Focused muscle: Deltoid
Shoulder presses represent a very effective exercise for the front part of the deltoid muscle. Most variations also work out the chest muscles (especially the upper part), the triceps of the arm, and the upper part of the trapezius.
Shoulder presses exist in different variations. Basically we can distinguish between the front press and the neck press. Within the versions we could either work out on the machine or with free weights, like a barbell or dumbbells. Beginners should only work out on the shoulder press machine. Advanced and experienced athletes could also train on the multi press machine, racks, and with free weights.
Shoulder presses to the front begin in upright sitting position. Your back rests on the back cushion of the bench. Grab the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width. The elbows point outward. Tense the trunk muscles and actively stabilize the wrists. Press the weight upward until your arms are almost extended. Lower the barbell again until your elbows have just passed shoulder height. The bar will be on the level of your mouth or nose right in front of your face.
Shoulder presses to front can also be performed sitting without back rest or in standing position. Especially here, it is important to keep the trunk muscles tensed and the pelvis erected to prevent a hollow back.
The exercise on the machine doesn’t require stabilization work since the resistance is moved in a fixed construction, what makes the training easier. The execution is similar.
Shoulder presses to the neck also have the same execution. But we now lower the weights toward the neck. Here, it is necessary to lean forward with the head slightly. Also keep the trunk muscles tensed and the back upright. In the lowest position the bar will be on the back of the head, but never below ear level.
For shoulder presses with dumbbells we don’t move the weights to the front or neck. The weight sits rather centered on shoulder level.
Also the exercise bench press trains the deltoid, especially in the incline version. In all variations of the shoulder or bench press don’t lower the bar too far. If your elbows go to far below shoulder level the pressure for the soft tissues of the shoulder joints gets to high what could cause complaints or injuries in the shoulder.
Stretching: Shoulder stretches
Focused muscle: Chest muscles
Bench press is one of the basic exercises in the weight training area, together with squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups. It probably is the most popular chest exercise. It also represents a training for the triceps of the arm and the front part of the deltoid. The exercise is familiar with push-ups.
The bench press exists in different variations. The exercise can be practised with barbell, dumbbells, or on the machine. For the training with barbell and dumbbell we can choose between different bench adjustments to work out regular or inclined bench presses. The exercise on the machine is usually practised in seated position. Beginners should only exercise machine bench pressing. Advanced and experienced athletes can practise with free weights.
The regular bench press is performed on the flat bench with barbell. We start in supine position with the barbell right above our eyes. We can either remain with our feet on the floor, cross one leg on top of the other, or raise both from the ground. Pleas note that to prevent a hollow back it is better to lift the legs. But this requires more balance and is especially difficult with higher weights. Grab the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width and actively stabilize your wrists. Tense your trunk muscles and press your lower back onto the bench. Now lift the barbell out of the holders to have it floating on your extended arms above your shoulders. In a controlled movement lower the weight toward the chest (not the throat) performing a slight bow. Bring it back up again to complete one repetition. Working out with narrower grip increases the activation of the triceps.
Deep bench presses especially with higher weights strain the shoulder joint capsule and ligament structure significantly. The head of the bone of the upper arm (humerus) presses forward against these soft tissues when the elbow passes the shoulder level. This bears the risk of injuries. To avoid complaints and injuries it is recommended to not lower the barbell until it touches the chest. Stop a few centimetres above the chest as soon as the elbows reach shoulder level and bring it back up again. Investigations by Buskies W., Boeckh-Behrens W. (2009) showed that a training of deep bench presses doesn’t increase the effectiveness and does not lead to better strengthening or muscle building effects.
Bench presses can also be performed on the incline bench with either positive or negative angle adjustment. The execution stays the same. Also the workout on the multi press machine is possible. Here, we have to perform less stabilization work since the weight bar runs in a fixed construction. Due to that the intensity decreases what allows us to work out with higher weights.
All versions of the bench press can also be performed with dumbbells. Here, we have to perform more stabilization work what allows us to only train with lower weights only.
