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Multi-Angle Delt Training



Aug 11, 2010
Talking about deltoid training, Michael Ashley believes, is much too parochial. He prefers to consider the entire complex of muscles collectively called the shoulders. In this sense, the delts are only one aspect of shoulder training, although they remain the principal aspect.

Specifically, besides the deltoid, a three-headed muscle that most bodybuilders think of when they consider shoulders, other muscles, such as the trapezius and the rotator cuff muscles of the upper back, are equally important according to Ashley.

Ashley's shoulder training philosophy dates back to this early days in bodybuilding. Although this delts were not difficult for him to build, Ashley's long neck and lack of upper body thickness gave him the appearance of sloping shoulders. This, in turn, threw off his upper body balance. Because of his weightlifting roots, Mike's initial bodybuilding shoulder routines included standard weightlifting exercises, such as military presses and power cleans. Other exercises he used included upright rows and side laterals. He says that most of the foundation of his present shoulder development came from his weightlifting. This activity also made him aware of the need to look at the whole shoulder complex instead of considering only the deltoids.

Ashley feels that many bodybuilders who concentrate exclusively on deltoid training pay a price for their training ignorance. "If you look at a guy with a great upper back and lousy delts, he won't appear to have great shoulders. Similarly, a fellow or gal with great delts and weak upper back and traps will look as if he or she has incomplete upper body development," he says.


In the continuing debate over free weight versus machine, Ashley is neutral. He feels that both types of equipment have a place in a well-designed shoulder program. "For isolation purposes," says Ashley,"machines work effectively because the guided or restricted exercise range encourages a maximal isolation effect on the muscle.

"The disadvantage of machines is the same thing as their advantage: restricted movement. Such restriction prevents you from working the assisting or synergistic muscles that aid in balancing a weight, as you do when using free weights. Exercising the smaller, synergistic muscles provides more complete development of any muscle complex, including the shoulders. In reality, machines and free weights are complementary since each works the muscles a bit differently."


Mike presently trains the following Weider double-split routine:

1 Chest Shoulders
2 Triceps, Calves Thighs
3 Back, Abs Biceps

He schedules the order of his workouts by which muscle groups require the heaviest poundage, and consequently the most energy. This explains why he trains chest (larger muscle) in the morning, and shoulders (smaller muscle) in the afternoon.

Until recently, Ashley cycled his workouts by making the first workout heavy; second workout, medium weights; third workout, light weights and high repetitions. He has now modified this system by using a full periodization program. He now trains heavy for four weeks, followed by two more four-week cycles of medium and light training.

But he's also using a special heavy/light system within this larger training cycle. For example, on his first heavy training day he'll use as much weight as he can for a six-rep goal. On his next workout, he'll reduce the weight by 20% system. "By reducing the weight 20% every second workout, I increase both muscle isolation and concentration. They system works because on the heavier days I am looser with exercise form because of the heavier poundage. By reducing the weight 20% on the following workout. I can concentrate on maintaining strict exercise form, which automatically increases muscle isolation."


"I admire motivated people, people with goals. I don't like narrow-minded people who doubt the potential of mankind. Some people refuse to believe that you can succeed in bodybuilding without drugs, as I have done. The truth is, such people seek the easy way to victory which they think is through drugs. But by studying the needs of their bodies relative to proper nutrition and exercise, then can succeed in bodybuilding and have the added bonus of lifelong health and fitness.

"I like to listen to jazz for relaxation. My favorite artists are Michael Franks and David Sanborn."


To work the entire shoulder complex, Ashley uses routines that incorporate compound shoulder exercises, such as presses of various types; isolated delt exercises, such as various lateral raises from different angles, and trap exercises.

He starts every shoulder workout with a 10-minute ride on the stationary bike to warm-up. He follows this with a short shoulder stretching routine. He continues to stretch between every set for the full duration of his shoulder routine. "I've found that as the muscles get pumped up through increased blood flow," says Ashley, "movement becomes restricted. by stretching between each use, I can restore lost flexibility and maintain a full range of exercise motion essential for complete muscle development."

The exercise he uses in his shoulder training are basic. He starts with some form of pressing movement, because this is the compound exercises that works the entire shoulder complex. Pressing says Ashley, produces that desirable thick look in the shoulders.

