Power Building: Shoulders and Traps

power_building_shoulders_and_traps_picby Dylan Falduto

There are many benefits to mixing up training—the avoidance of boredom/stagnation in the gym, pushing your body to develop in different capacities, and learning new techniques.

I generally utilize a full body, or dual body-part split, but I believe that sessions devoted to a single body part or muscle group certainly have their place in any routine, and I like to incorporate these sessions from time to time. I think the biggest benefit of isolating a single muscle is the ability to focus on and improve techniques pertaining to that group, and gain a deeper sense of mind-muscle connection. In addition, you will always get an awesome “pump” from really killing a particular muscle group in one session. When training with this style it is best to train each muscle group only once a week.

One of my favorite muscle groups to isolate is the shoulders. Shoulders are one of the most important muscles to develop for any athlete, as they are utilized in every upper body movement—think a baseball player swinging a bat, a football player imposing a stiff arm on an opponent, or a boxer throwing a left hook. They offer support to any weight bearing activity in practical day to day to life, and in the gym, strong shoulders and trapezius muscles are vital to bearing the weight of heavy barbell squatting. In addition, building a thick, strong base around the neck is ideal for football players looking to decrease the impact of tackles and stiff-arms, or likewise a martial artist or wrestler looking to avoid the displeasure of being head-snapped all the time—it is pretty damn hard to guillotine choke a guy with no neck!

One of the reasons this particular shoulder workouts is one of my favorites is the speed and intensity in which I am able to execute the session—after warming-up, I am usually done with this entire series within 45 minutes. If you are pressed for time or simply looking to get a very intense workout, this is an excellent choice for you.

The workout follows the template of my Power Building theory on training, so reference my first article if you need help on any of the specifics of the general outline.

Power Movement:

Barbell Power-Press

3–5 Repetitions for a total of five sets. Resting 1–3 minutes between each set.

The power-press is a great exercise for developing raw power and total body strength, while also forcing the shoulders into growth. To execute the movement, rack a barbell at about chest level. When you are ready to perform your set, place your hands in a medium width grip—about the same positioning utilized for bench-pressing, or just slightly closer. Remove the barbell from the rack and hold it at chest level. While holding the barbell in place, lower your hips about 80 degrees—not quite as deep as a full squat, but enough to generate serious force and leverage. Explosively ascend from this crouched position, and use the momentum to shoot the barbell overhead momentarily holding the barbell in this position with both arms fully extended. You have now completed one repetition. Repeat for desired repetitions, and rack the barbell.

Like any compound exercise, safety and the proper execution of technique should be central. The shoulders in particular can be easily damaged, and it is important to remember that it is the quality of sets not the quantity of weight or repetitions that matters in the end—do not use a weight you cannot safely or properly throw around—it will not aid your progress!

Strength Movement:

Barbell Military Press

8–12 repetitions for a total of three sets. Resting 1–2 minutes between sets.

The military-press is one of the most bad-ass lifts that everybody should be doing. While often negated in favor the bench-press, the military-press is an underutilized compound movement that engages the front and middle deltoids, the trapezius, upper back, and entire core—especially when executed standing up. To execute the military press, simply lower the weight you already have racked at chest level. When you are ready to begin a set remove the barbell from the rack, and again begin the movement at chest level. From chest-level, raise the barbell up without the assistance of your lower body, while keeping your core tight and posture upright—this will prevent injury and develop your abdominal muscles. Once you have raised the bar to a full overhead position with both arms fully extended, lower the bar to chest-level, and repeat for desired repetitions.

Super Sets:

If you are unfamiliar with super-setting reference my first power-building article for an in-depth breakdown and overview.

dumbbell_exercise_imageUpright-Rows S.S. with Barbell Shrugs

10–12 Repetitions of Up-Right Rows followed immediately by 10–12 repetitions of shrugs. Repeat for three sets. Rest for one minute between sets.

The Upright-Row

An excellent movement for front deltoid and trapezius development. To perform the upright-row, lower a barbell to waist level and utilize a close grip—about three inches separating each hand.  In a slow, concentrated motion, raise the barbell until it reaches chest-level. At this point, your elbows should be pointing outward to make a V shape. Lower the bar and repeat for desired repetitions. Again, safety is of central importance during this exercise, and it is not advisable to load the bar with excessive weight.

The Barbell Shrug

An excellent exercise for building the trapezius muscles and upper back, and for developing grip strength and muscular endurance. To perform a shrug, utilize a grip just slightly wider than recommended for the upright-rows and lower the bar to just below waist-level. Utilizing your trapezius muscles, raise the barbell about two inches up, while also bringing your elbows into your waist. Lower and repeat for desired repetitions. The shrug has an extremely low range of motion, but when performed correctly, you will feel an immediate burn in your trapezes and upper back.

Front Deltoid Dumbbell Raise S.S. with Rear Deltoid Dumbbell Raise

10–12 Repetitions of front deltoid raises followed immediately by 10–12 repetitions of rear deltoid raises. Repeat for three sets. Rest for one minute between sets.

Front Deltoid Dumbbell Raise

The front deltoid raise is a great supplementary movement that targets the front head of the deltoids. When performing a front deltoid raise, grab dumbbells you will be able to use in the 10–12 repetition range with proper technique. It is not recommended to go overly heavy with this movement. To execute the movement, you will be starting with both dumbbells resting at hip-level. Begin the movement by raising one arm until it is fully extended, pointing straight-ahead at chest-level. Lower the weight and repeat the same process on the opposite arm. Repeat for desired repetitions.

Rear Deltoid Dumbbell Raise

The rear deltoid raise is an excellent supplementary movement for developing the rear deltoids—a trouble spot for many athletes to build. You will be using even lighter weight than the front deltoid raises, as this movement is very taxing on a small, isolated muscle. To perform these movements start with the dumbbells resting at waist-level. Start the movement by raising both of your arms out and away from your body, and continue to raise them in a slow, concentrated motion until they have extended all the way to a parallel T shape. Lower the weight and repeat for desired repetitions.

Barbell Plate Burn-Out

barbell_plate_burnout_imageThis is a technique I picked up from my old coach Nick Agallar, and it works great at the end of a tough shoulder workout—prompting a serious “pump” and pushing you to the limits of your muscular endurance.

Grab a barbell plate bearing a weight you are going to be able to manage for five continuous minutes, and set an interval timer, or simply look at a clock on the wall as I do.

Every thirty seconds you will be executing a different movement for the full five minute duration. You can mix up any of the exercises outlined above with full body movement such as squats. I usually also  incorporate core movements such as standing, weighted oblique crunches and leg raises performed while locking the plate out overhead—an excellent exercise for simultaneously burning the shoulders and abdominal muscles. Whatever you do, do not drop that plate until your five minutes are up!

Here is a quick and intense way to prompt growth in your shoulders and develop great physical conditioning. Now get off your computer, and start building those cannon balls!


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