Grow Your Delts

By the MoFi Staff

Whether for strength, weight control, competitive training, or mere vanity, a developed deltoid group (your shoulders) seems to be the goal of anyone who picks up weight training.  And understandably so, those “caps” on your shoulders – that’s the result of a symmetrically developed deltoid group, (the front, the middle, and the rear.  That V-taper you see on a muscular person from behind, the top of that taper are the delts.


Beyond that “look”, frankly, having stronger shoulders is essential to maintaining strength in your entire body.   Anything you lift – from weights to groceries to a box – is just as reliant (if not more so) on your shoulders as it is on your arms. The delt muscles are thus the foundation of nearly all strength training exercises.  Besides a calf press or a machine leg press that does not require you to lift weight onto a rack, every other strength training exercise requires you to use your shoulders, either to add/rack weight, serve as a secondary supporting muscle group, or obviously, as a primary driver during a shoulder exercise.

Delts Degrees of Development

Having difficulty getting past that chest press “heaviest set” plateau?  It is likely that your shoulders aren’t strong enough to keep up.  Falling short on back exercises?  It may be that your shoulders are fatiguing. This is why shoulder injuries are the most common “above the waist” injury treated by sports medicine practitioners.

The infographic on the previous post explains the staple of building stronger shoulders, the dumbbell shoulder press.  That “standard” used to be the military press which uses a straight bar instead, but we’ve since learned that straight bar presses are tough on the joints, unless you are an advanced weight lifter. And even if you are, it is recommend you dump barbell movements for your shoulders as they force your should joints into position they aren’t intended to be in.  Though the dumbbell press is the new standard, there are certainly other exercises that must be employed to build a fully developed deltoid group.  Covering those exercises is beyond the scope of this article but there are a lot of great resources online (including our website).

What needs to be understood beyond the importance of ensuring strong shoulders to prevent injury and provide a foundation for other exercises, is the true “how-to” of building muscle and strength. Here’s where we dive into a little exercise science.

Please Note: Any efforts to build muscle should be monitored by a professional personal trainer if you are a beginner. Even just a one-time session can be helpful.

Building muscle requires three components. 
Damage, Rest/Repair, and Hydration.

Strength is built by pushing your muscles to lift weight it is not accustomed to on a regular basis.  As strength grows, so do the limits of what you are accustomed to, meaning – you need to continue to push yourself.

Simply lifting weights is a good idea, but to grow muscle at a quicker rate, you have to go heavier than you are used to.  That does not mean straining on every rep.  It simply means pushing your limits.  If ever you’ve felt the “burn” of a set, that is essentially your muscle cells being damaged (though in reality, it is lactic acid – see below paragraph).  That is a good thing.  That soreness after a workout is a result of the damage done to those muscle cells.  Without too much detail, when you damage muscle tissue, your body responds by releasing inflammatory molecules and immune system cells.  Damage does not always requires muscle soreness as your body will get used to the process and compensate. If you want to get “big” though, you have to constantly change your workout to ensure this soreness after each workout.

Though a “swelling” of the muscle occurs during a heavy workout, muscle growth actually occurs after the workout when your body begins to repair the cells you have damaged. Muscle growth occurs when the “rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown.”(Leyva)  What that means is you need to feed your muscles enough protein to facilitate repair.  No protein, slower repair, no growth.  More protein, quicker repair, better growth.  And that is the key to growth – protein.  After a hard workout, you need to get at least 20 grams of protein in your body within 30-45 minutes then feed that repair 20-30 grams of protein every three to four hours for the next few days at least.  Actually, a muscle growth regime requires you to consume about 1.5 grams of protein for every pound of body weight per day.  So, if you weigh 130 pounds, you need to consume 195 grams of protein a day.  Further, you need to properly rest the muscle for at least three days to allow that repair to take place.  Exercising the same muscle group too soon just re-damages the cells and prevents repair.  Get plenty of sleep too as sleep is the ultimate rest… of course.

When you damage muscle tissue, your body produces by-product “waste” like lactic acid.  Lactic acid is produced when the body needs immediate energy beyond what oxygen can provide. This energy comes from glucose burning which results from lactic acid serving to breakdown the glucose into usable energy. This also results in increased levels of acidity in the muscle tissue, which ironically serves to slow muscle growth.  This waste has to be flushed from the body in order to allow repair processes to properly function and the best and quickest way to do this is to drink plenty of water.  If you are sticking to a muscle growth routine, you need to drink more water on a daily basis, not just during and after the workout.

Following these simple tips, you can grow your delts at the pace you are comfortable with – stronger, toned, athletic, or muscular.

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