Bodybuilding & Strength

3 Secrets for Supersized Shoulders

Everything you have learned about shoulder training is wrong.

Most bodybuilding advice is generic and boring.

It’s what most people follow.

It’s also why most people get generic and boring results.

Take a look in any gym today.

If you were to fast forward 2 years later, what would you see?

Would you see a packed gym full of people who have taken the time to get to know themselves and turn their weaknesses into strengths?

No. You would probably witness a scene similar to the one you saw today… the same people doing the same exercises and getting little results.

This is the case for every body part, especially shoulders.

If I had to pick one body part, shoulders are perhaps the most poorly trained of them all.

The majority of guys go into the gym… they do some shoulder presses and dumbbell laterals. They neglect the importance of form. They call it day.

That’s not shoulder training. That’s maintenance at best.

I have yet to see a true article (coming from legitimate experience) that does not rely on the generic “shoulder presses build big shoulders” cookie cutter advice.

None of my advice is ordinary.

My results have been anything but ordinary.

I deadlift at the end of my back workouts.

I use superior movements to build fully developed triceps.

I use split training to win the muscle building game.

I follow 3 secrets for supersized shoulders.

Here they are:

1. Rear delts must be your priority. Hammer them with volume and hit them early in your shoulder workout.

Your shoulders have 3 heads: front, side, rear.

The front delts receive the most work. They receive a lot of indirect work from pressing movements.

So they get plenty of work on chest day and when you train triceps.

Here are some movements that directly target front delts:

Dumbbell Press

Barbell Press

Any type of machine shoulder press

Barbell Raises (close grip)

Plate Raises

Front Dumbbell Raises

Since your front delts get so much indirect work from any type of pressing movements for chest (as well as dips), you do not need to spend that much time directly working them.

In fact, you could go so far as to limit your front delt work exclusively to a few sets of shoulder presses.

The side delts also receive a decent amount of work from presses.

However, you definitely want to give these some direct work with some specific movements.

These movements add to that “capped delt” look, giving them that roundness:

Dumbbell Laterals

Barbell Raises (shoulder width grip)

Cable Laterals

Any type of machine that mimics a lateral/raise movement

The rear delts are the secret.

Having rear delts that pop is what gives your shoulders that 3-D look.

The movements that specifically target this area are what create the illusion of width even if you have a narrow bone structure.

Not dumbbell presses. Not plate raises.


Current Mr. Olympia Phil Heath (3x) is not a genetically wide guy. In fact, a lot of forum trolls talk smack about him and call him narrow.

However, he maxes out his width and has that 3-D look because of his insane rear delt development.

You can watch any video of him training shoulders.

He’s always hammering away with the rear delt movements.

Incorporate these rear delt movements. Master the form. And hit them early in your workout. Watch your rear delts grow and start giving off the illusion of width:

Reverse Pec-Deck

Barbell Upright Rows (Wide-Grip)

Bent over Dumbbell Laterals

Bent over Cable Laterals

Seated Dumbbell Laterals (knuckles facing forward)

Check out the video of me supersetting Reverse Pec-Deck with Barbell Upright Rows (Wide-Grip).

2. Presses are not the ideal movement for fully developed shoulders. High volume lateral/raising movements are.

I did not build my shoulders with heavy barbell and dumbbell presses.

I built them with high volume supersets.

All of those movements for side delts and rear delts… I built my shoulders supersetting all those movements over the years.

I probably only do 3 or 4 working sets of heavy presses for shoulders.

The rest is all creative use of the tools at my disposal… dumbbells, barbells, cables, rows, kettle bells, various machines, ropes.

I use them all to hammer my shoulders with the movements that actually matter.

Shoulder training should not be easy.

If you want them to grow, you need to subject yourself to these movements.

By the time your shoulder training session is over, it should be difficult for you to even raise your arms.

Most guys (when they throw up in the gym) throw up because of an intense leg or even back workout.

I once had a guy throw up from one of my shoulder workouts.

You do not get that intensity from mediocre “build big shoulders with dumbbell presses workouts”.

You get that intensity (and subsequent growth) from high volume workouts focusing primarily on the lateral and raising movements.

Check out the video to see a typical Sonny Arvado “set” for shoulders. Yes, this is one set.

3. Form is everything… but not in the traditional sense.

Let’s get off topic for a little bit.

I’m a huge baseball fan.

