Construct Sturdy and Horny Shoulders

By Ritch Finnegan

Based on the fact that Webster defines “sculpture” as the art of carving or sculpting figures, it would be correct to refer to yourself as the sculptor of your body. If ever there was one part of the body that needed a sculptor’s eye to highlight its fully developed beauty, it is the shoulder. As I pondered the biomechanical complexities of the shoulder, I felt that I had to approach this lesson from an artistic rather than a purely scientific point of view. How to do it was the question.

Body as art

The concept of “sculpture” was in my head. So I called a friend of mine, Thomas Ladd, a local ceramic sculptor, to ask about his attitude towards creating the human form from clay. In creating “figurative art,” as he calls it, Tom seeks to “create pieces that contain visual symmetry appealing to the touch, eye and mind”. Now this guy spoke my language. If only its description could be written in every fitness contest evaluation criterion.

Tom admits that human anatomy, especially female anatomy, has a powerful influence on his work. He finds that even in non-figured sculptures, full and rounded forms most often appeal to both his customers and him. It doesn’t matter if it’s calves, thighs, glutes, arms, chest, or delts – from an aesthetic point of view, this guy was on the right track. I was amazed at how his artist’s eye works like our body sculptor’s eye. I realized that we are both body artists working in different media.

The shoulder is an amazing and sexy muscle in itself, but considering what aesthetically it does to change a woman’s shape, it’s an essential part of the body to understand. Broad shoulders give a woman overall body symmetry and balance. Shapely shoulders also make the upper arm – biceps and triceps – look complete. With that in mind, let’s take an artistic journey to your Master of Arts in shoulder training.

Beginner class: Clay-Mation 101

The first step is to understand the tools and raw materials. Since a ceramic sculptor works with clay, water, a pottery wheel, and etching tools, we have our own bases. We will work with the three heads of the deltoid – front, medial, and back. We’ll also be using weights, exercise equipment, and of course, nutrients. You need to understand that the most important thing you can do to transform your body is following an adequate diet. Put simply, proper nutrients are just as important to muscles as water is to a slab of dry, raw clay.

Let’s start by explaining the first exercise, a seated or standing military press facing forward. This movement hits the front head, the strongest of the three main deltoids. Performing military presses forward with your palms forward or angled is the most effective and safest way to hit this muscle. The front delta work is achieved by making a pushing motion with the hands higher than the elbows. This rotates the humerus back and places the weight of the dumbbell on the anterior delt.

The form key is as follows: Slide the weights in an upward arching motion from shoulder height. Relax your hands and focus on contracting the anterior delt. Remember, these are easy to over-develop. So don’t maximize with heavy weight. You will most likely have adequate front delts when doing inclines and chest work. Bigger is definitely not better. It’ll just shed your shoulder symmetry. Well, that’s the end of the beginner class. But wait a minute, you know the beautiful shoulders you see online aren’t just from military presses. It’s time to move up to the next level.

Intermediate class: three heads are better than one

The artist’s eye is required here. You need to understand that the deltoids are made up of three different muscles – the anterior, middle, and posterior delts. These muscles are so different that they require three different ranges of motion. After we have covered the front delts in your beginner class, we can move on to the medial and then the rear.

The medial delt is the real showpiece of the delts. When properly trained, there is the breadth and abundance that shoulder connoisseurs are looking for. Again we look at the upper arm and / or humerus position to release the medial delt. Make sure your hand and elbow are on the same plane that you are lifting the weight. Too often when the medial delt tires out, people try to complete a target number of reps just to use the front delts to do so.

From the beginner’s class, remember that as soon as your hand is raised higher than the elbow and the humerus rotates backwards, the anterior delt begins. This is a big point. So pay close attention to it. During a set, the only change in shape that should occur is a decrease in the range of motion. As fatigue sets in and freedom of movement diminishes, have your spotter lift gently, if necessary, to complete the final reps. This puts maximum intensity on a group of fibers for maximum results.

