Classic Bodybuilding: Don Howorth's Massive Delt Training

Before we get started on this "Classic Bodybuilding" piece, one word of note:  If you really pay attention to this blog, then you will notice that in the "sub-header" at the top of the page, I have added "Ageless Bodybuilding" as one of the subjects that will be discussed.  This is for a decided reason...

I have been developing a system of training that I have been using on myself and a few "older" lifters that occasionally train with me, but still follow my training program that I have them using even when they are training at a commercial gym instead of my "garage gym".  This system is for those of you who are 40+ such as myself, but it may be even more effective for those of you 50 and older.  In fact, of my two occasional training partners, one of them is 51, and the other is 55.

I wouldn't be so arrogant as to call this ageless bodybuilding system revolutionary, but I can say that it is radically different from most systems of training out there, but especially radical for the older bodybuilder who is often told to train less not more.  This system is also not revolutionary because it borrows too many elements from Dan John and Scott Abel, who both have some really good high-frequency training modules for the older bodybuilder/athlete.  But after experimenting for months with some of both of their training systems, I believe I've come up with something as effective as any system that's out there for the older bodybuilder.

But more to come on that in a future post.  For now, let's get on with some sagely training advice from the one classical bodybuilder who probably had the greatest shoulder development of all time: the "Duke of Delts" Don Howorth!

Vintage picture of Don Howorth in competition shape.

Don Howorth's Formula for Wide, Massive Shoulders

I can't remember the first time I laid eyes on Howorth's massive physique with those absolutely friggin' awesomely shaped "cannonball" shoulders of his, but it was probably sometime in the late '80s and early '90s, when I read about him in either IronMan Magazine or MuscleMag InternationalIronMan had regular "Mass from the Past" articles written by Gene Mozee that had a couple of articles about Howorth's training*, and he was also mentioned fairly regularly in Vince Gironda's column for MuscleMag not to mention in some of the articles of Greg Zulak for the same publication.

There is no doubt that genetics played a big role in just how fantastic Howorth's delts looked, but to claim Howorth's results were just because of genetics or anabolic steroids - as I've read claimed on some internet forums - is a little foolish.  Here is what Howorth had to say in his own words about his shoulder training:

"In my early years, I concentrated primarily on dumbbell and barbell presses along with lateral raises to add size to my delts.  It was Steve Reeves who first brought to my attention the importance of working the shoulder structure as well as the delts themselves, and he made several suggestions for improving my shoulder width that entirely changed my training concepts.  Shoulder exercises became the most important part of my program." **
Here is probably my favorite bodybuilding picture of all time.  Howorth's "mile-wide" shoulders are on full display!

Don's Advanced Program for "Wide-as-a-Mile" Shoulders!
For the advanced bodybuilder who wanted to add plenty of size to his shoulders and/or wanted to focus on shoulder specialization, Howorth recommended the following program:

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Delts and Lats

  • Behind-the-Neck Presses: 8 sets x 6 reps

  • One-Arm Dumbbell Presses: 4x8
  • Incline Lateral Raises: 4x8

  • Two-Arm Dumbbell Presses: 4x8
  • Three-Way Lateral Raises: 5x15
  • Wide-Grip Chins: 10x10
  • Wide-Grip Barbell Rows: 5x10

Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday: Rest of Body
  • Front Squats: 6x12
  • Calf Machine Raises: 6x20
  • Incline Barbell Presses: 6x10
  • Lying Barbell Triceps Extensions: 6x8
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls: 6x8
  • Leg Raises: 3x50

Howorth had some of these things to say about the design of this program:

"The real clincher for added shoulder width is to immediately follow up your shoulder program with lat work.  The best exercise for the latissimus and teres major is the two-arm chin.  Perform 10 sets of 10 reps of wide-grip chins to the front, and use as wide of a grip as possible to really stretch your shoulder girdle.  If you can't get out the full 10 reps on all 10 sets at first, then do as many chins as possible and then finish with as many half-chins as you need to do to get the full 10 reps."

"When you're specializing on shoulder work, don't overwork the rest of your body."

"I rest only as long as it takes to bomb the next set, usually 1 and a 1/2 to 2 minutes on heavy sets, and 30 to 50 seconds on all other sets.  I always give total concentration to each rep of every exercise."

"Less advanced bodybuilders can make good gains by following the same program but doing less sets of each exercise at each session.  But be sure that you still follow your delt program with lat work for greater shoulder width."

"Always be sure to get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each night and eat nutritious meals all the time—no junk foods.  I eat a lot of supplements including milk and egg protein powder, liver tablets, vitamins E, C, and B-complex, multi-minerals, and digestive aids.  I eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of the big four proteins—eggs, meat, milk, and cheese."

"And above all, never miss a scheduled workout—the champions never do!"
I believe that Howorth was 51 years old in his picture.  He's standing next to the Iron Guru Vince Gironda.  And his shoulder development is still as impressive as ever.

*Most of the information in this article—including the quotes from Howorth—come from "Mass from the Past: Don Howorth's Secrets for Wide-as-a-Mile Shoulders" published in the September '94 issue of IronMan Magazine.
**Emphasis added is mine.


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