Trigger foods

The hardest part about dropping weight is the food restriction. Whether you cut out certain foods or just reduce the amounts, there’s going to be some sort of calorie restriction. I don’t advocate cutting out foods you enjoy, mainly because I don’t think it’s sustainable to deprive yourself in the long term.

However, if you know there’s a particular food that you just can’t resist devouring, it may make sense to limit how frequently you have it. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have it. Just save it for once in a while.

For instance, maybe it’s virtually impossible for you to have just a few chips. Or perhaps there’s something about pizza where one slice turns into the whole pie. Personally, it’s really difficult to just have a couple cookies. I tell myself I’m only going to have 3 and next thing I know, there’s an empty, crumpled up, plastic sleeve on the table.

It’s not a big deal though. I just make sure not to have cookies around very often. I find substituting another food works better for me. For whatever reason, I have no problem just having a couple spoonfuls of ice cream. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy my ice cream. I can have some without the little voice in my head urging me to eat the whole pint. This means I get to eat it without worrying about going over my targeted amount of calories.

I don’t think I’m unique that way. I don’t pretend to understand why. It doesn’t have to be just sweets either. If you can figure out a workable substitute for a food you find hard to enjoy in moderation, it’ll go a long way towards helping you achieve your goals. Obviously swapping out your pizza for broccoli probably won’t work in the long term, unless you really love broccoli. But maybe there’s a pasta dish that you like but are able to limit yourself.

Again, this isn’t about swearing off any particular food you love. Telling yourself “I’m never having that again!” just makes that all the more irresistible. Fitness isn’t about filling your life with “Never!” We just want to be strategic about the approach.

The easiest way to avoid temptation is to avoid temptation. If you know you can’t resist it, it’s probably a bad idea to have it in your home. Or at least buy it in such a way that you limit yourself. If ice cream is your weakness, perhaps you can buy it in those little single-serve cups one at a time, rather than by the pint or half gallon.

Let’s be perfectly clear: if you go overboard one day and just eat a whole sleeve of cookies or whatever, it’s not ideal, but really it’s no big deal. Don’t waste time beating yourself up about it. Don’t throw up your hands and give in and turn it into a bingeing weekend. Just get back to your plan as soon as you can. If you take nothing else from this, please remember this.

Hope this is helpful. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below. Thanks for reading.

My Current Training Regimen

My Current Workout

This is the workout I’m currently doing. I’m posting it for information purposes only. I’m not claiming it’s the “best workout ever” or anything like that. There is no one ideal workout. This is just what’s working for me right now. When I stop making progress or want to try something different, I’ll amend it.

My goal is to increase strength and remain around the same body weight. I use mostly compound lifts and Reverse Pyramid Training.

Compound lifts are ones that use the body’s larger muscles and more than one joint.

Reverse Pyramid Training is when (after you warm up) you start with your heaviest working weight. You reduce the weights by about 10% for the next set and aim for a couple more repetitions. You reduce the weights again and increase the reps for subsequent sets.

I do use straight sets for incline bench press these days because I just want more volume there right now.

I use a technique called Rest Pause Training with a few exercises. This is when you do one activation set, followed by a few volume sets with only about 20 seconds of rest between them. I like this to get in some more volume work.

You’ll see I take a few sets to warm up. It’s important to get your muscles ready and to get acclimated to lift heavy weights. You want to increase the weight from one warm up set to the next to get acclimated but you don’t want to take so many warm up sets that you end up fatigued.

The first lift of each workout is the one I’m most focused on.

