Delt Training Guide: Torching the Triangle for Mass and Width

Delt Mass and Width

Once you start using this training plan.. you'll transform your deltoids!

fitFLEX Articles - Learn, Share and Discover



The delts crown the shoulder girdle with a majestic cap of muscle that is both powerful and eye-catching. Everyone wants wide, muscular shoulders that impart a rugged, athletic, virile appearance. Just as a tastefully selected frame sets off the beauty of a fine painting, the delts set the stage for a more dramatic display of your entire physique.

This is nothing new, of course. More than 2,000 years ago, during the Golden Age of Greece, the Greeks-supreme connoisseurs of aesthetic, muscular beauty that they were-sculpted mighty statues of their gods and heroes that featured broad, rounded and densely muscled deltoids.

Wide, thick, muscular shoulders featuring fully developed delts project an image of massiveness unrivaled by any other part of the anatomy. I'll never forget the time at Venice Beach years ago when a group of the top IFBB stars were being photographed-Arnold, Franco Columbu, Frank Zane, Ken Waller, Robby Robinson, Paul and Bill Grant, Ed Corney and Mike Katz. What a fantastic array of protoplasm!

As hundreds of awed spectators were enjoying a free view of the greatest muscle talent of that era, giant Mike Katz arose from the spot where he was polishing his tan. A murmur went through the crowd as Mike's massive shoulders dwarfed even the mighty Arnold. Katz looked like a human space shuttle rising off the sand, and everyone was astonished. Arnold said, "Mike can really freak people out with his massive shoulders and chest." Mike looked to be 25 to 30 pounds more massive than the world's greatest bodybuilder.


There is no way to hide wide shoulders, even when you wear a business suit. The man with broad shoulders stands out in a crowd, and people will always turn around for a second glance at him.

I recently attended an event at the L.A. Sports Arena and ran into Los Angeles Ram football star Gary Jeter at the ticket window. He was fashionably attired in a tan leather sports coat, complete with silk shirt, tie and slacks. His bulging, wide-framed delts were so enormous that he looked as wide as an aircraft carrier. Standing 6'7" tall and weighing a rock-hard 280 pounds, his massive weight-trained shoulders are reputed to be the widest in pro football. He's got my vote!

Superstars like Lee Haney, Gary Strydom and Shawn Ray, to mention just a few, are well aware that when on the posing platform they're the first thing the overhead spotlight illuminates. Shoulders set the tone for the rest of your muscles. If your delts are underdeveloped compared to the rest of your body, your chances of taking home a trophy are slim to none.

Massive, fully developed delts deliver greater strength and explosive power to the chest, arms and back, allowing you to handle heavier training poundages and thus achieve greater mass in these nearby muscle groups. No one has ever set a world record in any type of pressing lift- bench press, Olympic press, etc.- who didn't have enormously powerful delts. Former powerlifting Superheavyweight world-record holder Mel Hennessy had some of the widest, most massive delts ever seen on this planet. No wonder he could bench press 700 pounds.

Having read countless articles on delt training in the multitude of body-building publications available during the past several years, I have concluded that nearly all of them neglect the principal issue-width. While it is true that the various training routines recommended will help add size to your delts, seldom, if ever, is there any information presented on improving shoulder structure. The larger the frame, the greater the mass it can attain.

Medical experts generally believe that the average man who is nonactive and does no exercise at all will continue to broaden his skeletal structure naturally until the age of 25. Bodybuilders, however, with proper training can continue to widen the shoulders until they're past the half-century mark. So, generally speaking, regardless of age, you can make dramatic improvement in your quest to build bam-door-wide shoulders.

The most rapid gains in building shoulder width are achieved by adding mass to the extreme outsides of the delts, but for the ultimate in shoulder width you must strive to widen your shoulder girdle. You can thicken and lengthen the attachments that hold your shoulder blades and collar bones in place.

The skeletal structure of the shoulders, or shoulder girdle, consists of two pairs of bones (one on each side): the clavicle (collar bone) and the scapula (shoulder blade). The shoulder girdle, despite its name, does not form a complete ring of bone, but presents an especially large gap where the medial (inner) edge of the bone attaches to the spinal column. This space is occupied by muscles, which move and contribute to greater mobility of the arm(s). The clavicles attach to the sternum (breast bone) in front, and at their ends, or tips, they unite with the outer edge of the scapula. This is called the sternoclavicular joint.

Each deltoid consists of three distinct sections, or heads: 1) the anterior, or front, raises the arm upward in front; 2) the lateral, or side, raises the arm upward to the side; and 3) the posterior, or rear, lifts the arm to the rear or, if you are in the bent-over position with the back parallel-or near parallel-to the floor, lifts it upward to the side.

