How to build massive impressive shoulders

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To sculpt shoulder muscles (deltoids) that look like cannonballs, most people use some kind of overhead pressing movement. But which is better for building great shoulders, the barbell or dumbbell shoulder press?

We tested 10 highly trained athletes through electromyogram (EMG) analysis, which measures the amount of work done by a muscle by the amount of electrical potential it produces. We assessed muscle activity in the front and middle deltoid heads. The athletes performed both the barbell shoulder press (with the bar lowered to the front of the head) and the dumbbell shoulder press using 75% of their one-rep max (1RM) for four reps.

Within both moves, the front and middle deltoid heads were recruited at the same time, with the middle head being stimulated to a greater degree than the front head. However, the barbell press activated the front delts to a greater degree, and the dumbbell press involved the middle delts more.

In the barbell press to the front, you can lift more total poundage because your elbows travel to the front of the body, placing more emphasis on your front delts. With the dumbbell version, your elbows travel out to your sides, recruiting your middle deltoids to a greater extent.

Ed. Note: My recommendation is if you want big rounded shoulders focus on dumbbell presses, as your front delts get enough work when doing the bench press. Doing pyramid sets, ie; a light warm up weight of about 20 reps, followed by 2 heavy sets, your third set being the heaviest, allowing you to do about 6-8 reps. Then do continuous further sets with incrementally smaller dumbbells without resting, until you can barely lift your shoulders. Then to finish your shoulders do some light 5-10kg bent over side lateral raises. This should really work your shoulders well and force them to grow. Remember to use strict technique throughout to ensure no injuries – shoulders are prone to injuries if you start jerking and throwing the weights around.

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stephen   |.
This can work, many other routines can work. the key is progression. Lift more
weight over time, and eat more over time, and you will grow. dont lift more
weight over time, and dont eat more over time, and you wont grow.
Summy   |.
Right i agree for 100% maximium growth do HEAVY dumbell presses,

i tried the
above, my routine was 1st set warmup light dumbells followed by 3 heavy sets 6-8
reps, followed by sides laterals high reps, 1ast set bent over laterals, this
has given my shoulders that added grow and i have managed to get a good cut in
the shoulder muscles.

Overall good advice in this article.

KEEP pumpin
HEAVY 4 Growth.
Michael P   |.
Interesting.. so dumbell press is better
Seb   |.
Michael P, CA., said:Interesting.. so dumbell press is better.

For middle
deltoid work, yes. It's best to read the final paragraph and if you do plenty of
bench press work then use dumbells and not barbells for overhead shoulder
Darren   |.
Interesting but does make sense, i've been in and out of gyms since i was 16
years old, now 38 from all ive learned i've decided on 3 sets per body part as a
general rule 1st of 15, 2nd of 10, 3rd of 5, plus a final pump, amonst all the
other exercises you can do. This seems a similar thing and can't wait to give
it a go.
chris   |.
id also say that it could work partly for chest muscles if you do a thorough
workout its possible with a hard regime and diet to produce well defined
shoulders and chest, an intresting theory that has been brought up many times
Brady   |.
yes I agree about dumbells similarly, If you use dumbells for chest press over a
3week period your ORM will increase when you go back to the barbell.
Dan   |.
dumbells are the way forward to getting big shoulders also try side raises where
you are in the middle and use both arms together
ian   |.
sounds good but i always like to do two sets of warm up. Ist set 50% of work
set weight, 2nd set 75%. Then do work sets. Preventing injury is essential.
michael j   |.
I always use dumbells, i find bar bell forces my shoulders in an isolated
posistion and they hurt.
dumbs all the way!!
Phil Campbell   |.
I am a strong believer that dumbells are the way ahead. They aim at all muscles
which is better
Phil R   |.
Although I have weight trained for many years previously and achieved a somewhat
reasonable body shape I allowed myself to be lazy for a few years and piled the
weight on and allowed any muscle definition to fade away. I recently (12 months
ago) started training hard again and decided I would go the whole hog and stack
some supplements and use professional advice (Thanks MM & Zef - I'm down to
33 waist from 39, its not been easy but worth it so far and still so far to go -
once you start you're never happy and want more!). I've been using the 2 warm up
sets followed by 3 hard worksets 8-12 reps range, with completion of 3x12's
indicating weight progression. Although this has been working steadily and I can
see growth as a result, I see tips advocating a smaller go heavier rep range
(6-8 in this article). This confuses me somewhat, is it a matter of finding what
works for you as an individual and sticking to it or do we need ...
Mark   |.
Personally I have always preferred barbells because I find that I can use
stricter form and it seems to be harder work. I might switch to dumbells for a
change now, though.

No shoulder routine is complete without trapezius work.
3 sets of heavy barbell shrugs done with good form and intensity once a week
should pay off.
kingofkings   |.
I used to use dumbells for my shoulder workouts, but i tried to lift some 34kgs
one day and my shoulder couldnt take it and nearly came out. My shoulder no
longer has the stability to do dumbell presses now so i do barbell presses which
are a massive back killer!!
John   |.
I find the greater control required to stabilise dumbells increases the all
round muscle stimulation to a far greater extent than a barbell. It's the
equivalent of free weights compared to a machine.
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