Monday

Warm up

Handstand push ups – 5-7 repetitions

Weighted crunches – 100 repetitions

Bodyweight squats – 10 repetitions

Push ups – 10 repetitions

Deadlift

Warm up set 1 – 5 repetitions (60 seconds rest)

Warm up set 2 – 3 reps (60 seconds rest)

Warm up set 3 – 1 rep (60 seconds rest)

Warm up set 4 – 1 rep (2 minutes rest)

Work set 1 – 4-6 reps (3 minutes rest)

Work set 2 – 6-8 reps (3 minutes rest)

Work set 3 – 8-10 reps

1-Arm Dumbbell Row

Warm up set – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Work set 1 – 6-8 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 2 – 8-10 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 3 – 10-12 reps

EZ Bar Biceps Curl

Warm up set 1 – 10 reps (1 minute rest)

Warm up set 2 – 5 reps (1 minute rest)

Work set 1 – 4-6 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 2 – 6-8 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 3 – 8-10 reps

Dumbbell Biceps Curl

Set 1 – 10 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 2 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 3 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 4 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 5 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 6 – 3-5 reps

Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises

3 Sets – 10-12 reps (10-20 seconds rest)

Dragon Flag

12 repetitions

Weighted Hanging Twists (Link)

10-12 repetitions

Rotator Cuff

Band Internal Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Band External Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Walking lunges

15 minutes

Tuesday

Warm up:

Handstand push ups – 5-7 repetitions

Weighted crunches – 100 repetitions

Bodyweight squats – 10 repetitions

Push ups – 10 repetitions

Incline Bench Press

Warm up set 1 – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Warm up set 2 – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Warm up set 3 – 1 repetition (1 minute rest)

5 Working sets – 5-7 repetitions (3-5 minutes rest)

Weighted Chin Ups

Warm up set 1 – 10 repetitions (unweighted) (1 minute rest)

Working set 1 – 4-6 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 2 – 6-8 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 3 – 8-10 repetitions

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Warm up set – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Working set 1 – 4-6 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 2 – 6-8 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 3 – 8-10 repetitions

Dumbbell Incline Chest Press

Set 1 – 10 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 2 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 3 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 4 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 5 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 6 – 3-5 reps

Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises

3 Sets – 10-12 reps (10-20 seconds rest)

Dragon flag

12 repetitions

Weighted Hanging Twists

10-12 repetitions

Rotator Cuff

Band Internal Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Band External Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Walking lunges

15 minutes

Wednesday

Warm up:

Handstand push ups – 5-7 repetitions

Weighted crunches – 100 repetitions

2 sets each of:

40 yard jog

40 yd butt kicks

40 yd Frankenstein

40 yd shuffle

40 yd Carioca

40 yd back pedal

12 sets of 40 yd sprints (rest only the time it takes to walk back to the start line)

800 yd walking lunges

Thursday

Warm up:

Handstand push ups – 5-7 repetitions

Weighted crunches – 100 repetitions

Bodyweight squats – 10 repetitions

Push ups – 10 repetitions

Deadlift

Warm up set 1 – 5 repetitions (60 seconds rest)

Warm up set 2 – 3 reps (60 seconds rest)

Warm up set 3 – 1 rep (60 seconds rest)

Warm up set 4 – 1 rep (2 minutes rest)

Work set 1 – 4-6 reps (3 minutes rest)

Work set 2 – 6-8 reps (3 minutes rest)

Work set 3 – 8-10 reps

One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Warm up set – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Work set 1 – 6-8 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 2 – 8-10 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 3 – 10-12 reps

EZ Bar Biceps Curl

Warm up set 1 – 10 reps (1 minute rest)

Warm up set 2 – 5 reps (1 minute rest)

Work set 1 – 4-6 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 2 – 6-8 reps (2 minutes rest)

Work set 3 – 8-10 reps

Dumbbell Incline Biceps Curl

Set 1 – 10 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 2 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 3 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 4 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 5 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 6 – 3-5 reps

Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises

3 Sets – 10-12 reps (10-20 seconds rest)

Dragon flag (Link)

12 repetitions

Weighted Hanging Twists (Link)

10-12 repetitions

Rotator Cuff

Band Internal Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Band External Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Walking lunges

15 minutes

Friday

Warm up:

