Developing Shoulder and Trapezius Mass and Power
by Anthony Ditillo
It is obvious to me that the muscles of the upper torso and in particular the muscles of the scapulae area are most impressive when properly developed with sufficient size and roundness. It would seem that the entire upper body takes on a more rugged look which gives a true indication of the internal power such a man possesses. So it seems only natural to me that many of you men would like to emulate me, somewhat, in developing these areas to greater size and mass. The exact areas I am speaking about are the deltoids, the upper pectorals, the trapezius muscles and the muscles of the upper and inner back. When these areas are correctly developed with thickness and mass, the man who possesses such massive musculature will be quite impressive, indeed.
In order for these areas to respond with increased size and power, it will be necessary for the trainee to incorporate very heavy weights for many sets of medium to low repetitions. This is because of the relative power potential of these muscles and therefore, the necessity of utilizing severe measures to further stimulate additional gains. To try and rep out with less than adequate poundages might work for the physique man who is primarily interested in shaping his muscles with greater definition. If such a man has a high metabolism, with thin skin and a natural tendency for muscle shape it might be possible for him to gain for quite a while using relatively light weights with the intensity factor of the exercise being of secondary concern. But for the men who are interested in a combination of size, mass and power, heavy training and heavy training alone will be necessary if the results are to be forthcoming.
While on the subject of training intensity, I would like to offer my personal opinions and observations on this subject. It seems to be a popular concept that for the best results the trainee should attempt to perform as many reps as physically possible until complete failure takes place within the muscles being worked. I would agree that in some instances this type of intensity would seem to be most productive, but on the whole, I have found very few men who can maintain this level of mental stress for any length of time. Furthermore, the higher the level of physical accomplishment on the part of the lifter, the harder it is for him to accommodate to this type and level of accentuated stress. Do you think that the top level powerlifters of today are grinding out sets and failing at the end of every one of them? For the most part, and during the main part of the training year, I do not think so. What I do think they are doing is reducing the number of worthless lighter sets and taking rather large weight jumps between each set, while concentrating on performing almost as many reps as possible for each set in their desired workout.
The beauty of this type of training is that the muscles become more deeply stimulated without excessive nerve depletion which the other method would certainly bring about. In this way, the muscles are greatly strengthened while your level of nervous energy is not seriously depleted as to bring on emotional or mental staleness, which is, in itself, more insidious than physical staleness. Furthermore, such training with maximum poundages performed for various numbers of sets and repetitions will also stimulate your entire physical system, thereby allowing easier recuperation and hence more productive workouts. We must remember that the champions today are practically being pharmaceutically produced and while I respect and admire each and every one of them, we must take into consideration the aid these various pharmaceutical products will give to the individual; and hence, enable him to recuperate from mental and physical stresses which otherwise would cripple him both mentally, physically and emotionally.
So while I humbly admit that the champions today would still be the champions even if all drug usage would stop, it is hard to try to emulate these men without using drugs.
When discussing the best movements to utilize for increasing the torso muscles with some size and mass and strength, I once again must direct my own opinions from a resting point of my own past experience. I have always been interested in the various pressing movements, both overhead and on the bench and along with these various presses, much work has been done with the shrugging movement, with both a medium and a wide grip. These shrugs are extremely beneficial in the developing of a more massive upper body and without a doubt, one of the most valuable training movements I have ever incorporated. In fact, now that I really think about it, I have never taken a layoff from this movement, for any reason during the last three or so years. Needless to say, very heavy weights can be handled in these pulling movements and it will be necessary for the trainee to incorporate rather high repetitions as well as the use of lifting straps in order to fully train these muscles to the utmost of their physical potential. Without the use of training straps it would be impossible to handle a weight heavy enough to do the trainee any good. Also, if very low repetitions are used the exercise then becomes more like a lift, within itself, and this would indeed be a mistake, since we are going after the look of power, not solely the acquisition of power. For the Olympic lifting enthusiast, this preoccupation with maximum single and double attempts might prove useful (though the high pull would indeed be better). But we are not thinking of the Olympic lifter in this article. We are talking bout the acquisition of massive, muscular size, with a relative degree of strength, combined with large physical size. The lifter has a different set of values.
Along with the shoulder shrugs I would also include sufficient work with the barbell bentover rowing motion. You have only to look at the massive, muscular upper back of 275-pound David Shaw to see how this movement will literally revamp your muscular development in this area if enough work and sweat are used. Dave relies on this movement very heavily in the development of all-over pulling power and he has broken the World deadlift record twice in one lifting year, (though it seems that no one knows or cares!) To see this man’s development is to give mute testimony as to the effectiveness of this movement.
For the muscles of the shoulders and upper pectorals, I have always favored various standing and seated presses in the power rack and also in the conventional manner. I do not believe in using too wide a grip on any of these movements because the wider the grip, the less work these muscles are actually called upon to do. It makes no sense to take a very wide grip and thereby cut down on the actual performance stroke of the movement, because the distance of the movement aids, not hinders, physical development. Even in the press behind neck I would never recommend a wide grip, due to the strain on the deltoids in their points of muscular insertion. By using a medium grip we are enabled to work with utmost efficiency without undue stress on any particular section of the scapulae. Also, by using a medium grip we actually develop more muscle in direct ratio to the amount we are handling. Since there is a greater traveling distance in the medium grip, there is a greater muscle action; hence greater muscle stimulation. Is this not what we are going after?
Bench pressing is another very effective movement and in this case I would recommend a closer grip than is usually advised. By remaining relatively close in our grip we evenly distribute the resistance throughout the entire upper body without undue stress on any particular muscle group. Furthermore, with this closer than usual grip, there is less incidence of muscle pulls since the muscles involved are in a more natural position. Finally, as already mentioned, this closer grip necessitates greater muscle stimulation and hence, further development in the long run, regardless of the amount of weight handled. With time and perseverance, the weights will get heavier.
