Monthly Archives: March 2014

Triceps–Forgotten Arm Muscles

Many LOVE working biceps, as this article instructs, but what about that other side of your arms, the somewhat forgotten triceps? Just as you really need to work your back roughly as much as your chest to avoid dangerous imbalances (along with aiding in symmetry), so too do you need to ensure proper balance between the front and back of the arm.

Sure, the bicep is the thing people generally see coming to them, but you want to look good walking away also! Most importantly, as cited, it helps prevent the imbalances that often lead to injury. We’re wired to be holistically healthy, definitely including a well-rounded body.

this poor guy from childhood ads had no biceps OR triceps!

this poor guy from childhood ads had no biceps OR triceps!

Many of us need some kind of triceps work

If you’re inclined toward doing a lot of close-grip pressing exercises (narrow grip push-ups for eg) and also do a lot of overhead pressing with a shoulder-width (or closer) grip, then you may be getting enough triceps work already.

Many, however, don’t do all of this, and as such could use some direct work on the backside of the humerus (upper arm). Women especially seem inclined toward wanting to “tone their arms,” usually meaning those triceps.

Tone, or muscle?

On that note, diet comes into play in a significant way, but for sure you can aid that process by the exercise you do. I don’t believe in spot fat-burning as legit science, but there’s no debate that working your triceps will enhance the muscle in that area, giving you a firmer, stronger look, and without becoming a full-scale bodybuilder in the process!

At the same time, for those who want to build appreciable muscle, significant volume combined with moderately heavy weight can be a boon to that. The intensity can give you some muscle in the back of your arms that nicely complements the bicep obsession.

What to do specifically for triceps? Oh, there are many exercises available as part of a home workout—no shortage, and that includes solely using your body weight, or even just some of it. There is nothing like visual to describe some of your options, which you’ll note in several ensuing pics, along with clear verbal descriptions.triceps-anatomyThe obligatory—but brief!—science

The triceps are a series of muscles which run along the back side of the humerus, or upper arm. These muscles are termed “elbow extensors,” because the elbow is the hinge that allows your wrist to move away from your shoulder, extending (or straightening) the arm.

Triceps are involved in various pushing exercises, for instance, when you press something away from your chest area, or when you’re trying to hold someone from barreling through a door, or simply when you’re trying to get up off the floor. They’re also heavily utilized in sports, whenever you’re throwing something, for instance.

As noted, you obviously utilize the triceps muscles a good bit whether you’re aware of them or not. But to ensure you create balance both aesthetically and functionally, some direct triceps work may be in order.

You can make it as easy or difficult as you want, including utilizing different versions of the same exercise. For instance, there’s the triceps extension. You can do this one of a number of ways, according to availability or preference.

You can do these (described immediately below) on the floor

You can do these (described immediately below) on the floor

Different Strokes, Same Triceps

Lying Triceps Extensions—For example, if you have a set of dumbbells, you can lie on your back, using one arm at a time or both. Hold the dumbbell(s) with arm(s) straight up in the air (as in Fig C above), perpendicular with your body (technically, you can start like Fig A shows, but in my opinion it’s clearer to explain the other way). Maintain the position of your upper arm and elbow as much as possible, while allowing (under control) the forearm to come back toward you as the weight in your hand starts to make an arc toward your head, though just to the side of it. No bonking! (Fig A)

Begin contracting those triceps muscles to generate the energy for moving the weight back up to the starting position (Fig B shows middle of the movement). You should feel it in the back of your arms if you’re doing it right.

Bodyweight Triceps Extensions—Or, you can do these without any weights at all. If you want to use full bodyweight, find a higher surface than what I’ve shown in the pics below, so that you’ll be on your feet, leaning over while standing. If you don’t have a good, higher surface (as was the case in said below photos), you can do these from the kneeling position. This makes the movement easier, but you can make up for that by building up to doing these one arm at a time.  You may also choose to do this kneeling version simply because you’re not quite ready to do the standing one.

Start with your feet (or knees, if not standing) in a position back far enough from the surface you’re holding onto so that you’ll get a good lean into the movement, making sure you’re working those triceps. If your body is too close to your hands to start off, there’s little effort needed in moving you away from the surface your hands are clinging to.

starting point for bodyweight tricep extension

starting point for bodyweight triceps extension

Contract your triceps in order to start pushing yourself away from the surface, eventually extending out completely, where arms are straightened.

midway point

midway point

finish

finish

The key here, as noted, is the freedom from even needing weights with you. Anywhere you happen to be where there’s some kind of stable edge to grab onto can become a home exercise (or one you can do if you’re staying in a motel, for that matter).

