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Tips For Growing Your Lateral Delts & Getting Capped Shoulders

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As always my blogs are a part 2 conjoined with a YouTube video. Be sure to watch our video linked above first before continuing on reading here otherwise this article will NOT make as much sense. 

A Quick Breakdown of Muscle Science You Need to Know

Starting around the time I got involved in fitness, more and more sources of knowledge and authority started to turn to science for an explanation of how muscular hypertrophy (growth) worked. This led to some really positive change in the fitness community where we could get rid of old lore and dogma (bro science) that was against what the scientific consensus of what worked/didn’t work for inducing muscular hypertrophy. However a bad side effect induced from the introduction of science to fitness was the fear of using anything not yet PROVEN by scientific data. Insert the “mind muscle connection”. For years the overwhelming consensus of the science based fitness community more or less stated the “mind muscle connection” was a useless idea. If you are new to this term it simply means focussing on feeling your muscles activate as a means to ensure tension is being optimally targeted to the working muscle groups in the exercise being performed. For example a good mind muscle connection in a dumbbell curl would be feeling the bicep lengthen, contract and tension during the whole movement. A lack of mind muscle connection would be performing the curl but focussing more on outcome of function rather than feeling it. Usually this resulted in slightly heavier loads being used in trainees who neglected the use of the idea of the mind muscle connection. We will get to more on this later but for now what I want to mention is we have new data showing the bros were right all along. The mind muscle connection in specific circumstances can elicit greater overall hypertrophy and is worth focussing on (at times).

Before we dive into the programming of how to train your lateral delts optimally with the tips given in the video let’s discuss the science of the mind muscle connection. Linked below (see citations at end) is a study from 2018 showing two groups of untrained men in college. One group focussed on what they called “Internal focus of exercise outcome” and the other group focussed on “external focus of exercise outcome”. Internal meant they focussed on a mind muscle connection and feeling the targeted muscle group working and external focussed on the outcome of the exercise.  There was a positive LARGE statistical significance for more hypertrophy in the internal focus group. Especially given the size of the population studied as well as the study length, this shows a very positive effect for purposefully seeking a mind muscle connection in training.

Now it is worth noting that the study used bicep curls and leg extensions! This was not performed on squats or large compound exercises. It is also worth noting that the study showed only a positive gain in muscular hypertrophy but not strength differences between the groups. Now you must understand the MOST important factor with inducing muscular hypertrophy is what we call progressive tension overload. That is the idea that over time we subject our muscles to new and greater stimulus to grow. Once a muscle is adapted completely to a stress response it can NO LONGER continue to grow without a larger stress. This larger stress can come in the form of more tension via total sets performed, total reps performed and even longer exposure to tension. However eventually more load on the bar is a MUST. You can only do so many extra reps or sets with a weight before the most pragmatic way to progress is added load. Now with that said I must exclaim that I am not saying you should lift pink baby weights and just focus on squeezing those biceps for maximum growth! What I am saying is pairing specific modalities like progressive tension overload with times where we focus on a mind muscle connection can lead to greater overall muscle growth. In fact I would look at these variables as completely separate ideas even though most people in the debate of “mind muscle connection” vs “just lift heavy bro” seem to boil it down to one or the other.

To me the mind muscle connection is a means to ensure the progressive tension we are eliciting is being targeted to the correct muscle bellies at maximum exposure rate. Pragmatically speaking if you focus on a mind muscle connection it will ensure you are using a full range of motion, control in the eccentric, and limiting auxiliary muscles from tensioning that are not intended to be targeted from the specific exercise at hand. Boiling this down to some hard and simple rules to follow:


  1. Only focus on a mind muscle connection when you are performing targeted muscular accessory exercises. E.g. don’t  try to focus on a mind muscle connection with your squats outside of general cueing. Just lift heavy and progressively load that big movement! But from time to time make sure your bicep curls are getting full tension to the muscle belly!
  2. Do not ALWAYS be overly strict and just use the mind muscle connection as an excuse to lift light. We want to lift as heavy as possible while performing a full range of motion and controlling the eccentric phase. Sometimes I go heavier on my curls and work a SLIGHTLY less perfect ROM and do not worry about the MMC as much. Other times I go very strict and perform concentration curls to elicit targeted tension perfectly in the muscle belly. Both can be used!

The Programming 

Now let’s get into the frequency of how often we should train our delts for maximum growth.

Beginners: 2x per week minimum with a maximum of 3x per week

Intermediates: 2x per week for desensitization, 3x per week for most and sometimes 4x per week during specialization phases that never last longer than 8 weeks.

Advanced: 3x per week minimum with often times going 4-5x per week for high frequency phases. Definitely be careful and include desensitization phases of 2x per week every training cycle or two. Advanced athletes largest issue is staying healthy in the joints!

It is best though in most cases to instead find your optimal weekly volume and space that out how you like throughout the week. Usually I recommend 3x per week for most with 25% of volume on a heavy day, 25% of the volume a recovery day and 50% on hypertrophy volume day.

Now what I recommend in regards to the issues mentioned in tip # 1 from the video is having specific days for going heavier and specific days for going lighter and focussing on a mind muscle connection. Again the “mind muscle connection days” are more so a way to ensure you are lifting perfectly and the heavy days are to push yourself and not be a perfectionist so overload can take place. It really is nothing more fancy than that. So let’s say you are training deltoids 3x per week. I’d have one day with your typical heavy exercises like overhead press, military press, db presses etc first. Then after that I will follow up with heavier raises like you saw me performing in the video. On a separate day I will opt for lighter machine work and stricter raises really aimed at volume. These are our “hypertrophy” days you will often see for those of you in our group coaching programs! Then on the middle recovery day I might have a bit of both thrown in! There are no rules and we want an array of stimulus and exercise modalities used.

SET & REP VOLUME RECOMMENDATIONS (how many sets per week to do)

This question is VERY difficult to answer broadly. It really does DEPEND which is the answer you never want to hear however I will do my best to define some GUIDELINES to follow. To best answer this I opened up 10 protocols from clients in each respective category and took the average and created a range based on volume increases during a training block.

Beginners: 13-17 sets per week

Intermediates: 18-22

Advanced: 23-29 sets per week, on average we give out 22 sets to prime clients however admittedly I definitely have more advanced guys than novices. (averaged from 30 client protocols)

Optimal exercise volume distribution: 50% towards compound free weight exercises, 50% towards machine/isolation exercises

Optimal rep ranges: 1-8 for heavy work (heavy exercises), 7-12 for targeted compound exercises (secondary exercises like machine presses/heavy raises), 10-20 reps for accessory exercises (or the strict raises).

Optimal sets per exercise: 3-5 sets for primary exercises. Usually 2-4 sets for secondary exercises and lastly 3-5 sets for accessory exercises. Sometimes in unique circumstances bench can handle higher set counts of 5-7 sets but only in specific more powerlifting centric programs or very high volume overreaching blocks.



Lastly it is worth mentioning the posterior delt work and special exercise I mentioned at the end of the video! I cannot stress enough how much my delts capped out once I started training my rear delts and lateral delt end range like crazy. We have a ton of exercise videos like this on the group coaching private website back end! I encourage you guys to sign up if you want someone to pair all the information I provide here in these blogs together with some awesome videos that showcase the how to’s on all of this! You can see more info here:

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