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With great conquests come even greater expectations. For Shawn Rhoden, a top-four finisher in the last two Mr. Olympia tilts, and Flex Lewis, two-time defending Olympia 212 Showdown champ, that means a 2014 for the record books. Here are the workouts that’ll help them shoulder that mighty load.

Bringing these two together, then, in a workout for the FLEX cameras was fitting. It also proved interesting to us fly-on-the-wall scribes, since another thing they happen to have in common is a cerebral approach to training. They’re inquisitive and intensely focused. (As Lewis puts it, “When I step into the gym, I’m going to war.”) Here’s what happened when they traded reps and revelations about all things iron a day after the 2012 Olympia.


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“I know a lot of guys will go right into a press, but lateral raises are a better warmup for me,” Rhoden says of the exercise that always leads of his delt routine. “You may be able to lift more if you do the press fIrst, but I know I’m never going to be the strongest guy in the gym. That’s not important—for me, it’s always about putting the muscles under tension.”

Rhoden will start with a 25-pound dumbbell for 20 reps, working his way down the rack to the 65s over the course of four sets as he dials back to 10–12 reps. “Charles [Glass, Rhoden’s renowned trainer] preaches concentrating, squeezing, increasing the blood flow,” Rhoden says. “We also keep my arms back at my hamstrings to start, and leading with my pinkie up and thumb down as I raise the weights, like I’m pouring out a jug, stopping when my arms are just above parallel to the floor.”

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As for Lewis, he’ll also begin his workout with laterals, although he’ll often opt for the seated raise machine. “I’ll start with the machine, but I don’t always fInish there,” he admits. “If I’m not having that mind-muscle connection on that particular day, I’ll stop and move to dumbbells.”

No matter which implement of torture is chosen, though, he’ll add a devious twist to the end of his working sets. “After 12–15 reps,” Lewis explains, “I’ll do 3–5 reps that include static holds—at the top of each rep, I hold the contraction for two seconds, really pushing the squeeze.”

Static holds make appearances throughout Lewis’ training week, from delts to back to legs, and especially to his chest, which he targeted relentlessly in the lead-up to the 2013 Olympia. “I’ve gotten into static holds the last couple of years primarily because I feel a great benefIt,” he says. “For whatever reason, they hit fIbers not reached through traditional reps. When I do static holds, I’ll have DOMS [delayedonset muscle soreness] the second or third day that I don’t usually feel otherwise.”


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Ever since Gary Jones, son of Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones, co-founded Hammer Strength Corporation back in 1989, bodybuilders have embraced the company’s creations. And it’s little wonder—part free weights, part machine, they convey some of the advantages of both modes of training, allowing you to work directly against resistance while pushing yourself to the limit in relative safety.

Count Rhoden and Lewis among those fans of Hammer Strength, including the shoulder press apparatus, which makes regular appearances in both of their workouts.

“I’ll do one plate on each side for 20 reps, then two plates for another 20,” Lewis says of the exercise he rotates with dumbbell presses from week to week. “When I go three plates, then four, it’s no less than 15 reps per set. I don’t lock out my elbows at the top to keep continuous stress on the delts.”

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Another trick? The rest-pause technique. “Once I fail, I’ll rest a few seconds, then do another rep,” he says. “I’ll repeat that two or three times, basically like doing singles at the very end.”

Rhoden, meanwhile, also switches between dumbbell and Hammer Strength presses. “My reps are smooth,” he says. “I tell people to go with your own body rhythm. What I mean is a controlled cadence on the way up and on the negative. Don’t drop it, and don’t just jack it up—take the same amount of seconds going up as coming down.”


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Demonstrated on a preacher bench here, Rhoden and Lewis do prefer the typical low-back bench, truth be told. But no matter what seat you prefer, the dumbbell press is a redoubtable exercise for delts. Call it common, simple, boring, whatever you wish, but hell if it ain’t incredibly effective at stressing the intended target.

“I’ll typically do four sets of 10–12 reps, starting at 60 pounds and f nishing as high as the 120s,” Rhoden explains. “I don’t do any twists with my wrists—just straight up and straight down, palms facing forward the whole time. I don’t bring the dumbbells together at the top either, since clanging them together just takes the stress right of of your delts.”

Another mistake Rhoden admits to making in his younger years is going heavier than he could legitimately handle. “A lot of guys tend to go too heavy, and their focus shifts to hoisting the weight up rather than keeping the tension on the muscle,” he says. “Bouncing from the bottom and going too fast doesn’t do anything but feed your ego.”

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When Lewis does dumbbell presses, he’ll aim for 4–5 sets of 15–20 reps, and won’t hesitate to use rest-pause to eke out a few extra reps beyond failure. Making sure he squeezes maximum benefit out of each and every set is key when you spend half your year on the road travelling. But the Welsh Dragon wasn’t always so brutally efficient.

“I’d read articles about Dorian Yates, who said he would f nish his back workout in 20, 25 minutes, and I’d think, ‘Right,’ ” he recalls. “Later, I had a chance to train with Dorian. We finished a back workout in 20 minutes, and I was annihilated. He would lift very heavy, and do a lot of squeezes. From that experience I learned firsthand that you don’t need to do crazy two-hour workouts to get results.”


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In early 2012, before his breakthrough third place at that fall’s Mr. Olympia, Rhoden found himself in Istanbul, Turkey, conducting a gym seminar. Little did he know that it would radically change the way he trained once he returned stateside.