While each head of the deltoid functions individually, the three also work in unison, as they do when assisting the triceps in pressing a weight overhead. They also team up with the trapezius in overhead movements. For the ultimate in massive delts, you must develop all three heads.

Many serious bodybuilders tend to overdevelop the front portion while paying less attention to the lateral and rear heads. All pressing movements for the chest, as well as dips, strongly work the front delts, so it's easy to see why they get the extra emphasis. Arnold once told me, "One of the most important things I learned from Vince Gironda was to concentrate on my rear delts, which were lagging far behind the front and side areas. Vince's advice helped me achieve more symmetrical shoulder development, and the added density in the rear and side deltoid heads improved my back poses tremendously."

It is a physiological fact that each of us has a maximum shoulder-width dimension governed by our inherited skeletal framework. Few individuals, however, ever reach their maximum potential. Genetically gifted greats like Steve Reeves (Mr. America, Mr. Universe, Mr. World and star of many Hercules films), Don Howorth (Mr. America) and Jim Haislop (Mr. America) attained a level of shoulder width that has been unequaled in our sport.

Without a doubt the most logical reason why these kings of the wide shoulders attained their superwide-shoulder status was because they were born with wider, straighter clavicles than the rest of us. Each measured 24" across from the widest part of the outer, or lateral, deltoid while relaxed. Each of these stars also had an extremely small, muscular waistline and great lat development, which accentuated their amazing width. Additionally, they were all careful not to overmass the traps. Huge traps give the shoulders the appearance of being less wide.

No matter how hard you train, you can't change your basic bone formation; however, with hard, intelligent training you can overcome even the worst possible bone structure obstacle. Larry Scott, the first Mr. Olympia and one of the all-time bodybuilding superstars, was born with very narrow clavicles. With diligent scientific training he developed all three heads of his delts to the max, and the rest is bodybuilding history.

Training the Triangle

Among the definitions of "triangular" in Webster's New World Dictionary you will find "...involving three factions, units or parts." Well, that is exactly what this wide-shouldered delt training program consists of, three basic zones of attack: 1) widening the shoulder girdle to the maximum; 2) massing up the delts to the limit; and 3) sculpting the delts to their ultimate shape.

This is a highly specialized training program. You must put delt training in the cat-bird seat; massive delts must be your most important bodybuilding goal while you're on this program. The program will only work under those conditions. All the information in the world won't build a fraction of an inch of muscle without dedicated effort and consistent attention to the basic secrets of all bodybuilding success: 1) proper training, 2) proper nutrition and 3)sufficient sleep and rest.

Basic Delt-mass Program 1

This routine is for advanced beginners - those who have had at least three to six months of steady training. Fasten your lifting belt and let's get rolling!

Seated dumbbell presses (anterior and lateral deltoid heads). Bring two dumbbells to shoulder height and then sit on the end of a bench with your back straight and feet planted firmly on the floor. Keep your elbows directly out to the sides with the palms facing forward. Press the weights overhead to arm's length, touching the dumbbells together lightly at the top. Lower and repeat for 10 reps on the first set. On the second set, after resting for about 90 seconds, increase the weight of the dumbbells and do eight reps. On the third and final set, increase the poundage again and do six reps. Exhale as you press the weights overhead and inhale as you lower them to your delts.

Barbell upright rows (anterior deltoids and trapezius). Grasp a barbell with an overhand grip (palms toward the body) with the hands spaced about 15 inches apart. With the bar at arm's length while you are standing erect, pull the weight straight up until it is above the nipples of your pecs. Pause momentarily at the top before slowly returning the bar to the starting position. Keep your elbows facing out to the sides at all times or the exercise will work only the trapezius with almost zero benefit to the delts. Do two sets of eight to 10 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets.

Seated lateral raises (lateral deltoid heads). Sit on the end of a bench with your legs fairly close together while holding two dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing toward your thighs. Raise the weights out to each side to a position just slightly above shoulder height; pause for one second before slowly lowering the weights back to the starting position. Keep the arms straight at all times. Perform three sets of eight to 10 reps, supersetting with the next exercise, lat pulldowns.

Alternating pulldowns on lat machine (lats, shoulder girdle attachments). For increasing shoulder width always follow delt work with lat work. I will explain why later. Place your hands on a lat machine bar about 36 inches apart. Kneel down on your knees until you are supporting the weight stack with your arms while they are extended overhead. Pull the bar straight down until it touches the upper chest just below the collar bones, then slowly return to the starting position.

