Do you struggle with building round cannonball shoulders? This video explains why and gives you 4 practical tips on how to build rounder delts.
Do you have nice, round, cannonball delts? Like, delts that are super full and nice, and spherical? See, most people don’t. Most people have delts that are big towards the front but then they taper off towards the back, even for bodybuilders. I’m looking at a study here that found that “bodybuilders have front delts that are on average 5 times bigger than sedentary people, the lateral deltoids are 3 times bigger and the rear deltoids are 15% bigger.”
Now, I think this is an extreme example based on research I’ve seen. But it is true that many people have very overpowering front delts, and in this video I’m going to explain why I think that is and how to design your training programs so that you don’t get this issue and you can build round cannonball delts. I’m going to start by looking at a new study on this in competitive bodybuilders that nicely illustrates the central principle, which is moving too much in the frontal plane. Let’s dive into the study to let me explain. The study is called “Front vs Back and Barbell vs Machine Overhead Press: An Electromyographic Analysis and Implications For Resistance Training.”
So, basically, what this team of Italian researchers did is they looked at behind-the-neck vs the front standard barbell overhead press and also the machine overhead press more towards the back and more towards the front. And this was done in competitive bodybuilders, so it’s a very relevant population. Then, they measured the muscle activity based on a specified percentage of their 1RM, which was tested for this exercise. And then, they looked at how active the involved muscles were during the exercise. So, let’s look at the EMG data. Here you can see the EMG data for all the muscles that were measured: the front deltoids, the side deltoids (which is incorrectly referred to as the medial deltoids here).
Even researchers commonly make this mistake; there is no such thing as a medial deltoid. There is only the lateral deltoid. “Medial” refers to the midline of the body, “lateral” means towards the outside, so there’s only a lateral deltoid. It’s a common mistake, even for exercise scientists. Anyway, the posterior deltoid, the pectorals major (the chest), the upper traps, and the triceps. So, let’s start with the anterior deltoid. I would say there is no difference between the different exercises. So, it’s roughly the same With EMG, you don’t want to read too much into minor patterns and I think you generally want to err on the side of looking at the ascending phase. Here the concentric and there we see very little difference. So, this is the front barbell military press, this is the back barbell military press. The front delts are going to be activated no matter how you perform the exercise.
Now, the lateral deltoid actually does have a big difference. The back barbell military press is the clear winner, with not much of a clear difference between the other exercises. The machine was particularly poorly performed because it was almost more like an inclined press. The trend here is that the behind-the-neck military press is the best for the side deltoids, with no significant downside for anything else So, it’s behind-the-neck. This is in front of the neck, towards the clavicle. And this is the front machine press and this is the back machine shoulder press. So, overall, I would say there is not much difference.
The front delts are going to be activated no matter how you perform the exercise. Now, the medial deltoid, or rather, the lateral deltoid actually does have a big difference. Clearly, the back barbell military press is the clear winner, with not much clear difference between the other exercises. The machine in this case is particularly poorly performed because it was pretty much towards the front. So, it was almost more like an inclined press. So, basically, the trend here clearly is that the behind-the-neck military press is the best for the side delts and not much of a downside for anything else so far. So, for the posterior deltoid, again, the behind-the-neck military press is the clear winner. And if we look at the pattern from front to back for the machine, it’s the same. Also for the medial deltoid, it’s kind of the same.
The pattern for all of these is that if you move more towards the back, so you move the elbow more towards the back of the body, you activate the posterior and side deltoids more. Which of course makes perfect sense, because the lateral deltoids are primarily shoulder abductors, they move the elbow up and out towards the side. The posterior deltoids will only be significantly involved if the elbow is quite far back. S o here the pattern, clearly, again is the more you move the elbow towards the back, the more you shift the stress on the shoulders towards the side and rear deltoids. Now for the pecs, the winner was clearly the front machine or barbell. The pattern is that you deactivate the pecs when you move the elbow back, which of course also makes perfect sense. The upper pecs actually help the anterior deltoids,so the front of the shoulders, with shoulder flexion. The more you move the elbow back, the more you perform abduction, the less you involve the pecs. Now, for the traps, there really wasn’t any notable difference. The traps, in general, are like, you can see the percentage of max is only about Overhead press is not a very great exercise for the upper traps. That’s a topic for a different discussion, but you will grow the traps to some extent with overhead pressing, but not nearly as much as with wider overhead shrug variations.