 

Triceps pressdown with bands—You hear about triceps pressdowns on a cable machine at the gym; why not create the same basic movement at home with simple workout bands? Use the “anchor” (that is made to safely attach in the crack of the door—not all brands are as safe) to firm the position of the bands, allowing them to dangle down to hand position (in this case, had to do them from a kneeling position, which is fine)

P1000346

elbows at side, wrists straight

Start with your hands grabbing the ends of the band, palms face down, wrists locked (don’t allow them to bend back, as you can incur injury). Elbows should be essentially to your side, and they—along with your upper arm—should remain stable through the movement to ensure you utilize your triceps muscles.

Once in that position, press downward, allowing your elbow to act like a stationary hinge while your forearms move in a downward arc toward the ground. You’ll notice that since the bands are stretching, the resistance increases. But that’s actually perfect for this exercise, because you tend to gain leverage (a form of strength) as you start locking out at the bottom.

finishing point

finishing point for bands triceps pressdown

Triceps Kickback—Another triceps focused movement you can do with dumbbells is known as the triceps kickback. But, as well, you can even use a jug and fill it with water (for a true home exercise!) if you don’t have any dumbbells laying around. Instead of requiring a bunch of different weights in order to increase the resistance, you can simply pour in a little extra water.

You’ll first want to find a stationary surface to set your body up on (as shown in pic below). The foot of your working arm will be on the floor, while the off-arm knee and hand will be on the object, creating a tripod of stability while the arm of your hand holding the weight (or jug) remains free.

Form Critical

You want to ensure your back position is sound, so stick your tail out just a bit to allow for a slight curve (opposite of rounding!) in your back. As well, keep your torso relatively parallel with the ground.

Now, move your humerus (upper arm) back to where it’s parallel with the ground. This will ensure you get the most out of the exercise for your triceps. (if you only move your arm back to less than parallel, you won’t work the triceps nearly as much). Attempt to keep your wrist relatively locked, stable, while allowing your forearm to remain perpendicular to the ground. This will create an ‘L’ between your upper and lower arm as you hold the weight in your hand, ready to begin the lift.

starting point--torso and upper arm parallel with ground

starting point for triceps kickback–torso and upper arm parallel with ground

Start engaging your triceps muscles to lift the weight further behind you, making sure your upper arm and elbow remain as fixed as possible. For one thing, if you swing your upper arm further behind you, you’re using your shoulder to help lift the weight, taking a lot of the effort away from your triceps muscles. You’re also jeopardizing your shoulder health as well, since some folks are tight in that area to begin with.

Once that upper arm and elbow start moving around, halt the set at that point. You may either have simply reached your good repetition limit (let’s say you did this movement at least eight times before your form breaks down) or you may need to lessen the weight used. It’s far better to go with a lighter weight and do the exercise properly than hoist a heavier weight up with sloppy form.

arm extended back, upper arm remains parallel with ground

arm extended back, upper arm remains parallel with ground

There are even more options available for tricep activation, but these will provide you a number of choices for hitting the back of those arms as part of your home exercises.

Bert

The “Push Off”—A Nice Alternative to the Push Up

The “Push Off,” so deemed by this guy one day when toying around with bodyweight exercises as part of a home workout, is—at the least—a welcome alternative to the sometimes grudging, standard push up, an old basic that sometimes elicits images of physical torment!

the agony of it all

the agony of it all

But the push off might even be considered the ultimate of at home exercises, as you’re not just using your bodyweight, but you’re also using a doorway (see instructional pics, noted by caption, further below) of your home.

Many Advantages

This “little brother” to the push up can be used for warm-ups, for those not ready to do a set of several regular push ups, or simply to toy around with some variation.

No matter where you’re at in that pecking order, push offs can make you more aware of how your muscles function than any form of chest or pushing exercise. That’s because without having to exert a ton of force, you can focus a lot more on your body’s response to various tensions and angles when doing these. There’s no large weight (bench press) or deep and difficult angle (elevated push ups) demanding your main attention, distracting you from really feeling the chest muscles working with the movement.

Another benefit, potentially a huge one, is that you can adjust mid-exercise a whole lot easier and safer than you ever could doing, say, a heavy bench press. For example, if you feel some kind of discomfort, it’s easy to stop anywhere in your range of motion during the repetition. If, on the other hand, you’re on your back with a heavy barbell on your chest, you have no choice but to try and push the weight all the way up, or hope you have someone spotting you. If neither of these are available, pray!

Prepare to Push

Prepare by, as always, warming up your joints, especially your upper body, but even  some for your legs, as you’ll be on your feet the whole time.

similar muscles are used for the push off as the push up

similar muscles are used for the push off as the push up

Place your hands while standing against both sides of a door frame (see instructional pic #2, as shown by caption) about the level of the bottom of your chest. Experiment with what’s best for you, or you can adjust that height for variation of how you’re hitting your chest. Placing your hands flush with the door frame sides will help your wrists compared to the more acute (bent back) angles they’re at when doing push-ups with palms flat on the floor.

The lower you place your hands, the more it works the chest and less the shoulders and lats and vice-versa. As noted in  the more general, thorough chest article, many people tend to push somewhat higher up their bodies, which brings in their shoulders and lats but not enough for their chest muscles. It’s critical to get a great mind-muscle connection to get the most out of these.

Stand back at a distance where your hands are still in position to both sides of the door frame (like for instructional pic #2 below) while arms are fully extended and where you’re still standing almost upright.

(You can of course make this exercise easier by moving your feet up closer to the door frame. This not only decreases the distance you travel, but also the angle from gravity, as you are closer to a standing position the whole time)

Beginning path

With your arms extended, use them to move under control toward the door frame. Keep your core (midsection area) tight, not allowing it to sag forward (same with a push-up). As you start approaching the door frame, move your head to the side to allow your body closer to the frame and make the movement more challenging (see pic immediately below).

note head slightly to side of the door frame, allowing for more depth in the movement

Instructional pic #1-note head slightly to side of the door frame, allowing for more depth in the movement

Push away from the frame slowly, under control and focusing on feeling those chest muscles engaging as your body continues to move away from the frame. Proceed until your chest is totally contracted while your arms are fully extended (see next pic below).

Try and maintain that mind-muscle connection with your chest as you allow yourself to slowly drift back toward the door frame. You won’t feel it the same way as you do moving away from it, but it will help you keep the focus that provides you a great benefit even from a very basic exercise like this.

full extension of the movement (or repetition)

Instructional pic #2-full extension of the movement (or repetition)

As you gain confidence and comfort with this movement, you can do several things for variety, including changing the speed, where you explode off the door frame instead of moving deliberately. You may get a better muscle pump due to the variation. Further, it can increase your ability to move explosively in real life situations, where you never really know what may be required.

Variety the Spice

You may also challenge yourself by doing push offs with one arm instead of two. Just adjust whatever slight amount needed to ensure balance as you perform the exercise; it’s a far easier change than trying to go from two-arm to one-arm with the standard push-up!

A less considered option that increases difficulty is standing on one leg to do them. Doing so causes some core tightening to maintain body stability, since you don’t have the benefit of planting two feet on the ground to stabilize yourself. Further, since you’re on just one leg, physics causes your upper body now to exert more force, since the other leg’s force is taken away from you.

any pushing exercise on one leg changes the dynamic

any pushing exercise on one leg changes the dynamic

I mentioned above that shortening the distance (placing your feet closer to the door frame) makes it easier, partly because you’re more upright the whole time and not contending with gravity as much as a result.

But if you want to make gravity more of a factor instead, you can maintain your regular, full distance with your feet and make your main focus be at the hardest part of the rep (upper body closer to the door frame, as in instructional pic #1, where gravity is strongest since you’re leaning forward more). You’re also in a naturally tougher spot from a leverage standpoint (it’s harder the furthest you are away from full arm extension, generally).

You ask “how do you focus on that portion of the exercise; don’t you have to do a full repetition (where you go from start to finish (arms extended)?” No, you don’t.

Partial Reps

You can do what’s known as “partials” (or zone training, or J-reps, depending on the degree of specifics and application). Focus totally in the first half of the range of motion (from start to middle, or the distance from instructional pic #1 to pic #3 (below), then dropping back to the starting position, then back to the middle position, etc, until you start to get fatigued.

middle portion of the movement

Instructional pic #3-middle portion of the movement, one which epitomizes a home exercise

You can then do the second half/extended arms portion for several partial repetitions to finish your set. This portion of the movement (pic #3 as starting point, pic #2 as end point) is normally much easier due to leverage and gravity factors. But since you have already fatigued some from battling the more challenging portion for several partial reps, this “easier” part now will actually become more challenging than normal.

