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Quick Guide: Build Cannon Ball Delts

There are several things that need to happen in order to make your muscles grow.

  • You need to use a heavy enough load when lifting
  • Enough time under tension to break down the muscle tissue
  • There must be enough stimuli to up regulate anabolic hormones and enhance protein synthesis
  • Proper workout nutrition and recovery

Shoulder press

Many people often think that if they lift as heavy as possible, or use as much volume (sets and reps) as possible they will trigger muscle growth. Lifting more weight and doing it too frequently can often lead to overtraining; beat up joints and subpar results in the muscle development category.

I have found that there is a sweet spot for time under tension for each muscle group, load and volume in order to produce muscle growth. In general, spending about 30-45 minutes working a larger muscle group twice a week (chest, back, legs, shoulders), with 65-85% of your estimated 1-rep max, in a circuit fashion, will produce the best results for muscle growth.

For the shoulder girdle area, there are two exercises that will spur your shoulders into better muscular growth when included in your routine. Let’s take a look at what they are.


The Shoulder Exercise Game Changers 

If you look at anyone with huge shoulders, they are sure to tell you that they pressed a heavy bar over their head to get them. At the start of the week when you are fresh, we will take advantage of pressing some heavy weight over head. But this is just the start of a good shoulder workout program.

While the overhead press is imperative to building a strong upper-body, if you want those capped cannon balls look to your delts and have the side delt separation, there is one exercise that gets the job done better than any:


Cable Lateral Raises 

Cable lateral raise girl

We typically think of just the heavy compound movements (deadlifts, bench, squat), to be huge mass builders. Cable side laterals really don’t create that much of a metabolic cost or stimulate a lot of hormones. At least not as much as exercises like the overhead press for shoulders, however, they do play a huge part when it comes to hypertrophy training for the shoulders.

Here is why.

During presses, the front deltoid and traps take up most of the work. The medial head of the deltoid does not really get hit all that much. If you want big shoulders to fill out your shirt you will want that medial head bigger and there is no other exercise that does it better. Just ask any bodybuilder out there. They know a lot about building serious muscle and they all do cable side laterals

Why cables over dumbbells? Well, when it comes to building quality muscle, once again, the time under tension is a big factor. With dumbbells, the load vector and the ability to cheat place less stress directly on the medial head as opposed to cables. So to really nail that medial head, the cable side lateral is the way to go.


The Shoulder Finisher: Farmer’s Carry  

The farmer’s carry is a great exercise to build muscle in the upper back and shoulder area since it creates high levels of muscular tension and allows you to maintain that for an extended period of time. It has been shown to stimulate a huge hormonal response that leads to new muscle growth. Strongman type movements like the farmer’s carry have been shown to increase testosterone naturally that is similar to traditional bodybuilding workouts (1). And we all know more testosterone is a good thing, especially when building muscle.

Again, we see a lot of high time under tension. The more load you can carry for a greater amount of distance or time, the greater the anabolic stimulus you will receive. Most bodybuilders are missing out since they don’t see it as a true muscle builder, they are very mistaken. I have worked with bodybuilders that implement this into their routine and they are truly shocked at how much better shoulder and upper-back development they receive.

Simply doing this exercise at the end of a shoulder routine as a finisher produces serious gains for the shoulders and trapezius area.


The Workout 

Here is a breakdown on how to do this when you want to build cannon ball shoulders!


Workout #1



Exercise                     Sets                 Rep                 Tempo                       Rest Period


1A BB Press               5                      5                      1/1/3                         90 seconds

1B Cable Lateral

Raise                           3                      10-15              1/1/3                         90 seconds

1C DB Rear Delt Fly   3                      5                      1/1/3                         2-minutes



Farmers Carry           2                      50-100 yards                                     as needed


Farmers carry girl


Notes: Perform all three exercises in a circuit fashion. After 1 warm-up set using lightweight, use a weight that is about 80-85% of your 1-rep max. Make sure to rest at least 48-72 hours before you perform the next shoulder workout.

For the farmers carry, pick a weight that you can carry for an extended period of time. Make is just heavy enough to go at least 50-yards but no longer than 100-yards for 2 sets.


Workout #2 

For this workout, we are looking to flush as much blood into the shoulders as possible and break down a ton of muscle fibers. The dumbbell shoulder press, cable side raises, and face pulls are the perfect trio of shoulder exercises to do just that.


Exercise                     Sets                 Rep                 Tempo                Rest Period

1A DB Shoulder Press 4                    12                    1/1/3                         90 seconds

1B Cable Side Raise   4                     12                    1/1/3                         90 seconds

1C Face Pulls              4                      12                    1/1/3                         2-minutes



Farmers Carry           3                      25-35 yards                                       as needed


Notes: Perform 1 light warm-up set and then start at a weight that is about 65% of your 1-rep max. Add weight on each set until you reach about 80% of your 1-rep max. Make sure to rest at least 48-72 hours before your perform your next shoulder workout.

For the farmers carry, pick a heavy load for this workout. If the dumbbells or kettlebells you have access to are too light, load up a trap bar. You should strive to use at least 100% body weight here for the load. So, if you weigh 200-pounds, grab a pair of 100-pound dumbbells or load up a trap bar with 200 pounds.


  1. Ghigiarelli  et al (2013). Effects of Strongman Training on Salivary Testosterone Levels In a Sample of Trained Males. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,  27(3), 738-747.
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