Build Big Shoulders With This Supplementary Shoulder Workout Routine

Lately, I’ve been incorporating more bodybuilding work into my powerlifting training, and I’m seeing fantastic results out of it — in both size and strength. I used to think that if you wanted to be the best, you had to focus on one or the other, but I’m beginning to learn that really, they can be complementary if you plan carefully.

Even though I’m currently prepping for a powerlifting meet, and strength is my only focus, hypertrophy work is still beneficial. I believe the opposite is true, as well: If you’re a physique athlete, even if you don’t care at all about your one-rep max, it’s still important to include some strength-focused work in your program.

If you read my last article about training shoulders, you know that it can be tricky to add extra delt work to a powerlifting routine, because of how much stress they take from the bench press and squat. I suggested using a lot of lighter, isolation work, and even though there’s a sample workout listed in that article, I wanted to dive more in-depth into another one.

Author Note: This is a slightly more intensive variation, that can be useful if your shoulders are a major weakness, or if you’re in a relatively low-intensity phase of your strength cycle.

Intensive Shoulder Workout

1. Warmup: Machine Lateral Raise

Many powerlifters avoid using machines in their training, and I think that’s a mistake. Yes, barbells and dumbbells have tons of benefits in terms of stabilization and range of motion, but machines offer some big advantages, too. In this case, I suggest warming up with a machine lateral raise before moving on to dumbbells. That’s because many lifters really struggle with “feeling” their delts work on raises, which are pretty difficult to perform in the first place. By taking all the coordination and balance out of the equation, you can focus entirely on the target muscle.

Author Tip: I don’t like to prescribe specific sets and reps for warm-ups. You should use very light weights, high reps, and try to find the sweet spot where you’re feeling loose and pumped but not exhausted. It’s perfectly fine to go by feel here.

2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Once you’re nice and warm, it’s time to move on to dumbbell raises. When you do these, you want to be strict about it: raise the ‘bells to at least ear height, and don’t use any momentum from your body to help. You’ll have to go pretty light, but that’s fine: remember, we’re using this as part of a larger strength-training plan.

Sets & Reps: Three sets of 12 reps with just 60 seconds rest between sets should give you a great pump to get started!

2. Wide-Grip Upright Row

The upright row gets a bad rap, but as long as you perform them strictly, I don’t believe they’re inherently dangerous. Again, no momentum here, and you’re going to raise the bar at least to chin level.

Sets & Reps: We’re doing the same 3 sets of 12 with 60 seconds rest as we did on the dumbbell raises, and by now, your delts should be getting a little tired.

3. Bent-Forward DB Lateral Raise

This is one of my favorite exercises for rear delts, because these are super easy to do and you can usually load them up pretty heavily. You can use a little momentum here — not wild swinging, but just a little bit of body english to help you initiate the movement.

Sets & Reps: Two sets of 20 reps with 2 minutes rest between sets.

4. Standing Press With Mini Bands

What’s the deal with doing the compound movement last? Remember, we’re using this as a supplement to a good strength-training routine. That means you should already be doing some type of heavy pressing movements elsewhere in your program. However, I think it’s useful to include a standing press at the end of your hypertrophy work, because once you’ve got a massive pump going, you’ll be better able to “feel” the delts working on compound movements. If you’re a person who struggles to listen to your body, this can be great practice, and it can make a big difference over time.

On the other hand, your delts are going to be tired by now, and that’s going to put a big damper on the amount of weight you can use. That’s why we’re adding the mini bands: they’ll make the exercise harder at the top, where your shoulders are already in a better position to move some heavy weights. Set them up loosely; we only need a little bit of tension here.

Sets & Reps: Three sets of 10 reps with a full 3-4 minutes rest between sets will finish up this delt destruction nicely.

Closing Remarks

I like workouts like these because they’re quick, fun, and really useful. A few caveats: make sure to focus on the muscle, not moving the weight. Weight is irrelevant for this type of workout, because our goal is to get a great pump. Your strength training will take care of the progressive overload you need to grow!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page. 

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