I’ve detailed the push off done with a door frame, but the reality is you can easily adjust this for just about any surface, making the exercise more challenging the lower the surface you place your hands on.

Your Home Is Your Gym

My first client, who had experienced broken forearms in previous years, didn’t want to perform regular push-ups but needed to strengthen her upper body. So I had her use her fairly high kitchen counter top, using the same form essentially as I’ve described and photographed above. In time, she began doing these “pseudo one-armed” (more weight shifted to one side of her body, then the other), with one-armed being the next logical option.

You can also use a sturdy table, a chair, your bed, or anything else that has some stability for you. The possibilities are practically endless as to what home prop you can use to push off from.

any reasonably stable surface in your home will work for push-offs

any reasonably stable surface in your home will work for push-offs

The doorway is a great way to begin though, and it sets the stage for each level, eventually leading you back to the good ol’ push-up if you choose. Most importantly, it helps give you independence from gyms and total flexibility in your home workouts.

Bert

Physically Thriving and Your Identity

Many of us hear “you need to exercise!” and we kinda nod in passive agreement, but we often lack the passion to follow through, sometimes to even get started. It’s pretty obvious, though, based on the many New Years’ Resolutions that fail after a few weeks (or at best, a couple months) there’s more to it than simply having a general realization that being physically fit is to your advantage.

each year starts with new resolutions that often falter shortly after

each year starts with new resolutions that often falter shortly after without an ID change

Is it because you are unsure of just how beneficial it is to your health and well-being, or is it because the message just isn’t reaching your inner self, the passion that drives you to really undertake the journey to fitness?

Quick Fix Fizzle

I think a lot of us are looking for quick fixes that require very little effort, and these often backfire, if they even work at first. You hear time and again about people getting on some crash weight loss program and then not only regaining the weight before long, but being heavier than when they started!

often how we feel for weight loss or any kind of goal

often how we feel for weight loss or any kind of goal

Too, I think many of us realize deep down such “get it now” programs don’t truly work. We just don’t want to face that as a fact of life. We, deep down, crave and need to have something that energizes us internally. You know, on some level, that true success comes when you possess passion for something, because even the process becomes an enjoyable journey. The results merely  act to reveal the right path.

Desire: The First Step

As my “About” page notes, part of my motivation comes from seeing what happened with my beloved parents, who both passed away too early and under horrible conditions (not that death is ever pleasant). It left me with a greater determination to take a path independent of the conventional medical, at least as much as possible. Freedom is within our grasp a lot more readily than we realize. We’ve been conditioned to believe in conventional medicine more than we should.

I think I also am motivated internally by my coming up short in playing football as a youngster for the school. I tried out but was largely too skinny and my wiry frame seemed to hold me back, whether that was physically or just psychologically. Whatever the case, I didn’t fulfill my biggest dreams. As an adult (well into middle age), there’s still a passion for in some way resolving those unfulfilled goals.P1000268

Belief: The other critical component

My faith has increased over time as well, that faith not in myself, but in God thru Christ. Some of you may balk here, and that’s obviously your choice. But I speak from actual experience and not just book sense or study. He sustains and empowers me. I don’t have anywhere near all the answers and never will, but the journey is definitely a progressive one, filled with some stops and starts but also greater joy.

On that note, He has shown me that we never can really be as effective in our actions until we first embrace BEING who He has us designed to be. I believe all things emanate from within far more effectively than simply battling things out while traversing up the mountain. I think, though, this latter is what most of us do—we try to change what we’re doing through pure willpower but fail to be “born again,” to see ourselves as “new creations” like He sees us who have come forth to be renewed.

Uphill Battle vs Calling

I state this from a perspective of someone who, until very recently, continually sought that harder path of self-determination, willpower and raw effort without really embracing a new me. It’s the opposite of how many of us move—we often try to will ourselves into something we want to accomplish without willingly having ourselves cleaned or renewed from the inside out. Spiritual growth and victory is, though, an “inside job.”

You may well be able to start and maintain a highly effective and fulfilling fitness program through sheer, long-term willpower (whether home workouts or otherwise). I just believe, through my own deeper thoughts and experiences, that you’ll be far more likely to succeed long term if you’ve internalized the process. The more said activities are tied with your own I.D., the more powerfully you’ll take to them.

