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by UFEHQ on May 14, 2019

Submitted By Timothy Rigby, M.A., NSCA-CPT

To date, we’ve presented to you specialized workouts to help you develop exemplary biceps and a chest that’s stage-worthy. This month, we’re going to look at another of the relatively smaller muscle groups, but one that is absolutely critical to the manner in which you project yourself to the judges and audience: your shoulders.

Whereas certain muscle groups tend to be a favourite of either gender (e.g. chest for the men, glutes or legs for the women), the shoulders are in practice a ‘unisexual’ muscle group that deserve a lot of attention from all athletes. Depending on your competition category, you’ll want to build them to a certain size and shape. Bodybuilders, naturally, require the biggest, most dense deltoids in keeping with tradition from the sport’s origins wherein developed delts were seen to signify power and athleticism. Fast forward to more modern times, and the newer divisions of Physique and Classic Physique also emphasize shoulders for width and mass.

Not to be outdone, however, the categories of Women’s Physique, Figure and Fitness require well-shaped shoulders in harmonious symmetry and in proportion with the rest of your body. As society has evolved within the context of representing women in roles of power more frequently, we now embrace the idea of women projecting physical strength in addition to their beauty. One need only to check out any event wherein Elite or Pro level UFE women’s athletes are competing, and you’ll quickly adopt an appreciation for just how sexy and appealing the deltoids can be on a lady. And let’s not forget the sexy Fitness Model, Glamour or Bikini athletes, too. Any competitors in these classes who were lacking in shapely shoulders, regardless of how nice the rest of their presentation package is, would fall short of real success.

Simply put, your shoulders are tantamount to your results. Let’s take a look at how you can build the delts of a champion.


Three heads are better than one. The sooner you appreciate that (1) your shoulders are a unique muscle group with a wide range of motion; and (2) you’re going to be scrutinized from 360 degrees (front, side and back) in competition, the more targeted you can apply your training. Once you’re on stage, it’s not simply a matter of how wide your medial (middle) delts appear when you’re facing the judges and audience. You’ll be required to turn to the side and eventually all the way around to the back; that’s why your anterior (front) and posterior (rear) deltoids are important to train also.

Compound movements are very effective for delts training, to be sure, since they will work more than one specific head of your deltoids. For example, overhead press movements will work primarily your middle and front shoulders. But when the need comes to balance out the whole group (many people have lagging rear delts), there is a full battery of isolation moves at your disposal to bring up whatever is required. Due to the wide range of motion capable of your shoulders, you’re also more exposed to the possibility of injury. It’s therefore especially important that you exercise control and sound technique when performing delts movements.

Disengage the rest of your body. It’s been said that those who hate shoulders training the most, are those who have a propensity to cheat. In other words, it’s very easy to cheat when you’re training shoulders, regardless of whether you’re performing pressing actions, rows, raises, or using cables. Nonetheless, if you’re serious about accomplishing the goal of targeting and building your delts, it’s incumbent upon you to use sound technique. Due the nature of lifting lighter amounts for your shoulders relative to chest, back and leg training, completing shoulders movements can sometimes seem tedious. Subsequently, those who cheat (inadvertently or otherwise) decide to employ more weight than they’re capable of lifting; ultimately, they erroneously use their chest, back and legs when doing certain shoulders moves, all in the name of momentum. For the best results, however, we suggest you avoid this practice.

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between performing a standing exercise versus the seated version of the same lift? If you take the example of a seated dumbbell press compared to the standing version, you’ll notice the bench supports your back and keeps your torso in place. This will allow you to eliminate swaying action and avoid cheating; simply tell yourself that you must keep your upper back in contact with the bench and not sway forward from it. Furthermore, because you’re keeping your torso in an upright position, you’re using more of your shoulders and less of your upper pecs. The standing version, on the other hand, will allow you to use a greater weight – however, it’s not your shoulders doing all the work. And no matter how much you focus on isolating your shoulders, if the weight is too heavy, you’ll subconsciously employ the entire rest of your body. This is, in fact, the basis for the “push-press” movement, a very athletic and effective exercise, but one in which the shoulders are not isolated.

The bottom line is that no matter which shoulders movement you’re performing, try to avoid cheating with the rest of your body. You’re judged on the size and definition of your shoulders – the number on the weight plate or dumbbell you’re using means nothing.

Avoid locking out for great gains. . Even novice weightlifters understand that when you perform an exercise, there are basically two phases: the concentric (when a weight is pushed, pulled or raised to a peak position) and the eccentric (when the weight returns to the start position). You can also throw in an isometric phase if you wish, whereby you hold the weight in its peak position for a certain length of time. But if you want to key in on actual muscle activation, which produces the most efficient gains in muscle growth, then your focus should be on the length of time in which there is tension in the muscle.

The principle of time under tension for building muscle encourages an athlete to keep the working muscles under tension as long as possible. With shoulder exercises like the overhead press, this is accomplished by not locking out your arms in the peak position. The next time you perform this move, pay attention to whether you’re locking out your arms at your elbows while the weight is at the top position. If you do fully lockout your arms, you’re effectively taking resistance away from your shoulders and transferring it to your joints; in some cases this can cause injury, although there is evidence that the risk is not significant. To preserve shoulder muscle activation under longer tension, stop the action just short of a full lockout. This principle can also apply to moves which involve the use of barbells, machines, cables and bands. So don’t just think “push and release”; make the full repetition truly count.


