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Shouldering A Heavy Load

By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS

Broad shoulders demand respect. They are a sign of strength and masculinity. They add more to a physique as any other piece of anatomy; broad shoulders can make even the skinniest dude appear much bigger, and they give balance and symmetry to a man’s physique. And not for nothin’, strong, broad shoulders make women feel safe and secure.

Having powerfully developed shoulders goes far beyond aesthetic appeal. Whether you’re a lumberjack or a desk jockey, everyone can significantly increase performance with strong, developed shoulders. Shoulder development was the gold standard during the Golden Age of bodybuilding, and who better to look for guidance than Bill Pearl. The four-time Mr. Universe had incredible structure but he worked hard and lifted heavy to develop incredible shoulder musculature.

This Bill Pearl–style workout will help you develop boulder-sized delts that will demand respect.

The Workout

Bill Pearl Shoulders

Wide-Grip Upright Row

Compared with the narrow-grip upright row, the wide-grip upright row is kinder to the shoulder joint. Furthermore, contrasted to the narrow grip, the wide-grip upright row was proven in a recent University of Memphis study to increase side delt activity and decrease biceps involvement. (McAllister et al 2013.) Pearl, in the trenches, beat the lab to the punch by over half a century.

Bill Pearl offers this advice: “This is a more difficult type of upright rowing exercise. The deltoids are worked more, and much concentration is required to perform it correctly. Start with the barbell at arms’ length, resting on the thighs, but with a wider than shoulder-width hand spacing. Pull the barbell up to a position at or above the nipples. Pause while contracting strongly, then lower to starting position. Inhale up, exhale down.”

Go as heavy as possible each set, stopping one rep shy of momentary muscular failure. Rest 90–120 seconds between sets.

Seated Behind-the-Neck Press

This movement has recently come under harsh scrutiny because of the risk-to-benefit ratio. If you have any shoulder issues, lack mobility or are apprehensive, substitute seated dumbbell shoulder presses. Be careful and emphasize technique.

Interestingly, in EMG studies performed by Bret Contreras, CSCS, on a series of shoulder exercises for activities of all three deltoid heads and the traps, seated behind the neck presses vastly outshined other shoulder pressing variations for muscle activity.

Bill Pearl offers this advice: “This is performed as the regular standing press behind neck, only in a seated position. Rest the bar on your shoulders between each rep and set yourself for the press.”

Go as heavy as possible each set, stopping one rep shy of momentary muscular failure. Rest 2–3 minutes between sets.


This is an exercise seldom mentioned in the modern era, so let’s defer to the wisdom of Bill Pearl: “To handle a substantial poundage, stand in a solid position and press two dumbbells to arms’ length overhead. Slowly lower them with straight arms and locked elbows to the sides at shoulder height. Attempt to hold arms in position for a count of 5 to 10. The purpose of the crucifix is to use the deltoids as a support and this places a stress of a different nature upon the muscles. Inhale while pressing the dumbbells overhead and exhale as they are lowered.”

Go as heavy as possible each set, stopping one rep shy of momentary muscular failure. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Seated Alternate Dumbbell Raise

This is basically a front raise on steroids. Bill Pearl says, “Start with dumbbells held at arms’ length at sides. With dumbbell in left hand in down position, raise dumbbell in right hand to arm’s length overhead. Lower right arm to position hanging straight at side, raise the left arm. Inhale upward and exhale when lowering dumbbell.”

Go as heavy as possible each set, stopping one rep shy of momentary muscular failure. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Incline One-Arm Lateral Raise

Odds are you have not ever seen this exercise performed in a commercial gym. To perform it, lie down sideways on an incline bench with a dumbbell in the hand. Make sure the shoulder is pressing against the incline bench and the arm is lying across your body. Hold a dumbbell in your top arm while keeping it extended in front of you parallel to the floor. This is your start position.

While keeping the dumbbell parallel to the floor perform a lateral raise. Your arm should travel straight up until it is pointing at the ceiling. Lower and repeat.

Bill Pearl says, “Inhale as you raise the dumbbell, exhale as you lower.“

Go as heavy as possible each set, stopping one rep shy of momentary muscular failure. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Final Words

If eight-minute abs is your thing, this probably isn’t the routine for you. In the weight room, if you wear the proverbial blue collar, it’s time to let the nuts hang and get to work.

Perform this routine once a week, twice if shoulders are lagging and up to three times for specialization.

Enough chit-chat—time to hit the pig iron!

Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon #1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit