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Apr 22, 2011

Build bigger, stronger shoulders

Work your deltoid and trapezius for more power and stability and less risk of injury.

Expecting muscles built for looks to perform well is like gathering your family for a game of cricket every Sunday and expecting them to run all over the park. There's a perfect way to build multipurpose muscles, says Michael Mejia, CSCS, Men's Health's workout expert. It hinges on one word: stability. See, most guys lift weights from the outside in. That is, they start with an idea of what they want their muscles to look like and go from there, pummelling their biceps and pectorals and abs with the most basic exercises. The result: big muscles that look really good from the outside and perform really well in isolation but lack simple balance and coordination.

With our plan, you start with the basic exercises most men already know how to do, but as you get comfortable with them, you move on to exercises that challenges your balance and coordination. You still get big, strong muscles, but as they grow bigger and stronger, they also work together better. This is especially important with the shoulders, which are easily injured. These exercises will help correct that problem and ensure a strong, stable frame.

They'll also provide muscles that will pump up nicely for display purpose, but when it is time to run, pick up and throw, toss your kid in the air or carry that bag of grocery home, you'll know what it takes.

Do the shoulder exercises first in your workout. After that, it's up to you how to fit in exercises for other muscle groups. Most important: build strength and muscle size on both sides of your body. Working the front and neglecting the back is a recipe for injury. Some suggestions:

BEGINNER Do a total-body workout 2-3 times a week. After your shoulder exercises, you can try one set of 8-12 reps of the following (except where noted):

Lat pulldown
Squat or leg press
Leg curl
Dumbbell chest press
Cable or dumbbell row
Cable triceps extension
Dumbbell biceps curl
Crunch (15-20 repetitions)

Divide your programme into 2 workouts: one for the upper body, one for the lower. Alternate between the workouts, taking a day off after each. So you would do the upperbody workout on Monday and Friday of one week and the lower-body workout on Wednesday, then the following week do the lower-body workout on Monday and Friday and the upper-body workout on Wednesday.

Upper-body workout: After doing this shoulder programme, choose one exercise each for chest, back, biceps and triceps. Do 2 or 3 sets of the chest and back exercises and 1 or 2 sets of the arm exercises.

Lower-body workout: Choose one "hipdominant" exercise, meaning that the main emphasis of the exercise is on the hamstrings and gluteals (examples: stepups and any variety of deadlifts). Then choose one "knee-dominant" exercise, meaning the emphasis is on the quadriceps muscles-the front of the thigh (squats, leg-presses and lunges qualify). Do 2 or 3 warm-up sets and 2 work sets of each. (Use heavier weights and do fewer repetitions in each of your warm-up sets. A work set means you're using the maximum weights you can lift for that numbers of repetitions.)

Add your choice of abdominal and calf exercises.

ADVANCED Divide your workout into 4 parts. Do each once a week; don't work out more than 2 days in a row:
Shoulders and arms
Knee-dominant exercises
Abs and calves
Chest and back
Hip-dominant exercises (also below),
abs and calves again.


If you're new to weightlifting or are returning to it after a long layoff, consider yourself a beginner.

Do the 3 beginner exercises for 4 weeks, then switch to the intermediate exercises for 4 weeks. If you want, you can do the advanced exercises for the next 4 weeks after that or go back and repeat the beginner and intermediate exercises using heavier weights and fewer repetitions.

Week 1: Do 1 set of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise.
Week 2: 1-2 sets of 10-12
Week 3: 2-3 sets of 10-12
Week 4: 3 sets of 10-12
Week 5: 2 sets of 8-10
Week 6: 2-3 sets of 8-10
Weeks 7-8: 3 sets of 8-10


•  Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on a bench, holding the weights at jaw level, just outside your shoulders. Your palms should face forward.
•  Starting with your weaker arm (probably your left if you're right-handed), lift one dumbbell overhead until your arm is straight.
•  As you lower it, raise the other-that's one repetition.
•  Alternate until you finish the set.