And for the triceps, again, there’s not much of a difference. The pattern is that you deactivate the pecs when you move the elbow back, which of course makes perfect sense. The upper pecs actually help the anterior deltoids (the front of the shoulders) with shoulder flexion. The more you move your elbow back, the more you perform abduction, and the less you involve the pecs. Now, for the traps, there really wasn’t any notable difference. The traps, in general, are like, you can see the percentage of max is only about Overhead press is not a very great exercise for the upper traps. That’s a topic for a different discussion, but you will grow the traps to some extent with overhead pressing, but not nearly as much as with wider overhead shrug variations. And for the triceps, again, there’s not much of a difference.
The overall trend makes perfect biomechanical sense. The front delts are shoulder flexors, so they do this; and the upper pecs are basically the helpers of the front delts. Now, the side delts (the lateral delts) move the arm out to the side, they perform shoulder abduction.And then, they actually move the elbow back so they are mainly involved as stabilizers and not so much as active movers.So, you are not going to activate them to a great deal, but the only way you’re going to activate them reasonably well is if you move the elbow very much back. And in general, the movement pattern that you want from an overhead bench press, if you’re training for round delts and emphasizing the sides and the rear delts, is a pattern like this, which is what you typically get with a behind-the-neck overhead press. And that’s why we get the results in the study.
Most people, though, when they do an overhead press, they’re doing this towards the front and they have their elbows in front of their body, and as a result of that, you’re going to heavily emphasize the front delts.And people do a lot of front delt work: all the bench pressing you do, all the pecs. Everything you do for the pecs pretty much is also going to affect the front delts, and then if you do the overhead bench pressing also with an emphasis on the front delts, with the elbows in front of the body, then you are going to massively overtrain the front delts and neglect the sides and the rear delts, which is going to result in the pattern that most people have with the front delts overdeveloped and they kind of tapper towards the back, rather than being nice and round. To help you build those nice, round, cannonball delts, here are four concrete tips: First, the obvious solution based on these studies would seem to do the behind-the-neck overhead press. However, it’s very hard on the shoulder for most people. In fact, many people can’t even get into the position.
I, myself, also, it’s really, really uncomfortable for me to even try to get in the position. My experience is that mostly Olympic weightlifters and women can actually get into the position reasonably. Many men can barely even do it. Like they have to slack their wrists, they have to move their head forwards, which is also uncomfortable, or they have to kinda hunch over and they are like this. It is not a great position for shoulder health for most individuals. Many people experience shoulder pain when doing this exercise. So, if that’s not you and you love the behind-the-neck overhead press with the barbell, it feels great on your shoulders, by all means do it. It’s a great exercise. For most people, though, I prefer dumbbells. Dumbbells allow you to be completely like this, so really focused on getting the elbows out towards the sides and move laterally, rather than have the elbows up and move more into the centripetal plane. This is the centripetal plane, frontal plane.
You want to move more in the frontal plane. And, dumbbells are perfect for that. And the research actually finds, here’s another study on this. An EMG analysis, similar to the previous analysis, where they found out that dumbbells result in higher muscle activity than a barbell. Which makes sense because, especially for the lateral deltoids, you can move more in the plane of shoulder abductions. They also found, which is the second tip I would like to give you, that you should stand, don’t sit. Standing allows your body to have a much more natural movement pattern and allows for great freedom of the scapulae (your shoulder blades).