Now that we’ve established that the shoulders are a unique muscle group with a wide range of motion, let’s adopt a unique, multi-dimensional training protocol to help you build size and definition in the best and most efficient way possible. The purpose of this routine is to help you emphasize your shoulders and as such, you should reserve two days a week to perform these delts moves exclusively. That is, don’t combine them with exercises for any other body part in the same workout.

The UFE “All In” shoulders workout herein contains exercises that can be used by competitors of either gender and any category; the only variable among competitors will be the resistance they employ. This workout derives the name “All In” from the fact that it’s all-encompassing in its breadth. You’ll be performing both multi-joint and isolation moves; you’ll be hitting all three heads of your deltoids; you’ll use a variety of equipment including dumbbells, barbells, the Smith machine, cables and a band; and you’ll be doing both unilateral and bi-lateral exercises. Truly, this unique workout serves to work a unique muscle group appropriately. What are you waiting for? Let’s get right to it.

This is a high-volume shoulders workout (in layman’s terms, you’ll be performing a lot of sets and reps). Therefore, make sure you don’t use too heavy of a weight and are able to complete all sets without going to failure, except for those marked AMRAP. Take your time, make sure your technique is solid, and employ one light-weight warmup set for each exercise. Use this program twice a week for six weeks, then switch to a different program.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
SEATED DUMBBELL PRESS 4 10, 8, 8, 8 1:30 mins
SMITH-MACHINE UPRIGHT ROW 3 12, 10, 10 1:30 mins
CABLE FRONT RAISE 3 12, 10, 10 1:30 mins
ONE-ARM LATERAL RAISE 3 12, 10, 10 1:30 mins

*AMRAP means “As Many Reps As Possible”. Continue the set until you can no longer complete a rep using good form (e. g. you complete eight reps with good form but cannot complete a ninth rep with good form; stop the set here).


Seated Dumbell Press

  • Adjust a bench to a 90-degree angle (or use a chair in a fixed position)
  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip
  • Sit tall on the bench with upper back and butt firmly against the pad
  • Separate your legs to shoulder width (or slightly wider) with feet secure on the floor
  • Draw the weights up immediately in front of you with elbows bent 90 degrees
  • In the start position, your upper arms will be parallel to the floor
  • Using force from your middle and front delts especially, press the weights overhead
  • Stop just short of a lockout position and hold at the top for a full second
  • Using control, carefully lower the weights along the same path to the bottom


  • Load the bar of a Smith machine to your desired resistance
  • Stand in the interior of the apparatus and face outward
  • Approach the bar and position yourself as close to it as functionally possible
  • Grasp the bar in both hands using a pronated (overhand) grip at the width of your shoulders (or slightly wider)
  • Separate your legs to shoulder width with feet squarely on the floor for stability
  • Using force mainly from your middle delts, row the bar vertically along the guide
  • At the peak position, your upper arms will be parallel to the floor
  • Hold for a full second, then lower using control back to the start


  • Set the resistance and attach a curl bar to a cable at a very low pulley position
  • Stand upright, adjacent to the apparatus, facing away from it
  • Separate your legs to about shoulder width
  • Reach backward between your legs and pick up the bar, then feed it forward
  • Grasp the bar with both hands at the far ends of the bar, using an overhand grip
  • With your arms hanging freely, bend your knees just slightly for stability
  • Using force mainly from your front shoulders, raise the bar in an outward arc in front of you
  • With this move, it’s okay to cross the plane of parallel to the floor slightly
  • Hold in the top position for a second, then lower using control back to the start

One Arm Lateral Raise

  • Grasp a dumbbell in one hand using a pronated grip
  • With your other hand, hold onto the top edge of an adjustable bench chair (or onto one of the pillars of a power rack)
  • Your non-working arm should be roughly parallel to the floor
  • Draw your feet together and stand in an elongated position leaning slightly
  • Let the arm supporting the weight hang freely, perpendicular to the floor
  • When you’re ready to begin, raise your working arm in an upward arc until you reach slightly above the plane of your shoulders
  • Hold in the top position for a second, then lower using control back to the start


  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip; keep in mind the weight you use will need to be less than used for the standing dumbbell raise
  • Sit on the end of a bench and place your feet together
  • With your arms almost fully extended, bring the weights behind your calves
  • Lean forward sharply from the hips while you complete the preceding action
  • Keeping your torso in a frontward lean position, raise the weights in an upward arc away from you
  • Continue the raise until your arms are parallel to the floor, all the while keeping your body anchored in position.
  • Hold at this top position for a half-second, then lower using control along the same path


  • There’s nothing fancy about this finishing move as it’s simply a variation of the standing lateral raise with dumbbells
  • Grasp the handles of a band using a neutral grip in each hand
  • Stand on the middle of the band and keep your body tall with feet together
  • With the rest of your body motionless, raise your arms in an upward arc outward from your sides
  • Continue the ascent until you cross just slightly above parallel to the floor
  • Hold at the peak position for one second, then lower using control back to the start
  • To add some challenge, resist the pull of the band on the return to slow it down

Looking for more help? UFE offers nutrition and training programs designed by our very best PRO athletes as well as personalized coaching options through our awesome app, “TRAIN! By UFE” Go to for more information and to purchase one of these contest prep options.

Timothy Rigby, M.A., NCSA-CPT is a freelance writer and one of Canada’s most published fitness writers.

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