The Barbell-Only Shoulder Workout

Checklist:

Lifting straps

Belt

Wrist Wraps

Lifting Shoes

Traditionally speaking, most lifter’s shoulder days incorporate barbells, dumbbells, bands, machines, and a whole array of equipment. Given that we live in interesting times due to COVID-19, some people’s equipment may be fairly limited. I also have to contend with no gym access; forcing me to innovate my training. However, the following shoulder workout is one I developed from my home gym–where access to a dumbbell rack was a long-forgotten luxury. This regime helped me develop a ton of size on my deltoids and traps, while simultaneously building my athletic ability and grip strength.

As part of a new eBook I am currently developing on how to become aesthetically proportioned and athletically blessed, this shoulder day incorporates a mixture of bodybuilding and simplified Olympic lifts. And no, it’s not Crossfit oriented.

The workout will be split into three focal points: 1) Athleticism 2) Aesthetic/Hypertrophy 3) Supersets/Hypertrophy. For the athletic movements, I have chosen a simple 3×5 give the explosive and demanding nature of the first two exercises; in part, to not drain the athlete before the higher rep ranges. The aesthetic movements require higher hypertrophic rep ranges and a focus on time-under-tension and control. The finisher is to cap off the muscles, and inducing failure on the final rep of the triset–cheat by kipping the weight up on the final reps of each exercise, if needs be.

Without much further ado–here it is:

Athletic Portion:
Push Press 3×5
Snatch-Grip High Pulls 3×5

Aesthetic Portion:
Wide-grip upright rows 3×12
Wide-grip upright bent over rows 3×15

Triset:
Bradford Press 3×10
Wide-grip upright rows 3×10
Wide-grip upright bent over rows 3xfailure

The first two exercises–push press and snatch-grip high pulls–serve to build strength, size, and athleticism. The triple joint extension to be reaped in both will carry over to all competitive sports. Push presses are a form of supramaximal load enabling you to lift more than you can with a strict overhead press. The speed generated through the movement will transfer to other presses such as the bench press and incline bench press. Snatch-grip high pulls are, hands down, the best upper trap developer out there; and, due to their athletic nature, are criminally underused by discerning bodybuilders despite secondary activation of the side deltoids and posterior chain. Your forearms will also get a great burn from these exercises.

The second two are more aesthetic movements aiming to add mass to the side and rear delts to help craft the coveted “3D” look in the deltoids. Typically, the bulk of lifters will aim to develop these smaller muscles by endless sets of side laterals and reverse flyes. In my experience, very few lifters resort to using a barbell for these movements. As, for the purpose of this workout, equipment remains fairly limited; these two exercises will target the more aesthetic side of the workout. Please use a wide grip for both. A narrow grip upright row–all too common in the gym–can cause shoulder impingements; and a narrow grip bent over upright row will be too focused on the upper back. These barbell movements are there to imitate dumbbell raises in their stead.

Finally, the triset involves a Bradford Press–one overhead press plus one behind-the-neck-press equals one rep–immediately followed by the two wide grip upright rows, hitting your side and rear delts. These are, of course, to be performed at a lighter load, and their purpose is as a finisher to draw blood to the muscles, induce fatigue, and to spike the heart rate.

All of the exercise combined should lead to athletic development, hypertrophy, and a sprinkling of cardio towards the end for an all-round session. The exercises chosen should not take more than an hour to complete.

Enjoy!

My Top 10 Worst Dieting Mistakes

Basically everyone who has ever set foot into the gym has tried to diet to lose weight. Now, there’s a lot of misinformation, bro science, grift, and promises guaranteeing fast results out there; but here are my worst–and dumbest–mistakes I ever made in my yo-yoing dieting history.

  1. You Don’t Have to Track Protein Intake

You absolutely DO have to track protein intake. Protein, like carbohydrates, have the same caloric value of 4 calories per gram. For some bizarre reason, I had convinced myself that these calories from protein were null and that I could eat protein to my heart’s content. In reality, this translated to consuming over 1000 calories a day in protein and being dumbstruck when the scales wouldn’t budge–idiotic!

2. Too Few Calories

In my desperation to shift pounds before unrealistic self-imposed deadlines, I would subject myself to hellish torture in an effort to lose fat fast. Sometimes I’d lower my caloric intake to 1200 calories a day–the lowest possible safe caloric consumption; sometimes prescribed to morbidly obese patients on death’s door–and I’d leave myself with very little wriggle room down the line. Besides this, the diet was completely unsustainable, especially with the excess cardio I was doing.

3. Too Much Cardio

Following on from the above mistake, I’d overdo the cardio as if I was training for a cross between the Iron Man triathlon and Mr Olympia. Frankly, it was brutal. Weights followed by HIIT, followed by uphill walking, followed by gardening, followed by rugby practice. It was insane. Unsustainable. Madness. Carnage.

The excessive cardio was CATABOLIC and led to my losing strength. Yes, I lost a ton of fat, fast; but I had absolutely no energy for other activities. I was constantly starving and my libido was shot. Now I wouldn’t recommend doing more than an hour a day–unless you’re a professional athlete or trying to get down to <8% bodyfat.