Handstand push ups – 5-7 repetitions

Weighted crunches – 100 repetitions

Bodyweight squats – 10 repetitions

Push ups – 10 repetitions

Barbell Incline Bench

Warm up set 1 – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Warm up set 2 – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Warm up set 3 – 1 repetition (1 minute rest)

5 Working sets – 5-7 repetitions (3-5 minutes rest)

Weighted Chin Ups

Warm up set 1 – 10 repetitions (unweighted) (1 minute rest)

Working set 1 – 4-6 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 2 – 6-8 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 3 – 8-10 repetitions

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Warm up set – 10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Working set 1 – 4-6 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 2 – 6-8 repetitions (3 minutes rest)

Working set 3 – 8-10 repetitions

Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises

3 Sets – 10-12 reps (10-20 seconds rest)

Dragon flag

12 repetitions

Weighted Hanging Twists

10-12 repetitions

Rotator Cuff

Band Internal Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Band External Rotations 2 sets of 10-12 repetitions

Walking lunges

15 minutes

Saturday

Warm up:

Handstand push ups – 5-7 repetitions

Weighted crunches – 100 repetitions

Bodyweight squats – 10 repetitions

Push ups – 10 repetitions

Squats

Warm up set 1 – 10 repetitions

Warm up set 2 – 10 repetitions

Warm up set 3 – 3 repetitions

Warm up set 4 – 1 repetition

Warm up set 5 – 1 repetition

Working set 1 – 4-6 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Body weight vertical jump – 3 repetitions (3-5 minutes rest)

Working set 2 – 6-8 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Body weight vertical jump – 3 repetitions (3-5 minutes rest)

Working set 3 – 8-10 repetitions (1 minute rest)

Body weight vertical jump – 3 repetitions

Barbell Calf Raise

Set 1 – 10 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 2 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 3 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 4 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 5 – 3-5 reps (20 seconds rest)

Set 6 – 3-5 reps

Sunday

Off

Each workout takes about an hour and 15 minutes except for Wednesday’s and Saturday’s. Wednesday’s takes about 40 minutes. Saturday’s is only about 35 minutes.

How do I know when to increase the working weights? For the Reverse Pyramid Training lifts, when I’m able to go from 4, 6, and 8 reps for the sets to 6, 8, and 10, it’s time to move up. I add 10 lbs. for upper body exercises, and 20 lbs. for lower body ones.

For the 5 sets of 5-7, it’s similar. I start off with 5 sets of 5 repetitions, all at the same weight. The next session I shoot to add one repetition per set. Needless to say, it doesn’t always happen that smoothly. Eventually the the 5 sets of 5 becomes 5 sets of 7 reps. That’s when I add 10 lbs. and start back at 5×5.

Every 10-12 weeks I take a deload week. I do all the same exercises and the usual weights as above, but I cut all the reps in half. This gives me a mental and physical break to prevent boredom and injury.

As I said, this is just the program I’m currently doing. What you do should be determined by a number of factors, including your goals, your fitness level, schedule, etc. The main principles you want to follow are progressive overload and balancing workouts with recovery. And you want to make sure you’re fairly balanced between pulling and pushing exercises.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.

Hydration

How Much Water Should You Drink?

Short Version:

Drink when you’re thirsty. Your body is smart enough to give you a hint and a half when you’re getting dehydrated. Listen to it.

Longer Version:

There’s that old saying that you should have 8 glasses of water per day. I haven’t been able to track down exactly where that came from, only that it’s been around long enough to be common knowledge. But is that right?

As with most things, it depends. There’s no scientific evidence backing the 8 glasses per day claim. If you’re in a hotter climate, that’s probably not enough. Same if you’re training hard. If you’re thirsty, you should probably drink more. If your urine is a dark shade of yellow, it’s a good sign you’re dehydrated. (Note, taking a multivitamin or vitamin B, your urine may appear bright yellow but in this case it doesn’t signal you need more water).

