You want torture? You want pain? You want results?
Well, you'll get all these things if you apply these brand new violent variations to your training program. In this fourth installment of the series, I'll present you with 6 new techniques/exercises that you can throw into your exercise toolbox.
But I don't want to bore you to death with some unnecessary chatter; after all this is Violent Variations!
Variety in exercises, life, or Pez dispensers is always nice.
1. Massive Shoulders and Torso With Overload Work
One very important stimulus for muscle growth is intramuscular tension. This factor is highly correlated with the amount of force that a muscle must produce.
In simple terms, the more force a muscle must produce, the harder it must contract; the harder it must contract, the more intramuscular tension is present in the muscle. The more intramuscular tension you have, the greater growth potential you have...provided that this tension can be maintained for a sufficient length of time.
Overload training (lifting, holding or lowering a weight that is heavier than what you can normally lift in a regular exercise) is thus a very powerful tool when it comes to stimulating growth and strength gains.
Variations of this type of training are supramaximal supports, heavy partials, and functional isometrics. I'll specifically show you how to use these methods to build huge shoulders (as shoulders seem to respond exceptionally well to this type of training).
1A) Supramaximal Supports
This method consists of holding overhead, in the locked-elbows position, a weight that's heavier than your max overhead lift. To bring the weight into position you actually use your legs, not your arms.
Put the bar in the power rack. It should rest near the top of your head or a few inches above it. Grab onto the bar as if you were pressing the bar, but instead of trying to press it, squat under it (or more precisely, you quarter-squat under it). From that quarter squat position, straighten your arms and lock your elbows. Then stand up, keeping the bar locked overhead.
Hold the position as long as you can. It's very important to try to ''touch the ceiling'' with the bar, meaning that when you're in the lockout position, you don't merely passively hold the weight overhead. Instead, you're actually flexing your shoulders, arms and traps as hard as you can.
When training for hypertrophy you want to select a weight that you can hold overhead for around 15-20 seconds (work up to the max weight you can handle for that time frame). If strength is your goal, shoot for the max weight you can handle for 6 to 12 seconds.
This exercise will be very effective at building the delts, triceps, traps, and also the serratus. Furthermore, it'll contribute to giving you a ''powerful torso'' look.
Since you're handling an extreme load, you'll also develop the CNS' capacity to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers. This means that this exercise (and the other 2 methods presented) will make every other shoulder exercise you'll do more effective by priming your nervous system to recruit those high threshold motor units.
1B) Functional Isometric Overhead Press
I've talked extensively about functional isometrics in the past because it works! And it's probably one of my favorite training methods for both making huge strides in strength gains and priming the body to respond better to hypertrophy training.
The functional isometric overhead routine is adapted from Bill March (an old-time Olympic lifter). I used his approach many times with myself and clients with great success.
First a little recap about how to perform functional isometrics.
• You need two sets of safety pins in the power rack.
• The pins are set 2-3'' appart.
• The bar is placed on the first (lowest) set of safety pins.
• You load the bar.
• You press (or pull) the bar until it reaches the second (highest) set of safety pins.
• At that point you press (or pull) against the pins as hard as humanly possible for the prescribed time frame.
• You add weight until you reach a weight that you can't hold against the pins for the prescribed time period.
Isometrics (including functional isos) increase strength mostly at the angle being trained. There's actually a 15-20 degrees carryover, which means that with a movement like the overhead press, you'll need to perform functional isometrics from three difference positions to gain strength over the full range of motion.
Those positions are:
1) 2-3'' from the start/from the clavicle.
2) At the midrange point.
3) 1-2'' short of the lockout.
Those positions are shown below:
If hypertrophy is your goal, you'll want to work up to the maximum weight you can hold against the pins for 10-15 seconds and if you're shooting for strength, work up to the max load you can handle for 5-8 seconds.
1C) Three Stages Press
This technique was used by quite a few Olympic lifters to build huge shoulders and great overhead strength. Pierre Roy (former Canadian National Coach) used it with a lot of top athletes and I've managed to employ it with equal success.
It's actually quite a simple technique: you start your overhead work ''set'' with the standing military press. This means pressing the bar stritctly overhead with no momentum or cheating. The torso is kept perfectly straight. When you complete the prescribed number of reps (which should coincide with failure to complete more strict presses), you rest for 30-45 seconds and then grab the bar again.
However, you'll now move on to push presses. Push presses are basically military presses done with a little bit of cheating. You start each rep with a ''slight'' leg drive, just enough to get the bar moving, but the arms and shoulders still do most of the work. You perform as many reps as you can in good form and rest for another 30-45 seconds.
When this rest period is completed you grab the bar a third time.
For the third portion of your ''set'' you'll move on to push jerks. Push jerks are similar to push presses but instead of using only a slight leg drive, you use an all out leg explosion!
You basically try to throw the bar up in the air by pushing hard with both the legs and arms at the same time. Perform as many good push jerks as you can, but don't let your form deteriorate as the risk of injury would be too high.
This completes one set. Depending on the number of exercises you have on that day you should perform anywhere from 3 to 6 of those sets. In fact this ''exercise'' alone can be a great shoulder workout.
If that's the case (it's your only exercise), you can perform up to 8-9 sets.
2) Functionally Correct DB Flies
When it comes to flies, most peoples don't make the most out of the exercise. Granted, they'll never be a powerful mass-builder like the heavy pressing movements, but for those who are triceps or shoulder dominant, flies and similar movements are often the only way to get decent pectoral development.