When objective and identity meet

When objective and identity meet

You were born to be highly special in a way deeply unique to you. The more you’re able to attain that identity, the far more powerfully and sustainably you’ll be able to walk out the steps needed to succeed.

That may not include physical fitness to such a degree that it’s your calling (as it is mine), but your body is vitally important, and integrating your physical health into your own life’s special path will only produce greater attainment in any journey you’re taking.

Bert

Bodyweight Squats-Strengthening Your Legs Safely

The squat is a very basic, functional human movement. You essentially “do squats” anytime you get into and out of a chair or couch, for instance. Or you may need to drop to the ground to pick something up, then stand back up again. (if picking up anything heavy at all, you’d want to perform a squat to lift the object, rather than bend over and try lifting with a rounded back). Understandably, we all therefore need to be able to perform this everyday movement properly, which makes this an optimal home exercise.

the 2nd one is how many of us lift things--russian roulette with your back!

the 2nd one is how many of us lift things–russian roulette with your back!

Lower back and knee pain—two very common complaints related to getting down and back up—are not normal results of exercise or aging, etc. Rather, they are the product of the cumulative effect of various abuses or neglect.

Inevitably, you may use dumbbells, bands or a weight belt (no massive barbell loaded on the fragile spine near the neck), but first we need to develop the most sound, safe and effective form for getting the most out of the squat movement. Because any problems with form done without any resistance/weights is only exacerbated by increasing the load. Let’s head off problems before they start or become worse.

Preparation:

If you’ve barely been moving around, start with some light warm-ups, ensuring your knees and legs overall are ready to do some exercise.

If you haven’t done any actual squats in a long while, start off practicing in and out of a chair first. You’ll be more free to test it, knowing the chair “has your back” in case you lose your balance. As noted, this is an ideal movement for your home workouts.

The first thing you’ll want to ensure is a stable stance to help you descend and come back up properly. Stand with your feet about shoulder width, toes either pointed forward or slightly out. To aid with balance (and keep you less inclined toward falling backward), feel free to point your arms forward. Look roughly straight ahead, not considerably up or down. Your abdominal muscles should be fairly tight and your shoulders back and down, with chest out. This will all help keep you from rounding your back as you reach the bottom of the movement.

Ideal start and finish for bodyweight squat

Ideal start and bottom position for bodyweight squat

The Critical Descent–Knees

Many think about the upward phase almost exclusively, envisioning coming up with the body to a standing position and feeling those quads (front, upper leg muscles) doing their work. But you create the story for your legs (and back) in the downward movement.

To descend, many people want to do so from their knees, but you should think of breaking down instead from the hips and stick the rear back. This automatically lessens the high tension your knees experience when you emphasize your weight upon them. It also ensures that the knees won’t move  past your toes, as they should not be any more than the slightest bit beyond them, if at all. If you follow this advice, your knees will appreciate it!

Another cue is the way your feet are feeling. If you notice your heels raising, then you’re likely over-emphasizing your knees in the movement. Your weight should be more toward the heel than the front of the foot. (see pic below for example of knees in poor position with heel raised)

note knees extended far beyond toes; raised heels are another cue

Basic No-No’s for squats: note knees extended far beyond toes; raised heels are another cue

The Critical Descent–Back

Your back should maintain a very natural, slight curve, not a dramatic arch. Ideally, you would descend until your thighs are about parallel to the ground. If you feel your back starting to round a little, that’s alright, but only a small amount. As well respected strength coach Eric Cressey notes, “Flexion is fine (and a normal functional task) when it isn’t accompanied by compressive loading.”

Since we won’t be compressing the spine with heavy barbells, a bit of rounding is actually acceptable if done with focus. Still, to ensure you don’t overdo this, keep your abs engaged (tight) to help your back remain reasonably neutral.

When you’re doing these without a chair to sit in, only go down as far as you comfortably can, where your back isn’t excessively rounding or your knees aren’t buckling just to get the extra depth. It’s always better to guarantee quality and safety over quantity. Instead, you may need to work some on flexibility, though that can at least partly be remedied just with repetition. The more you practice this movement, the more you’ll gradually be able to descend further.

