What would you do for weak shoulders? What really works, and why are they so difficult for me to grow?
For most people, shoulders aren’t the most difficult body part to grow, nor are they usually the weakest. But there’s an old saying that’s also very true – you can’t hide weak shoulders. Normally the issue isn’t in hypertrophying the muscle groups involved but rather, a narrow bone structure. It’s a bit like having wide hips… you can’t change your bone structure.
Example From Bodybuilding Past
If I’m not mistaken, narrow shoulders were a hallmark of Larry Scott. When he started weight training in 1956, his narrow shoulders were a particular weak spot. He trained with Vince Gironda, and became best known for his arm development. When it comes to Scott, there are three things I want you to focus on.
1.) Scott had narrow shoulders
2.) Scott became better known for his fantastic arm development and;
3.) He became one of the best built men in history
With respect to point #1, he started with narrow shoulders. Notice what he didn’t do…. Resign himself to a life of bodybuilding obscurity, just because his shoulder girdle was narrow. Instead, he started training under the supervision of one of the greatest bodybuilding coaches of all time – Gironda. So he knew he had a problem, then he got help. Some of the best in the business.
Second, Scott didn’t let a bad genetic hand define him. To this day, Larry Scott is known for his fantastic arm development. To this day, he had some of the best, most aesthetically pleasing arms ever seen. In that respect, nobody was talking about his shoulders. Instead, they’re still talking about his arm development (and how to duplicate it).
As a result of issues #1 and 2, he became one of the best built men in history. In fact during his heyday, his popularity become known as “Larry Fever” and became the very first Mr. Olympia in 1965. Scott defended his title and won the 1966 Mr. Olympia title as well, receiving the then (record) $1,000 prize.
I would tell you a few things then, based upon what you’ve shared with me. First, ditch the standing overhead press for the handstand pushup. Train this using ¼” mats, starting with 8-10 of them stacked on top of each other, building up to at least 7 reps before removing a mat, at which point the reps will drop again before building them back up to progress to the next mat. In this fashion, your reps will be cycled from low to high and the body won’t be as prone to adaptation.
In short order, you should be doing full handstand pushups – and incredible feat of strength. You should continue to add weight to these, in the form of a weight vest or whatever other apparatus is necessary. To preserve a higher volume of sets and reps though, perform your heavy full range reps first – then add partials afterwards. Meaning add back a few mats and perform several sets of say, half handstand pushups for higher reps. The pump you get in your shoulders should be absolutely brutal, something I never got from any amount of barbell or DB presses.
As for upright rows, I’d drop those like a bad habit – because they are. Terrible movement IMO, and puts the shoulders at risk for a major injury.
If you are to perform at least one barbell press, make it the Bradford press. That is, using a moderate weight…. Press the barbell up to a height that just clears your head from a position below the chin to behind your neck. One full rep is counted as starting at a position below your chin, then up just above your head, behind your neck, then back under your chin. Perform 3 sets of about 6 reps, then tell me what you notice. Should be an intense contraction of every head of your shoulders (front, medial, back).
DB Front Raises
DB front raises are what I’d finish with, 2 or 3 sets of higher reps (12 to 20). I do NOT like side laterals as they’re not conducive to heavy weight, and I see few people performing them properly. Temptation is to get carried away with heavy weights and as it is, that movement carries the joint into a very unfavorable position with light weights, nevermind heavy ones. As for rear delts, performing reps facing INTO a pec deck machine….. may be the only good use of the pec deck.
No Extra Work Needed
Also worth remembering shoulders don’t (or shouldn’t) take a lot of extra work. I mean think about it: Let’s say you superset any pressing movement with any pulling movement. If you’re working hard, your delts are getting a lot of work as it is. IMO, a lack of rear delts is due to the same reason people have weak backs in general – they fail to perform adequate rows (set for set, and rep for rep) vs. their pressing movements.
Give that a shot, I hope it helps!