By Jim Vaglica
Shoulders: You Must Be Frontin
Stand at attention! Chin up! Chest out! Shoulders back!
Even if you’ve never served in the military I’m sure you’ve heard these instructions before. But have you ever considered the reasoning behind them? The reason is to project a strong image of pride and confidence. We all want to project that image, right? Well then why is every other person in the gym walking around with their shoulders rolled forward hiding their chest and their head leading the way?
The main reason is because we all love to develop the muscles we can see in the mirror. The solution to this problem that’s pulling you forward is to start pulling back.
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body and therefore inherently prone to injury. If you’ve been resistance training, for any amount of time, chances are you’ve had some shoulder problems. Most likely your shoulder problems involve the four small muscles that make up the rotator cuff. These muscles lie unseen covered by your deltoids. Effectively working yourrotator cuff is time consuming, tedious and no one has ever said “Dude! Your infraspinatus are looking diesel.” Nevertheless, keeping your rotator cuff healthy is a worthy effort. The rotator cufftendons, in front of your shoulder, run between your scapular and your humorous. This is a narrow passageway and it becomes even tighter if your shoulders are pulled forward. Repeated motion causes the tendons to rub on the bones, which causes inflammation of the tendons, and produces what’s called impingement syndrome.
On top of the physical problems, caused by the forward shoulder position, let me point out some esthetic concerns. Let’s face it! One of the main reasons we train is to improve our appearance. One of the simplest ways to instantly improve someone’s appearance is to improve their posture. A person who stands and walks correctly conveys an athletic appearance of power and confidence. It’s ironic how some guys put forth so much effort in the gym only to undermine their own appearance by building an unbalanced physique. It also pains me to see a woman who hides her beautiful shape simply because she doesn’t present herself properly.
The culprits causing this bad posture are the muscles of the chest and the front deltoids. Chances are you’re spending too much time working chest but what I really want you to evaluate is your chest routine. Any time you’re working chest with any pressing moves, whether you’re using a barbell or dumbbells, you’re also hitting your front delts. Performing bodyweight moves like push ups or dips recruit your front delts as well. If you’re building your triceps with close grip bench presses you’re hitting those front delts hard. Even doing curls for biceps involves some front deltoids. Keeping these facts in mind do you really think you need to do any direct front deltoid work? I think not!
The meat of your shoulder work probably involves some form of overhead presses. It is said that Military presses work all three heads of the deltoid. I’m telling you that due to the position of your elbows your middle and rear delts have very little to do with pressing a weight overhead. By far, the front delts are the primary head involved and because your triceps assist in the movement you can push a lot of weight which translates to huge front delt development. For this reason I suggest you keep military presses to a minimum and if you’re still doing behind the head military’s, find yourself a good orthopedic surgeon.
The middle deltoids add width to your shoulders and I know a lot of trainers intend to work their middle delts with military presses, upright rows and lateral raises but chances are you’re using your front delts as the primary movers because of slight variations in your hands and arm placement.
Taking a narrow grip on the bar causes wrist problems and brings your elbows forward, which recruits more of the front delts. The correct way to work your middle deltoids with uprights rows is to take an overhand grip on the bar just outside of your thighs. Drag the bar up along your body until your elbows are at shoulder height. If you can’t pause the weight at the top it’s too heavy. You want to keep your elbows in line with your shoulders and don’t let them drift forward.
Grab two dumbbells and stand with your knees unlocked. Bend slightly at the waist and hold the bells together in front of your body, palms facing in. With your elbows slightly bent raise the bells straight out to the sides and pause the bells at shoulder height. Make sure your thumbs always stay lower than your little fingers. Resist the tendency to involve the stronger front delts by letting your hands drift forward or raising your thumbs.
Inherently smaller than middle and front delts they already start at a deficit. Add to that their position behind the shoulders and out of sight and it’s no wonder they’re all but ignored. Despite this I cannot overstate the importance of strong, well developed rear deltoids. They need to have the power to pull back the shoulders, so as to counteract the pull of the front delts and the weight of the heavy chest muscles. Well built rear delts also complete the look of mighty shoulders and a powerful back.
Check your ego and grab a pair of light dumbbells located way down the end of the rack in No Man’s Land. Stand and unlock your knees. Bend way forward almost parallel to the floor. Let the bells hang down with your palms facing your knees. Keep your arms straight and raise both bells out to the side, keeping them in line with your shoulders. It’s important to keep your thumb side straight down. Raise them as high as you can for a quick pause. If you can’t pause the bells at the top they’re too heavy. Just ask some little girl if she’s done with her dumbbells and use those. Remember to control the negative for a slow descent. Sometimes I’ll get about 8 reps, using this strict form, and then I’ll continue the set by slowly straightening up with each rep, letting my middle delts assist my rears, until I’m almost standing straight up. Bent over laterals can also be performed while lying on a flat bench or an incline bench at a low angle.
Rear Deltoid Machine
I like to use the Rear Delt Machine because it keeps your rear delts under tension throughout the entire rep. The seat should be adjusted so your arms form a horizontal line but sometimes I’ll start with the seat about three inches lower and raise the seat up one position with each set. If you want to truly isolate your rear delts use the horizontal handles. If you want your middle delts to also get some work you can use the vertical handles. Sometimes I’ll rep out with a horizontal grip and continue the set with the vertical grip.
Knowledgeable powerlifters and other heavy benchers have long been using face pulls to hedge their Neanderthal leanings. It’s known to be one of the best rear delt and rotator cuff strengtheners, but it also gives your middle delts a serious workout, so do these without reservations.
The most common way to perform a face pull is with the triceps extension rope, using a neutral (palm-to-palm) grip. If you’re serious about your correction work, you could also do them at home with an elastic cable, band, or a suspension system. In any case, getting a full contraction is far more important than pulling a heavy weight. If the weight you pull is heavy enough to make you unstable or cause you to lean forward, youâ€™re probably better served by going lighter. Move with a slow, controlled tempo.
The face pull with external rotation adds a deep scapular retraction to the classic movement, further supporting your backside against the pulling forces up front. To perform it, pull back into a normal face pull, then rotate upward into something resembling a double biceps pose “you know, the one you do after brushing your teeth every morning”
You can perform the face pull and external rotation in two distinct phases, or pull straight into the rotation. Either way, it’ll get some muscles you probably neglect, so expect to feel it the next day!
Take a good hard look at yourself and make an honest evaluation of your physique. Are all three deltoid heads equally developed? How do you present yourself and what image do you want to project? How long are you going to deal with that shoulder pain before you take the necessary steps to correct it? Sometimes we need to take a step back to see the truth that’s clearly in front of us.