Benefits of Water

Water is crucial to a proper functioning body and mind.

Here are just a few things it helps:

  1. Fight fatigue
  2. Keep the skin clear and healthy
  3. Maintain good digestion
  4. Weight loss by making you feel fuller
  5. Improve mood
  6. Cushion joints and cartilage
  7. Regulate body temperature
  8. Regulate blood pressure

Some good news is that all fluids count towards your hydration, so does food. Despite rumors to the contrary, coffee counts too.

Symptoms of Dehydration

When training, it’s a good idea to make sure you have some water about half an hour before. Drink about 8-10 ounces for every 20 minutes of exercise. And another 8-10 ounces after your workout.

Some symptoms of dehydration are thirst (duh), less frequent urination, darker colored urine, dizziness, and confusion. I don’t think you want to be dizzy and confused while you’re under a heavy barbell. Not being properly hydrated negatively impacts both aerobic and anaerobic athletic performance. When you exercise, your core temperature rises. Your body compensates for this by increasing the production of sweat. The sweat evaporates off your skin, reducing the temperature. Without proper hydration you won’t be able to sweat as much, which reduces the body’s ability to keep the core temperature under control.

Water Making sure you’re drinking enough water will help your body and mind function better both in and out of the gym. You don’t have to go crazy and drink 5 gallons a day. Common sense goes a long way here. Drinking when you’re thirsty is generally a good way to manage. If you’re in an especially hot environment you should probably pay more attention to your water intake. In humid conditions you’ll be more likely to notice you’re sweating. If you’re somewhere where there’s “dry heat” it may not be as apparent. The heat will evaporate the sweat off your skin before you really ever feel sweaty. For that reason, it’s especially important to make sure you’re having enough water in that climate.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, leave them below.

Fitness and Time

You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready

Fitness and Time

If you’re wondering how fitness can fit into your life, there’s something I really think you should consider: Time.

We all think there’s too little of it, right? Too many things to get done in the day and too few hours to do them. You may believe you don’t have time to fit working out in your schedule.

It’s true there is no way to create more time. None of us knows how much we have left. Being fit can’t guarantee to give you more time. But it can definitely add more value to however much more life you have. It may be 6 months or it may be 50 years.

How Do You Want To Age?

Think about the quality of life you want for those years.

Being fit can definitely impact that in a positive way.

Fitness is an investment in yourself. Definitely for the present version of you, but more importantly it’s about the future version of you. You put in now and reap the rewards later.

Like any investment, there’s an upfront cost. Since it’s upfront it’s much easier to see than the rewards, which come later. You may have to wake up an hour earlier and sweat some. At first, it probably won’t be the most fun you’ve ever had. Likely you won’t see the payoff right away.

A few weeks in, or perhaps it’s a couple months, you’ll notice the quality of your life is already getting better. You’re less tired and lethargic during the day. You sleep better. Walking a flight of stairs is easier. You can keep up with your kids better. The groceries feel lighter. Your clothes fit better. You feel more confident. You’ll be better able to work. Even sex is better.

In short, being fit makes you more able to squeeze in more into each day.

In order to keep seeing the returns, you do still have to keep exercising. But guess what? You have the power of habit on your side now. Working out is part of your routine at this point. It requires less mental energy to get up and get started. Even better, maintaining being fit is a lot easier than getting there in the first place. I bet you even enjoy your training sessions.

We don’t stop moving because we age, we age because we stop moving. Yeah, it’s a cliche but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. If you’ve ever been in shape for a while and then let your fitness slide, you know how this works. I don’t mean you went on vacation or you took off from the gym for a couple weeks. I mean a real backslide. Maybe you built up to a 405 lb. squat. Or running 5 miles was a breeze. And now you’re ready for a nap after walking up a flight of stairs. You’ve experienced what it is to feel “man, that used to be really easy and now it’s really difficult.” It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve done this myself a few times.

