proportional shoulder musclesAside from the big 3 (squats, bench press, and deadlifts), the area I like to focus on most is my shoulders.  Nice shoulders give you that “powerful” look that really fills out a t-shirt.  It’s especially useful for people like me, who don’t have naturally broad shoulders, to add mass to the shoulder area.

I’m assuming that as a regular reader, you already know how important the big 3 are but you can refresh yourself here:

If you are ready to move on to additional areas of focus, I suggest shoulders.

What Are The “Shoulders”?

perfect trapezius triangleYou might think you know what the shoulders are, but let’s be precise.  We’re including here the deltoids (front, back, and side) and the trapezius (traps).  The traps form a triangle in the upper middle of your back, and are visible from the front, kind of behind your collar bone.  When the upper part of the traps are really developed, it ends up as more of a trapezoid shape.  Some people consider the trapezius muscles to be part of the “back” muscles.  But for these two articles, we’ll consider the traps to be part of your shoulder workout.  You can see some simple body muscle schematics here.  The photo the right also shows a nearly perfect triangle in the middle of the back.

We’ll talk about the traps in the first two parts of this series.  Then we’ll finish up with the delts.

Exercises for Your Trapezius Muscles (“Traps”)

The traps come into play with many different movements (which might be why you see them lumped with either delts or “back” muscles in routines).  It’s really hard to isolate the them.  But that’s ok, because we generally recommend basic compound/multi-joint exercises rather than isolation, especially for beginners and intermediates.  This is because the more muscle types you use in an exercise, the more your body releases natural growth hormones and the more calories you’ll burn during and after your workout.

Here are the 4 exercises, in the order you should do them, if you really wanted to work your traps.  Remember, you are doing multiple sets of multiple reps.  Note – some people might recommend reversing the order, so that you are pre-fatiguing the traps before you get to the heavier-weight exercises; if you were an advanced bodybuilder, I would agree; but for beginners/intermediates, you want to do the exercises that use the most muscles first.  By doing the “harder” stuff first, you’ll maximize the overall intensity of your workout.  Plus you’ll be safer.

Deadlifts

We’ve said a lot about deadlifts in other posts but here are the basic movements:

  1. Load an Olympic bar with a heavy amount of weight and set it down on the floor in front of you.
  2. Step up to the bar and take an overgrip with your hands about shoulder width apart.  For heavier weight, you’ll be surprised how much more effective it is with one hand overgrip and one hand undergrip.
  3. Make sure your feet are firmly planted, pointed forward, and about shoulder width apart.
  4. Your back should be angled at about 45 degrees, half way between fully bent over and fully upright, and the knees should be bent.
  5. The bar should be nearly touching your shins.
  6. Begin this exercise with the arms fully extended.
  7. Slowly stand upright by beginning the movement with the legs straightening first and then the upper body straightening.
  8. Continue to lift the barbell until you are standing fully erect with your arms hanging straight down and the bar directly in front of your upper quads.  Tighten your glutes (butt) at the end.
  9. Then, slowly reverse this movement to lower the bar back down until it returns to the starting position and rests on the floor for a fraction of a second.
  10. Repeat.

For more tips and pictures, click here.  Or for videos, check out the first video on this page.

Cleans (Power Cleans, Hang & Clean)

For power cleans, the initial movement is somewhat similar to deadlifts, but then changes:

  1. Load an Olympic bar with the proper amount of weight and set it down on the floor in front of you.
  2. Step up to the bar and take an overgrip with your hands about shoulder width apart.
  3. Make sure your feet are firmly planted and also about shoulder width apart.
  4. Your back should be angled at about 45 degrees, half way between fully bent over and fully upright, and the knees should be bent.
  5. Begin this exercise with the arms fully extended.
  6. Use a quick and explosive movement to straighten your knees and your upper body while bringing the weight upwards.
  7. Continue this momentum quickly with your arms pulling upward until the weight comes up close to your shoulders.  Your elbows will stay higher than the bar until this point.
  8. Then, with a quick motion, move your elbows below the barbell and arch your wrists back slightly so that you hold the weight firmly with your elbows pointing directly forward.  It’s ok to bend the knees slightly during this part.  This is the “clean”.
  9. Reverse this movement to lower the weight back down and return to the starting position by placing the weight back on the floor for a fraction of a second.
  10. Repeat.

For more tips, click here.  Start with REALLY LIGHT WEIGHT until you get the movement right.

Personally, I prefer “hang and cleans” because I do deadlifts beforehand.  For “hang and cleans”, you do a deadlift for the first rep only.  After that, you only lower the bar to your thighs between reps.  Keep your knees slightly bent (not locked out).

Next week we’ll talk about Upright Rows and Shrugs.

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