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Building the Ultimate Physique
Month 7: Shoulder Training With the Max Contraction System

The deltoid is a three-headed muscle, triangular in shape, that starts at your shoulder blade at the back of your shoulder and extends down to an insertion point on your upper arm.

With two months of Max Contraction System training under your belt, one of those being specialization, you should be comfortable with the methodology and, more important, you should be noticing the most impressive muscular gains of your bodybuilding career!

This month the target-muscle group is shoulders, which we’ll focus on blasting to the absolute limit of muscular growth’and maybe even a little beyond’with another specialization routine.

Anatomy and Kinesiology
When selecting exercises, it’s imperative that you know the function of the muscular structures you intend to train. Obviously, it would do you little good to do a set of bench presses in the mistaken notion you were in some way providing growth stimulation to your biceps, or, less obviously, it would be of little benefit to do wide-grip bench presses if your objective was to work the pectoral muscles, as the wider the hand spacing on the barbell, the less stress you place on the pectorals. (As you move your hands away from the midline of the torso, the contracted position of the chest muscles, there’s less stress on the pectoral muscles.) If your objective is to select exercises that involve the largest percentage of shoulder-muscle fibers possible, it behooves you to take a minute to study the anatomy and function of this complex muscle group.

The deltoid is a three-headed muscle, triangular in shape, that starts at your shoulder blade at the back of your shoulder and extends down to an insertion point on your upper arm. Each deltoid head moves the arm in a certain direction. The anterior, or front, head lifts the arm to the front; the lateral, or side, head lifts the arm to the side; while the posterior, or rear, head draws the arm behind the torso. When all three heads are activated, you can not only lift your arm but also rotate it in a full circle. Keep in mind that the trapezius is generally considered a part of the shoulder structure, so you must learn of its function as well.

The traps, as the trapezius muscles are more popularly called, lift the entire shoulder girdle, but they’re also involved whenever you turn your head, and they assist in the action of drawing your shoulder blades, or scapulae, to either side or up and down. The best exercise for working them is shrugs, performed with a barbell, dumbbells or Hammer machine. So you’ll use shrugs to specialize on the traps this month.

The functions of the deltoids are a little more complex, owing to the separate functions of each of the three heads. As your arm can rotate in a 360 degree circle, you can train the individual deltoid muscles from many different angles to maximally stimulate full development. For example, there are at least nine different exercises for the front deltoid, but if you attempted to do nine sets with Max Contraction, you’d soon be overtrained and start noticing mass losses instead of mass increases. So your objective is to select the exercise for each deltoid head that will provide the maximum resistance in its fully contracted position in order to give you maximum muscle fiber stimulation. The exercise that best accomplishes that for the anterior head is the front raise performed with a barbell, dumbbells or on a cable machine. For the lateral head it’s the side raise done with dumbbells or on a cable machine (a Nautilus machine is also excellent for this movement), and for the rear delt it’s the bent-over lateral raise performed with cables or dumbbells. For practical purposes, since not everyone has access to a cable machine, we’ll stick with dumbbells. Those three exercises place a constant tension on the target muscle group from the moment you initiate the exercise until the moment you break the contraction at the end of your set. That’s what makes them the most productive exercises possible’their extremely high intensity thresholds.

Remember that you don’t do repetitions when training with the Max Contraction System. Your sets are determined by seconds. For example, in an orthodox set of 10 isotonic repetitions, the time frame would be approximately 45 to 60 seconds, which is where it should be, as that ensures that your muscles are operating within the anaerobic window and that you’re not dividing the training stimulus between size and strength (anaerobic) increases and endurance (aerobic) increases. In the Max Contraction System one ‘set’ also takes between 45 and 60 seconds to complete, but unlike most conventional training methods, where the intensity fluctuates from start to finish, the intensity remains at the highest possible level throughout the entire set. That’s what gives you greater growth stimulation.