If you fit the aforementioned category, you might as well do everything right to maximize the benefits of the movement!
Here's what I recommend:
a.) Perform flies preferably on a decline angle. When using the decline you increase the ''effective range of motion'' (EROM) of the exercise. With flat movements, only the first half of the exercise actually loads the pecs properly. Once you pass the midway point of the exercise you're pretty much doing an unloaded movement because you're exerting strength inwards (horizontally) instead of upwards (vertically).
With DB (and other free-weights) the source of resistance is always vertical because of gravity, so when the vertical component is dropped from the movements, muscle loading drastically decreases.
While the decline angle isn't perfect, it does increase the EROM by about 30%, which is substantial when optimal results are of prime importance.
b.) Don't neglect the second function of the pectorals in the fly movement. We all know the primary function of the pecs during the fly exercise – bringing the arms toward the midline of the body. This is called a transverse shoulder flexion. When you're doing any type of flies such as the pec deck or cross-overs, you're pretty much performing this function.
However, there's a second function we shouldn't forget – internal shoulder rotation. This occurs when you're rotating the arm along its axis; turning the upper arm inward.
To work this second function, you should start the fly (from the bottom or stretched position) with the palms up and as you lift the weights you rotate your arms inwards so that at the end of the lifting motion your thumbs are facing each other.
It's very important to:
• Initiate the inward rotation as soon as you start to lift the dumbbells (remember that even on a decline, the muscle is only "loaded" during the first 2/3 or 3/4 of the movement.
• When you rotate, actively focus on squeezing the chest as hard as you can; don't just passively rotate inward.
c.) The muscle you stretch the most is the muscle you recruit the most. If you want to maximize pectoral recruitment during flies, you must feel the deeper stretch in the chest, not in the deltoids or biceps. To do so you might have to play with the angle/pattern of the movement.
For example, if you feel the stretch more in your biceps, you'll need to shorten the lever by bending the elbows more during the lowering portion of the movement. In other words, instead of setting your elbow angle at 135 degrees in the bottom position you might shoot for 110 or even 90 degrees... whatever it takes to stop feeling the stretch in your biceps and put in on your pecs.
If you feel the stretch more in your shoulders you might want to lower the dumbbells a bit more toward your hips and a bit less toward your head.
There's no universal perfect form, just a perfect form for you.
d.) Start the eccentric portion with a pre-contracted position. This means never relaxing the pecs for even one second during the set. To do so you'll have to activate the pectorals by squeezing in at the top while pushing toward the ceiling at the same time. Why? Because the last 1/3 or 1/4 of the movement is essentially unloaded. If you want to maintain a certain muscle tension you must make a voluntary effort to contract that muscle.
3. Get More Hops With Drop Step Ups!
This exercise is one of the most effective exercises to increase speed and vertical jumping. It's called either a drop step-up or a plyometric lunge. It's basically a static lunge where there's a powerful activation of the myotatic reflex just prior to the explosive concentric phase. This is the principle behind plyometric work and we'll be applying it to the static lunge.
The movement is fairly simple but it can be quite challenging!
• Start with both feet on a box. The height of the box should be determined by your strength and training level. A 6-8'' box might be enough for beginners and intermediates and advanced athletes might work up to 16-18''.
• Hold a dumbbell in each hand, but use much less weight then you normally might use for lunges. Individuals with low strength levels might even need to do this movement using only their bodyweight.
• From that starting position, step off the box with one leg (the working leg... the opposite one stays on the box). Aim to land with the leg far forward, the same ''split'' as you would with a regular lunge.
• This is the tricky part: You must land directly in the low position of the lunge (knee bent at 90 degrees). Do not land high and then squat down. To make the most of this movement you must really land in the 90-degree position.
• Immediately upon landing, explode back up unto the box. The less time you spend on the ground, the better it is. I would much rather have you reduce the ground contact time rather than adding more weight. You're not merely pushing yourself back up onto the box, you're literally jumping back toward the box!
4. The Mid-Back Blaster
At first I used this exercise extensively to prevent shoulder injuries in athletes (it works on external rotation strength as well as scapular stability/fixation), but something happened: I noticed that guys doing this drill prior to every upper body workout started to show a significant increase in mid-back (rhomboids, rear deltoids, middle and lower traps) thickness.
Ever since that time I've been including this great movement not only in athletic programs but in body composition/bodybuilding ones alike.
It is a four-phase movement:
1.) Start with the hips back, knees bent 90 degrees, back flat, head in line with the spine. From that position you row the weight up with the elbows pointing straight out. You row until the elbows are in line with the shoulder joint.
2. From that position (elbows in line with the shoulder joint) you perform an external rotation (upper arm rotating along the axis formed with the elbow and shoulder).
3. From that position (shoulder externally rotated) you press over your head at a 45-degree angle so that at the end of the movement the wrist, elbow, shoulder and hips are aligned and form a 45-degree angle with the floor.
4. From that finished position, return to the starting position by lowering the arms straight down (while keeping the arms straight).
Again, the objective of this series is to give you more tools. The more tools you can use, the more chances you have to build the body you want.
It's not my intention to say that these exercises are better than more ''conventional'' ones, but rather that when all else fails, injecting some new variations – especially violent variations – in your training is the best way to start to grow again.