Delt-Specific Push

Delt-Specific Push

Training Notes

A1: These should be slow and controlled with the goal to get the delts as short as possible in contraction. Adjust the path of your arms to allow for the full ROM. Lead with thumbs through the concentric then add slight rotation at the top of the rep. Rest 30 sec before A2.

A2: Use a load that would be hard for 15 normal reps. Perform the concentric on your own then have a partner add resistance on the eccentric. Fight hard but allow a controlled eccentric to happen for a 5 count. Ensure that your partner adjusts the pressure based on your fatigue.

B: Use a short bench here or perform these on a 75-80º incline. You should be able to slightly arch your back in order to create a comfortable bar path. Get as much ROM on each rep as your mobility allows for. Make sure to have a spotter to assist in unracking and racking the bar. Reduce load by ~10% for down sets.

C1: Get a full ROM and use a semi pronated grip. Leave a couple of reps in the tank. Rest 60 sec before C2.

C2: Elevate feet by ~12 inches. Make the movement fluid and attempt to finish with your upper arms in an overhead press position. Reach through lockout and allow your scaps to upwardly rotate.

D: Use functional trainer or similar cable system. Hold onto the cables rather than using handles. Lead with your thumbs. Tinker with the angle in order to line up the tension with the clavicular pecs. Take the last set to failure but focus hard on quality>quantity.

E1: Keep elbows slightly bent. Bring all the way overhead and control the movement. Use a load that would be hard for 15 reps. Aim for max density of reps/volume in time limit. Go back and forth between E1 and E2 for 5 min.

E2: Lie facedown on the floor. Keep shoulders externally rotated and scaps retracted. Maintain a controlled tempo and end sets when you can no longer hold your hands off the floor. Aim for max density of reps/volume in time limit. Go back and forth between E1 and E2 for 5 min.


Goals of this session

With this workout, the focus is clearly shifted away from other general "pushing" contributors (i.e. the pecs and triceps) and towards the delts. Though the heavier pressing movements are going to create a greater absolute stimulus, we need to be careful and deliberate with our exercise selection to manage fatigue while maximizing the stimulus that our delts receive. A mix of overloading and metabolic work combined with varied angles and positions should effectively exhaust the broad needs of the delts (specifically, the front and side heads).

Warm-up recommendations

- 5-10 minutes of steady state cardio such as incline walking, elliptical, rowing, or ski erg

-Soft tissue manipulation in the form of 3-5 min of light foam rolling the mid-back, lats, and teres major. More specific work can be done using a small lacrosse ball (or something similar) and working through bound up tissue in the pecs, front/rear delts and scapular region. 

-Specific mobility with band internal/external rotations (elbows up and down), band spidercrawls, and pec minor dips.


Common exercise modifications

Standing DB Lu Raises- Incline Chest Supported DB Y Raises, Standing Cable Y Raises, Standing Neutral DB 6 Ways, Standing DB Laterals

Eccentric-Overload Machine Laterals- Machine Laterals, Lying Cable Laterals, Eccentric Overload Laterals (with bodyweight and partner resistance), Seated DB Poliquin Raises

Seated Barbell OHP- Seated Swiss Bar OHP, Seated Smith OHP, Machine OHP, Standing Barbell Press 

Incline DB Press- Incline Barbell Press, Incline Machine Press, Incline Neutral DB Press, Incline Smith Press

Feet Elevated Yoga Pushups- Yoga Pushups, Pike Pushups, Neutral DB Z Press, Handstand Pushups

Low to High Cable Flyes- Seated Cable Flyes, Pec Deck, Pronated Incline DB Flyes, Single Arm Low to High Cable Flyes

Overhead Plate Front Raises- Pronated Barbell Overhead Front Raises, Bent Over Neutral DB Y Raises, Supinated EZ Front Raises, Incline Supine Plate Front Raises (~45º)

Prone OHP- Incline Prone OHP (~30º), Wall Slides, Band Resisted External Rotation Press, Prone Around the Worlds


Common program modifications

Advanced trainees- Increase volume of C1 and C2 by adding a working set. Adjust sets of B by shifting to 3 top sets and 1 down set. Increase intensity by pushing A1 to failure, take the last set of B to 1RIR, each set of C1 to 1RIR, last set of C2 to technical failure, and each set of D to failure. 

Intermediate trainees- Remove the partner overload from A2. Keep the rest as is. 

Beginner trainees- Remove A2 and C2. Perform E1 and E2 as a normal superset of 2x10-20 (2RIR). Switch B to Seated DB OHP and switch D to High to Low Cable Flyes. Adjust further by making B just 3x8-12 (4RIR), C1 to 3x8-12 (3RIR), and D to 3x10-20 (2RIR). 

Male trainees- Longer rest between sets and more feeders before working sets on B. Lengthen rest periods between A1 -> A2 to 60 sec and take full rest between C1 -> C2. Potentially adjust the exercise selection for E1 and E2 to get more pec and triceps volume in depending on the goals of the trainee. Volume may need to be decreased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (stronger trainees may need less working sets).

Female trainees- Shorter rest between working sets and less feeders/warmup sets will generally be needed. Add a set to A1, A2, C1 and C2. D can be shifted to a more delt-focused raise variation if pec work is trying to be avoided completely. Volume may need to be increased depending on strength level and recovery capacity (better conditioned trainees may need more working sets).


