Antoine Vaillant's Shoulders

November 8, 2011

By Lara McGlashan, MFA, CPT

To see Antoine Vaillant in the gym is nothing short of a spectacle. At 5'11", 250 pounds, the 23-year-old amateur is a barn wall; a tank; a superhero. He strides into Atlantis Gym in Montreal, Canada, with confidence and a ready smile, glad-handing the desk jockey and peeling off smiles for other eager gym patrons. He talks to friends and fans alike for quite some time, the barge of people slowly moving toward the locker room. Snippets of conversation can be heard, in both English and French, as Antoine chats and converses with his fellow gym-goers about his YouTube videos, his second-place finish in the super-heavyweight class at the prestigious Arnold Amateur this past March and his Canadian Nationals appearance in August.

As Antoine stashes his things in a locker, he looks both ways to see if the coast is clear, then confides, “You know, I used to be a nerd, and I could never talk to people like that before!” He laughs, closing the locker. “Before bodybuilding I was very, very shy. But ever since my first contest at 16, when I had to be onstage wearing nothing but posing trunks, I decided I couldn’t be shy anymore! Now I’m outgoing and confident. In fact, it’s hard to shut me up!”
As he heads onto the gym floor a few more people approach him; he deflects their questions politely but firmly; now it’s time to work. He gestures to the people staring after him, and says, “This is why sometimes I like to train at another gym called Atlas — it’s quieter and calmer. It may sound weird, but I don’t really like people to watch me work out. I usually wear headphones and try to focus completely on myself.” Fortunately for MuscleMag, he’s allowing us to take part in this up-close-and-personal workout session, with shoulders being served as the main course.


Antoine makes his way to the free-weight area and snags a set of 20-pound dumbbells and a bench with a short back. He shakes out his arms and says, “This is how the workout will go: two rear-delt moves, two middle-delt moves and then two front-delt moves. For me, it’s important to be balanced, and since my rear delts and back are areas I’m trying to bring up, I put rear delts first in my workout.”

He gets into position for seated bent-over dumbbell lateral raises, sitting on the bench with his feet and knees together in front of him and holding the weights at his sides. He bends forward with a straight back so that his chest is over his thighs and his arms hang straight toward the ground, elbows slightly bent. He turns his palms to face rearward (pronated grip), the ends of the dumbbells nearly touching underneath his legs. Then he lifts the weights up and out to the sides, driving his pinkies toward the ceiling while keeping his arms in line with his shoulders and his hands in his peripheral vision. He does 20 reps before trading up for the 25s.
“I like to use this pronated grip when I work rear delts,” he says. “In a normal raise, your front and middle delts can compensate, but if you turn your hands like this, it isolates the rear delts very well.” He does another warm-up set of 18 with the 25s, then begins his working sets: 15 reps with the 30s, 14 reps with the 40s and 11 with the 50s. Because he’s seated, each rep is smooth and controlled, no momentum, cheating or bouncing.
“My second rear-delt exercise is the reverse pec-deck,” he says, heading over to the pec-deck machine, adjusting the seat and setting the pin near the top of the stack, around 100 pounds. He sits facing the stack and grasps the handles in front of him. He lifts his elbows, slightly bent, to come level with his wrists and shoulders. Slowly, he opens his arms out to the sides, the oblong shape of his rear delts popping into relief as he draws his arms rearward. When his arms align with his torso, he pauses and holds for a count, then slowly returns to the start. He completes 14 more reps, and lets the stack settle back down.
“The most important tip to remember is to not pull the handles too far back,” he says, putting the pin into the 200-pound mark. He performs three more sets: one at 200 pounds for 14 reps, one at 250 pounds for 13 reps and a final one at 300 pounds for 12 reps.


Antoine stands, pivots his back toward the mirror and lifts his arms, doing a back double-biceps and examining his rear delts in another mirror opposite. His conditioning is spot on — deep striations, bulbous muscle bellies, and rock and sinew beneath his still-tan skin. “I was 233 pounds at contest time [at the Arnold in March], but I beat some of the bigger guys because I had better symmetry and conditioning,” he says confidently, dropping his arms and shaking the blood back into them. “This year I’ve been working with [IFBB pro] Jose Raymond on my diet and that’s made a huge difference. It was an expensive $200-a-week grocery bill, but it was worth it!”
After finding an empty short bench with a back for seated dumbbell lateral raises, Antoine corrals a set of 40-pound dumbbells from the floor and says, “I prefer to do my side raises seated so that I can be more strict with my form and tweak my body position to put more emphasis on my middle delts.” He sits on the bench and holds the weights by his sides, spreading his feet for stability, then rolls his shoulders forward slightly. He exaggerates the bend in his elbows a little, then lifts the dumbbells up and out to the sides, raising them to shoulder level. He pauses briefly and then lowers slowly to the start. He gets 10 reps easily; then he uses a bit of momentum to cheat the dumbbells up for the last three reps.

“As I fatigue I use a little momentum to get in a few more reps since I don’t have a training partner to assist me,” he explains as he replaces the 40s and picks up some 50s. “But the negative is always completely under control. With my shoulders rolled forward slightly, the middle delts really come into play — no help from the front delts.” He does 12 total reps with the 50s, cheating a bit on the last four; then he gets two more sets of 12 with the 60s, cheating up on the last five for each.

