Building the Rear Delts, Forearms, Traps, and Calves
by Jimmy Smith
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, bodybuilders and physique enthusiasts were in proportion with no undeveloped muscles. These men were relegated to county fairs, circuses, and small, windowless gyms.
All that changed in the early '70s when the public's collective eye started focusing on bodybuilding and gyms began popping up. People went in droves to workout and increase their muscular size, in particular their arms, chest, and shoulders.
With increased crowds, new ideas, machines, exercises, and drugs became popular ways to develop these areas. What most natural lifters were left with was an out-of-portion body that looked like a rejected cartoon.
What We Forgot About
This isn't one of those articles that'll tell you not to use machines. That's not the point here. Try telling any NPC or national level amateur bodybuilder that machines and isolation movements don't build muscle and you'll be laughed out of the gym.
Rather, this is about "natural male enhancement training," or in other words, building up the body parts that are often ignored by natural lifters, yet when developed, can greatly increase a physique.
That's what we're focusing on. We're going to bring up these weak areas. I'm sure you've seen something from some of these pre-contest gurus where they talk about giving a muscle a certain look. Well, there you go, but their terms don't usually cross over to the natural lifter.
Let's break it down.
|Popular Guru Term||Natural Trainer Definition|
|Capping the delts||Build noticeable trap and rear delt size so the medial delt looks bigger|
|Building the lower part of the bicep||Developing the forearm muscles so the overall arm is bigger|
|Giving the back some thickness||Increasing the size of your rear delts|
|Making the calves look like diamonds||Actually trying to build calf muscles|
They aren't big muscles, and the chances of them causing the opposite sex to take notice aren't great, but it's the same difference between the girl you look at in the bar and the girl you take home to mom. Which one do you think is better for you long term? (Yes, I'm talking training.)
Is it an accident that those areas are also the ones that come at the end of your session when you're tired and you just want to have your Surge and head home?
Enough talk. Let's get to the strategy.
Traps to Your Ears
I'll start with traps since it's usually a 50/50 split in terms of people that do or don't do them. In reality, though, most people usually do a few sets of dumbbell shrugs or a few sets of the Hammer shrug and call it a day.
Talking out of just pure experience here, the traps seem to grow better from more sets and lower reps. You can debate the topic all you want, but the next time you see the 160-pound high schooler who's shrugging 100's with decent form, you'll understand what I mean.
Also, factor in that the majority of people who do back work perform some form of heavy rowing, which develops their traps, and you'll see another reason why the traps need more sets.
No one factors in where the weight is placed with shrugs, though. Maybe it's because the majority of people just do barbell shrugs, which we all know must be in front of us, or maybe it's because the trap machines don't allow for different grips. Either way, you're just placing the stress in the same area time and time again. It seems like we all forgot about the bodybuilding brilliance known as Lee Haney. Lee often discussed how he got such amazing back development, and he often credited behind-the-back barbell shrugs.
From an anatomy perspective, it makes sense since you'll be able to recruit your very underdeveloped mid and low traps slightly more than when your arms are in front of you.
Remember, the body is a synergistic animal, so those unknown trap muscles that pull the shoulder blades down need to get some love in order for the upper traps to grow. Though, you need to know that if you have some "junk in the trunk," you'll need to use the Smith machine.
It should go without saying that you must deadlift as well. I could go deeper into it, but there are some other fabulous articles on this site about that topic. I also want to add that I think it's a dumb idea to train your traps when you train your back. Do your back work and let the traps get worked there, but give them a day or so to rest. Then train your traps when you hit your shoulders.
To jumpstart your trap developments in the next four weeks, do this:
|A1) Seated dumbbell shoulder press||4||8||301||None|
|A2) Seated dumbbell shrug||4||4-6||221||60 seconds|
|B1) Standing side dumbbell raises||4||8-10||301||None|
|B2) Behind the back Smith machine shrugs||4||4-6||221||60 seconds|
|C1) Side lying side raises||3||12-15||211||None|
|C2) Close-grip barbell shrugs||3||12-15||311||60 seconds|
Look at That Rear
Rear delts are the most enjoyable area of all the four areas to develop since it's the only one that'll contribute to the X or V-frame, whichever term is in.
My biggest beef with traditional rear delt training advice is twofold.
First, you have the pundits who tell you not to train them directly since they gets a ton of work in rows and pulldowns. That's true, but from a shoulder health standpoint, the rear delts are the only things that save most physique enthusiasts from developing serious rotator cuff issues. Yeah, I know that we're supposed to do our scapula, foam rolling, and rotator cuff work, but that's like telling someone not to smoke or drink and drive — only a few people will listen.
The second issue is that people will tell you some general assertion about only training them with three sets of twelve reps at the end of our workout. Well, no wonder that most people show zero development in that area. I usually disagree with the "out there" bodybuilding talk, but the rear delts are a muscle that you must feel.
