EstimatedEst. Read Time: 8 minutes
how to get bigger shoulders with lighter weights grow delts faster


You’ve probably heard the saying… “Lift big, get big.” Well, that’s not entirely true.

If you truly want to know how to get bigger shoulders, you have to be willing to leave your ego at the door!

Of course, heavy training should remain a part of your shoulder training routine, but if you’re excluding the use of light weights in your shoulder workouts, this is likely holding back the size of your delts!

Lighter weights are the real key to getting bigger delts much faster, and ultimately to being able to lift more on your heavy compound lifts.

So get ready for the hardest “light” set you’ve ever done!

Lighter weights are the real key to getting bigger delts much faster, and ultimately to being able to lift more on your heavy compound lifts.

But I assure you this: if you do what I show you here today you’re going to get bigger shoulders.

And when you try this technique you’ll feel the difference instantly!

We covered shoulder muscle anatomy in detail in the Perfect Shoulder Workout, but to give you a reminder of what we’re talking about when it comes to the shoulder muscles, here’s a quick visual guide to the delts.

complete shoulders muscle anatomy including front delt, middle delt and rear deltoid


Before I get into the nitty gritty of this shoulder building technique I wanted to show you how I KNOW it works.

It’s because I’ve applied it to my own body and with astounding results!

Lifting lighter is the single biggest change I made in my shoulder training and you can easily see that it’s dramatically increased my shoulder size.

The picture on the left is me at 33.

The picture on the right is me at 40.

jeff cavalieres shoulder delt growth between 33 and 40 years old

Older yes?  Much better delts?  Absolutely!

So how is it that lifting lighter weights can make such a big difference?


Why aren’t heavy compound lifts ideal when it comes to shoulder development?

Let me explain.

The delts are one of those muscle groups that get a large amount of assistance from other muscles in the upper body during their lifts.

Let’s take the push press for example.


Play Btn
push press heavy lift for shoulders

In an effort to move as much weight as possible, you’ll be using a lot more than just your shoulders. Here you are not just working your deltoids but also the triceps, chest, core and even legs.  You’ll likely use a large amount of momentum to move the weight as well.

While this is an effective way to build your overall functional strength, it tends to not work so well if you want to increase the size and strength of your delts specifically.

Is it possible to increase your strength on this exercise, and therefore make your shoulders bigger over time?

Of course.

But it would require a lot of step by step, small increases in the weight you’re lifting to be able to improve your strength in this exercise.

This is not a fast way to build up your delts!


If you instead grab some dumbbells and more effectively isolate the shoulders, you can actually increase your shoulder strength.

Now, I said ‘more effectively isolate the shoulders.’

That doesn’t mean grabbing the heavy dumbbells and doing side lateral raises in which you start bringing your traps, arms, back and momentum into it.

These muscle groups want so badly to kick in to assist with the lift, especially during the first few degrees of the movement.

To avoid this, what we want to do is do a zero momentum exercise with much lighter weight so that the deltoids do virtually all of the work.

I’ll show you how to do this with a side lateral raise.

And I’m going to use 15s.

Yes, that’s 15 lbs!

Now, how do we do it?

First, I want to show you what NOT to do.

As I go to raise these dumbbells up, the first move is NOT this. I’m not hinging forward.

Play Btn
don't hinge forward in the side lateral raise

It’s also NOT this, with my arm bending.

Play Btn
dont bend your arm in the side lateral raise

Instead I want to keep my arm straight and lift it out to the side by initiating the contraction from the deltoids. Finger positioning is important in this exercise. Pinkies should be down and thumbs should be up.

Play Btn
keep arms straight by initiating contraction from the deltoids in the side lateral raise

Now, here’s where this exercise gets a lot tougher!

To ensure we have zero momentum, stop halfway through the repetition and pause. This demands that you are in control of the weights and that they are not controlling you!

From here, reinitiate the lift and squeeze the shoulders as hard as you can to get the dumbbell to the top with your arm parallel to the ground.

Play Btn
squeeze the shoulders in the side lateral raise

Next, lower the dumbbell half way down and repeat one more contraction to the top.

Play Btn
lower slowly in the side lateral raise

Here is a top view so that you can see the activation of the deltoids from another angle.

Play Btn
top view of the side lateral raise

As you can see, this is only 15lbs and I am struggling mightily to perform one rep!

Here’s what one entire ‘rep’ looks like.


Play Btn
zero momentum side lateral raise

For this variation, take whatever weight you would normally use with a side lateral raise, cut it in half, and see how many reps you can do.

Your shoulders will be on fire and you will instantly see how difficult it can be if you let your delts do the work rather than letting all the other muscles help as they normally would!