This guy stays ready

One of my favorite sayings is, You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready. You pay the upfront cost, which is when you’re putting in the time and effort to get your fitness going. Once that happens, you can maintain for a long time, meaning you can enjoy the rewards for years to come. Whether that’s just having an easier time playing with your kids or hauling groceries, or if it’s still being able to move around unassisted as you get old, it’s worth it.

Maintaining fitness is easier than obtaining it in the first place. If you’ve let yourself go a little bit, it’s time to get back on your game. You got this!

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments? You can leave those below, I’m happy to read them.

Inspiration is Overrated

Inspiration and Motivation are Overrated

Inspiration is overrated. Sure, it has value and can be useful. Think back on the last time you felt truly inspired. How long did that inspiration last? What did you do about it? Let’s talk about what inspiration actually is. Oxford defines it thus : the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something.

It’s the spark.

At its root, inspiration is a feeling, an emotion. By definition, that means it’s ephemeral. You can feel it very strongly at the moment, but it’s just not going to last. You can harness the feeling to help you. Or it can be like letting your inner 2 year old be in charge. The intensity of the feeling is really strong but is what it’s inspiring you to do actually going to help your long term goals?

Motivation is overrated. Again, let’s define Motivation. It’s the why. There are two types of motivation. The first is external, it comes to you from someone or something else. A parent motivates a child to keep his/her room clean often by threat or promise of reward. Does it work? Perhaps, but again, only for a while. Chances are it won’t be long before the kid requires another dose of motivation. (I swear, I don’t hate kids. Well, not all kids.)

Internal motivation is different. Continuing the example, this would be the type of kid who cleans his/her room on his/her own. Internal motivation comes from (duh) within. It’s hard to cultivate, but it lasts. It’s about setting and living up to your own personal standards.

Being an adult means choosing what you prioritize. No one is going to tell you why it’s important (or for some of us, if it’s important) to keep your living space clean.

Motivation is also emotional. The authority figure promises a reward or a punishment that spurs you to action. The fear of the punishment and the hope for the reward are both emotions. They do have some value, but again, it’s short-lived.

The Internal Motivation is a more deeply-seated emotion because it’s from within you. Something you want will always be a more powerful driver than something someone else wants you to do. However, desire is still a feeling, which means it also waxes and wanes.

Discipline is underrated. This gives us the how. Discipline is the control that results from training. It’s the structure or framework for the actions that will lead us to achieve our goals. Discipline is tied very closely to habits. It’s the willingness to apply the habits consistently over the long term, regardless whether we feel like it or not.

We see right there that discipline is more powerful and more durable than emotion. You do what you need to do, when it needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not. Think how much you can accomplish this way.

Chances are, you exercise it in some areas of your life already. If you have kids, you bathe, feed, and clothe them daily. Aren’t there days when you don’t feel like it? Yet you do it anyway because it needs to be done.

The good news is that means you know for a fact that you can implement discipline in your life consistently. Now what do you think would happen if you applied it to your fitness goals?

Habits are underrated. This is the what. Put another way, Habits are the summation of all the small behaviors that make up the discipline. These are the actions within the framework of discipline. We all have habits anyway. Think about all the things we do pretty much every day. Most of the things we do each day are things we do so often that we barely think about them. Brushing your teeth in the morning, getting dressed, your path to work.

In the fitness and health context, some of these habits are what time of day you workout, the structure and order of your workouts, and of course, all the foods and drinks we take in.

These aren’t emotional. In fact, when our habits are deeply ingrained, we do them without conscious thought or feeling. You’re not actively thinking, first I pick up the toothbrush, then I take the cap of the toothpaste, etc. You don’t feel, “oh no, if I don’t brush my teeth, they’ll rot!” every time you start the process. (Or maybe you do. Ha.) It’s pretty much autopilot.

Habit are just things we do. This is why it’s so imperative to actively cultivate ones that will help us achieve what we’re really after.