Whereas, if you are seated, your shoulder blades are stuck to the bench. Moreover, most people when they sit, they are actually kind of doing an inclined press, as they don’t sit fully upright but they are sitting slightly like this and then it becomes a high-inclined press and the movement is like this. Whereas, you want the movement to be like this. I think that for all intents and purposes, it is better to stand and to use dumbbells. If you do use a barbell, then tip number three I would give you is to use a wide grip. Many people go for the barbell with a relatively narrow grip and they try to do a military press and they think that military press means you should stand upright in military posture. That is not the case at all. In barbell overhead press, when properly done, means you have to move your head out of the way of the barbell.
In this video here, you can see my overhead press technique with the barbell and you can see that I’m actually really arched, my upper back is really arched, and that’s what you should do because it allows me to keep my elbows way back. You can see that I’m keeping my elbows way back towards the rear and they are moving very much in this plane, in the frontal plane. I can do that because I’m moving my head out of the way of the barbell rather than moving the barbell forward. Many people do this, thinking they have to stand in military posture because it’s called the military press. Then they move the barbell around the head, and this is obviously more of a front raise. It makes you a lot weaker and it also puts the emphasis greatly on the front delts, which is not ideal if you already have overdeveloped front delts.
Now, and then tip number four is that you want to program most of your deltoid work, in my estimation, for the lateral and the rear delts. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I would almost universally recommend against doing front raises. Front raises are a very popular exercise for most people in their shoulder day or shoulder workout. And I think they have no place in most programs because, as I said, you are hitting the front delts when you are doing the flys, you are hitting them whenever you are doing any kind of overhead press. Lateral raises even still train them quite well. So, if you just count the volume per muscle group, then most people do so much more for the front delts than for the other heads of the delts, and that’s why they are overdeveloped. In that sense, I like doing a lot of lateral raises and rear delt work, such as rear delt raises, shoulder pulls, and those kinds of exercises. And doing your overhead press work like I said all really focused in the dumbbells or a wide grip. Either behind the neck, if that suits you or with a front barbell overhead pressing. Machines can work, I’m not a big fan of them. The shoulder is a very mobile joint.
And most machines also have you sit. So, I think that in most people they result in pattern overuse issues and shoulder pain because it doesn’t allow the shoulder to move in a natural pattern. Also, if the machine isn’t optimally designed for your structure, the very limited movement pattern often doesn’t allow you to perform the movement we are aiming for, which is pretty much shoulder abduction. Even during lateral raises, I would typically recommend that you bend over slightly forward because you really want to enhance the lateral fibers. If you look at the deltoid fibers, they go like this, like this, and like this. nd the movement that you are doing will be targeting the fibers that are best aligned for this purpose. The body typically recruits the fibers that have the best leverage in most, so if you are doing a front raise, then you are gonna hit the front fibers. If you are doing a lateral raise, you are gonna hit the side fibers. Iif you are just doing a standard lateral raise standing up straight like this, then this is still a lot of the front delt fibers.
And research finds that about 75% of the force during a lateral raise is still or the if you, if we take the lateral fibers then the front fibers still produces 75% of that. produced by the front fibers. So, you want to lean over slightly and really focus on those more posterior fibers. I program for my clients and myself almost all the deltoid work focused on the lateral and the rear deltoids. The front delts you really don’t need to worry about much because they are going to get hit so much by all the exercises.
I would say that mostly you want to do your shoulder work actively avoiding training the front delts and really focusing on those side and rear delts. So you are still actually training the front fibers, especially the upper front fibers a lot. So, you want to lean over slightly and really focus on those more rear, more posterior fibers and the true posterior fibers.
I program for my clients and myself, almost all the deltoid work focused on the lateral and the rear deltoids. The front delts, you really don’t need to worry about them much, because they are going to get hit so much by all the exercises. All right, I hope that helps you build more round, nice cannonball delts. And if you want more videos like this, I would be honored if you subscribed and liked.
Then get our free mini-course on muscle building, fat loss and strength.