By now, you should all know of my experiences within the power rack. This power rack training will literally revamp your entire physical structure and I defy anyone to disagree with me on this point: when it comes to developing massive size nothing beats partial movements in a power rack. To be sure, it will be necessary to use both full movements and partial movements in your routines for the best all around results. To rely heavily on the partial movements without sufficient movements done in the conventional manner would greatly reduce the efficiency of the body to fluidly lift heavy weights.
Some movements however, can be done solely in a power rack without negatively affecting the lifter to any great degree. The standing press can be done in the power rack and since this movement is no longer done in competition, it can not harm you in any way if you solely press from a deadstop in the rack without knee thrust or jerking motion of any kind. It will develop ponderous deltoids if followed for any length of time. The seated press (back braced) and the press behind neck are two other movements which can also be handled solely in the power rack without harm to the trainee, when it comes to future lifting proficiency. We also mentioned earlier the great value of the shrugs and these can safely be handled in a power rack with no fear of harm coming to the trainee in any form. For the rest of the pressing movements and for the bentover rowing I have found that while they can be handled quite well in the rack, the inclusion of regularly performed sets and repetitions in the usual manner is quite necessary in order to maintain efficient lifting groove and technique.
With the goal being greater muscle mass stimulation, our performance in the rack will be somewhat different than usually prescribed. For one thing, we will be handling the weights for somewhat higher repetitions than usually advised in a rack routine. I would recommend repetitions between five and seven for most movements, for the best all around results in muscle size increase. Also, the training theory will be somewhat changed in order to incorporate our chosen goals or aims. Since we are not solely interested in increasing lifting skill or power but in fact wish a combination of both size and strength, we will not be utilizing the maximum fatigue theory. Instead we will be performing full repetitions from various heights in the rack. This means for the standing press we will be pressing fully from the shoulders overhead on one training day and on the other training day we will be pressing to the height of the forehead and to the height of the eyes. These partial presses will also be started from the shoulders and we will be relying on the heaviness of the barbell to stop us at the desired height. shrugs will be done twice per week also, with one day being done with a medium grip and the other day being kept for the wide (snatch) grip.
The bench press and incline press will be performed once weekly in the conventional manner with heavy poundages and relatively low to medium repetitions. The press behind neck can also be performed once per week, with full movements in the power rack, in which we would begin each set with the bar dead on the pins of the rack at the height of the lower part of the trapezius muscle. From here, using a medium grip we can press adequately and with complete safety and also, we can incorporate forced repetitions. By using these what we do is to perform as many repetitions as we comfortably can with a given weight, and then from the pins continue on for as many forced partial repetitions as we can muster at any given time. Since the weight is safely supported with these and since the weight can initially be performed for a few repetitions, there is little chance of mental or emotional overtraining.
The most important thing to remember when undertaking this type of training is that you will get out of the exercises a direct proportionate amount of results, with the amount of sweat and hard work you are willing to sacrifice in order to gain. To waste your time for hours on end with light weights will do you no good at all, for what you are after is additional size and mass. What you will have to learn to do is to greatly increase your training poundages and this can only be done by applying the principles of regulated training, within and without, the power rack.
In order simplify your training problems somewhat I have outlined for you a typical schedule I have followed from time to time, during the past three or four years. With patience, hard work and proper application of the training theories and principles as outlined herein, I am sure you will find it as beneficial as I have. In this routine I have combined for you the most productive methods of performing the exercises in question, and also the most favorable set and repetition scheme which I have found to cause an increase in both size and strength. Don’t overlook the heavy partial movements for they are very important and basically fundamental in my success in developing size with great overhead pressing strength.
Bench Press – Use a medium grip and work up to a maximum set of five repetitions. Figure on seven or so sets which includes warming up and cooling down.
Incline Press – Five to seven sets of four to six repetitions working up to a maximum set of six repetitions.
Press Behind Neck – Three or four sets of five to seven repetitions within a power rack. Begin each set from dead off the pins at trapezius height.
Bentover Rowing – Five to seven sets of four to six repetitions using a medium grip and pulling the bar into the lower abdomen for each repetition.
On this day perform leg and upper arm work of your own choice.
Press From Rack – Five to seven repetitions of five to seven repetitions. Work up to a maximum set of five reps.
Partial Presses – Perform four or five sets with heavier weights from the shoulders to the top of the head. Increase to heavier weight and perform four or five sets from the shoulders to the height of the eyes.
Close Grip Bench – Perform these in a rack with the bar on the pins just grazing your chest. Perform four or five sets of five to seven repetitions working up to a maximum weight for five repetitions. Your grip should be just a bit narrower than shoulder width.
Shoulder shrug – These should also be performed in a power rack. Using a medium grip. perform seven or eight sets of five to seven repetitions working up to a maximum set of five. Then do the same with a wide grip.
On this day again work the legs and upper arms with the program of your choice.
Days 6 and 7
This, then, is very similar to the way I have been training for the past few years. The only difference being that I would be on a six day schedule instead of the four day schedule. But we must bear in mind that I do not work hard for a living and I am not underweight. For the majority of you thin fellows, I would recommend a four day schedule. I am not going to recommend any kind of diet program since the majority of us already know that we must eat and eat well if we are going to gain with regularity and rapidity. I would recommend that you do include fruits and vegetables to your diet and to see to it that it is well balanced and well rounded.
In closing, let me sincerely wish all of you who have inquired from me just what it is I have been doing in order to develop my mass and size, that you too may become as massive as you would like to be. And rest assured, if you follow the training principles included within this article, you will grow quite large, quite fast!