Ideally, you’d use all four of these concepts together to Chase down your goals at top speed. But life is rarely ideal, and when it is, that’s just for a short time. Take full advantage of those times when you’re Inspired and Motivated to use Discipline in your daily Habits.

Discipline and Habits are at the core though. This pair will keep you marching towards your goals when the other two are flagging. They are the most powerful tools we have in order to accomplish our goals.

Thanks for reading. Any questions or comments, please leave them below.

The Upside of Sucking

When you first start anything new (walking, reading, a sport, a musical instrument) you will be terrible. You will suck. And that’s good.

It’s good for several reasons.

Perspective – even if you are an expert in one area, you will be a know-nothing in most others. Keeping perspective will keep you in the mentality of the student.

Learn Fast – when you’re first acquiring a new skill, you learn fast. It doesn’t feel that way, but you do. Going from zero to one is a bigger jump than from one to two.

Application – The stages of learning: novice, beginner, intermediate, proficient are the same for any skill. You can’t skip. Going through them is how you gain experience. This experience is indirectly transferable as is the accompanying confidence. You probably don’t remember learning to walk. Perhaps you can recall learning to swim or ride a bike. You start off totally unsure. You have to think about each action before you do it. The task seems really complicated. As you practice, you get better and you have to actively think less. This happens each time you try to learn something new. But, you don’t start exactly from scratch even if the new thing is totally different. You have the experience of having gone through the stages. You know that you can learn. You’ve learned to learn.

Become comfortable being uncomfortable – The best way to grow is to struggle. This is an important concept. Obviously there are times where it’s valuable to be comfortable. Being uncomfortable is stressful. Staying in a stressful state for a long time clearly isn’t ideal. But neither is never challenging yourself. The edges of discomfort is where we find our limits. We can’t push our limits if we don’t know where they are and test them from time to time. It also reminds us not to take our comforts for granted.

Inoculation – falling off the bike. Before it happens, it’s terrifying. When it happens it’s scary. It might even hurt a bit. But not forever. The next time it’s much less scary. Going through the process of being bad at something teaches you it’s really not so bad to be bad at something, at first.

Process is the thing – Learning to persist is priceless. This goes hand in hand with intentionally placing yourself in situations where you’re uncomfortable. The achievement of goals is kind of like signposts. They can tell you where you are but that’s about it. The process of getting there is the real value. Having a skill is great but learning a skill is growth. And growth is everything.

So learn something new.

Thanks for reading! Any questions or comments, leave them below.

Best Shoulder Exercises

Best Shoulder Exercises

Most of us know how training biceps and triceps builds impressive arms and helps us look better from a profile perspective. We know that a well-defined chest makes us look better from the front. But a set of well-developed shoulders helps with both.

Let’s talk about how to build up this often neglected body part.

First a little anatomy. There are three main parts to the shoulder (deltoid or delt) from a muscle standpoint. There’s the front (anterior), middle (medial), and rear (posterior) parts of the shoulder. Under these are the smaller, stabilizing muscles commonly known as your rotator cuff muscles.

They all work together for the functions of the shoulder: basically to rotate the upper arm, to move the arm away and towards the side of the body, to move the arm laterally from front to back.

From a joint standpoint, the shoulder is kind of amazing. It has a tremendous range of motion, more than any of our other joints. This flexibility is both a strength and a weakness. We’re able to use our arms in myriad ways but the shoulder is also particularly vulnerable to injury. It’s vital to keep this in mind as we discuss how to train.

The most basic shoulder lift you can do is the Press. The cool thing is there are a bunch of ways to do this lift. Try them out and see which one that suits you best. You’ll probably find that over time you’ll get better results from switching up after a while.

Standing Press

With the standing barbell press , you’ll start with the bar around the height of your collar bone. Grip the bar with your hands a little bit wider than shoulder-width. The exact position will depend on the individual. You want to be comfortable, with your forearms approximately perpendicular to the ground.