Bench pressing on the machine is performed seated. Sit upright and choose the highest seat adjustment to have your shoulders above the level of the handles (most effective). The entire back touches the back rest. Hit the support lever (if available) with your foot to bring the weight handles forward. Grab the handles actively stabilizing your wrists. Bring your elbows up toward the outside to have them in one line with your wrists and shoulders. Against the resistance you extend your arms almost completely. Bring your arms back until your elbows reach the shoulder level (not further back, see “special note” above). After the last repetition of the set bring back the weight handles using the support lever with your foot again.
Stretching: Chest stretches
Focused muscle: Latissimus
Type of training: Machine exercises
Lat pulldown represents a very popular exercise for the latissimus muscle. It also works out the brachioradialis of the forearm and the biceps of the upper arm. The exercise is familiar with the pull-ups.
Lat pulldown is typically performed on the cable machine. But there also are lat pulldown machines without cable that can be used. The motion sequence and execution don’t change among the different machines. But there is quite a large variety of different handles we can use and positions we can take to work out.
The classic lat pulldown is executed to the neck. We take an upright position and fixate our legs with the provided cushion from above. If you can adjust the seat it is quite comfortable to have the knees slightly below or in one line with the hips. Sit close to the machine so that the cable is running down straightly. Grab the bar widely with the back of your hands pointing backward. In a controlled movement you pull down the bar to your neck (head bends forward). The bar can smoothly touch your neck but not hit it hardly. Bring it back up but don’t extend your arms completely. The passive structure of the arms would be strained considerably in complete extension. Also, it would deactivate the latissimus what is not desirable during the lat workout.
Lat pulldown can also be practised to the chest. The execution stays the same. We now have to lean a little backward pressing the chest outward. Be careful with your back. Keep your abdominal muscles tensed and avoid a hollow back.
Another variation of the lat pulldown is when we lean even further back. Here, we can chosse a narrower grip with the front of our hands pointing toward the body. Press your chest outward. Pull the bar down toward your chest with your arms close on the sides of your body. In this version you have to stabilize your body a lot. Don’t work with momentum at all. Keep the muscles of your trunk tensed.
Performing lat pulldown we can also choose between different handles. The range extends from narrow to wide grips with different hand alignments. But we could also work out with imaginary resistance. We sit on a chair, bench or the ground and imagine a bar or handle in our hands with high resistance. Move your hands up and down according to the execution described above. Tense all muscles of the trunk and focus on your latissimus. You could also choose other hand positions as explained above.
All variations of the lat pulldown become extremely intense when we work out in small impulses in the area of highest muscle tension (handle bar pulled down) as described here: Best form of exercise
Stretching: Lat stretches
Focused muscle: Latissimus
Type of training: Own body weight exercises
Pull-ups represent one of the basic exercises within the weight training area, together with squats, deadlifts, and bench press. It also is one of the most effective exercises for the wide back muscle latissimus and the brachioradialis of the forearm. It also activates the biceps muscle of the arm significantly. The pull-up is familiar with the exercise lat pulldown.
Pull-ups exist in many different variations and are very intense. Beginners should not train this exercise.
In its basic version we work out on the pull-up bar. We grab the bar slightly wider than our shoulder width. Tense the muscles of your trunk and pull yourself up toward the chest until your chin is slightly above the bar. Do not work with momentum but in smooth and controlled movements. Go down again to complete one repetition.
Make sure to always have your arms slightly bent when you go down. Hanging with extended arms would strain the passive structure of the arms considerably. Also the activity of the latissimus drops to almost zero.
Athletes that yet do not have the strength to perform an entire set of pull-ups can practise the exercise with support. This could be at the pull-up machine where we kneel on a supportive platform that reduces our weight. Or we could support ourselves with our legs on a bench or similar.
If you are quite strong and able to perform many pull-ups in one set you could work with wide grip pulling toward the neck. Extra weights intensify the exercise a lot. Use a belt or backpack.
Besides a large variety of different grips and weight intensities we can choose from, there also is a different pull-up type. Incline pull-ups are performed with our heels on the ground. We could work out on the bar at the multi press machine or on the edge of a table. Some athletes also use a broom stick fixated on two chairs. Make sure to have your abdominal muscles tensed and your pelvis erected to prevent a hollow back.