Coming Back Up

As you engage your quads (upper legs) to drive you back up out of your seated position, you want to be sure you are coming up from your hips, just as the hips were your focus in going down. Because if you start your ascent by raising your shoulders, it’s going to create considerable strain on your lower back. The hips and shoulders, instead, should come up at the same rate, as James Wilson of MTB Strength Training Systems aptly emphasizes.

squats are great for much of the body, but especially the quads

squats are great for much of the body, but especially the quads

If you focus on intensely driving up from your heels (ensuring you’re warmed up sufficiently), your quad muscles will feel it! This is also where you’ll note safe and effective form, as coming up on the balls of your feet will indicate too much weight distributed toward your knees, so just refocus on the heels and coming back down the next time from your hips, sitting back into the lowered position.

Additional Tip:

I’ve noticed that if I squeeze the glutes at the top for 1-2 seconds after coming up, it makes dropping down from the hips much smoother! You’ll have to make that determination yourself though. Also note the longer you contract there, the more time you’re not keeping your upper leg muscles under tension. Generally, the less rest between repetitions, the more effective the exercise.

Whether you can only do one, or 100, focus on the form in the manner noted in the article. Details are critical in all exercise movements, and this is no exception. As noted, the focus for this at home workout movement isn’t to lift enormous poundages, but to greatly stimulate your quad muscles while, most importantly, ensuring the safest path to do so.

Bert

Moving Toward Shoulder Sanity–Dumbbell Shoulder Press

One of our most abused areas are our shoulders. We can give them—the front part, especially—too much work, considering the obsession with things like bench press and other pushing exercises that constantly hit the anterior (front) portion of the deltoids (muscles of the shoulders). (though I, as your at home personal trainer, won’t be instructing you to do barbell bench presses as part of your home exercises, you can still abuse the shoulders in other chest pressing movements)

Even back exercises, like rows, can contribute to unstable shoulders and poor posture, such as excessive rounding (as you lower the weight too far). This not only will cause you less attractive appearance and muscle imbalances, but also opens the door to injury.

Further, our society’s tendency to sit for long hours at a computer, texting, etc adds tremendously to this forward lurching and shoulder rounding. As you can tell, the need for proper deltoid balance is tremendous today. Shortly, I will post on exercises specifically designed for this.

this shoulder rounding is more common than ever as a result of excessive non-physical activity and abuse

shoulder rounding is more common than ever as a result of excessive sedentary activity and abuse

The dumbbell shoulder press is an exercise that can either help your shoulders, or exacerbate the problem further. The more you point your elbows forward, the more you’ll work the front portion of your shoulder; the more you keep them pointed to the sides, the more you’ll hit the lateral (side) portion. You want to target this side area as one way to provide your deltoids some sound balance.

Preliminary Phase:

Test your ability to keep your elbows out to the side (called the frontal plane—think of the way your arms and legs travel in jumping jacks) of your body without any weights initially. Pretend you’re in the set position to lift weights (or any object) overhead. Your upper arms (humerus) should be roughly parallel with the ground (again, elbows out), palms facing forward. Now raise your arms as if you’re lifting said object overhead.

As you’re raising and then finishing lifting the arms as high as you comfortably can, are your elbows still mainly pointed to the side (frontal plane), or have they moved markedly forward to some degree?

My own elbows, at this juncture, tend to move a bit forward, not totally in the frontal plane anymore without extra warm up and careful stretching. To that end, I’m working on flexibility (another subject and article for the near future!). The more sideways from your body that you can safely maintain your elbows, the more you’ll be able to develop the side of your shoulders and, as a result, the less emphasis you’ll place on the front area, which as noted gets plenty of work automatically from other activities.

the lateral/medial part of the shoulder often needs extra attention

the lateral/medial part of the shoulder often needs extra attention

When you have these flexibility issues, it not only limits the level of overall deltoid development due to limited range of motion, but it also forces you to bend your torso back more than normal to keep the weight from moving too far forward. This can cause lower back discomfort.

Let’s assume you’re able to keep your elbows mainly out to the side as you raise your arms. You’re then ready to start your presses as part of your home workout.

Seating Considerations:

First, determine what you want to use for seating (we’ll assume seated presses for now, rather than standing). If you have a bench with a back support (or can raise the back of your bench up to at or near perpendicular), then great. You won’t be using your stabilizer (core) muscles like you would if you had no back support, but for some it’s safer to have it, and you can also focus more on hitting the deltoids hard.