Unrack the bar, brace your core and keep your lower body tight. You want a solid foundation as you raise the weight above your head. Now is not the time for wobbly legs and soft abs. Press the bar in straight path above your head. The path should be right in front of your face. Move your head back to avoid hitting yourself… or you know, learn the hard way. Once the bar is past your head, you bring your head forward again. Extend your arms fully. The weight should be directly over your center of mass. If it isn’t, you’ll be able to tell ‘cause it will be pulling your forward or backward. Lower the weight back to the starting position under control. That’s one repetition. In terms of breathing, you inhale and brace at the start, when you unrack the bar. Keep your core tight (as if you’re expecting to get punched in the gut). Exhale slightly at the top of the movement. Don’t let all your air out or your core will relax too much. You can fully exhale at the bottom of the movement.

This is a great exercise for shoulder strength and size development. In fact, it’s a really good total body exercise since your entire body works to maintain your position.

The standing dumbbell press is very similar. It works the same muscles. Benefits of using dumbbells are they allow for a greater range of motion and each arm has to work independently. This means you’ll have to use less weight and it helps prevent or address any muscle imbalances. Usually one arm is more dominant.

You will have to raise the weights to the starting position, shoulder height. Begin with the dumbbells at your sides. For lower weights you’ll be able to curl them up to your shoulders to start the press. Once you’ve built up to heavier loads, that won’t be the case. A good way to get them from waist level to the starting position is to start with the dumbbells at your sides. Slightly bend your knees and hips for a quick moment. Then explosively extend your hips and knees to generate momentum to help you curl the weights to shoulder height.

Seated Press

The seated barbell press gives you more back support, which means you should be able to press more weight. You still want to brace your core and press your feet hard into the ground. When using a barbell here, a main difference is the rack position is near the top of the movement, so you unrack, lower the weight to your collar level and then the lift begins.

The dumbbell variation of the seated press is slightly tricky. You may be able to just lift the weights to your shoulders early on. Once again, when you get to heavier dumbbells you’ll need to use momentum. Start standing with the dumbbells at your sides. As you carefully sit down, rest the dumbbells to the top of your knees (the dumbbells are still in your hands), right where your quads and knees meet. One leg at a time, kick your knee up to raise that dumbbell to shoulder height. Then use the other knee to help you raise the corresponding dumbbell to the starting position. When your set is over, lower the weights under control and raise your knees to gently meet them. This all sounds way more complicated than it actually is. Do it a couple times and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

There are also seated shoulder press machines you can use. The benefit is they’re easier to use. The drawback is they’re not as effective at training the the smaller stabilizer muscles in the shoulder as free weights.

The press is the lift that will give you the most shoulder strength and size. If you’re a guy, once you get to the point where you can overhead press a weight equivalent to your body weight, your shoulders will be impressive. For women, getting to the equivalent of half your body weight will have your shoulders looking right.

The exact number of sets and repetitions will vary according to the individual, but 2-5 sets of 5-10 reps is a good place to start. Take 1-2 minutes rest between sets. However, start on the low end of each and gradually increase the volume. Remember though, the main driver is going to be progressive overload. If you go from 5 sets of 5 repetitions at 95 pounds to 5×5 at 145, you’ll really see the difference.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

This is probably the next best exercise for building up your shoulders. Dumbbell lateral raises really work your lateral delt hard. The standing and seated versions are pretty similar. You may find the seated version feels more stable or you may be more comfortable standing. Either way, make sure you keep your core braced and your spine tall.

Begin with the dumbbells at your sides. With only a slight bend in your elbow, raise the weights away from your sides in a controlled fashion. Avoid using excessive momentum. Once your arms are about parallel to the ground, pause for a beat and lower the weights under control back to the starting position. Start with really light weights. You don’t need to lift really heavy in order to get results from this exercise.