Muscle group: The arm muscles
Trained muscle: Triceps
Tricep press is a very effective exercise for the triceps muscle of the arm. We have quite a large range of different variations we can choose from.
Tricep press can be performed in many different ways using different pieces of equipment. We can choose between a standing, sitting, or lying position as well as if we would rather like to work out on a machine or with free weights, like a dumbbell or a curl bar. Beginners should start at the tricep press machine. Advanced and experienced athletes can also work out on the cable machine and with free weights.
Sit down in the tricep press machine. Adjust the rotating axis of the machine so that it is in one line with your elbow joints. Keep your back straight resting on the cushion behind and the abdominal muscles tensed. The backsides of the upper arms rest on the cushion in front of you. Grab the handles firmly and stabilize your wrist actively. From that position stretch and bend the elbows alternately.
The standing tricep press on the cable machine is practised with either shoulder wide feet or in a short lunge. We face the machine and stand close to it so that the cable is running straightly when we pull it. Grab the rope or V handle tightly and stabilize your wrist actively. Tense the muscles of the trunk and fixate the elbows on the sides of your body. From that position you stretch and bend the elbow joint alternately.
This version of the tricep press is more effective when the elbows bend not farther than 90°. When you work with a rope you could increase the intensity by pushing your arms to the sides when the elbows are stretched. It is recommendable to stand close to the machine and keep the cable running straightly. The farther we are away from the machine, the more the latissimus will be activated and the less the triceps. The upper arms will be pulled toward the machine and it is hard to hold them on the body.
For overhead tricep presses we either sit down on a bench with straight back. Or we stand with our feet shoulder wide and our knees slightly bend or in a short lunge. From that position we either work one-armed with a dumbbell or with both arms with a dumbbell or curl bar. Smoothly and controlled we lower the weight toward the neck and up again.
Keep your back straight during the entire set and the muscles of your trunk tensed. To prevent complaints don’t relief the muscle tension when the elbow is bent. Keep your wrist stabilized and the upper arm steady. In the one-armed version you could use your free arm to stabilize the working arm from the front or behind.
Lying tricep presses could be performed with curl bar or on the cable machine. With curl bar we lay down on a bench. You could either bring up your legs or place your feet on the bench or the floor. Tense your abdominal muscles. The pelvis erects and your lower back pulls toward the bench to prevent a hollow back. The upper arms always remain in a perpendicular line and you bend and stretch the elbow joints alternately. Actively stabilize your wrist.
On the cable machine we lay down in supine position with our head pointing toward the machine. Our heel press into the floor. Tense the abdominal muscles and erect the pelvis. The lower back pulls toward the floor to prevent a hollow back. The head lies on the floor. The upper arms remain on the sides of our body. From that position we stretch and bend the elbow joints alternately. Best would be to use a rope so you can go further down with your forearms pushing to the sides.
Stretching: Tricep stretches
Bicep stretch isn’t as easy as it sounds. We have to meet all anatomical stretch functions to do so. But usually the biceps doesn’t tend to shortening what makes its stretching much less necessary.
Muscle group: The arm muscles
Fitness level: Beginner, advanced, experienced
Bicep curls represent the one and only exercise for the biceps muscle. There are other exercises that also work out the biceps, like pull-ups, but with less intensity and effectiveness than curls do.
Bicep curls exist in many different variations and train the biceps muscle as well as the brachioradialis of the forearm. The most relevant and effective versions are regular curls, concentration curls, and the scott curl. Regular bicep curls can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or on the cable machine. In accordance with the equipment we can choose between different workout positions. For beginners it is recommended to start with scott curls on the machine before moving on to the cables or free weights.
For standing bicep curls, we can either go in a short lunge position or stand with our feet shoulder wide. The knees bend slightly. The abdominals tense and the pelvis erects actively (easier in lunge position). From here we could either work with a barbell, a curl bar, a pair of dumbbells, or at the cable machine with a straight or curl bar. Please grab the respective bar tightly and actively stabilize your wrist. Your grip can be shoulder wide or slightly wider. Without momentum you bend and stretch your elbow joint. The upper arms remain steady on the sides of your trunk.