Make sure you let your lats and shoulder girdle really s-t-r-e-t-c-h at the top. On the second rep pull the bar down until it touches the back of the neck just above your shoulders. Return to the starting position, getting a full stretch at the top. Continue alternating from front to back-five reps to the front and five reps to the back. After the first superset is completed (you're supersetting these with seated lateral raises), rest no more than 30 seconds before continuing and work until you've done three complete supersets. This will pump your delts to the maximum and stimulate your shoulder-girdle attachments to the extent that you will feel wider than you ever have before.

Rest two minutes before finishing your workout. Keep the shoulders and lats semi-flexed while resting.

Intermediate Delt-mass Program 2

Switch to this routine after a minimum of six to eight weeks on Basic Program 1. If you are not a beginner-that is, you've been training for six months to a year steadily-you should begin with Program 2.

Seated presses behind the neck (lateral deltoid and anterior deltoid heads). This is by far the best mass-and-width builder for the delts, and it influences the shoulder girdle as well. Grasp a barbell with a wide grip-six to eight inches wider than your shoulders-and start with the bar overhead at arm's length while seated on a sturdy bench. Lower the bar until it touches the back of your neck below your hairline, then immediately press it back overhead to a full lockout. On the last two or three reps, as the delts begin to tire, take a deep breath while the bar is at arm's length, then lower to the back of the neck. The instant it touches, ram it back to the top.

The key point here is that you rest only at the top-not with the bar resting on your shoulders. With your arms extended straight overhead, pressure is exerted on your shoulder girdle and its ligaments, which forces the shoulders to grow wider. Do four sets of this exercise using the PPP (Progressive Power Plan). Here's an example of how this progression might look: 135 x 10, 145 x 8, 155 x 6, 135 x 10-12.

In other words, you do 10, 8,6 and then 10 to 12 reps on the fourth set. Rest about two minutes between sets. Heavy pressing movements require a greater recuperation period if you are going for maximum poundages.

Standing lateral raises (lateral deltoid heads). Get ready for another superset. This first half of the combination is performed as follows: Stand erect with a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing inward, weights touching in front of the body with your arms hanging straight down. Raise the dumbbells out to the sides until they are slightly above shoulder height-your thumbs should be turned toward the floor at the highest position so that your lateral delts are forced to contract fully. Lower the weights slowly and repeat for eight reps. Without resting, immediately go to the bent-over lateral raise.

Bent-over lateral raises (posterior deltoid heads). The lateral delts are capable of handling greater poundages in this particular superset, so have a lighter pair of dumbbells ready for this exercise. Bend forward at the waist until your back is parallel to the floor while you hold a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells upward and out to the sides with your arms straight, but raise them in a swan-dive motion so that they reach the top of the movement about six to eight inches in front of the shoulders. (Note: If you raise the dumbbells directly sideways, the middle of your upper back will be doing the work instead of the targeted area, the posterior delts.) Repeat for eight reps. Perform three supersets of standing lateral raises and bent-over laterals. This combination is a great mass and shape builder, and the pump is unreal.

Incline side lateral raises (lateral deltoid heads). This is Don Ho-worth's favorite exercise for isolating and massing up the outer delts. While lying on your left side on an incline bench with a dumbbell in your right hand, raise the weight to the level of your right ear. Turn your little finger upward and the thumb down at the top of the movement to assure maximum contraction of the lateral delt. Lower and repeat for eight to 10 reps. After completing the reps with your right arm, switch positions without pausing and perform eight to 10 reps with the left hand. Blast out three sets without resting.

Rest for two minutes, then do your upper-back workout. Wide-grip chins, lat pulldowns and wide-grip bent-over rows are all great for widening the lats and shoulder girdle attachments. Howorth said that this is one of his shoulder-widening secrets-working the delts and lats together. It keeps the delts pumped, and the shoulder girdle widens more effectively, resulting in faster growth. The Duke of Deltoids has spoken.

Advanced Delt-mass Program 3

Bill Pearl has personally trained and supervised more Mr. America and Mr. Universe winners than anyone in the world. If there is anyone who knows more about exercise than Bill Pearl, he must be from another galaxy. Here is the program Pearl uses on his advanced pupils for building massive delts:

Military presses 5x5

Standing side lateral raises 5x8

Seated presses behind the neck, (medium-wide grip) 5x5 Bent-over lateral raises 5x8

Twenty sets is strictly big time - for advanced bodybuilders only. Intermediate bodybuilders can use the above program, but they should do only three sets, not five, on each exercise.

If you want massively wide delts, try the three very excellent programs that are outlined here. Pick the one best suited for your training experience. If you are not an advanced trainer, doing Bill Pearl's program will not bring you the desired results, because you will tax your muscles and metabolism beyond their capacity to produce growth.

Any fool can overtrain. Smart guys like Pearl, Arnold, Scott, Haney, Zane, Howorth and Katz achieved their great delts (and physiques) with the sensible, basic principles outlined in this article.





Related Articles