The most common mistake with lateral raise is using momentum to raise the weights. Right behind that is using too much of a shrug to the movement. If you feel your traps working more than your delts, this means you. The fix for this is to focus on keeping your shoulder blades down and close together. You’ll probably have to use lighter dumbbells. That’s okay because now you’re working the muscles you want to be.

Besides dumbbells, you can do this lift using your gym’s lat raise resistance machines, or cable machines, or even resistance bands.

I recommend 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions with about 30-60 seconds rest between sets.

Rear Delts

The rear delts are the most neglected of the big three shoulder muscles. Developing them will help give your shoulders a fully rounded look. It will also help fight imbalances that accentuate bad posture and can lead to injury. There’s probably a greater emphasis on upper body pushing training than upper body pulls. This and the exercise that follow will help you balance that.

The Dumbbell Reverse Fly (a.k.a. Bent-over rear delt fly) is a great way to train the posterior delts.

Start with a dumbbell in each hand. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Keep your knees “soft”, not locked but not too bent either. Hinge forward at the waist until your torso is almost parallel to the ground. Of course you know by now to keep that core braced. Now the weights should be hanging straight down with your palms facing each other. With only a slight bend in your elbows, raise the weights under control to the side until your elbows are in line with your shoulders. (At the top you’ll look like you’re pretending to be an airplane!) Lower the weights back to the starting position.

Avoid bouncing or using momentum to move the weight. This is another exercise you’ll use light resistance.

There are a few variations you can try. You can do rear delt flys while seated. Or you can lie chest down on an incline bench. This is helpful if you find you’re prone to rocking or bouncing during the movement. And of course, you can use cable machines or resistance bands.

In terms of volume, I like 2-3 sets of 10-20 reps with 30-60 seconds between sets.

Face Pulls

Face pulls are another great exercise to bulletproof your shoulders. They also work your rear delts. You’ll need a cable machine and a two-handled rope. While facing the machine grab the rope and step back until you’re supporting the weight with your arms extended. Your legs should give you a solid base with soft knees.

Retract your scapulae (squeeze your shoulder blades together), pull the rope towards you so the center of the rope goes toward your face. Now you understand the name of the exercise. You don’t literally hit your face with the rope. At the midpoint of the movement, externally rotate your arms. Think about pulling the rope apart, not just backwards. Hold for a beat and slowly reverse to finish the repetition. It’s imperative to use a controlled tempo with this exercise. You’ll be using lighter weights again. Remember, these shoulder muscles you’re working are relatively small. You want to avoid involving the lower back to move the weight. Keep your elbows nice and high, close to parallel with your shoulders.

For reps and sets, 1-3 sets of 8-15 works.

 

Front Raises

Front raises work the anterior delt. They’re not a pulling exercise like the two previous ones. You can do them but they’re probably redundant as the front delt gets plenty of work with the press and if you’re already doing flat or incline bench presses.

The starting position for front raises is standing while holding the dumbbells at your sides. With only a slight bend in the elbows, raise the weights straight up in front of you until your elbows are about parallel with your shoulders. Once more (with feeling!), keep your core tight and control the weights as you raise and lower them.

Try 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions with about 30-60 seconds rest between sets.

There you go! Include these exercises in your training and you’ll build stronger, defined, healthier shoulders.

And for no particular reason other than why not, here’s a bonus exercise:

Push Press

The Barbell Push Press is similar to a press but it’s not strictly a shoulder movement. In fact, it’s a total body exercise. You create momentum intentionally here in order to work out developing power by using heavier weights. Since it’s a power movement, you want to keep the repetitions low, 1-5 is all you need. The number of sets can vary depending on your goals but 1-3 is good for most people.

It begins just like a barbell shoulder press. But to initiate the movement, you dip your hips and bend your knees slightly. Explosively extend them to get the weight moving up a little. Extend your arms up to keep driving up the weight fully. The end position is the same as a barbell shoulder press. Lower the weight under control. That’s one rep. Naturally, you can use dumbbells instead, if you prefer.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.