With dumbbells you would work out both arms either alternately (one flexes and one stretches and vice versa) or to the same time (both bend and stretch simultaneously). Both upper arms are rather loose in this version so it is recommendable to stabilize them actively.
Towards the end of a set when your muscles get tired please don’t work with momentum. Here, we would have the high risk of developing a hollow back what could cause back problems. To prevent this problem you could stand straightly against a wall with your back.
Seated bicep curls are performed with dumbbells. Sit up straight on a bench leaning with your back against the rest. The shoulders pull backward. Again, you could either work out both arms simultaneously or alternately. Actively stabilize your upper arms. Don’t bend or stretch the elbow joints maximally. Holding your arms slightly to the front while working out intensifies the exercise (also in standing position). Rotating your arms within the movement doesn’t increase the intensity.
On the cable machine we could also perform bicep curls in lying position. We get in supine position with our feet pointing toward the cable machine. The knees are bent at approximately 90° and the heels press into the floor. The abdominals tense erecting the pelvis and pulling the lower back down onto the floor. Our head lays down as well. Both upper arms are kept tightly on the sides of our trunk and we bend and stretch the elbow joints with the bar grabbed firmly. Actively stabilize your wrist. To increase the intensity slightly lift your upper arms.
Concentration curls for the biceps are performed in sitting position either with a dumbbell or against the bare resistance of your leg. With dumbbells we start sitting on a bench with opened legs (approximately 90°). The back side of the working arm fixates above the knee on the inner thigh of the same site of the body. The inner forearm points toward the other leg (inward rotation in the shoulder joint). The other hand can hold on to the bench to stabilize your body. The upper body tilts slightly toward the front. The back is straight and the abdominals tensed. From that position we bend and stretch (not maximally) the elbow joint with the dumbbell grabbed tightly and actively stabilized wrist. Rotating your arms within the movement doesn’t increase the intensity.
Concentration curls against the resistance of the leg represent an extremely effective workout for the biceps. The exercise can either be performed on a bench or on the floor. We take the same position as for concentration curls with dumbbell. Now, the hand of the working arm grabs the opposite thigh from below slightly above the knee joint. From this position we lift up the leg with the strength of the biceps. In the negative motion we can increase the intensity by actively pressing down the leg. This version allows us to put an optimal resistance against the biceps at any time of the set.
The scott curl can be practised on the scott curl machine, the cable machine, with a curl bar, or a dumbbell. For scott curls with dumbbell or on the cable we use an incline bench in a quite steep adjustment. We get in lunge position behind the bench keeping the back straight. We work with one arm. Place the backside of your arm onto the cushion of the bench. Actively stabilize your wrist with tight grip on the handle bar or dumbbell. Keep your abdominals tensed and bend and stretch your elbow joint alternately.
For scott curls with curl bar or on the scott curl machine we have a wider cushion that fits both arms. We choose the same position as we did for one-armed scott curls. Alternatively you could sit down on the seat cushion. Here, your knees should be below your hips. Your chest as well as the entire backsides of your upper arms are resting on the respective cushions. On the scott curl machine the rotating axis should be in line with the elbow joints. Keep your abdominals tensed and your back straight during the entire set. Firmly grab the curl bar or handle levers actively stabilizing your wrist. Bend and stretch your elbow joint alternately.
Bicep curls are most intense when we concentrate the movement with the forearm close around the horizontal line (longest lever). The further we move the weight upward from this point the more the tension in our muscle decreases. Exceptions are the workout against the leg resistance and on the cable or scott curl machine. Here, the intensity doesn’t depend on the lever what allows us to train effectively throughout the entire amplitude, even when we bend the elbow joint maximally. Never stretch your elbow joint maximally when you work out bicep curls.
Stretching: Bicep stretch
Tricep stretches: The long head is the only muscle of the triceps that extends over both, the elbow and the shoulder joint. For that reason this exercise can only stretch the long head of the triceps.