4. Alcohol

As a former party animal, it was difficult to steer clear of alcohol for meaningful periods of time while attempting to cut fat. Being natural, as I’ve previously mentioned, there is very little wriggle room for error when dieting. Everything has to be on point. That’s not, to say, that enhanced lifters can flout their diets and expect results; but they don’t have to be as stringent in their approach.

Alcohol is 7 calories per gram of empty calories; and, what’s worse, is that certain beverages can repress fat burning after consumption. Cravings for greasy, calorie-dense food run amok while intoxicated and hungover. There is literally no benefit in drinking alcohol while dieting. And in my experience, it’s very difficult to out-diet, out-exercise a weekend warrior’s alcohol consumption.

5. Cheat Meals

This, again, stems from a failure to properly track calories. In my early twenties, as something of a pigheaded so-and-so, I thought I could diet–and by diet, I mean eat 3500 or so calories a day to fuel my training–then double the intake over the weekend, pigeonholed as a “cheat day” to justify my gluttony. Needless to say, I was disheartened to learn that I had put on nearly 20 pounds in 3 months. What a fool.

My food of choice was pizza. And my justification for over-indulging in pizza was ridiculous: it has cheese; cheese has protein; I need protein for gains; pizza won’t affect me very much. In my paltry defense, this was at a time when there was a dearth of fitness YouTubers on the internet. A lot of misinformation was fairly prominent–remember Six Pack Shortcuts?

6. Too Much Fat

Fats taste amazing. Cheese, avocados, salmon, nuts–I love fats, but they have to be enjoyed in strict moderation. Clocking in at nine calories per gram, you need to keep an eye on your fat intake. At one point, I was eating a large bag of cashews as a snack as well as a fair bit of cheese. Right there, I was consuming over 1000 calories a day in fairly useless calories. Granted, it got me “bear mode,” but was, overall, extremely unhelpful to my ideal body composition.

7. Trying to Out-Exercise a Bad Diet

Burning fat is nothing more than calories in, calories out. To reiterate, it’s a form of accounting adjustment: your Assets are your base metabolic rate, Debt is a caloric deficit, and Equity is a caloric surplus. Unfortunately, this corporation pays its dividends in the form of fat gain, but attempting to burn off overeating by exercise is a lot harder than it might sound. While consuming 1000 calories is very easy to do with calorie-dense food, burning 1000 calories through exercise is very difficult to do, unless you’re already pretty fit. Furthermore, attempting to torch 1000 calories through exercise might eat into your overall recovery and make you hungry!

8. Setting Unrealistic Goals

Wide-eyed idealists might want to shed 3-4 pounds a week by a certain date, but the reality is, more often than not, they will fall short of their goal and end up gain everything they lost, and then some. In my early 20s I set so many unrealistic goals. Even at my most disciplined, I failed to hit my goals and ended losing control of my weight gain for several years. It was only when I slowed down in my approach, curtailed my excesses, and lowered my time preferences I could reach my goals. And the aim of the game is find a comfortable, sustainable healthy weight to maintain. Instead, tens of thousands of people strive to walk around at peeled bodyfat percentages–which they never reach.

This mistake perhaps took the longest for me to unlearn. Plagued by disappointment in oft-failed yo-yo dieting, the gradualist approach became my only recourse. And yes, it’s frustrating as hell, it’s slow as hell, you’re punished for food-related indiscretions, but it teaches discipline and patience–both of which are qualities immensely lacking in this day and age.

9. Grossly Overestimating My Base Metabolic Rate

I legit thought my required daily caloric intake was around 3500 calories a day for the longest time. How I was mistaken. Using one of those free online calorie calculators, plus adding my own lean bodyweight calculations, I came to the conclusion I needed a massive amount a day–while natural–to maintain my bodyweight. I wasn’t wrong; not only did I maintain my bodyweight, but I added to it. One pound of lean muscle tissue can increase one’s base metabolic rate by 20-30 calories per day.

Now, that I’m older, hopefully wiser, and bigger I have come to terms that I don’t need all that much food to stay in shape and keep strength. Those former fitness grifters who would boast about needing 4000 calories a day to maintain their above-average, but ripped, physiques misled a lot of people. At the end of the day, I only had myself to blame.

10. Too Much Importance Placed on Supplements

Yes, yes, yes, I was one of those people who thought that clever and illicit supplementation could override a poor diet. Heck, I envied those enhanced bros supping on T3, Clen, Var, Tren, DNP, or whatever it was they were taking to stay shredded–I still had my natty status. However, while remaining natural, I thought that chugging tons of green tea, coffee, and diet energy drinks would offset my caloric surpluses. Maybe throwing in some ginger, capsicum, and turmeric could help, no?

Of course not, I was very much mistaken. The only thing that matters when dieting to lose fat is calories in, calories out. Nothing else. Stop the gimmicks, stop buying into the highest lucrative inert shortcuts; the only way to lose fat is to be in a caloric deficit–and I had to learn that the hard way.