You might feel a hell of a lot weaker while you do it, but you’re going to get stronger from it!


The muscularity that you can develop from this approach with the side lateral raise is off the charts!


Because you’re actually directing the tension into the deltoid muscle for probably the first time ever in this exercise.

In the most common version of side lateral raises, you were probably distributing tension among all the other muscles that were helping you. Not to mention, momentum was likely playing a role.

You can take the increased shoulder strength that you get from using those light weights and you’ll see the difference it makes in your heavier lifts.

Overall this technique will help you increase the strength of the deltoid by cutting out all those crappy reps you’ve been doing and forcing you to focus more on driving tension into the muscle itself.

Then you can take the increased shoulder strength that you get from using those light weights and you’ll see the difference it makes in your heavier lifts like the push press!

This technique isn’t only for shoulders.

You can use this technique for every other muscle group, too!

You’re going to be able to transfer the individual strength of the contributing muscles to the compound movements when you attempt them again. That’s when you start to see some real gains!

So please, for the benefit of your delts, leave your ego at the door. Focus more on driving tension into the muscle you’re actually trying to grow and the results will be remarkable. Use this technique every time you train your shoulders and it’s going to make a huge difference on how that muscle looks and more importantly, it’s going to translate into the actual strength you have in your muscles.


  1. The old saying ‘lift big, get big’ doesn’t necessarily apply to every muscle group, and the shoulders are a great example.
  2. With heavy compound ‘shoulder’ exercises like the push press, you need to use a lot of different muscles to actually move that heavy weight, including triceps, chest, core and even legs and you are probably not working your deltoids as much as you think. Momentum also kicks in, making this an even bigger problem.
  3. One of the best techniques for building the delts involves checking your ego at the door and picking up some really light dumbbells for a Zero Momentum Side Lateral Raise. This variation isolates the deltoids and makes sure that momentum isn’t playing a role.
  4. This technique yields huge gains in size and strength of the deltoids which you’ll also be able to feel over time as you continue to attempt your heavier compound lifts.

If you’re looking for a complete workout program that puts the science back in strength and shows you the most effective ways to maximize your gains and get the most out every single workout you do, check out our ATHLEAN-X Training Programs.

Watch the YouTube version of this article
Popular & Trending
stop doing face pulls like this facepull mistake
How To Do Face Pulls
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
September 9th, 2019
Face pulls are one of the best corrective exercises to help offset poor posture and shoulder dysfunction.  They help strengthen the chronically weak...
how to identify your body fat percentage with images for men
Body Fat Percentage
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
May 1st, 2013
There are many ways to measure body fat percentage; some wildly expensive and most inaccurate. It's time to give you an alternative method that...
2 reasons your biceps aren't growing and 3 ways to fix it
Why Your Biceps Aren’t Growing
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
August 22nd, 2019
Have you ever felt that no matter how much you trained your biceps you’re left saying… “My Biceps STILL Aren’t Growing?” I believe I know...
The PERFECT Abs Workout
The PERFECT Abs Workout
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
July 31st, 2019
We’ll be following my ‘Six Pack Progression’ sequence as we choose each of the beginner and advanced ab exercises for each abdominal movement...
incline bench press avoid mistakes for upper chest
How To Incline Bench Press Correctly
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
June 21st, 2019
The Incline Bench Press is one of the best upper chest exercises there is, but there's one major problem preventing us from getting the maximum...
best dumbbell exercises for chest
The BEST Dumbbell Exercises for CHEST
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
October 9th, 2019
Today I’m going to share my favorite chest exercises… but there’s a catch. We can only use dumbbells! I’ll show you what to do whether you...
how to construct a complete chest workout
The PERFECT Chest Workout
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
July 25th, 2019
The classic theory of "Upper, Middle, and Lower" chest exercises is a good start, but, it's not enough!! The solution to this problem is to not...
best dumbbell exercises for shoulders
BEST Dumbbell Exercises for SHOULDERS
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
October 5th, 2019
You want to build big shoulders and you only have access to a few pairs of dumbbells. What do you do? I’m going to show you what to do whether...
how to construct a complete biceps workout
The PERFECT Biceps Workout
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
July 15th, 2019
The classic theories of “just do curls” or “it’s not necessary to train your biceps directly” are both flat out wrong! Why? Because it’s...
Home Chest Exercises UPPER, MID, LOWER CHEST!!
Home Chest Exercises
By Jeff Cavaliere MSPT, CSCS
March 25th, 2020
Being able to effectively hit your upper, mid and lower chest from home with NO equipment may seem impossible. But, I’m here to show you it’s...