The Simple Shoulder Solution

Look, I get it.

Not everyone has the time to spend 60+ minutes in the gym every single session or train 6 times per week. Aside from the most driven, dedicated, and passionate lifters, most people have little desire to do so, either.

Fortunately, you can still make progress with focused 30-40 minute training sessions. But, as with anything in the realm of training, nutrition, building muscle, and fat loss, there are things you need to take into consideration before in order to achieve your desired effect.

In this first instalment of The Spartan Muscle Series, we’re going to be breaking each muscle group down to what I’ve found to be the two bread & butter movements (hence Spartan Muscle – which is a more fitting way of saying basic), I humbly present The Simple Shoulder Solution, a la MASSthetics.

Meathead Mullan’s bread & butter shoulder exercises

Overhead Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Here’s why this is my “bread” shoulder exercise:

Your shoulder is what’s known as a “ball and socket” joint, which allows for the multi-directional and rotational movement abilities. While your deltoid is technically made up of 7 small muscle groups, for ease of use, we’re going to group them into posterior (rear), lateral (side), and anterior (front) muscle fibre groups.

To achieve impressive, full development of your shoulders (which will also help prevent injuries, eradicate niggling joint pain, and increase strength), you can’t neglect any one muscle fibre group.

With overhead laterals, the lateral tissue takes a beating as you raise the DBs to your ear height, then as you come into a peak contraction overhead, you’ll feel feel your rear delts light the fuck up, and blood rush into them. Aside from this lateral raise variation hammering your rear delts, it also trains your shoulder girdle through a full range of motion – which many movements neglect.

In the interest of complete deltoid development, this is why I’ve picked overhead DB laterals as my “bread.”

Execution points:

  • Start with the DBs down at your sides, keep your shoulders rolled back, chest high, and arch your thoracic (mid-back).
  • Raise up as you would a traditional DB side lateral.
  • Instead of stopping roughly at ear height, keep going until the DBs are directly above your head. You should be able to tap the DBs together at the top (at least for the first few sets).
  • Generally speaking, I prefer to alternate between leading each rep with your thumbs and pinkies. Doing so allows for improved integration of your entire delt into the movement, and typically allows to bang out a few more reps.
  • Your delts will tire, and keeping strict form will become challenging. As this happens, allow your form to loosen up, and use a little body momentum to keep the weight moving. The nature of the exercise (light weight, no spinal compression, or compromised joints) allows you to do so safely.
  • Don’t perform these at a rapid-fire pace. Keep the raising portion under control, and hold the peak contraction for a moment, then slowly lower the DBs back down to your side.

Military Press

Here’s why this is my “butter” shoulder exercise:

Simply put, if a movement was a staple of Arnold’s, we can safely assume that it’s a movement worth utilizing. Executed properly (as you’ll learn below), military presses of any variation will hit the entirety of your shoulder girdle (including the anterior tissue), and allow you to subject your delts to significant load – which is rare in most shoulder exercises. The load you use, and exertion you have to generate to move heavy loads provides a much different training stimulus than the lighter loads of laterals, face pulls, rear delt flyes, and the like. Which is precisely why following on the heels of the lighter, pumping motion of overhead dumbbell laterals, military presses receive the nod as my “butter” shoulder exercise.

Execution points:

  • When it comes to military pressing, there are countless variations from using dumbbells to a machine to a barbell, and even kettlebells. You also have variation in your stance: seated with back support, seated without support, standing, and the list goes on.
  • As such, the execution points below are going to be general guidelines for proper military pressing, as depending on your set-up and biomechanics, some of the finer points will change.
  • Keep lumbar (low back) extension to an absolute minimum. Do this by “tucking your hips” under while locking down your abs and rib cage.
  • Similar to the overhead laterals, open up your chest, and practice strong thoracic (mid-upper) back extension.
  • Essentially, posture the fuck up, and hold it. Yes, this will make the movement more challenging, but you’ll actually be hitting the desired target muscles.
  • Lower with control. In most cases, you’ll be able to handle a decent load when military pressing, making it all the more important to control each rep, and not let the weight control you.
  • Generally speaking, press to just shy of full lockout. Keep the tension solely on your delts, and spare your joints the stress.
  • Lower as deep as your natural range of motion allows, but aim to improve from set-to-set. As you loosen up and get comfortable with the movement, this will happen naturally.

Tying the two movements together

As is the purpose of The Simple Shoulder Solution, you will be able to achieve a respectable level of shoulder development using nothing but these two movements.

Here’re are a few ways in which you could knock out a quick and dirty shoulder session, sticking to only these bread and butter exercises.

A1. Overhead DB Laterals 10×10

Do a few feeler sets to find a weight that you can bang out for 13-15 reps, then move into the 10 sets of 10. Take 10-20s rest as you move to the military presses.

A2. Seated Behind The Neck Military Press 10×10

Do a few feeler sets to find a weight that you can bang out for 13-15 reps, then move into the 10 sets of 10. Rest for 90s before starting back at the laterals.

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A1. Overhead DB Laterals 6×20,15,12,10,10,Failure

Increment up slightly in weight on each set.

B1. Standing DB Military Press w/Neutral Grip 6×12,12,10,10,8,8

Same as above, increase the weight from set to set.

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A1. Smith Machine Military Press 8×8

Keep your rest times to 30s here.

B1. Overhead DB Laterals 8×8

Take no more than 20s rest.

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A1. Seated Military Press 5×6-8

Over 3-4 feeler sets, work up to a challenging 8 reps, then stay there for 5 more sets.

B1. Overhead DB Laterals 5xFailure

Use a weight where you’ll hit muscular failure in the 10-15 rep range.

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