You want wide, powerful delts that stand out? Look no further than this ultra-unique workout from “The Freak of Physique,” IFBB pro Dean Michael.
By Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT | Photos by Robert Reiff
I refer to these as Dean Michael presses,” says the preternaturally poised 23-year-old, sitting on a fully upright adjustable bench with a 150-pound dumbbell on each knee. “I figure if you can lift 300 pounds on a shoulder press, you can call it whatever name you want.”
With that, Dean Michael (née Fazzolari) powerfully lifts each weight into place with a grunt and a helpful bounce of each leg, one at a time, to delt height, palms facing forward. Michael’s chest is full, his core tight, his traps fully flexed while his shoulder blades dig into the bench as he presses both dumbbells overhead to full elbow extension. There he stops for a count and, leaving just the left dumbbell overhead, he lowers the right one down to the start.
From here, Michael alternates back and forth, one dumbbell up while the other is descending. His breath hisses in and out as beads of sweat drip down his face, which is contorted into an expression of pure intensity. One rep each side, then two, and finally three, before his right arm falters on the fourth-attempted extension and he quickly brings the weights down to his knees and then drops them to the floor.
A pro in the nascent IFBB physique division since 2011, when he finished second in the Team Universe Class B (tall) Men’s Physique contest, two things will immediately strike you about Michael: One, he’s huge for a physique competitor, considering it was a division originally formed to give smaller, conditioned guys a chance to battle onstage now that the open classes are regularly patrolled by mass monsters tipping scales at 250-plus pounds. Two, he doesn’t lack for confidence, as demonstrated by his pre-set statement co-opting the alternating press under his own marketing umbrella.
You may be turned off by such brash statements from youngsters, even 230-pound ones with undeniably impressive, muscular frames. But behind the brashness, the self-proclaimed “Freak of Physique” has some original and innovative ideas on training. His advice could revamp your own program, helping you build wide, thick, ego-boosting delts of your own.
One to Grow On
Picture the typical shoulder-training workout. It probably spans barbells, dumbbells and machines, and likely consists of a press or two, followed by a selection of raises to target the anterior, side and rear delts. It may include an upright row as well.
No doubt, anyone using that formula will benefit. It combines compound presses — which call upon multiple muscles to facilitate the lift — and isolation moves like laterals, which can target one muscle or a portion of it, as laterals do the middle head of the three-headed deltoid.
Still, there’s an overlooked flaw in most programs, even those that employ all the various exercises just mentioned: They are dominated by bilateral (two-limbed) movements. Think about it — whether presses, upright rows or raises, you’re mostly working both deltoids at the same time. To Michael, that reduces your ability to place the maximum stimulus on either one.
“At first, just like anyone else, I started with the basics,” he explains. “But I began experimenting, and with shoulders, I found that I could use the same weight or more while focusing more effort on each delt when I worked them unilaterally.”
Thus was born “Dean Michael presses,” as well as his wide array of one-arm raises, which include EZ-bar — yes, EZ-bar — side and rear laterals and an explosive barbell toss aimed directly at the front delts.
“The reason I’ll do laterals with the curl bar is to introduce a balance element to the lift,” he says. “Think about holding a 30-pound ball in one [hand] and lifting it out to your side. All the weight is concentrated in your palm, so it’s relatively easy to stabilize. Now imagine if the weight was distributed to each end, like with a bar, and you’re holding it in the middle. Now you not only have to lift it, you need to steady it and stop it from tipping side to side, which calls on more muscles and requires greater concentration.”
That philosophy permeates his hourlong delt routine, even to the one-arm dumbbell shrugs (for traps) that typically finish it off. It has helped him hone his proportions, a valued asset in the realm of physique competition, while doing something perhaps even more important: adding an invigorating dose of variety to the typical bodybuilding playbook.
“I don’t just do these types of unique approaches for my delts, I do them for everything,” he says. “I post my workouts on Instagram; I have a ton of crazy back workouts, bodyweight workouts like a suspension-training program for chest — you name it. Doing different workouts, finding different ways to target my muscles, it’s more or less having fun with the process.”
The results have been dramatic. Michael didn’t start lifting seriously until he was 18 and had signed up to join the Air Force National Guard. At his towering height (6’3”), he was barely 170 pounds soaking wet and he set out to add some protective size to his frame before starting boot camp. “I had played baseball in high school, and I wrestled for a year, but never really tried weightlifting until then,” he admits.
Michael was aiming to be a police officer, but after his recently completed six-year stint in the Air Force, he had a change of heart — instead of helping people as an officer, he wanted to help people gain control over their bodies.
These days, he does just that, training clients in person and online while also working as a social media marketer for 360Cut supplements. “I do physique competitions as a way to market myself, to connect with fans,” Michael says. “The more I get myself out there, the more followers I get, and the more I’m able to help and inspire people to be their best.”
With that ultimate goal in mind, Michael — who has come up just shy of first place in a number of shows thus far — isn’t discouraged that a title has been just out of reach. Even though it’s his prodigious footprint that may be holding him back, with judging panels perhaps marking him down for being oversized for the physique division, he’s not ready to throttle back in his training.
“I love bodybuilding, and I’m not going to stop my body from growing,” he says. “For years I’ve been struggling to bring down my weight for physique shows. I did five shows last year and ended up burning off 30 pounds of muscle by the end — and I was still considered too big. But I don’t want to switch to the [bodybuilding] open class. For me to compete in bodybuilding, at my height I’d have to carry 280 pounds onstage and be over 300 pounds off-season. For me, it’s like, do I want to be 60 years old and wiped out, or do I want to be 60 and still able to bang out 100 push-ups?”
These days, instead of trying to stave off bodyweight, he welcomes the juxtaposition. Having dubbed himself “The Freak of Physique,” a moniker embraced by his fans and the bodybuilding media alike, he’s planning to dive back into another run of shows in 2014 with the help of his new contest advisor, longtime fitness model and entrepreneur Michael O’Hearn.
“I love competing in men’s physique,” Michael says. “Stepping on stage is not about the money or the trophy. I’m not here for the panel of judges right in front of me, but for the other 1,000 judges that sit behind them. If the fans like me big and I’m inspiring others to not just follow the traditional path but to stand out on their own, then that’s all I want to do. For me, coming in bigger is my image.”