“The guys asked questions that made me think [back] to when I first started lifting years ago,” Rhoden recalls. “One of the things I found myself saying to them in response is that ‘bodybuilding is bodybuilding. It’s the same bodybuilding that was around 30–40 years ago, the same equipment.’ Think back to the days of Larry Scott or Frank Zane. Those guys, as long as they had barbells and dumbbells in the gym, they could build muscle.”

Taking those words to heart, he realized that he should refocus on old-fashioned lifting, making barbells and dumbbells his main tools of choice. When it came to shoulders, then, he stocked his routine with dumbbell presses and all manner of lateral raises, including—at least occasionally—the incline bench rear lateral raise.

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For Lewis, exercises specific to the rear delts have fallen out of his repertoire, but that doesn’t mean he has let them of the hook. Anything but. “I get a lot of rear-delt stimulation when I train my back,” he says. “When I’m getting ready for a show, though, I’ll do dumbbell rear lateral raises every few workouts.”

The key, he says, is the squeeze on every single rep. He also has a trick for bringing the set to ultimate, drop-in-a-heap muscle failure. “I’ll rep first with my palms down, doing a full range of motion,” he explains. “Then I’ll turn so my wrists are in a neutral hammer grip (palms facing back) and I’ll continue repping through a shorter and shorter range of motion. Even quarter reps put a crazy amount of stress on the rear delts. I don’t count reps, I just go until I can’t.”


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Let it be known that Flex Lewis is no fan of shrugs. It’s not that the exercise is inherently bad…it’s just that it’s been misused and abused by the masses. “I look at shrugs like I do flat-bench barbell presses,” he says. “They’re the same category, guys just load up that shit and do crazy amounts of weight. They’ll pile on plates and shrug with bad form. It’s just showing off .”

That doesn’t mean Lewis won’t shrug, just that he’ll use it sparingly. And when he does shrug, he opts for dumbbells, which give him a better range of motion. “I don’t shrug straight up,” he adds. “It’s not ‘touching your ears’ with your delts. Instead, I’ll shrug so my shoulders are going up and back and hold it a second at the top. I’ll then fInish the set with smaller, fast reps, where I’ll go up and down maybe a centimeter to failure. But I’ll never sacrifice form for weight.”

Rhoden does a plate-loaded shrug more often—Glass makes it a regular stop as part of a workout-ending superset with reverse pec-deck flyes. “When I do it, I keep my elbows a little flexed, not locked out,” Rhoden instructs. “Think about it like you’re driving your elbows up into your delts.” In the spirit of Lewis’ admonition, the weight isn’t excessive, starting with four plates, then up to five, and finally two sets with six plates on each side. Rest periods are minimal, “just enough time for my partner to do his set and I’m back at it.”


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In these shots, Lewis and Rhoden messed around with a super-close grip on the EZ-curl bar, but neither necessarily advocates this style. “I upright row with a barbell, using a wide grip…where that line is notched into the bar, my hands go outside that line,” Rhoden says.

“When I pull it up,” he continues, “the bar is away from my body a few inches, and I’m leading with my elbows. To be honest, there’s only a small range of motion, the bar stops at my chest. This is one of those exercises you can’t really go heavy on—I work my way up to a plate on each side for 10–12 reps. It’s more about control.”

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While Rhoden’s upright row is relatively traditional, Lewis’ version is anything but. Falling fourth in his delt routine, he uses an EZ bar with his palms on the outer curls to begin.

From there, “I pull it up to my chin, then flip the bar like a snatch motion, fl icking my wrist and pushing the bar outward in front of me so it’s about eye level when my elbows are extended. Then I bring it down under control back to my waist, and as soon as it’s down I go right into the next rep.” Four sets of 15–20 reps, and he’s ground the muscle f bers of his middle and front delts into a fIne dust.


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“The way I look at this year is I made a lot of improvement,” Rhoden says of fInishing fourth, one spot lower than 2012. “It’s my fourth year as a pro, my third Olympia and second time being in the top fIve. I can’t look at that as a disappointment or a step back. I’ve made leaps and bounds. The guys ahead of me, Kai [Greene] and Dennis [Wolf], have been at this for a long time. But I think any one of us could have fInished second and no one would have questioned it, it was that close.”


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“Kevin [English] was ready, David [Henry] was ready, I was ready—there were no excuses from any camp this year,” Lewis said of this year’s Olympia 212 Showdown. “Me and my team brought our A game, and it was nice to have my hand raised and be named defending champion. I feel that, if you win the title once, that’s a fantastic feat, but to go back and defend it is an even larger accomplishment.”


STANDING LATERAL RAISE: 4 sets*; 10-12 reps

SEATED DUMBBELL PRESS: 4 sets; 10-12 reps




UPRIGHT ROW: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

REVERSE PECK DECK FLYE: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

superset with

PLATE LOADED MACHINE SHRUG: 4 sets; 10-12 reps

*Note: Plus 3 warm up sets of 20 reps.


SEATED MACHINE RAISE: 3 sets*; 10-12 reps**

SEATED DUMBBELL PRESS: 4-5 sets; 15-20 reps ***


HAMMER STRENGTH MACHINE PRESS: 4-5 sets; 15-20 reps ***


EZ-BAR UPRIGHT ROW & PUSH: 4 sets; 15-20 reps

INCLINE BENCH REAR LATERAL RAISE: 3 sets; reps to failure (including partials)

*Note: Plus 3 warmup sets of 20 reps.

** Note: After 12 regular reps, he'll finish with 5 static hold reps, stopping at the top and flexing hard for up to 2 seconds.

*** Note: He'll add 2 to 3 rest-pause reps after initial failure at the end of the last couple sets, pausing a few seconds to recharge in between each. 

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