After getting back into doing more bodyweight training during the quarantine I’ve consistently been gaining size on my delts and I want to share some tips with you to maximize your deltoid size.
First and foremost, the delts have always been a weak point for me.
As you probably know already if you read my content for a while… I had no delt gains in my first 2 years of training:
Now my delts are one of my strongest points on my body and I can grow them more as long as I train them hard.
What was the key to grow them?
There are several things that I had to do to grow them but I’ll outline the top ones below.
- Raise your natural testosterone production. As a skinny-fat guy with naturally low testosterone levels it will be very hard to build deltoids since it’s the main muscle building hormone in the body.
- Train them hard and often by combining exercises into circuits.
The first point about testosterone I’ve already talked a lot about throughout the last 7 years so I’ll focus more on deltoid training in this post.
The delts are for most people (except the genetically blessed) very stubborn and don’t respond well to training.
Getting stronger on overhead presses and even bench presses may work for the genetically gifted, however if you have a naturally small bone structure then I’m sorry to break it for you, but getting muscular from the heavy barbell lifts just isn’t in the cards for you.
I personally tried to use the “proven” way of doing progressive overload on the heavy compound lifts and brought my overhead press from a measly 15 KG (33 LBS) to 70 KG (154 LBS), but I saw very minimal muscle gains on my delts.
2 years later I switched to bodyweight exercises and while I saw amazing gains doing those (especially on the lats, chest and arms), my delts were still a lacking body-part:
Then one day I started training with much higher volume, hitting the delts from all angles with both compound exercises and isolation exercises, done in circuits.
The goal of each training session was to do as many exercises back to back as possible to completely exhaust all the muscle fibers in each head of the deltoid muscle.
This is when my delts started filling out and my delts went from being a weak point into a strong point.
By doing a lot of exercises back to back, you stress the delts in a much harder way compared to doing straight sets.
I’ll give you an example here: Perform the following 4 exercises back to back:
- Wide grip pull ups > dips > inverted rows > diamond push ups.
None of these exercises are directly delt exercises, however the pump you get in the delts is insane compared to doing straight sets.
The same principles applies to using isolation exercises as well.
And you can even mix isolation exercises together with bodyweight compound exercises.
It’s important that you choose exercises your body responds well to and that have a low risk of injury since training like this with high risk exercises isn’t sustainable.
I’m now up to doing 11 upper body exercises in a row (combination of compound and isolation exercises) and that has been the key for me to grow my delts.
There are also some nice side benefits of training this way.
One of them is high muscular endurance and low resting heart rate.
My resting heart rate when I don’t do any steady state cardio training is 44:
You improve both the muscularity of your body but also the cardiovascular system at the same time.
Having a low resting heart rate and strong lungs is according to my cardiologists the thing that most likely saved my life and lung health when I had a blood clot in the lungs 1.5 year ago.
By stacking exercises on top of each other you use a better way of overload that’s much more sustainable compared to continuously adding weight to a barbell.
And you won’t end up as one of those out of shape 5×5 guys with huge thighs and no cardiovascular fitness who can barely walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded.
Do not limit yourself to doing straight sets of one exercise at a time and doing classic progressive overload on the barbell lifts. For someone with poor genetics that simply won’t work.
Your strength will eventually plateau and you’ll have to bulk up and get fat to squeeze out additional gains.
At that point the smarter thing to do is to progress by increasing volume and frequency.
The strength gains will still be there to make once you have more muscle mass (and they will be far easier once you have an extra 10-20 lbs of muscle on your frame).
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Personal TrainerRead my free 30 page guide "The 2 Phases of a Skinny-Fat Transformation"