•  Set an incline bench to 45 degrees.
•  Holding a pair of light dumbbells, lie chest down on the bench. Raise your upper arms so they're perpendicular to your torso and parallel to the floor. Bend your elbows 90 degrees, so your forearms hang straight down towards the floor.
•  Keeping your elbows, wrists and upper arms in fixed positions, rotate the weights up and back as far as you can-you want your shoulders to act like hinges, your arms like swinging gates.
•  Pause, then slowly lower the weights.


•  Grab a barbell with an overhand grip that's as wide as comfortably possible. Hold the bar down at arm's length in front of you.

•  Lean forward slightly so the bar is about an inch in front of your thighs.

•  Shrug your shoulders as high as you can.

•  Pause, then slowly lower the barbell.

An intermediate has been lifting for at least 6 months to a year, has tried several different workout programmes and has seen gains in strength and muscle mass.

Do the 3 intermediate exercises for 4 weeks, then switch to the advanced moves for 4 weeks.

Weeks 1-2: 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions
Weeks 3-4: 2-3 sets of 8-10
Weeks 5-6: 2 sets of 8-10
Weeks 7-8: 2-3 sets of 6-8


•  Grab a barbell with an overhead, shoulder-width grip and hold it in front of your thighs while standing with your knees slightly bent. Your lower back should be in its natural alignment (slightly arched in other words).
•  Shrug your shoulders as you pull the bar up as hard as you can. You sho
•  When the bar reaches chest level, bend your knees again, rotate your forearms from the elbows and bend your wrists so they go around the bar as you catch the bar on the front of your shoulders (as shown).

•  Straighten your knees, then press the bar overhead.
•  Lower the bar to your shoulders, then rotate your arms and wrists back as you lower the bar to your waist, then finally lower it to your thighs again.
•  Throughout the exercise, the bar should stay as close to your body as possible.


•  Sit holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, your palms facing in.
•  Lift the dumbbells straight out to your sides.
•  Lower and raise one dumbbell, straight with your weaker arm (your left if you are right-handed), then lower and raise the other.
•  That's one repetition.

DOUBLE-CABLE EXTERNAL ROTATION•  Attach two stirrup handles to the low cables of a cable-crossover station.
•  Grab the left handle with your right hand and the right handle with your left and stand in the middle of the station with your elbows bent 90 degrees and the cables crossing over each other in front of your midsection.
•  Rotate your forearms up and outwards as if they were two gates swinging out from your upper arms which acts as hinges.
•  Pause, then slowly return to start.

An advanced lifter has been lifting consistently for more than a year, has seen considerable gains in strength and size, is proficient at squats and several varieties of deadlifts and can do at least 5 pullups. Do the intermediate exercises for 4 weeks, then the advanced exercises for 4 weeks.

Weeks 1-2: 2 sets of 6-8 reps after a thorough warm-up with lighter weights.
Weeks 3-4: 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps after warm-up.
Weeks 5-6: 2 sets of 6-8 reps.
Weeks 7-8: 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps.

•  Stand holding a pair of dumbbells just outside your shoulders at jaw level, palms facing in.
•  Press the dumbbells overhead as you twist to your right.
•  Lower the dumbbells as you twist back to the centre, then twist to the left as you press the weights upwards again.
•  If you end the set with an odd number of repetitions, start the next set by twisting to the side opposite the one you finished on in the previous set.

ALTERNATING 45-DEGREE INCLINE SHOULDER PRESS•  Grab a pair of dumbbells and position yourself on your back on a Swiss ball or incline bench so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
•  Hold the dumbbells just outside your shoulders at about jaw level, with your palms facing forward. Your forearms should be in line with your torso.
•  Lift one dumbbell overhead so the weight is in a line with your torso. As you lower it, lift the other.
•  Alternate until you finish the set.
•  Alternate the arm you start with on each set.

OVERHEAD DUMBBELL SHRUG•  Stand holding a pair of dumbbells overhead, just beyond shoulder-width apart, palms facing forward.
•  Shrug your shoulders up as high as you can.
•  Pause, then slowly lower your shoulders.

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