Shoulders, I Like Them Big, Buff, & Beautiful

A few years ago I wrote a post, Shoulders Are The New Cleavage talking about how a fashion trend is that shoulders ARE the new cleavage with all of the off the shoulder, split sleeve, and “cold shoulder” tops that are in style and how this fashion trend is such an awesome concept for many women as it applies to body image (if you missed it, you can read Shoulders Are The New Cleavage HERE).

The above picture was taken in November 2011 and my shoulders have certainly developed more over the past 6 years as I’ve continued to lift weights consistently, as well as to lift heavier and heavier weights, over the years. In the picture below, the top row shows photos of me taken in 2015 and on the bottom left from 2016, and on the bottom right 2014.


It’s taken me YEARS to develop this muscle; this big, buff, beautiful, shoulders-are-the-new-cleavage, surgery free 😉 muscle.


I am proud of the hard work that went into building this muscle, and as a result even more proud to show it off even if my muscles scare a few people away. Which happens frequently and unfortunately,  as we all know, can be more the norm than the contrary, although this is changing little by little.

There are women who fear having muscle like this because it goes against the norm that society tells them that they should conform to. As a result there are women who still fear lifting weights because they think that as soon as they do a set of biceps curls or overhead presses their shoulders will grow ten times in size, turn green, and bust through their t-shirts.

There are men who fear women who have muscle like this because it means that they may be as physically strong, or perhaps even MORE physically strong than they are and we cannot have that, right?? Women being physically strongER than than men?? What is this world coming to?!!

Which is one of the MANY reasons why I admire my fellow I Am Not Afraid To Lift® – THE RETREAT strength coach Julia Ladewski. She is a champion role model showing women what it means to strong and powerful and to feel empowered by lifting weights and building muscle, regardless of what mainstream society tells us the female norm should be.

She is also a leading role model helping to educate women about what it really takes to build muscle. It takes A LOT of work. (If you missed her post What Does It Take To Build Muscle Like Wonder Woman? you can read it HERE.)

I’ve been following Julia’s training for some time now, and after starting her journey into body building and physique competitions three years ago, she really took it up a notch over the past year with the goal of building some serious muscle.

Her goal this year was to really fill out, to get big, and to not be afraid to say it or post about. To show off this big, buff, beautiful, badass muscle!

I saw Julia’s post below a few months ago and asked Julia if she would write me a guest post about what it took for her to build big, buff, beautiful shoulders like this. If you read in her Instagram post, these arms, these shoulders, took EIGHTEEN MONTHS to build, and not just 18 months of shoulder presses with pretty pink dumbbells every day, but an insane variety of shoulder exercises PLUS diet. Nutrition for massing was an important component.

Before you go on to read Julia’s post below, just a quick note to let you know that we’ve extended the deadline for the Early Bird rate (save $310!) for  I Am Not Afraid To Lift® – THE RETREAT, women’s strength retreat on May 5-7, 2017 at the Arizona Grand Resort in Phoenix, Arizona, through February 26, 2017 AND added a payment plan option for a limited time through February 26, 2017.

Get all the details and register for the Retreat HERE.

We hope you’ll register so that you can meet your strong and powerful Lift® Retreat coaches, Dr. Lisa Lewis, Julia Ladewski, and myself. We are proud to show our muscles and all the beautiful strength, power, and confidence that goes with them!



Shoulders, I Like Them Big, Buff, & Beautiful

By Julia Ladewski

When you’re at the gym, or maybe the beach or even people watching at a fancy dinner event, what’s one of the first things you notice on a fit, in-shape woman?

Her legs? Maybe.

Her butt? Probably.

More often than not, her shoulders.  Why? They grab your attention. They are eye level and a fit woman’s shoulders pop. When you ask the average gym goer what body part they would love to shape into something sexy, it’s usually shoulders/arms. It’s the sign of a strong woman too. One who physically takes care of herself and because of that portrays a sense of confidence and strength.

However… oh, the dreaded however… the shoulders are typically a difficult area for most women to build.  Sure, there’s that 0.5% that have killer upper body genetics, but the rest of us…. We gotta work for it.

I’ve been lifting weights and training extensively for 20 years. From basic high school weight training, to college athletics, to full powerlifting and physique (bodybuilding). And it wasn’t until most recently that I decided to really take my shoulders to the next level. And even *I* didn’t realize how much it was going to take!!

18 months folks!!  That’s a year and a half!!


And it is visually one of the first things people look at when they speak to me (I can see most women’s eyes darting around my arms, asking me how I got so fit.)  Nice shoulders accentuate a dress, a tank top, a swim suit and more importantly than any of that, they benefit our performance and strength in AND out of the gym.



So if you’re reading this and still don’t care about your shoulders, then no need to continue.  For the rest of us… let’s build something amazing!  Here are 3 things that are a MUST if you want beautiful, big, buff shoulders!

  1. Volume, volume, volume.  That’s probably the most important of all. So many think that a few sets of lateral raises will build some boulders.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Volume in simple terms is the total work load done for that muscle group. Most of my shoulder days included 4-5 exercises (specifically for shoulders) and 3-5 sets of each. When added up, you’re looking at a total of about 15-25 SETS of shoulders!! Not your typical 3×10.
    Here’s an example of a shoulder only day during my shoulder/physique building phases:
  2. Frequency.  Slightly different than volume (which covers the work done on one day), frequency is how many days a week you target those muscles.  I’ve found that most women respond well to 2 high volume days a week and if done appropriately and smart, can hit a lighter 3rdday.  The 3rd day can be non-eccentric exercises like battling ropes and sled drags, and bodyweight and band work.
  3. Big + little. Within all that volume work you’re going to do, you’ll benefit from doing some big exercises (variations of overhead press) and some “little” isolation exercises. Varying the order of bigs and littles helps to not only grow but train smart. Here is what two main shoulder days would look like:

Main/heavy day

  1. Heavy overhead press
  2. Isolation
  3. Isolation
  4. Lighter overhead (DB or machine)
  5. Isolation
  6. Isolation

Second day

  1. Isolation/pump/pre-fatigue
  2. Overhead press

3a. Isolation

3b. Isolation

  1. Machine press

5a. Isolation

5b. Isolation

When placing the big exercises second or even down further, you don’t have to worry about going heavy since your shoulders will already be fatigued. That’s a good way to get some good work in without stressing the joints too much. Within those isolation exercises I didn’t break down the front/medial/rear delta but it’s important to note that all heads should be hit with an emphasis on the medials.

As a final point, I want to make clear that shoulders, while they do respond well to volume (and lots of it), also respond well to strict contractions.  There is definitely a time and place to do some heaving heavy work and overload the delts, but if you focus on the contraction, it typically doesn’t take a lot of weight to get in good work. Ensure the delts are firing and not the traps or arms taking over

And there you have it. A few ideas to get your shoulders moving in the right direction. Summer is just around the corner.




We hope you’ll come learn how to build big, buff, beautiful shoulder and show off your muscles with us at the Lift® Retreat in May!

Register NOW and save $310 with the Early Bird rate.

ALL registration closes on March 26, 2017.

You can read all the details about the Retreat and register HERE

(.8 NASM CEUs approved, I Am Not Afraid To Lift® is a registered trademark.)


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