You can't deny the aesthetic appeal of round, muscular delts. (In fact, men with broad shoulders were found to be more attractive to women.) Spartan racers, however, are probably more concerned with how their delts can help them rip through the Hercules Hoist, traverse the Ape Hanger, and scale Olympus. Even if racing isn't your top priority, do you really want to be all show and no go? No. You need to train your shoulders, and this advanced shoulder workout is your key to success.
Shoulder Anatomy 101
First, here's a quick primer on the shoulder: Your shoulder is a ball and socket joint, which is comprised of three bones — the clavicle (collarbone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the head of the humerus or upper arm. Together, these three bones form the capsule that the head of your upper arm sits in. This unique design grants you more mobility than any other joint in your body — you can swing your arms up overhead, side-to-side, and laterally.
Unfortunately, with that extreme range of motion comes a severe lack of stability. The ball of the humerus is only held in place by your rotator cuff, which is formed by a group of four small muscles, and your labrum, a padding of cartilage that helps keep the ball stable.
Enveloping the joint is the deltoid, which is made up of three key muscles — the anterior head, posterior head, and lateral head. And while it’s not directly related to your shoulder, your trapezius (aka traps) are tied into your scapula, which is a key shoulder player. Here’s a breakdown of what each muscle does:
- Anterior Deltoid: Anytime you raise your arms or bring them inward, it’s the anterior delt that’s doing most of the heavy lifting here. So when you’re holding a bucket loaded with rocks, it’s this specific muscle that’s carrying the brunt of the load.
- Lateral Deltoid: This shoulder muscle lets you abduct your arm or raise it laterally up to your ear. So anytime you train your shoulders by pressing something overhead, this is the main muscle at work.
- Posterior Deltoid: As it sits on the back of your shoulder joint, the posterior deltoid is involved in a lot of pulling exercises, like pull-ups and rows.
- Trapezius: The traps are located in the middle of your upper back, and tie into your scapula. Anytime you squeeze your shoulder blades together or flex them forward, it’s the traps that are making that happen. While the traps don’t directly affect your shoulder joint, retracting your shoulder blades locks your shoulders into place. This makes them more stable. So, you’d squeeze the shoulder blades together before you press weight overhead to ensure you’re targeting mainly the deltoid.
Principles of Shoulder Training
Since the unstable shoulder joint is susceptible to injury and it’s a relatively small muscle, you don’t need to go nuts in the gym to strengthen them, says trainer Menno Henselmans, who is an accomplished fitness model and an advisory board member of Legion Athletics, USA.
Newbies, he says, can train their deltoids twice per week for 10-15 sets weekly. Intermediate trainees can hit their delts 3-4 times per week for 16-20 weekly sets; and if you’re an advanced gym-goer, then feel free to hit your shoulders every day as long as you don’t exceed 20-25 sets per week. The average Spartan most likely falls into that intermediate category.
Related Link: How to Improve Your Grip Strength
As for rest, take a minute or two between sets. You can also pair exercises together to form circuits, resting after you do all three moves in a row. This will elevate your heart rate even more and make the workout quicker — a win-win if you ask us.
For the sake of keeping your training interesting, and to ensure you're targeting all three heads of the deltoid, you want to perform a few exercises per workout. Say you’re performing three workouts per week for a total of 20 sets. That’s about 6 sets per workout. Pick three exercises and do each for two sets. Then, change up the moves the next time you train shoulders.
Related Link: Shoulder Pain? 3 Myths & 3 Solutions
An Advanced Shoulder Workout
Different exercises target different parts of the deltoid when you train your shoulders, and you’ll want to hit each once per workout to ensure an evenly developed shoulder. Here, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite moves organized by which head of the deltoid it hits.
- Anterior deltoid: dumbbell front raise, cable front raise, plate front raise, prone dumbbell Y-raise
- Lateral deltoid: standing dumbbell press, barbell z-press, Arnold press
- Rear delt: bentover dumbbell raise, cable face-pull, machine rear delt raise
Typically you’ll want to start with a heavier press, to build strength, and end with one or two higher-rep moves for muscular endurance. Here’s an example routine to train your shoulders, using the moves from above, the next time you're in the gym.
- Arnold press: 3 sets of 8 reps
- Dumbbell front raise: 2 sets of 15 reps
- Cable face-pull: 2 sets of 20 reps