I’ve loved baseball since I was 5.

In baseball, power hitters have many different approaches at the plate.

They have different stances.

They have different means by which they load up.

They have different swings.

Two of my favorite players growing up were Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr.

Two legends.

Two vastly different hitters.

Barry Bonds choked up, brought his hands up and down when he loaded up, and had a slight bend at the knees. His swing was very compact and direct.

On the other hand, Ken Griffey Jr. was the opposite. He stood rather upright at the plate and he had a long looping uppercut swing.

Both sluggers are in the top 6 of all-time home run leaders. Why?

It’s because when it comes to the actual fundamental mechanics of hitting, both Bonds and Griffey did everything the right way.

Two totally different power hitters... But both masters of the fundamentals at point of contact.

Two totally different power hitters… But both masters of the fundamentals at point of contact.

They both kept their hands inside the baseball.

They both kept their heads down in the zone during the swing.

They both kept their front hips closed upon contact.

They both kept their weight back and exploded through the zone with their hands.

Everything else was (is) irrelevant and is upon to customization.

That’s exactly what they did.

They had their sweet spot or groove which they expressed in all those things such as stance and bat angle.

All the stuff that matters (the fundamentals) was the same.

The same thing applies to shoulder training (actually training any body part).

The overall form is customizable.

Everyone has a unique build with different bone structures.

What works for Johnny might not work for Jimmy.

Some people benefit from super strict movements (zero momentum) while others are better suited to more rhythmic movements (some momentum).

I personally like using some momentum (particularly on shoulders), although I do occasionally go super strict on the movements (zero momentum).

Ultimately, you have to find your sweet spot in the iron game.

You have to find your form.

It’s in like that movie The Legend of Bagger Vance where Will Smith is instructing Matt Damon“you have to find your swing… a swing that’s yours and yours alone.”

You find that but be sure to keep these rules in mind.

As with the mechanics of hitting there are certain things you must do if you want to successfully hammer your shoulders.

1) On all raises your arms should be bent at approximately a 120 to 150 degree angle.

This is where poor form is most apparent in any gym. Most dudes do raises with a 90 degree bend (or even less) and use a lot of momentum to top it off.

You don’t hit the shoulders properly that way. In reality, you are taking a lot of the lift off of the shoulders and instead putting some of the strain on your forearms and traps.

Keep the arms at those angles and you tell me the difference. It might be difficult at first… but that’s because you probably have not been doing the movements with proper form.

At those angles, you have no choice but to make your shoulders do the brunt of the work.

2) You do not need full range of motion.

Full Range of motion is another myth that I could have listed in the previous posts on bodybuilding myths.

This coincides with the idea of finding your sweet spot.

Forget the generic “all the way up all the way down” advice.

When you are all the way up or all the way down, the muscle is not doing any work.

Instead, all the stress is placed on the joints and whatever supporting muscles happen to be helping you hold the weight up.

You want to be as efficient as possible.

To do that all you need to do is focus on the part of the lift that matters… your sweet spot where the targeted muscle (in this case shoulders) is doing 100% of the work.

Check the video to see me doing some shoulder presses on the smith machine. Notice my range of motion. That’s my sweet spot. That’s where the muscle is doing 100% of the work for me.

Anything else is a waste of time, energy, and perfectly healthy joints.

I’ve said my piece.

Time for you to say yours in the comments below.

This back shot was taken on June 26, 2014 at the end of my 12 week prep.

This back shot was taken on June 26, 2014 at the end of my 12 week prep.


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  1. […] 3 Secrets for Supersized Shoulders […]

  2. Anonymous
    August 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm — Reply

    Hey Sonny. Thanks for the great post! Finances are tight but once the money is there, I have got to get back to the gym! Best of luck on your blog 🙂

    • August 13, 2014 at 4:17 am — Reply

      Thanks man. Good luck to you too!

  3. Noah
    August 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm — Reply

    What is your opinion on face pulls?

    • August 13, 2014 at 4:14 am — Reply

      Good for rear delts… I personally use them as a movement for traps.

  4. Andrew
    August 12, 2014 at 6:10 pm — Reply

    Can you give examples of how you would program a shoulder’s day for beginners, intermediates, and advanced lifters?

    I’m thinking you would agree that it wouldn’t make sense for a beginner to hit shoulders with 4 exercise giant sets like you.