Also remember that when you use Max Contraction, you lift the resistance slowly at the beginning of the movement, so as not to damage any ligaments or connective tissues, until you reach full muscular contraction’just as you would when performing conventional repetitions. Then, instead of lowering the weight, you hold the fully contracted position for a minimum of 45 seconds (shoot for 60) or until you can no longer sustain the contraction. If you can hold the resistance for more than 60 seconds, it’s too light and you should heavy it up by 5 percent for your next workout. If you can’t hold the contraction for a full 45 seconds, it’s too heavy and you should reduce the resistance by 5 percent, or until you can contract the muscle for a full 45 seconds. Some of you may require a spotter (or two if you’re really strong) to lift the weight up into the fully contracted position for you. Be sure your spotters don’t just drop the weight into your hands at that point, as the sudden shock to the joint of articulation, in this case the shoulder girdle, could prove traumatic, and the sudden, violent contraction your muscles will have to make could lead to a torn muscle. Always exercise caution.

You must perform every movement slowly, particularly as you settle into the fully contracted position. You may notice that your target muscle group begins to shake’sometimes rather violently’at about the 45-to-50-second mark, but that’s fine and a sure sign that your muscles are soliciting increasingly more fibers to aid in maintaining the contraction. After all, the more fibers they use, the greater the growth stimulation.

All right, we’ve reviewed the theory, and you know why you must maintain the contraction for 45 to 60 seconds. As with last month’s routine you train the other bodyparts that you aren’t specializing but with only one set apiece, and you do a total of three for your deltoids and two for your traps.

The Routine
Front raises. Hold a barbell in front of your thighs and slowly raise it to directly in front of your eyes. Keep your elbows locked throughout the movement. Hold the fully contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds or until you can no longer sustain the contraction. Slowly lower the resistance and, after a 30-second breather, pick up two dumbbells and move on to your next exercise.

Lateral raises. With a dumbbell in each hand slowly raise your arms out to your sides. Keep your elbows locked, and raise the ‘bells until they’re at shoulder level. Hold that position of full muscular contraction for 45 to 60 seconds or until you break the contraction. Then lower the dumbbells slowly the rest of the way to your outer thighs. Rest briefly for 30 seconds before starting your final delt exercise.

Bent-over lateral raises. With a dumbbell in each hand bend over at the waist, and slowly raise the dumbbells up and back until your arms are parallel to the floor and the dumbbells are on a plane slightly above and behind your shoulders. Remember to keep your arms perfectly straight. When you hit the fully contracted position, hold it for 45 to 60 seconds or until you can no longer hold the contraction. Slowly lower the dumbbells, and prepare to start your trap training.

Barbell shrugs. Take an overhand grip on a barbell’preferably using straps or lifting hooks to reinforce your grip’and stand erect with it. Slowly raise your shoulders until they almost touch your ears and hold that position for 45 to 60 seconds or until you can no longer hold the contraction. When you reach the failure point, the point at which you’re unable to hold the contraction with the amount of weight you’ve selected, quickly put down the barbell and pick up another barbell that’s loaded with a 20-percent-lighter resistance and repeat the movement.

That concludes your Max Contraction shoulder routine. Here are the exercises for the rest of your physique. In each case hold in the fully contracted position for 45 to 60 seconds.

‘Leg extensions
‘Leg curls
‘Pec deck flyes
‘Concentration curls
‘Dumbbell kickbacks
‘Barbell wrist curls
‘Barbell reverse wrist curls

Remember that while using Max Contraction, you will still (if you’re a beginner) train on a three-days-per-week routine, working on alternate days’for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday’and then take weekends off for recovery and growth. Also, you should continue to train your entire body at each session, but under no circumstances should you perform more than one set using the Max Contraction technique, unless otherwise directed. The routine should stimulate your deltoids into a phenomenal rate of growth and will continue to do so as long as you continue to use it.

Next month you’ll use the Max Contraction System to blast your chest’and wait until you see that routine. It makes all that have passed before seem like tea parties!

Editor’s note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. Watch for his latest book, Fast Mass: The Max Contraction System at IM

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