are too high to really target the fast-twitch fibers.
Nonetheless, I can personally attest to how effective this routine can be. Many of my trainees won’t shut up about the results they got doing something similar to this for 2-4 weeks!
I hope you are use to pushing through a little pain, because the lactic acid build up on this routine is out-of-this-world!
Part 5: Train The Rotator Cuff And Lower Traps!
However, I feel these two muscles groups are SO IMPORTANT for growing cannonball delts that I can’t ignore them here.
If you are at all familiar with my previous work then you know how much I emphasize structural balance training with my clients.
Actually, one of the first things I have my clients do is perform a full upper body structural balance assessment!
The assessment is relatively easy to perform but the information it provides me is absolutely INVALUABLE.
It tells me exactly which muscle groups are holding back my clients progress and how to write routines to address them.
If your rotator cuffs and lower traps are too weak, then your body will ACTIVELY PREVENT YOU from getting bigger and stronger shoulders so as to prevent injury.
Sometimes something as simple as boosting your lower trap and rotator cuff strength can be all you need to bust through a shoulder hypertrophy plateau.
It can be as simple as adding 15 min of direct rotator cuff and lower trap work 1-2 times per week at the end of your upper body or arm workouts to bring them up to par.
If you haven’t trained these muscle groups sense humans last landed on the moon then the following 3-part training program would be perfect:
- A1: 45 degree bilateral trap 3 raise, 3 x 6, 4/0/1/6, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Standing cable external rotations (elbow hugging body), 3 x 12-15, 4/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
- A1: 30 degree bilateral trap 3 raise, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/1, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Seated DB external rotations (elbow on knee), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- A1: Standing unsupported trap 3 raise, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- A2: Seated cable rope face pull (w/ maximum external rotation), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/2, 60 seconds rest
This is a 3-part training program for the rotator cuff and lower traps that will probably take you 9-12 weeks to complete.
For workouts 1-6 you do the first workout.
Then you do the second workout for workouts 7-12.
Finally, you will do the third workout for workouts 13-18.
Each of these routines builds on the previous one so it is very important to perform them in order.
Again, you could perform these at the end of your upper body workouts once or twice per week so there is no need to overhaul your existing training program to accommodate the extra remedial work.
Part 6: Train Like A Mad-Man With Japanese Drop Sets!
Japanese drop sets truly are the invention of a mad man. OK, this isn’t entirely true. They were actually invented by a team of Japanese researchers, hence their name.
I have written about Japanese drop sets previously, but I will summarize them again here for your benefit. You are to perform five sets of five on an exercise. So far things are pretty normal
However, it is on the final set of five reps that things go from boring to absolutely insane! On the last set of five reps you are going to do a quadruple drop set (you are dropping the weight four times).
On each “leg” of the drop set you are trying to complete five repetitions.
All in all the workout will look something like this:
- Set 1
- 100% x 5 reps
- Set 2
- 100% x 5 reps
- Set 3
- 100% x 5 reps
- Set 4
- 100% x 5 reps
And now we get to the really fun part:
- Set 5
- 100% x 5 reps
- Rest 10 seconds while dropping the load
- 90% x 5 reps
- Rest 10 seconds while dropping the load
- 80% x 5 reps
- Rest 10 seconds while dropping the load
- 70% x 5 reps
- Rest 10 seconds while dropping the load
- 60% x 5 reps
- FALL ON THE FLOOR AND DIE!
OK, maybe “fall on the floor and die” was a bit of an exaggeration.
Here is a sample routine to get you started:
- A1: Seated DB overhead press 5 x 5**, 4/0/X/0, 120 sec rest
- B1: Lateral raise machine, 3 x 15, 2/0/1/2, 60 sec rest
Don’t let the simple appearance of this training method fool you: Japanese Drop Sets will be amongst the toughest sets of your entire life if you perform them correctly!
Part 7: Blast Through Overhead Pressing Plateaus!
One of the biggest reasons bodybuilders fail to reach their goals is they are just too damn weak on the basic lifts! Again, I am talking from experience here.
