From Bookworm to Bikini: Week Ten

By Caroline Gick

What’s your favorite body part? My shoulders are definitely mine. I like them now, and I like them even better compared to what they used to be. Every time I see my shoulders in the mirror, I have a clear reminder of what hard, focused work can do for me. This makes me proud of myself, and it motivates me to keep up the hard work in every area—and I think nicely-sized, sculpted shoulders are pretty dang sexy, too.

I used to have little stick-like arms, with no shoulder development. Now, my shoulders are big enough that I have to buy large or extra-large tops in order to get something that fits properly. This is both good and bad, but that’s what happens when you put in the right kind of work.

Below is a quick look at how my shoulders have evolved over the last couple of years. The picture at the top right is me in June 2010, almost three years ago. I was fairly inactive for most of my life, at which point I took up endurance running—with little resistance training until I started preparing for my first figure competition in 2010. As you move clockwise, you’ll see the growth. The big picture is a recent one, from this month.


It took me a year and a half to put the size I wanted on my shoulders, and to sculpt them. Now, I work primarily to maintain them. I’m a woman, and it’s not easy to build muscle and size—but it’s doable with consistency and effort. This doesn’t take anything fancy—just focus, along with the right exercises. I was able to put on some size in the twelve-week training program for my first show in 2010, which seemed like a huge difference to me at the time, since I had no delts to speak of back then. The real size came later, when I took a full year to train between competitions.

Since then, I’ve done a wide variety of shoulder exercises, but the idea here is to share with you the ones I think have worked best for me.

All-Over Mass: For general mass building, I stick with push presses and dumbbell shoulder presses. I’ve used the push press in just about every shoulder workout I’ve ever done, and I try to go pretty heavy. The dumbbell shoulder press is more part of my building phases, and most times, I’ll use this move as a warm-up to lead into my shoulder workouts.

Front (Anterior) Delts: To work my front delts, I like front presses on the Smith machine. When I’m building, I do these ELECT-style, using partitioned set ramping (PSR). As I get closer to showtime or to a photo shoot, I’ll switch to a few sets using lighter weight, using standard (but fast) movement patterns.

Side (Medial) Delts: My go-to move for side delts has always been the side lateral machine. I turn to this whenever I feel like I’m getting a little bit flat. I do sets of ELECT movements, PSR-style, as heavy as I can go. I’ll also throw in a few sets of leaning side laterals for an additional punch. For me, this is the part of the shoulder that really stands out—the part that can make a difference in overall size and shape, especially when I’m posing. As a result, I try to keep this area nice and full. The video below is a leaning side lateral using a dumbbell, but you can also use a cable pulled behind you. That’s actually how I prefer to do these, because the machine provides more resistance at the bottom of the movement.

Rear (Posterior) Delts: Having awesome rear delts is a great finishing touch for a figure competitor. It can really enhance your back poses. To this end, I do an exercise Kiefer taught me a few years ago that I’ve never seen anyone else do. It’s called the one-arm isolation row, and it focuses on the rear and medial delts. People look at me cross-eyed at times when I’m doing these, but this is an insanely effective movement.

Diet During Growth

As you know by now, I’m a Carb Nite girl, using CNS throughout my entire building process and contest preparation. I’ve dabbled with Carb Back-Loading, thinking I could make increased gains, but I’ve run into some issues there. Once I start eating carbs, it’s very difficult for me to stop—and I’ve never been able to get the hang of knowing how much is enough, and when to stop before it’s too much. I’ve stuck with CNS, and it’s worked well for me throughout my building phases. I’ve also followed each lifting session with a Dangerously Hardcore Blend H protein shake with leucine, along with an overripe banana.

Size 8 Shoulders, Size 0 Waist

As I said earlier, it’s both a good and a bad thing that my shoulders have grown so much. In reality, there’s only one thing that’s bad about it: It makes it difficult to find clothes that fit. Sure, you can find something that fits your shoulders, but then the rest of the shirt looks like a tent. Or, if you find something that fits your waist, your shoulder seams are closer to your ears than to your shoulders.

This was my first experience with the difficulties of dressing well with an athletic physique—while not spending a gazillion dollars at the tailor. This has become such a passion of mine that I started my own website, where I share tips and tricks and talk about these issues with other people who have the same problems. Check that out here.

In the Homestretch

With three weeks to go, it feels as though this time has flown by. I have to keep reminding myself that a lot can happen in three weeks, and that I’m not stepping on the stage tomorrow. My goals have remained the same: To lean out the bottom slowly, without losing size on top.

I use my shoulders as a barometer of how successfully I’m dieting and training. Their size and fullness is a pretty obvious indictor of progress—or a lack thereof. When they look flat, I know I’ve gone too far in the wrong direction. My new weekly diet seems to be going well, but I need to increase my carbs on my carb nites. I stuck to my super-clean carb nite last week, and I looked and felt very flat the following day.

More carbs? I think I can manage that. I’ll just keep thinking about nice, full shoulders, and “force” myself to have more. Have a great week, everyone.