When doing presses, Mike lowers the bar to the base of his neck, unlike other bodybuilders who only go halfway. "That last 1 1/2 inches in the press is where I really feel the shoulders working," he says.

He generally follows the press exercise with upright rows. He brings the bar up to nose level, then lowers the weight slowly. this exercise works the delt/trap tie-in, producing a thick look in the shoulders.

When he does any variation of lateral raises, Mike accents the isolation effects of these exercises. In side laterals, for example, he keeps his palms facing down and mimics that action of pouring water with his hands. This keeps the exercise focus on his objective: the side delt head.

In front dumbbell raises, he crosses his arm slightly over his upper body as he raises the weight. This, too, promotes greater muscle isolation, this time in the anterior or front delt. He continues the same full-range, isolation focus on his rear raises for the posterior delts. In the top position of this exercise, he's careful to lift the dumbbells in a direct line with his ears to maximize rear delt/upper back tie-in.


For those who seek broader shoulders, Ashley offers pragmatic advice. "There isn't much you can do about naturally narrow shoulders." he says. "All you can do is build the delt/shoulder complex, and concentrate on creating the illusion of width through developing the lateral (side) delt head and avoiding excessive trapezius development, which accentuates narrow shoulders."

Ashley points to both Phil Hill and former Mr. Olympia Larry Scott as two examples of men not blessed with side shoulders but who nonetheless achieved extraordinary bodybuilding success through concentrated delt training. Mike looks askance at those who espouse special shoulder training for definition. "I don't think training has much to do with how much muscular definition you show," he says. "If you deserve champion bodybuilders closely, you'll notice that everyone's muscle striation pattern varies. I believe that such striations result entirely from a combination of genetics and diet. If training alone were the secret to muscle definition, bodybuilders would be ripped all year long."

For neophyte bodybuilders seeking to add meat to bony shoulders, Ashley suggests a combination of nutrition and training. He says you should take in more calories to add muscle bulk (Joe Weider "Mass" Powder supplies the calories needed with a low fat content to help build mass). Meanwhile, do heavy basic shoulder exercises like military presses, upright rows and lateral raises. He adds that beginners who have the goal of muscle mass should eschew most isolation exercises until they've put substantial size on the shoulders.


Ashley says that as you get stronger, you need more warm-up sets to prevent injuries. he does three lighter warm-up sets, followed by three maximum weight lifts. beginners, because of the lighter weights used, may not need to do three warm-up sets and probably can get just as good results with only one warm-up set.

With more advanced bodybuilders, shoulder training problems usually involve overtraining and using bad exercise form, such as excessive cheating. He says that since the shoulders are indirectly activated during chest, back and triceps training, you must be careful not to over-train them by dong too many sets or training too often. He feels that twice weekly is enough for direct shoulder training.

Mike reserves many advanced training techniques, such as supersets and giant sets for his light training cycle. A typical giant set during his lighter cycle goes like this.:

1.Seated Dumbbell Press - 15 reps
2.Upright Rowing - 15 reps
3.21s (seven reps side raise; seven front raise, seven rear raise).
He'll do all three exercises nonstop for 5-6 sets; this is what makes this a giant set. during his heavy and medium cycles, however, he prefers to stick with straight sets.

Ashley puts much thought into his shoulder training, as he does with the rest of his training and diet. His meticulousness paid off when he won the 1990 Arnold Classic, and probably will continue to pay off many more times before he finally hangs up his posing trunks.


Short bouncy stretches, as exemplified by exercises like the standing toe touches you high school gym teacher made you suffer through, are bad because instead of stretching a muscle, they shorten it. Dong such ballistic stretches predisposes you to injury and should be avoided.

To stretch properly, Ashley says, you should begin with a general warm-up exercise like riding a stationary bike. The purpose is to increase body temperature. Research show that muscle stretch more easily when they're warm. Continue to warm up until you feel a light coating of sweat forming on the the skin, 3-5 minutes.

It's best to stretch both before and after a workout, Ashley says. He also stretches during the workout. Post-workout stretching reduces the pool of metabolic waste products around the joints and within muscles after an intense workout. Intense training causes micro trauma to muscle fibers, which makes the muscles tougher but less flexible.

by Jerry Brainum