It's at this point that you should have a training partner place their hands on your rear delts so you can "feel" them working. If not, then you need to get your law of attraction on and visualize the muscle working. It's way too easy to allow the bigger back muscles to take over.
I mean, just look at classic old-school bodybuilding logic that says to work the area that you want to develop first. It's why everyone does chest first thing on Monday. If nothing else, just throw your rear delt work at the beginning of your workout.
If that still doesn't work, then try this when you train shoulders:
|A1) High cable reverse fly||4||12||311||None|
|A2) Seated neutral-grip press||4||6-8||211||60 seconds|
|B1) Leaning side raises||3||6-8||301||None|
|B2) Bent-over cable reverse fly (one arm)||3||15||301||60 seconds|
|C1) Side cable laterals||3||12-15||211||None|
|C2) Low-to-high cable reverse fly||3||30||311||60 seconds|
Oh, You're Doing Extra Forearm Work
Usually, forearm training in the gym is limited to a few sets of ugly looking hammer curls, wrist curls, and reverse wrist curls. Ugh.
Combine that with the fact that very few people deadlift or do any type of chin-ups and you've got the reason why most guys have forearms smaller than women with thyroid problems.
So, nobody works them and the people that do work them do it with twenty-plus rep wrist curls.
Truth be told, there are only two ways that you can increase your forearm size apart from doing heavy deadlifts.
1. Reverse curls
Most lifters completely ignore reverse curls because they aren't openly discussed in bodybuilding magazines, and you never see a famous bodybuilder doing them in pictures. Therefore, they don't exist.
Fact is, due to the pronated grip, we maximize the tension on the brachialis, which runs from the humerus to the ulna. As a sidebar, it runs right underneath the biceps, so you should see some pretty interesting biceps growth.
2. Fatten the grip
Sadly, no commercial gyms offer any type of bars with thick grips. When you increase the diameter of the bar, you have no choice but to increase your grip strength and forearm size (side note: increased grip strength equals increased rotator cuff strength).
There are numerous types of implements that you can buy which increase the diameter of dumbbells and barbells, and I honestly couldn't tell you if one was better than the other. If they increase the diameter, then they work.
Forearm training is simple, really. If you do it, then you'll grow. Most people just don't take the time and effort. Try this at the end of your arm workout and grow:
|A) Standing reverse EZ bar curls||3||6-8||311||45 seconds|
|B1) Close-grip reverse cable curls||3||6-8||301||None|
|B2) Seated Zottman curls||3||6-8||301||45 seconds|
|C) Heavy barbell shrug holds*||3||12-15||211||30 seconds|
* Literally load up a barbell in a power rack and hold it like you would the top of a shrug.
Diamonds Are Forever
It might just be me, and I might be weird, but ever since I was a kid I always thought big calves were cool. Maybe having developed calves separates those who train from those who workout. Either way, developed calves completely change a physique.
Not only is calf development critical for leg strength in general simply because you aren't going to be able to squat 405 without having some type of decent calf development, but how good do you think you're going to look in the summer when you have shorts on? Yes, I know that most chicks aren't going to look at your calves and decide if they like you or not, but being brutally honest, most guys lift for everyone to notice how big they are. People take notice of muscle everywhere.
Going forward, three sets of seated calf raises and three sets of standing calf raises don't cut it. To not miss a beat, your soleus muscle is worked when your knees are bent, and your gastrocneimus is worked when your knees are locked.
Now that that's out of the way, let's look at some critical pieces that need to be in the puzzle.
1. You must pause at the bottom of each rep to dissipate the stretch shortening cycle and make sure the stress stays in your calves.
2. You must try to shift onto your big toe during the concentric (going up) portion of each lift to fully maximize the calf tension.
3. You must primarily train your gastroc with lower reps (3 to 6) and your soleus with higher (12 to 15), but don't be afraid to vary the rep ranges at times.
Do this calf workout twice a week for four weeks:
|A1) Standing single-leg machine calf raise||5||5||311||None|
|A2) Seated single-leg calf raise (foot turned in)||5||15||211||30 seconds|
|B1) Standing single-leg machine calf raise (foot turned in)||3||6-8||301||None|
|B2) Seated single-leg calf raise||3||15||301||30 seconds|
Your traps, rear delts, forearms, and calves won't make you an Adonis, but they will contribute to the overall package. Go ahead and train your pecs, arms, and abs. I'm sure you'll look fine until someone asks you to bring your shoulders to your ears, flex your back, open a jar, or wear shorts.
About The Author
Jimmy Smith, MS, CSCS works with bodybuilders, figure athletes, and fitness enthusiasts alike in the Stamford, CT area. He offers a free bodybuilding DVD, newsletter, and podcast at his website.
Far from the funny pages, this is the true definition of a great physique.
The Haney shrug at its finest.
Rear delts completely change the way your back looks.
If he did reverse curls, shouldn't you?
Big calves are just cool.
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