There is nothing more frustrating than getting a first-time client who spent the last 3 years focusing on “volume training” to get huge when he still can’t overhead press the 50 lb dumbbells!!
There are many, many ways to build really big delts.
However, the strongman world and even Dante Trudel’s former trainees are proof enough that getting stupid strong on overhead pressing is a valid strategy for building big shoulders.
If you have neglected your overhead pressing strength for too long then you might be interested in the following 9-week training program.
I recommend you perform the shoulder workouts as part of a general upper body workout where you are also training the back and arms etc.
In addition, I recommend you use an upper / lower split performed 4 days per week.
- Sunday: Off
- Monday: Upper Body
- Tuesday: Lower Body
- Wednesday: Off
- Thursday: Upper Body
- Friday: Lower Body
- Saturday: Off
And here is the routine:
Routine 1: Weeks 1-3
- A1: Seated DB Overhead Press, 4 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Routine 2: Weeks 4-6
- A1: Seated OHP bottom position isometronics, 3 x 4-6, 2/0/X/2, 2 minutes rest
- B1: Seated OHP middle position isometronics, 3 x 4-6, 2/0/X/2, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Seated OHP top position isometronics, 3 x 4-6, 2/0/X/2, 2 minutes rest
- D1: Seated OHP full ROM, 1 x 6-8, 4/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
Routine 3: Weeks 7-9
- A1: Push Press (moderate leg drive), 7-8 x 1, 8/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
Again, I am only showing you what to do on the shoulder exercises. The rest is up to you for upper back work, arm work etc.
If you have the guts to complete this entire 9-week routine you will be rewarded with substantially bigger, stronger shoulders!
Part 8: When All Else Fails There Are Still Tri-Sets!
Of course when I work with my clients all I care about is results. It really doesn’t matter what routine I use as long as my trainees are reaching their goals at the speed of light.
However, over the years, there is one training method that I find myself coming back to over-and-over because it just works so damn well for so many people:
They are very similar to antagonistic supersets (as discussed earlier in this article), except instead of paring two exercises together for the same body part, we are pairing three exercises together.
Trisets just seem to hit that “sweet spot” in terms of volume and intensity for so many trainees. If Goldilocks had to describe tri-sets, she would probably say they are “not too hot – not too cold – they’re just right.”
Here is a rather unconventional tri-set routine you may want to try if you are stuck in a training rut.
It uses the pre-exhaust method where you train a muscle group with an isolation exercise before moving onto the compound lifts.
Normally I favor post-exhaustion trisets, rather than pre-exhaustion trisets, as they tend to work better for boosting hypertrophy.
However, sometimes you just have to break the rules!
Here is the routine:
- A1: Poliquin lateral raises, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/X0, 10 sec rest
- A2: Rear delt pec-dec, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 sec rest
- A3: Hammer Strength Overhead Press, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 sec rest
The key is that you bend your upper arms before raising your elbows out to the sides.
Then, when your arms are pointed directly away from your body, you straighten your arms back out before lowering them back down.
What this does is it makes the movement easier on the way up, but harder on the way down. Essentially this is a fantastic way to incorporate eccentric training into your lateral raises!
It is a lot like Zottman curls in that it lets you do eccentric training without requiring a spotter or any fancy equipment.
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Part 9: Conclusion
You now have 7 of my favourite plateau-busting shoulder hypertrophy routines at your disposal!
Of course there are many, many other tricks up my sleeve in terms of rapidly boosting shoulder hypertrophy (as my online coaching clients would attest).
However, if you are stuck in a shoulder training rut then these science-based routines should give you all the information and motivation you need to get back in the gym and start turning those shoulders into boulders!
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training endeavors!
What’s going on! This is my own personal training log. Follow along as I train to become The World’s Strongest Natty Bodybuilder! Also, check out my NEW online coaching program: DC...
What’s going on! This is my own personal training log. Follow along as I train to become The World’s Strongest Natty Bodybuilder! Also, check out my NEW e-books: The Dr. Mike Training...