Shape Those Shoulders

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Photography by Steven Smith.

Shoulders can handle volume, and I mean lots of it.When I think about my own shoulder development, I believe that the strength and shape of my shoulders can be partially attributed to my time as a swimmer until the age of 25. Doing thousands of reps every single day provided a good base for capillarization and blood flow so, when I started lifting weights, my shoulders grew immediately . That being said, if shoulders are a focus of yours, you can definitely  train them twice a week, or once a week as a separate muscle group and combine rear deltoid movements with back/ medial and front deltoid movements with chest for the second session.Here are some of my favourite exercises to incorporate in your shoulder training routine to really amp up the volume of your workout.

Clean & Press
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If you know someone qualified to teach you, the clean and press is a great tool to stimulate the nervous system. Performing a couple sets at the start of your shoulder workout will vastly improve the effectiveness of the actual hypertrophy work.  There is no need to go heavy- think 4 sets of 8 at 60 % of your overhead press weight.

Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width, standing light on the front of your feet. Fall back and “catch” the bar while sitting down (this is not a reverse curl). You should actually try to get under the bar. From there, thrust the bar overhead while locking out the legs.

Overhead Presses
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Please do not make this movement resemble an incline bench press! Your aim should be to “bend the bar together.” All too often, the shoulder press becomes a triceps press (which isn’t wrong, but also is not what you are trying to accomplish). If you are working with a barbell, always apply inward pressure as if you were bending the bar together. If you use dumbbells, always keep your thumb lower than the rest of your hand.

Also, tuck the abs in. If you watch the majority of people doing seated dumbbell presses from the side, you will find that their lower back is far away from the chair- in fact they are always in an incline bench position. Great for chest, not so great for training shoulders. Slide all the way back and aim to shorten your abs. This contraction will provide stability and proper shoulder muscle recruitment.

Side Raises
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I prefer to do side raises seated, but standing works as well. It’s most important to focus on the elbow NOT the wrist while performing this exercise. Most people make their side raises resemble a mini shrug. Remember, the body only registers intention, so if you are using the bigger muscles (AKA trapezius) first, the little guy (medial delt) does not work much at all.

Try imagining you have a string on top of your elbows, which pulls your elbows up and outward. Always keep your elbows above the wrists.
*Partial side raises: For those of you that compete, you may want to try incorporating partial side raises in your training routine. Start by taking the front relaxed stance while sitting. Your elbows should be slightly pointed out and angled. Move your elbows to the side until about 40 degrees WITHOUT contracting your neck. Your head should not tilt forward! This exercise is intended to target the delt/arm tie-in.

Rear Delt Flyes
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To perform this exercise, stand leaning forward and rest your forehead on the top of an incline bench. Move your hands out from under your body until they are parallel to the floor. Move your elbows to the side without contracting your neck, following a similar movement pattern to the partial side raises.

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These are usually done with a cable. While standing, grab both D-handles, left handle with right and right handle with left. From there, pull your elbows apart until you are standing in a (very bad) front double biceps pose. This exercise is effective since you can overload the rear delts.

Superman Presses
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These are a favourite of mine – extremely effective but oh so humbling.

Lay on an incline bench, chest down and with the bench starting at an angle of 30 degrees. Grab two dumbbells and push outward, remembering not to tense the neck. You can increase the bench angle lightly if you feel particularly  adventurous.


One of the most sought after personal trainers in New York City, Maik Wiedenbach is a world renowned athlete and two-times Muscle Mania Champion. Educated on a swimming scholarship from Fordham University he holds a double Masters Degree in History & Philosophy. Fluent in multiple languages including Dutch, English, French and his native German, he is an Adjunct Professor teaching Exercise Sciences at New York University.

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