The ideal body type for men changes from one decade to the next. In the 1970s, it was in to look like a distance runner. People often ran 30-100 miles per week so they could look ultra thin, with long, lean, lanky-looking muscles. That changed in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Many men wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or a professional football linebacker. To get this look, they lifted heavy weights and concentrated on large muscle exercises, such as bench presses, squats and dead lifts. These exercises gave them thick legs, chests and trunks.
The pendulum has started to swing the other way, again. Now, many men want to have muscular shoulders and back with a thin waistline. They don’t want to look thick in their torsos or chest. While they want large muscles – at least in the right places – they want to look lean and cut without appearing bulky and burley.
You can develop this long, muscular, lean look if you do the right exercises. One of the best ways to build the big three – large round shoulders, V-back and small waist – is to do supersets. This technique involves working each area – shoulders, back and waist – in rapid succession. First you do a set of shoulder exercise, followed immediately by a set for your back, and then a set for your abs. Rest for one minute, and then begin again.
Avoid exercises such as squats and deadlifts that build thick trunk and butt muscles. These are great for developing overall body strength and power, but will not give you the long, lean, muscular look. They are essential for many kinds of athletes, but will not give you the kind of body you want. I will describe some exercises not to do as well as those that will produce the results you’re after.
How Supersets Produce Fast Results
Supersets involve working a muscle group, then immediately working another muscle group – giving the first muscle group you exercised a rest. Muscle growth depends on high muscle tension and the length of time you apply the tension. Scientists are not completely sure how this works, but they have a few ideas. Weight training damages the muscle fibers, which makes the muscles grow as they repair themselves. Stressed muscles grow important structures called satellite cells that cause the genetic material in the cells to make new muscle tissue. Most experts agree that muscles get bigger by increasing the size of existing muscle cells rather than building new ones.
During the superset workout described in this article you put target muscles – such as the deltoids – under intense stress. Then, you hit the lats, followed by the abs in rapid succession. After a short rest, you hit the deltoids again. Unlike other methods that involve training one muscle group at a time, you stress a muscle group and let it rest while you’re stressing another muscle group. This allows you to exhaust several groups during a workout.
Supersets satisfy the most important stimuli for building muscle – high levels of muscle tension applied for a long time. At the end of this monster workout, you have stressed your shoulders, back and abs to the max. The hard work not only builds muscles, but also burns a lot of calories during and after the workout. Increased caloric consumption helps control body fat and makes you look cut and buff.
Not all muscle fibers are alike – some are slow and others are fast. Your nervous system chooses which fibers to contract according to the load on the muscle and the speed at which it contracts. When your body lifts a light load it chooses small, slow-twitch fibers. It calls on the larger fast-twitch fibers when you want to lift a heavy weight or move quickly. You recruit the larger, stronger fast-twitch fibers as the slower fibers fatigue. The best way to stress both the fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers is to push both types of fibers to the max using supersets. As muscles fatigue, they call on other muscle fibers to produce force. As Arnold said in his first movie Stay Hungry, “You must burn to grow!”
The Ideal Superset Workout
Isolating the deltoids (round shoulder muscle; front, middle and rear heads of the muscle), lats (back muscle that give your upper body the “V” look), rhomboids (upper back muscles) and lower abs will give you a “T” shape and a thin waist. EMG studies show that excellent exercises for the deltoids include seated dumbbell shoulder presses, seated front raises, seated lateral raises and bent-over rear deltoid raises. Good exercises for the back include pull-ups, wide-grip lat pull-downs, one-arm dumbbell bent-over rows, and seated rows. Exercises for the lower abs include hanging straight leg raises and Roman chair leg raises. In the superset workout, start with the first shoulder exercise, proceed with the first lat exercise, and finish with the first ab exercise.
The superset routine is shown in the table. The progression is simple: Do one exercise at a time from the shoulders, back and ab category. Rest one minute and then begin again. For example, do one set of 12 reps of the seated dumbbell press, followed immediately by one set of 12 reps of wide-grip pull-ups, followed immediately by one set of 12 reps of Roman chair leg raises. Rest one minute, and then do the second set of shoulder presses, and then the second set of pull-ups, and so forth.
Do an exercise from each category in series until you have completed the entire workout. Do this workout two times per week. Do legs and cardio on other days. This is a monster workout, but it will bring rapid results. Following are descriptions of the exercises.