“I really like the machine for my middle delts,” Antoine says, sipping water and adjusting the seat for machine lateral raises. “I’ll also use the cable version from time to time for a different kind of resistance.” He sits in the machine, facing the stack, and puts the pin at 100 pounds. He secures his arms underneath the pads, elbows bent to 90 degrees, and leans forward with a straight back so that his torso is supported on the pad. He raises his arms until they reach shoulder level, then slowly lowers to the start and repeats right away. He completes 15 reps before increasing the weight to 120. He works his way up the stack to 150 pounds for three more sets: 12, 10, then eight reps for each, respectively. Then he stands, sips some water and shakes out his arms. “Time to push into failure,” he says, then sits back down. He does eight reps at 150 pounds, drops the pin to 100 and immediately does as many reps as he can — today it’s five. One more drop to 80 pounds, and he reps it out to failure, seven slow, excruciating reps that end with a half-rep. He stands, his middle delts pumped and inflated like cannonballs. Who knew failure could be so rewarding?  


Antoine walks back to the free-weight area and chooses a set of 50-pounders for alternating dumbbell front raises. He stands erect with his knees soft and holds the weights at his sides with his palms facing inward. One arm at a time, he raises the weight to eye level, maintaining the neutral grip. Again, as the rep count ticks higher, he begins to cheat the weight up a bit, using a little momentum to get past that initial sticking point, but then lowering slowly to the start on the negative. He does 10 reps on each arm before trading up for the 60s.

“With the neutral grip I feel the work more in my front delts,” he says. He does another set of 10 reps on each arm with the 60s, again using a bit of momentum to achieve that 10-rep mark; he finished with one more set of 10 using the 70s.
Antoine moves to an open bench and positions himself for seated barbell overhead presses. “I know most guys do these at the start of their routines, but I like them at the end after I’ve given my rear and middle delts the most attention.”

He puts one plate on each side and sits on the bench, taking a grip outside shoulder width on the barbell. He presses it upward forcefully, extending his arms until they’re straight but not locked out, then lowers it slowly back down in front of his head for 15 reps. He rests briefly and does one more warm-up set of 15 using the same weight; then he adds a 25 to each side.
“I’ll also do this move in the Smith machine or sometimes with dumbbells,” he says as he shakes out his arms. “I change my approach from week to week to keep my routine from getting stale.” He sits back down and does a set of 12 with 185 pounds; then he trades the 25s for 45s for a total of 225 pounds. This time the reps don’t come so easy — his shoulders are feeling the burn. He does eight reps smoothly and then generates some inner power to push out two more. He adds the 25s back onto the bar to make 275 pounds, pushes six reps, then a semi-shaky seventh and finally a growl-inducing eighth before racking the bar.

Antoine contemplates the weight and then strips the 25s and adds a 45 to each side for a total of 315. “I feel pretty good today,” he says with a smirk, sitting down for his final set. He grits his teeth, lifts the bar off the rack and, with a sharp intake of air, presses the bar overhead, exhaling with a grunt at the top before slowly lowering it back in front of his chin. His shoulders are visibly quaking by the time he forces up the fifth rep, and as he lowers the bar his eyes darken. He presses his lips together and drags up the last of his energy, drive and desire to force the weight upward. Slowly, his arms extend, shoulders twitching and shaking, until finally they’re straight. He racks the weight with a clang, the noise almost signaling that this round of shoulders is done.
Satisfied with the hard work he’s put in, Antoine ambles toward the gym lobby. It’s now lunch-hour and the 9–5ers are streaming in for their midday workouts. Though brisk and hurried, quite a few of them take pause to stare at Antoine. He’s again immersed in fans, answering questions, shaking hands, chatting about diet, supplementation and training. He works the crowd for a while longer and then heads out the door to begin his own workday as a personal trainer in Montreal. As he walks away he glances over his shoulder into the gym and his smile says it all — Antoine has found his niche in the sport.

Antoine's Training Split

 Bodypart(s) Trained
Monday  Chest, triceps, abs
Tuesday  Back (thickness), biceps
Wednesday  Shoulders, calves
Thursday  Off
Friday  Back (width), biceps, triceps
Saturday  Legs

Offseason, Antoine does 20–30 minutes of cardio 2–3 days a week. Contest time he increases that amount to 45 minutes twice a day, five days a week.

Antoine's Shoulder Routine

 Exercise Sets
 Seated Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise
 5*  12-15
 Reverse Pec-Deck
 4  12-15
 Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise
 Seated Machine Lateral Raise
 4-5 8-15
 Alternating Dumbbell Front Raise
 3  10 (each arm)
 Seated Barbell Overhead Press

*Includes two warm-up sets using a lighter weight and higher repetitions.

For more on Antoine Vaillant, visit

Lara McGlashan, MFA, CPT, is a health and fitness freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her first book, Your Body, Your Life, co-written with “The Biggest Loser” trainer Kim Lyons, is in bookstores now. To order your copy today, visit her website at:

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About the Author

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