    My guess for how you would program a shoulders day for a beginner (based on having read all of your exercise articles):

    1) Superset rear delt exercise #1 w/ side delt exercise #1
    2) Superset rear delt exercise #2 w/ side delt exercise #2
    3) Superset rear delt exercise #3 w/ side delt exercise #3
    1) 3-4 straight sets of a heavy ass press (ex: seated smith machine, standing military, seated DB)

    Am I on the right track?

    Loving all your content bro, keep it up!

    • August 13, 2014 at 4:17 am — Reply

      I would recommend beginners to keep all the same principles in mind and don’t worry about not getting the amount of volume I get in.

      Do as much volume as you can and learn to master the form.

      I would rather see you doing laterals with the 10’s and finding your sweet spot where you’re actually working the muscle vs. trying to slug up the 30’s or 40’s.

      Master the form. Feel the muscle work.

  5. Hamilton
    August 13, 2014 at 12:20 am — Reply

    My shoulders are my most frustrating body part to work out. My main issue is that I can never seem to get my side delts to do the work, I can feel my other shoulder muscles trying to handle the load. I’ve only been able to get them sore once in my life and I think that was probably just a muscle strain or something.
    After reviewing your advice maybe I should hit them harder? Typically I do military press (heavy) for 4 sets, then to lateral raises (at about 150 degrees) 4 sets with 9 reps with moderate weight, and finally front cable raises for 3 sets with 10 reps each. I hit them again later in the week where I do Arnold presses (heavy) for 4 sets and 8 reps, then rear delts in the pec deck for 3 sets and 10 reps.
    Sounds like you’d recommend more volume. Any other recommendations? Love what you are doing here.

    • August 13, 2014 at 4:13 am — Reply

      You need more volume and you need higher reps… Shoulders you should be shooting for 15-20 on every set.

      Anything that is a stubborn bodypart… this is usually the answer.

      From 2006-2011, chest was a weak point…. finally in 2011, I stopped fucking around and hammered chest with VOLUME and stayed in the 15-20 rep range.

      • Hamilton
        August 18, 2014 at 2:49 pm — Reply

        Thanks for the reply. Gonna give it a try for several months. Can’t hurt, not like anything I’ve tried so far has worked! I’ll bookmark this to post my results. Best regards.

  6. Milun
    August 13, 2014 at 1:46 am — Reply

    Good stuff Sonny, just about to train shoulders today! Tbh I was gonna comment on your form with the lateral raises but thankfully I read till the end. You make a good point about not having to always go full range of motion. There is definitely that ‘sweet spot’ where you can just tell the muscle is fully activated. Also it’s interesting about the joints, I had some pain in my right elbow a little while back and it fucked up all of my pressing movements, really important to keep your joints healthy.

    You also forgot about face pulls! They’re one of my fav rear delt exercises

    • August 13, 2014 at 4:11 am — Reply

      I use face pulls with the rope more as a trap movement. Could def be used for rear delts though.

  7. Costello
    August 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm — Reply

    You planning a post on Biceps? They’re my weak link.

    • August 14, 2014 at 3:38 am — Reply

      Eventually. Yes.

  8. Torsten
    August 18, 2014 at 7:33 am — Reply

    Fuck yes man, your website is fucking alive and well. I like your no bullshit attitude towards training. It obviuosly works. Really inspiring stuff, all of the articles. Looking forward to seeing the blog keep growing!

    • August 19, 2014 at 2:26 am — Reply

      Thanks dude!

  9. ANThony
    August 20, 2014 at 11:34 am — Reply

    Hey Sonny,

    How long do you rest in between sets?

    When you say “volume” do you mean a lot of lifting in general or higher reps lower weight or both?

    • August 21, 2014 at 2:28 am — Reply

      I keep my rest sets low… like 45 sec.

      My definition of volume…. use a heavy weight and do as many reps as you can.

      • Anthony
        August 21, 2014 at 6:23 pm — Reply

        To failure?

        • August 21, 2014 at 11:26 pm — Reply

          Yes. Or at least doing you best to hit the numeric goal you have in your head.

          • ANThony
            August 25, 2014 at 1:55 am

            Assuming proper form and technqiue, do you try to belt out the reps as fast as possible?

          • August 25, 2014 at 5:17 am

            Not really. The only time I will do the reps as fast as possible is on the one all out set of deadlifts at the end of a back workout.

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