For the posterior delts, you need to provide resistance on the back of the shoulder with an isolated pulling motion. Do this in a sitting position, bend over with your chest almost touching your thighs, and imagine you are rowing a boat with weights in your hands. In any rear delta exercise, it is very important to have a secure lower back posture with your elbows wide and your hands and biceps relaxed. Try not to pinch your shoulder blades together.

Adding the side and back delt increases even out the shoulders, but do you know how to fill them in? It’s time for advanced coursework.

Advanced class: secrets of the connoisseur

Oh, if only adding muscle was as easy as pinching off or paddling on some more clay. However, it’s as simple as understanding the unique force curve of the medial and posterior delts. Let me explain.

Just as your bench press strength decreases from mid to end of range of motion (ROM) and you need a spotter to finish the last part of the rep, so does the middle and back delts. However, with these muscles, it’s much more dramatic. For example, if you need 8 pounds to feel the proper resistance at the top of a side elevation, you need at least double that amount to properly hit the lower range of motion. Because of this, you need a good top spotter or a machine that will reduce the drag from the ROM – crucial for sculpted shoulders. If this is required for medial and posterior delts, depending on the equipment available, you will need to divide each movement into the upper and lower halves to ensure you have the right resistance for each movement.

The advanced movements are used to provide adequate resistance to the often neglected lower half of the range of motion. This can be done in many ways, but some are the simplest and most effective. These exercises include tilt side lifting, low cable side lifting, sitting side lifting machine, and high cable rear deltas.

Because the form requirements are very specific, see the exercise descriptions for more details. Once you master them, you will understand why those who reach the lower range have superior shoulder development.

Now it is up to you to take what you have learned and create your own masterpiece. While Michelangelo was looking at a block of marble and saw a picture in it, you see your body and its potential in the same way. With patience, consistent hard work, and dedication, you too can turn your shoulders into a work of art that even a great sculptor would be proud of.

Dumbbell Seated Military Press: Sit on the end of a flat bench with a neutral back. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand and keep your elbows close to your side at a 45-degree angle. Use a wide circular motion to slide the dumbbells up and stop when they are directly over your shoulders. Focus on the anterior deltoid (anterior shoulder head). Return to the starting position and repeat.

Lift the dumbbell sideways: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent; Hold your stomach tight to maintain a good back position. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging by your sides, palms facing toward your thighs and elbows, which are slightly bent. Lift the dumbbells out and up to shoulder level, not higher. Slowly return to the lower range of motion while maintaining tension in the medial delt. (ie no rest).

Side Lift: Set an incline bench at a 45 degree angle. Choose an extremely light weight, maybe 3 to 5 pounds; Hold it with your arm perpendicular to the floor (just slightly behind your back). Raise the weight until your arm is just parallel to the floor. Slowly lower the weight and repeat.

Bent, Seated Rear Delt Raise: Sit on the end of a flat bench and lean back slightly forward with your right elbow on your right knee and your right hand touching the left delt. Grasp a dumbbell with your left hand and run it with your elbow. Raise the weight until your upper arm is parallel to the floor. Try to do this without contracting the middle part of your back (falling, rhomboid), focusing on the posterior deltoids (posterior deltoid) and repeating on the other side.

High Cable Rear Delt Pulls with Ropes: Stand with your feet in a half-lunge position. Keep your abs tight to maintain a good back position. Hold the ropes with your palms facing each other. Begin the exercise by leaning back with your elbows until you feel the contraction of the posterior delts rather than the upper back. If your upper back is contracting, you’ve gone too far. Return to the starting position while maintaining the tension on the rear delts and repeat the process.

Low Cable Lateral Raise: Use the cross cable machine’s low pulley. Starting on the right side, gripping the pulley handle behind your back, stand with your feet about hip-width apart and knees slightly bent to the side of the pulley. Slowly raise the handle until it reaches shoulder height. Be sure to use your pinky finger, not your thumb, to guide. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

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Seated Side Hoist: Raise arms with elbows on pads and hands in correct position by pushing with elbows. Keep your hands relaxed and light. Maintain muscle tension throughout the ROM. (ie no rest).

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