If you’re having a hard time getting your shoulders wider and thicker (particularly if you're aiming for big delts), Jeremy Ethier, fitness trainer, and founder of Built with Science, is here to help. He recently shared a video in which he explains four key reasons why people fail to develop their shoulders—and some easy-to-follow tips to correct the mistakes.
Ethier notes that the muscles of your shoulder you're likely aiming to develop can be divided into three regions; the front, side, and rear delts.
The front delt is involved in many pressing movements like the bench press and shoulder press. Many people overdevelop these muscles since they're involved in common exercises.
The rear delt is important for rounding out the back of the shoulder.
The side delts are the key muscle you'll need to develop to build wide shoulders. Ethier believes that the dumbbell lateral raise is a key movement for this.
Ethier says there are four major flaws people overlook with lateral raises (and with their side delt training in general) that slows down growth and increases the likelihood of injury.
Flaw 1: Resistance Profiles
The first reason your shoulder training might be lacking is that you are using just one resistance profile by relying on the traditional lateral raise.
"To stimulate more growth, you’ll want to also perform an exercise that has the opposite resistance profile, where it’s most difficult at the bottom and easiest at the top," says Ethier.
To do this, he suggests grabbing a cable or band and performing a one-handed lateral raise. If you only have dumbbells, he recommends two exercises that will achieve the same effect. The first exercise is a lean-in lateral raise, which challenges your delts by manipulating your body position, depending on an anchor point for balance. The second exercise, the explosive momentum lateral raise, changes the resistance profile by using momentum to raise the weights to the top.
Flaw 2: Technique
According to Ethier, technique is one of the biggest issues with lateral side raises. He cites three common mistakes people generally make when performing the exercise:
The first is that your arms shouldn’t actually be directly out to your sides. Instead, you should move into what’s known as the scapular plane, which is about 20 to 30 degrees out from your torso. A slight lean forward as you do this will help boost side delt activation even more.
The second mistake has to do with your hands. Instead of turning your hands inward so that your pinkies end up higher than your thumbs at the end position, keep your hand flat with or with your thumbs just slightly higher than your pinkies at the top position.
Finally, think about pushing your hands out while you lift rather than only lifting them up. If you're only thinking about lifting up, you might wind up engaging your traps more than you'd like for optimal side delt growth.
Flaw 3: Progression
When you progress up to a higher weight while you're doing lateral raises, you might find that the reps are much harder than you imagined. Ethier suggests that once you find a weight that you can perform reps with good form, then focus on doing more reps instead. Take a step up to the next set of dumbbells once you can do about 20 to 30 reps in a set with good form.
He notes that when you do eventually make that jump, expect the number of reps you’ll be able to do with the heavier weight to decrease by about half.
Flaw 4: Training Frequency
According to Ethier, most people aren’t training their side delts enough. He notes these muscles recover quickly, and with the right programming, can be trained two to three times a week to stimulate more growth.
"What I’d recommend is start by picking out two days in your routine to train them, as long as there’s at least one day of rest between the two days," he says. "Then for each of the days you train them, add in three sets of the standard lateral raise and three sets of one of the variations."
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