Common injury modifications:

Shoulders- Due to the bias of the whole session being very shoulder-heavy, it is not recommended that trainees that have pre-existing ailments attempt to complete this session as it is designed. Those that just need subtle modifications should start by making sure the shoulder joint is completely warmed up through all planes of movement. From here, switch the Lu Raises to another lateral raise variation to reduce the ROM needed (a chest supported neutral DB Y raise would actually be a good substitute). The eccentric overload shouldn't cause many issues but I would still recommend scrapping it and just performing slow, controlled eccentrics with the chosen load instead. The biggest player will be the Barbell OHP, but most risk can be mitigated through moving to a neutral grip via Swiss Bar, and as a worst case, neutral grip DB OHP. The "yoga" portion of the pushups generally won't be problematic but if mobility is lacking, a normal pushup with intentional scap protraction at the top will do just fine. And lastly, the E1 and E2 superset may need to be modified if the overhead work causes any impingements; this can be done through moving to DBs or bands.

Elbows- A proper warmup of light band or cable pushdowns to get blood flowing will be the first step here, followed by some soft tissue work through the triceps and biceps muscle bellies. The barbell OHP can again be an issue here due to being restricted with independent arm movement. The initial move would be to switch to a DB variation or, potentially, a machine in order to more easily control where tension is being distributed. The Incline DB Press and Pushups have the potential to cause issues but both can be more easily mitigated through adjustments in grip and degree of pronation.

Wrists- Outside of general pressure due to loads, the pressing movements in this session should mostly be comfortable. The pushups have the potential to be problematic but elevating the hands onto DBs or pushup handles will allow the joints to remain "stacked" thus distributing the load more evenly (and causing less issues).

Low Back- Though this might seem out of place, any heavy OHP variation comes with risk for the low back due to improper setup and execution mechanics. This is why it is very important to use the right bench and the correct angle (short bench or ~75º incline); we want to create a natural bar path that doesn't require hyperextension of the low back which creates that injury risk. Those with pre-existing low back problems would be best served by immediately switching to machine OHP or even Smith OHP to remove the stability requirements needed from the trunk. 

Breast Augmentation- We don't have much in the way of horizontal pressing in this session, but the Incline DB Presses, Pushups, and Flyes all are potential contraindications with breast augmentations (especially recently post-op). For trainees in this position, shifting the angles of press more towards vertical (overhead) and the flyes to laterals (or even front raises) will reduce the demand on the pec fibers.


Additional notes:

While I am generally not the biggest fan of specializing training down to single body part sessions, I also understand that there is a place for this type of training even within a general-focus program. The goal here is simple enough: crush the delts without crushing everything else. Execution of that goal can be a bit trickier in practice than in theory due to the complexity involved in comprehensive delt training. The delt complex is anatomically designed to withstand high volumes in a variety of planes and under just about any load threshold. This feature can make the task of creating a delt-specific session somewhat complicated as we have seen. 

We know that overhead presses are a phenomenal tool for building the delts, but it's also important to realize the potential drawbacks associated with doing high volumes of multiple variations of OHPs. Not only can the more vulnerable structures of the shoulder joint begin to take a beating (specifically the rotator cuff and AC joint), but the pecs and triceps are also called upon to contribute heavily which begins to deviate from our original goal. This, combined with the additional stress on the elbows and wrists from presses, means that we have to lean into lateral raise variations to fill in the volume and metabolic stress requirements of the delts. 

Because the shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, it has the ability to move in almost 360 degrees which means that there are muscle fibers controlling movement in many different planes and vectors. Though this is somewhat overwhelming, it actually presents us with the opportunity to add in a ton of volume without running the risk of overreaching or forming wear-and-tear patterns. The volume tolerance of the delts is, in some ways, only limited by the imagination and creativity of the program. 

Now that we have the foundational understanding laid, we can evaluate how the pieces fit together. We are looking for stimulation of the delts in multiple ROMs, planes, rep ranges and loading parameters. The Lu Raises satisfy the top-end range to hit the underserved, fully-shortened delt fibers. The eccentric overload machine laterals allow us the unique opportunity to create mechanical damage within the delts that can't be achieved under normal circumstances. The presses (OHP, Incline DB, and pushups) all have different intents and use cases, but they each satisfy our desired threshold for press variations in underlapping ways. The Flyes offer a low stress way of getting in additional anterior delt volume while targeting a specific pec region. And lastly, the timed AMRAP superset of Overhead Raises and Prone OHP just burn out every last Type 1 fiber that is still clinging to life. We have a truly well-rounded workout here. 

When aiming to progress any session like this, remember that the delts respond well to volume and variation. Be liberal with shifting the lateral raise variations in and out in favor of others that offer slightly different stimuli (this goes for front raises and flyes as well). Presses can be progressed linearly but overhead variations will have a much lower ceiling than their horizontal counterparts meaning slower progressions and/or more frequent adjustments. 

Don't get caught up in the weeds of strict progression models here. Overhead presses are great but not even needed to grow massive delts. Find specific lateral variations that work the best for you (and don't beat your shoulders up) and then perform as much volume within them as humanly possible. The key to cannonballs is really that simple!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.