How Roelly Got Those Crazy Shoulders
First of all, make no mistake. Like Levrone, Dennis Wolf, Phil, Jay, Victor, Evan and every other man who has ever built a spectacular pair of deltoids that are literally the size of melons, there is a certain genetic propensity from birth that made that potential mass possible one day. But potential itself is meaningless unless it is realized. Both Roelly’s shoulders and triceps got a head start in his youth in Holland through the demanding sport of gymnastics. If you’ve ever watched men’s gymnastics competition at the national and especially the Olympic level, you would notice that even though they aren’t big guys, they always have pretty impressive delts and tri’s.
Roelly migrated to weight training after he quit playing soccer, and within just a couple of months of training, his shoulders and arms put those of almost all the other far more experienced gym members to shame. He soon began competing, since the gym owner let him train for free as long as he did, and he was made aware that he could probably lay off training his arms as intensely for a while. Roelly didn’t get the same advice about his awesome shoulders, and he knew why. “Shoulders are one of those areas that you can almost never have too much development,” he explains. “The thicker, rounder and wider you can make them, the better your overall shape is, so I never stop hitting my deltoids with maximum effort and intensity.” Here, in his own words, Roelly tells you exactly how he built some of the freakiest shoulders of all time. (Originally published in the April 2014 edition of MD)
1) Seated Dumbbell Press
This is the foundation of my shoulder workout, and I usually do it first thing while I’m fresh. I learned several ways to make it a much more productive exercise. Most bodybuilders do their overhead pressing with their back up against a pad. That allows them to use more weight, but it also means that they are leaning back and doing something more like an incline press. A true overhead press should be done with your back perfectly straight, so that the medial delts can work as hard as the front delts. All the old-school bodybuilders from the 1940s on until around the late ‘70s used to do all their dumbbell and barbell presses standing up. You hardly ever see that anymore. I do my presses seated, but without back support.
I also learned about the importance of a full range of motion for overhead presses. Most bodybuilders only lower their arms to “parallel,” the point where their upper arms are level with the floor. I go down a couple of inches more, until the dumbbell actually touches my shoulder. Think about it. The guys with the best legs like Branch, Kai and the great Tom Platz didn’t just squat to parallel. They buried the weight! When you bench press, don’t you touch the bar to your chest for a good stretch? So why would you miss out on that full range of motion on presses?
The reason for not going for a full range of motion isn’t because it’s dangerous. Most guys won’t go that far down for the same reason they insist on back support— so they can handle heavier weights. Bodybuilders need to understand that it’s not about the weight. It’s about how hard you make the muscle work.
2) Dumbbell Front Raises
Some people say the front delts don’t need any direct work. Maybe for the average bodybuilder, they get enough stimulation from pressing overhead as well as all pressing movements for the chest. But when your goal is to compete as an equal with the very best physiques on the planet, you can’t afford to ignore any muscle group. I have always worked my front delts, and because I make sure all three heads of my deltoids are evenly balanced, it’s not an issue. Alternating front raises are my favorite, because I can focus on one shoulder at a time. I feel the best contraction using a hammer grip with my thumbs up.
3) Rear Laterals
There always seems to be an argument about whether to train rear delts as part of your shoulder workout, or to include them instead on back day. It makes no sense to me to work them with back even though they do contribute so much to exercises like rows and pulldowns. The back is such a large and demanding muscle group to train that there is no way you could apply the proper energy and intensity to their training if you waited until after all that.
I don’t even wait until my shoulder workout is over to hit my posterior delts. I will often train them in the middle of the workout if I am doing straight sets, or else I include them as part of a tri-set along with presses and front raises. Unless you are one of those rare individuals who has rear delts that grow faster than the other two heads, you should not place them at the end of the workout.
My favorite exercise for rear delts is the bent dumbbell rear lateral raise. I do these sitting on the very end of the bench, and again I employ a hammer grip. I think of the motion as the total opposite of a flye for the chest, and picture making the same type of arc. Take care when you do rear laterals to avoid pinching your shoulder blades together. It’s easy to start working the upper back muscles like the rhomboids and teres major and minor if you’re not careful.
4) High Rope Pulls
If you’ve noticed that your rear delts often get a little pump during various rowing exercises, it’s because they are always involved to some extent. I do a unique exercise where I attach a rope to the high cable pulley and do a very high row. But instead of simply pulling back over my shoulders, I actually pull the rope as far apart as it goes, so I am simultaneously pulling back and apart. If you drew the path of the motion, it would resemble the top of a very wide, squat pyramid. But man, what a pump in the rear delts you get!
5) Lateral Raises
I do my lateral raises toward the end of the shoulder workout, because that round-capped shape to the shoulders is something I was blessed with. It also makes sense that they should be done later on so that there is no temptation to go too heavy and use bad form.
A truly productive lateral raise should be done very strictly, slowly and with almost no bend to the arms. When you read about someone who uses 50s, 60s or 70s for lateral raises, with all due respect there is simply no way they are doing the exercise the way it’s meant to be done and properly isolating the medial deltoids. Even in the off-season, I almost never use more than 30-pound dumbbells— and close to a contest when my calories are lower, a pair of 20s is typically all I need.
When guys complain that they can’t seem to isolate their side heads and that they can’t get that nice round shape that laterals are supposed to help give you, I know that 99 times out of 100 they are probably just using too much weight and not getting the most out of the exercise. Never, ever be afraid to use less weight— many times it will be the key to better results!
6) Shoulder Bombs
Shoulder bombs start at about what would be the middle of a lateral raise, and you could even do them with lateral raises as one giant motion. I usually like to keep them separate. Beginning with your arms straight out to your sides and your palms facing up to the sky, you bring the dumbbells up in a half-moon shape and rotate your hands down. At the top position, the dumbbells are almost touching, your pinkies are up in the air, and your thumbs are aimed at the ground. Trust me, you do not need much weight at all to feel these! Even a pretty big guy like me gets a wicked burn with only a pair of 30s, so 15-20s might be fine for the average trainer. Don’t worry about the weight, my friends— the feeling shoulder bombs deliver will show you that going heavy isn’t always the most effective way to stimulate a muscle.
7) Tri-Sets: My Favorite Pre-Contest Intensity Booster!
When it’s the off-season, I usually do regular straight sets. During the pre-contest phase, I do a lot more tri-sets for shoulders. These are the absolute best way to get a sick pump and carve in deeper striations and separation. My favorite one is:
Seated Dumbbell Press
Seated Alternate Front Raises
Seated Bent Laterals
I do this sitting on a flat bench with a spotter behind me. I use the same pair of dumbbells and don’t put them down except to rest for a minute between the tri-sets. Because I don’t have any back support, I have to work harder to stay upright and keep the dumbbells balanced, especially in the overhead press. That means I can’t use a lot of weight, but the shoulders have to work much more to stabilize the movement.
*Roelly hits the larger body part at 6:00 a.m. and returns at 4:00 p.m. to work the smaller one. In the final weeks leading up to a contest, body parts are all worked twice a week.
Roelly’s Shoulder Workout
Hammer Strength Press Warm-up, 2 x 20, 3 x 10-12
Seated Dumbbell Press Warm-ups, 1 x 20, 1 x 15, 4 x 12
Lateral Raises 3 x 12
Shoulder Bombs/Overhead Lateral Raises 3 x 12
Dumbbell Shrugs 4 x 10
Bent Lateral Raises 3 x 12