The Density Set for Healthier Shoulders, a Stronger Back, and a Better Life
It's been a bit since I wrote about some actual nitty-gritty training protocols. Sure, I've talked about the concepts behind program design, which makes sense considering I have an e-book on the matter. I've thrown out some nutrition tips, a few life lessons and grandiose themes. But actual training protocols to get specific results - not so much.
See, I've been playing around with density strength sets for a few years now. You can read all about them here.
The following density set combines my desire for correctives, movement patterning, strength, and hypertrophy into an overarching set that also pushes the endurance capacity of the area. Seriously, it's like a one stop shop for shoulder health, proper vertical and horizontal pull/push patterns, and the volume of strength and hypertrophy work necessary to cause a shift in performance and aesthetics.
In program format it would look like this:
1. Wall-Angels 4 x 10
2. Incline Bench Y and T 4 x 12/12
3. Incline Row 4 x 8 to 10
4. Dual Kneeling Overhead Press 4 x 12 to 15 (light)
5. Band Pull Aparts 4 x 10
But, let's discuss each individual component of the set and talk about WHY we are doing it like this
1. Wall Angels
A very basic, but critical corrective exercise - wall angels enhance the vertical push and pull patterns by emphasizing optimal movement of the shoulder joint, scapulae, and thoracic spine while enforcing a neutral lumbar spine and pelvis.
The key to do them successfully is to make sure your glutes, lower back, upper back, shoulders, elbows, and hands stay in connection with the wall. This ensures that no compensation is taking place throughout the body which would create a false sense of "success".
This is an exercise to be done slowly and surely. Don't hurry through this or just do it to get it done. Rather, take your time and try to visualize your shoulder blades moving through space appropriately.
2. Incline Bench Y and T
Men who are avid lifters have no desire to be seen with weights under twenty pounds, let alone the ones that come in colors and single digit loads.
Yet, for this exercise that is just what is needed. The emphasis of this movement is to force the rotator cuff into the picture and keep out the major movers such as the deltoids, rhomboids, and traps.
the external rotators of the shoulder are muscles that are vastly underappreciated when they are healthy, but extremely noticeable when they aren't functioning correctly. Ask any ex-athlete about their bench press and you'll hear some story about throwing around a bunch of plates prior to a shoulder injury.
Let's avoid that all together by checking our ego at the front door of the gym and ACTUALLY getting better.
The exercises themselves are simple: Have your chest flat on the bench, core engaged, and use your arms in the fullest range of motion in the shape of a Y and a T. NOW - one trick that makes them absolute gamechangers is to keep your THUMBS UP.
Check out the video to see it:
3. Incline Row
A strong back solves most problems in my opinion. Want to squat a little more, but the bar feels like a burden - get a bigger back. Want to bench more - strengthen your lats. Want healthy shoulders? Build your back.
The incline row is by far my favorite pulling exercise. With the right load it forces you to use your lats and rhomboids, which is important since many heavy pulls end up working the traps too much.
By working in the incline row to your program you'll build a bigger, stronger upper back while stabilizing your shoulder joints to handle greater stress in other angles and positions. Focus on higher repetitions at first to enforce form and build tolerance, then consider adding higher loads.
4. Kneeling Overhead Press
The kneeling position immediately removes the ego from overhead pressing and replaces it with greater core activation. This body position requries contraction from the glutes, the abdominals, and the upper back in order to stabilize weights as they move overhead.
The key here is to not just grab your normal working weights and bang out repetitions for the sake of getting it done, but rather going lighter and moving through the overhead press with crisp form. Imagine every repetition coming out perfectly. Each rep has perfect scapular movement, a tight core complex, and controlled tempo.
The overhead press is a movement that is often trained with high intensity only. This change of pace will strengthen your shoulders, pattern the movement, and set you up for greater success down the line.
It is important to emphasize one more time that you aren't doing this for load. You are working the following movement with the intention to Master your press.
5. Kneeling Band Pull Aparts
Loaded external rotation is a neccessity for the avid lifter. It develops the posterior aspect of the shoulder complex, which when underdeveloped leads to injury.
Band pull aparts serve as a finisher to an already challenging workout. The change of resistance profile (elastic instead of gravitational) will work the tissue differently and build a resiliancy to stress.
Once again the kneeling position allows for us to take away our desire to MUSCLE the movement. By kneeling we engage the core, tighten the posture, and emphasize the muscles of the rotator cuff.
Building great shoulders starts from the inside out. It isn't about just banging out repetitions and watching your deltoids grow. It's about developing your rotator cuff, your posture, and your upper back. Once these elements are in place you can train as hard as you'd like without fear of big injury.