If you don’t have a bench or chair with a solid back support and need something for your back, you may want to try sitting on the floor (legs crossed Indian-style) and against a wall. For lower back comfort and support, place a cushion of some kind between you and the wall. (*if needing to do presses from the floor, you may be  safer doing them one arm at a time, allowing for using your non-working arm to help hoist the weight into position)

Another option is to sit on an exercise ball or simply to find any firm seating (even if it doesn’t have a back support) that you can use to do your seated shoulder presses. Without a back support, you will need to really focus on engaging your core muscles, keeping them tight in order to ensure back safety.

client using exercise ball in this instance, with spotting behind him for safety

client using exercise ball in this instance, with spotting behind him for safety

Now that you have your platform for performing your shoulder presses, the question is how much weight do you want to use? A lot of folks use too much weight, which leads to either sloppy form to get the dumbbell up (and can aggravate shoulders and other areas). Others may decrease the distance their arms travel, ie shortening their range of motion. This also hurts your shoulder development. It’s far better to use a lighter weight, concentrate continually, and execute the movement fully and feel the deltoid muscles through the whole set.

Getting set for the movement:

There are multiple ways to get the weights you’ve now chosen into the set position (weights held up near neck level, perhaps touching shoulders lightly, prior to pushing them up toward the ceiling). If the weight you’re using is fairly light (it should be, especially if you’re not highly experienced and already using excellent form), then you can probably just hoist the weights from the floor into starting position as you sit back.

If you are on an exercise ball, though, you will need to ensure it’s “stable,” or you can fall off of it. So if using this to sit on for presses, it’s best to already have the weights in hand as you sit on the ball.

If said weights are on the heavier side, you can bring them to your knees first and then raise the knees up while also pulling upward with your arms simultaneously to hoist the weights into the starting position.

As to your starting position: many advocate starting with your upper arms parallel to the ground. I disagree, as this will give you a good tricep workout with some shoulder involvement, but you’ll be cheating yourself of some gains for those deltoids. Instead, start with your upper arm lowered to where the dumbbells are touching, but not resting on, your shoulders. This extra movement will give you significant additional deltoid growth.

though standing in this version, this is about as far down as you want to go with the weight

whether seated or standing for the shoulder press, this is about as far down as you want to go with the weight

Ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground, both helping to provide you stability and also some extra power for lifting.

One last thing about the starting position: keep your shoulders back and down. This will help ensure you’re keeping your elbows out to the side, which again will help maximize lateral (side) shoulder development.

Executing the Lift:

Now, press the weights up, attempting to maintain a smooth trajectory upward. You may see that your arms start coming together naturally as you press the weights toward the ceiling. That’s totally acceptable, provided you avoid clanking the dumbbells together at the top, as you’ll lose tension on the shoulders if you do.

Press the weight up only as high as your arms naturally travel. If you feel (or see, if you have a mirror) yourself shrugging your trap muscles (those back muscles leading to the neck) and allowing your whole shoulder girdle to raise, then you’re going too far up. Just go until your arms no longer naturally can move up further.

Avoid locking out entirely, as you lose some of the tension in your shoulders as well as possibly aggravate your elbows, especially if you “pop” them up into the finished position. It’s better for you to stop just shy of that point to avoid those problems.

dumbbells can drift toward each other as long as avoid clanking them together

dumbbells can drift toward each other as long as avoid clanking them together

As you come back down, maintain control of the weights, actually resisting gravity with your shoulders. This should greatly enhance what you get out of the exercise. Sure, you’ll do less repetitions and/or weight, but what’s important is maximizing the stimulation your shoulders get. By also maintaining good form and a controlled pace, you’ll be protecting them as well.

To summarize:

*Determine your flexibility for doing the shoulder press and whether you need to focus more first on careful stretching before taking up the weights.

*Find an ideal place to perform your dumbbell shoulder presses

*Hoist the weights into position for pressing

*Press the weights overhead without going into a shrug

*Lower the weights back to your starting position under control by keeping your shoulders engaged fully

*After your set, place the weights back on the floor

As always, for home workouts we emphasize dumbbells over the barbell, partly for convenience of space, but also because, as legendary bodybuilder Dave Draper (“Blonde Bomber”) aptly states, “Dumbbells are much safer than restricted bar pressing ’cause they may be altered in motion to accommodate rotation cuff’s particular mechanical requirements. This is done by “feel” and focus to avoid abuse and to work around an injured or weaker area.”

Definitely! To sum what he says, focus first on safety and secondly on proper feel, always being aware of what you’re doing to help ensure your healthiest and maximal deltoid development.