How to Train for Shoulder Definition: Q&A With Suzanne

Here at da blog, Fridays are for questions about MO’ muscle, less fat, clean eating, or whatevs. This week’s Q&A covers steps to standout shoulder definition plus strength training after surgery. At the end of every Q&A post I’ll tell you a little about my own training too, including recovery from my recent preventative double mastectomy and how I’ll make lifting my bitch again very soon.

To participate in next week’s mailbag, post your question on my Facebook page, ping me on Twitter, or just drop me a line.

How to Train for Shoulder Definition | Workout Nirvana Fitness

Q: Any suggestions/timescales/isolation for training shoulders? I know all the moves and I’m building, but feel I’m still a bit scatty with it. 

British slang-envy aside (I want the word scatty), I hear you: Unless you start following a legit plan for shoulder definition, plateau’s gonna happen. I’m assuming, since you’re a chick who lifts, you want bigger, more defined shoulders. I wrote about sculpting shoulder and arm definition HERE, but check out this customizable plan:

  • Hit shoulders twice a week. This frequency will help you grow.
  • Always start with 3-4 shoulder prehab exercises. The shoulder joint is fragile – respect it and be rewarded with a long lifting life.
  • First, do 1-2 compound strength exercises. This includes all variations of the overhead press, primarily with 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps with longer rests (2-3 minutes).
  • Then, do 2-4 isolation movements. This includes variations of lateral raises, rear delt raises, and maybe front raises (if you do heavy bench presses, front raises might be redundant). For your isolation exercises, do 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps with shorter rests (60-90 seconds). Remember that more doesn’t equal better; adminster the lowest dose possible.
  • Follow your plan for 4-6 weeks. No changing things up on a whim, mind you, except for an occasional grip or seated/standing variation to combat boredom. Take a deload week after that cycle. In your next cycle, change the variables appropriately without changing them too much. After all, your body needs time to become the BOSS of what you’re throwing at it before it can build shoulder definition.

Q: My husband is having hernia surgery. He’s been lifting for 16+ years and is devastated that he may never be able to lift again. Any thoughts/advice for lifting post-surgery and how to avoid a hernia in the future?

A: I can answer this from a general perspective, since I’m not a doctor, but also from personal experience, since I recently had major surgery myself. For those who don’t know, a hernia is a protrusion of the soft tissue at the abdominal or diaphragm wall (this can happen to both men and women). Hernias may or may not be caused by heavy lifting. You can also have a weakness in the lining of the abdominal wall and heavy lifting is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The mental aspect of an injury-related lifting hiatus can feel even harder than any physical challenges. My double mastectomy will have taken me away from what I love for four months once it’s all over. (Check out previous posts and my Facebook page for updates on my recovery, and see my own physical therapy routine.) So I get this big time.

From a mental perspective, you’ve got to assume you will get back to lifting someday while simultaneously putting it out of your head. Don’t imagine that it’s all over or that you’ll never lift heavy again. Instead, put all your energy on recovering from a serious injury (which is how your body responds to surgery even if the incision is small). Your body will need sleep, low-level activity, fiber, vitamins and minerals, protein, and patience to recover, so it’s imperative that you deliver on this.

However, in all likelihood you can lift again at some point! I’ve heard anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the situation. You’ll want to follow your doctor’s advice, but after hernia surgery you should do long warm ups, strengthen your core, progress slowly with light weights, and practice breathing into your belly (expanding when you inhale). But you’ve GOT to give it time – therein lies the power of focusing on healing instead of pining away for something you can’t have (yet).

To prevent a hernia, don’t get constipated, for one thing. Eat a high-fiber diet and drink lots of water. Also, keep your weight in check and exercise regularly. And lastly, don’t go heavier than you can handle when lifting. Straining too hard, especially when you’re not using proper form, is risky behavior.

You can get through this! You’ll come out on the other side healthy and able-bodied – you will. A comeback is a mental and physical game, so be patient and have faith. That’s all we’ve got after an injury, but it’s powerful stuff.

Training Update

Just a quick recap of my own status: On March 11, 2015, I had a preventative double mastectomy with tissue expanders to start the breast reconstruction process. On May 20th, I then had an exchange surgery to replace the expanders with the permanent silicone implants. Although it’s a long and slow recovery, I’ve been able to function fairly normally throughout. (With the exception of lifting weights and closing windows. Ha.)

Me 13 weeks after no heavy lifting. Underwhelmed? Maybe. But also surprised it didn’t ALL go away.

So big news this week! My surgeon said I could return to unrestricted activity in three weeks! Holy shit, I thought I’d never see the day.

But wait for it… I did have a complication with my surgery on the right side. It causes discomfort and pain, but I’m in physical therapy to work through scar tissue and mobility issues.

So what’s the next step? I’ll restart my physical therapy strength exercises right away. I can’t just leap back into weightlifting, and I think that’s kind of obvious. My upper body mobility continues to need work and I’m prone to muscle spasms. But I’ll definitely be back to lower body lifting, light upper body lifting, and cardio training. In other words – my nirvana.

I’ll be sharing all about my lifting comeback on Facebook and on da blog, so be sure to follow me and subscribe to my blog updates.

This article originally appeared on

2 thoughts on “How to Train for Shoulder Definition: Q&A With Suzanne

  1. I’m looking forward to seeing your beautiful shoulders fill out once again!
    Thanks for being so transparent about the challenges of getting back to it post-op! xo


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