In Defense of Ego Lifting

NOTE: I am not advocating for ego lifting. This article is for entertainment purposes and to address a relatively anonymous impediment to several lifter’s progress.

Every single lifter I have met is guilt of something: ego lifting. Ego lifting is rightly and roundly condemned in the fitness community for a variety of reasons ranging from douchebaggery to form breakdown. However, if we were to play Devil’s Advocate for the length of this blogpost, I will elucidate how ego lifting is good, actually. You’d better attach a trigger warning to this one.

1) Supramaximal and partial lifts work

Depending on your particular discipline–bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, etc–there is some benefit to doing supramaximal and partial lifts. While bodybuilders might forgo partial lifts altogether, in favor of mind-muscle connection and controlled concentric-eccentric patterns; supramaximal partial loads can really bolster one’s muscular achievement. As a lifelong natural lifter, who has dabbled in every gym discipline, partial and supramaximal loads are absolutely amazing get-out-of-plateau-free cards to have up your sleeve. Furthermore, I am a believer in handling heavier loads translating into greater muscular gains.

What is a supramaximal load?

It is a weight above your one rep max. There are several ways to perform these lifts safely and in a controlled environment–and to great effect. The first time I ever squatted 5 plates a side was from doing half pin squat singles as an accessory movement. In three weeks, I started with 230kg and managed a rep with 270kg on the last session. This exercise put a ton of size in my calves, in particular, in a very short space of time. I could rack pull 800lb from the knees at a time where I struggled to deadlift 600lb for reps. Needless to say, chasing an 800lb+ rack pull added a ton of size to my upper back, which I had thought was near its genetic limit.

Supramaximal lifts include:

-Partial pin squats
-Partial pin press
-Push press
-Smith Machine Bulgarian Split Squats–these are, hands down, the best way to build your lower body, fast!
-Rack pulls
-Barbell rows with Body English
-Power Shrugs
-Cheat Curls
-Bands and chains

Let me reiterate: you should do these in a safe and controlled environment. Always use power rack pins, belt, wraps, etc, wherever necessary. These exercises are also taxing on the nervous system, so please use them sparingly–preferably on a one month on, two month off basis.

2) Psychological Confidence

One of the biggest gain killers I’ve seen in the gym is a lack of confidence. Rest, nutrition, alcohol consumption aside; a lack of confidence really lets a ton of lifters down. Several friends at the gym have reasoned their way out of bigger lifts due to fear of injury or consequence. Most of the time, they are more than capable of hitting bigger weights, but they are subdued by psychological barriers. One friend never squatted three plates in his life, but could squat two plates for sets of ten. After psyching him up and spotting him on heavier sets, he was squatting three plates for reps in a couple of weeks. He was very thankful for the confidence boost as he had never dreamed of tussling with those loads.

In my own experience, the biggest psychological barrier I ever had was to deadlift six plates. I was SO CLOSE for 18 months. I would be a matter of single digits away, but six plates itself was simply a bridge too far. Then, I introduced new accessory movements in my program which strengthened my upper back; and, with the support of the entire gym psyching me up, when I actually lifted six plates for the first time, it looked like a speed rep–almost as if I had seven plates in the tank.

Now, ego lifting can easily kill your gains through injury. It also instills subpar motorn patterns and fails to form mind-muscle connections. Form breakdown can also occur from ego lifting, posing problems down the line. However, ego lifting in supramaximal or partial loads in a safe environment with proper form can enable you to deal with loads you never thought possible. This, in turn, will carryover significantly to other exercises in your program. I mean, who’s bigger: the guy that can bench 200lb for 8 with perfect form or the guy that can pin press 400lb for 8?

3) Training Hard

Another reason why people fail to tap into their full potential is because they undertrain–or, to quote Greg Doucette, “they train like pussies!” You shouldn’t lift with your ego, but have some ego and lift bigger weights. Sometimes, too much focus is placed on correct form with requisite time under tension, mind-muscle connection, tempo, etc,. I assure you, you can get bigger by pursuing more aggressive progressive overloading. I didn’t get to incline dumbbell press 130lb dumbbells for sets of 10 while natty by the letter of the lifting law.

No, this came about because I was determined to become the biggest and strongest guy in the gym–natty–against the odds. I would have to psych myself up tremendously within. I’m not much of a screamer or a grunter. But my drive to outlift the enhanced dudes can be attributed to “ego.”

If other lifters would tap into their ego a little more, they would be able to make bigger gains than they thought possible. They, and their lack of ego, are their own worst enemies in the gym.

Conclusion

Don’t lift with your ego, but with correct form. Use your ego wisely to your advantage. Supramaximal loads, partial reps, and hard training all help you overcome psychological barriers you may have erected. Of course, you should at least have some experience in the gym before unleashing your ego. Learn correct form first, train for a number of years to forge efficient motor patterns, and learn periodization or self-programming before sprinkling in exercises to take your training to new heights.

Reebok Men’s Legacylifter Cross Trainer, Black/Cyan/Silver, 15 M US