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Packing muscle onto your shoulders isn’t as simple as lifting heavy weights for many reps.
“The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints we have, and that mobility can expose it to an incredible amount stress,” says Chris Falcon, C.P.T., founder of Chicago’s Reactive Performance Enhancement Center.
And as a beginner, if your shoulder mobility isn’t up to snuff—that is, if you can’t access full ranges of motion in your shoulders—you could end up loading up the muscles in dysfunctional ways, resulting in injury. Therefore, “in addition to training the shoulders for size, lifters must also train the shoulders for stability,” says Falcon.
To get there in the healthiest possible way, start any shoulder workout with a warmup including mobility drills, such as wall slides. “Controlled mobility is king,” Falcon says. “Use a PVC pipe to improve range of motion and control by doing overhead squats and lunges.”
Here’s a good tip for beginners: When you get into your workout, Falcon recommends focusing your attention on your tempo, meaning the number of seconds for each phase of a lift: the lowering, eccentric movement (portion 1), the moment at the “bottom” of the lift (portion 2), the raising, concentric movement of the lift itself (portion 3), and the lowering back to start (portion 4).
“Most people know that hypertrophy has to do with lifting volume, and therefore they try to pack as many sets as they can into a workout to get the biggest pump possible,” he says. That typically means a 1-1-1-1 tempo, where all four lift portions are done quickly and for the same length of time (1 second). Falcon’s recommendation: slow down the eccentric (lowering) part. “Bring me the meanest baddest dude throwing weight around in the weight room—if I take his 1-1-1-1 tempo sets and simply add a four-count eccentric to it, the pump and burn he will get will be much greater.”
For this simple workout, he suggests starting with 3 sets of 10 reps (a minute of rest between each), with a 4-1-4-1 tempo—that is, taking 4 seconds for the lowering portion of all lifts, using about 50% of your one-rep max. (You should feel taxed but not blown out at the end of 10 reps.) He also likes to finish each set with three one-minute static holds of a handstand against the wall (or isometric holds in the dip bar). “Static holds can help strengthen the joint capsule,” he explains.