When Push Comes to Shove
Fed up because your delts and triceps refuse to grow? Force muscle growth by combining key mass-building concepts with enough variability to jumpstart your anabolic engine.
By Bill Geiger, MA; Photogarphy by Kevin Horton; Model: IFBB Pro Al Auguste
A push-day split that pairs shoulders and triceps is a common combination, but beware, exercises, techniques and workouts that become too familiar can also be your biggest bodybuilding enemy. It’s when you become comfortable with a particular routine that the alarm bells should start to go off — a clear indicator that you’ve likely fallen into a rut. If you need a more literal translation, try this: Constantly doing the same workouts in the gym doesn’t equate to new growth. The body quickly adapts and unless you increase the overload, or growth stimulus, in some way, it has no reason to adapt any further.
This delt and triceps workout is anything but routine, but it’s grounded in some important training concepts, including:
>> Doing your larger muscle group (shoulders) before the smaller one (triceps).
>> Performing multijoint exercises in which you can move more weight before attempting single-joint movements.
>> Doing high-volume workouts to attack the target muscle from multiple angles and maximizing the hormonal response.
>> Starting with lower-rep sets when you’re fresh and progressing to higher-rep sets as you fatigue, while working in the rep range that optimizes hypertrophy (muscle building).
>> Incorporating training to failure to ensure maximal muscle growth.
But those are tried-and-true concepts you should already be using in your training. There are a few factors unique to this particular workout that are likely new and can help you overcome a training plateau by providing a new stimulus for growth. They include:
>> Using a variety of relative intensities with the same exercise. This is especially useful with compound (multijoint) movements. Essentially, you’re using both a fairly heavy and moderate weight on a given exercise, so it affects the muscle fibers in slightly different ways, both of which are known to prompt a growth-inducing stimulus. With your overhead presses for shoulders, for example, you choose a weight for two sets in which you fail at both 6 and 10 reps. Changing the relative intensity (weight) is one way to add variety.
>> Alternating the order of single-joint movements. If you always do front raises first in the order of single-joint moves for shoulders (single-joint moves work only one delt head), then your front delts will always be worked when your fatigue levels are fairly low and you’ll be able to attack them with more gusto. If you always do rear delts last, then they’re probably lagging behind relative to the middle and front delts. The idea here is to constantly rotate the order of which single-joint movement you perform first after your presses and upright rows. This will help promote more symmetrical development, meaning you’ll look good from both the front and the back, and it helps keep those important rotator-cuff muscles in balance for long-term health.
>> Do back-off sets on your last set of each movement. By slightly lowering the weight on your final set of each exercise, you’ll be able to do a couple more reps, which helps generate a better pump and push more blood through the muscle, carrying more muscle-building nutrients with it. Pumping your muscle with relatively lighter weights is a great way to finish off your last set of a given exercise.
>> Make simple exercise substitutions for even more variety. Even well-constructed workouts like this one can go stale after awhile, so incorporating easy exercise swaps helps introduce more variety and works the target muscles in slightly different ways. Do a standing dumbbell lateral raise instead of seated, or use cables. Perform bent-over lateral raises or the reverse pec-deck flye to hit the rear delts. Do standing overhead presses with a barbell every third workout. Just about every movement in the gym has a cousin that’s just different enough that the muscle-recruitment pattern is slightly altered. Take advantage of the wide variety of barbells, dumbbells, cables and machines in your gym to keep your workouts fresh. Knowing which exercises can substitute for another is also useful when the gym is crowded and the piece of equipment you want has a long waiting line.
In your daily battle against the weights, complacency is your enemy. If your training routine has become too habitual, chances are it stopped working long ago. If your goal is to build bigger delts and tri’s, you need to follow the basic tenets of mass building while also integrating enough change to keep the target musculature guessing. If you’re disciplined and committed, it’s just a matter of time before you’ll have the boulder shoulders and titanic triceps you’ve always wanted.
Delts + Triceps Push-Day Routine
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press 4 Sets x 6, 6, 10, 10 Reps
Cable EZ-Bar Upright Row 4 Sets x 8, 8, 12, 12 Reps
Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise** 3 Sets x 10, 10, 12 Reps
Standing Reverse Cable Flye** 3 Sets x 10, 10, 12 Reps
Machine Shrug 4 Sets x 8, 8, 12, 12 Reps
Triceps Machine Dip 4 Sets x 8, 8, 12, 12 Reps
V-Bar Pressdown 3 Sets x 10, 10, 12 Reps
Standing Overhead Rope Extension 3 Sets x 10, 10, 12 Reps
One-Arm Reverse-Grip Pressdown 3 Sets x 10, 12, 12 Reps
*Back-off sets: Reduce the weight by about 20% on the final two sets for slightly higher target rep.
**Rotate the order of these three single-joint moves so that each one comes first every third workout.