Exercises for the Shoulders
Seated Dumbbell Press
This exercise builds mainly the deltoids, triceps and traps. Doing this exercise seated isolates the deltoids. The technique: Sit on a flat bench or incline bench (with angle set at 90°). Get the dumbbells to the starting position by kicking them with your knees to your shoulders. Press them overhead, either one or two at a time. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Seated Front Raises
This exercise builds mainly the front part of the deltoid muscle. The technique: Sit on a flat bench or incline bench (with angle set at 90°) and extend your arms fully while holding a dumbbell in each hand. With palms down and arms straight, raise your arms in front of you until they are either parallel with the ground or completely overhead. Return the dumbbells slowly to the starting position. People with shoulder problems should not raise the dumbbells completely overhead because the movement could cause rotator cuff problems. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Seated Lateral Raises
This exercise builds mainly the middle part of the deltoid muscle. The technique: Sit on a flat bench or incline bench (with angle set at 90°) and extend your arms fully while holding a dumbbell in each hand. With palms down and arms straight, raise your arms to the side until they are either parallel with the ground or completely overhead. Return the dumbbells slowly to the starting position. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Rear Bent-Over Deltoid Raises
This exercise builds mainly the rear part of the deltoid muscle. The technique: In a standing or seated position, with your knees bent slightly, bend at the waist. Lift the dumbbells backward and to the sides until they reach shoulder level; return to the starting position. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Exercises for the Back
Most weight trainers love to do bench presses and curls but avoid exercises for the back. This is a mistake. Developing back muscles gives your body balance that will prevent injury and give you a T-shaped look that many men want.
We will work three major muscle groups with the exercises in this program: the lats, rhomboids and traps. These muscles are critical for giving you a well-rounded, athletic appearance.
This is one of the best all-around exercises you can do. It works mainly the lats and the biceps, but works other muscles – such as the abs – as stabilizers. You will accentuate the “V” look by doing pull-ups with a wide grip. If you really want to push it, do wide-grip behind-the-neck pull-ups. Hang weights from your belt if you need more resistance. If you can’t do 12 pull-ups, use an assist machine or a spotter to help you do the workout. The technique: Hang from a bar, elbows fully extended, hands facing forward, gripping the bar as wide as you can. Pull yourself up until your chin passes the bar; then return to the starting position. Do not swing your legs during this exercise, and be sure to fully extend your elbows after each repetition. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
This is the machine version of pull-ups. This exercise works mainly the lats and biceps. The technique: From a seated or kneeling position (depending on the machine), grasp the bar of the lat machine. Use a wide grip and fully extend your arms. Pull the weight down until it reaches your chest; return to the starting position. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Bent-Over Dumbbell Rows
This exercise is excellent for isolating the trapezius, deltoids and rhomboid muscles. The technique: Do this exercise one arm at a time. Place one knee on a bench and bend at the waist. Pull the dumbbell toward your chest, and then lower it slowly until your arm is fully extended. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Like bent-over rows, this exercise builds the trapezius, deltoids and rhomboid muscles. The technique: Sitting on a seated rowing machine, place your feet firmly in the braces, grasp the handles, and extend your arms fully. Pull the handles toward your chest. Return slowly to the starting position. Do a total of four sets of 12 reps.
Exercises for the Lower Abs
When a muscle contracts, the origin and insertions come together. It is difficult or impossible to emphasize one part of a muscle over another. There are exceptions. EMG studies show that some exercises, such as Roman chair leg raises and hanging straight leg raises, emphasize the lower part of the abs better than other exercises. This is important for developing the slim waist look. Doing a lot of sit-ups and crunches will hypertrophy the entire muscle and will actually give you a potbelly if you do enough of them. This is particularly true if you take anabolic drugs, such as testosterone or growth hormone.
Roman Chair Leg Raises
This exercise develops mainly the rectus abdominis and quadriceps muscles. The technique: Place your low back against the pad of the chair and support yourself on your forearms with your legs extended downward. Lift your legs and feet until they are parallel with the ground. Slowly return your legs to the starting position. Do eight sets of 12 reps.
Hanging Straight Leg Raises
This exercise is similar to the previous one except you do it hanging from a pull-up bar. It also develops mainly the rectus abdominis and quadriceps muscles. The technique: While hanging from a bar with legs straight, bring your feet to waist level until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Do this exercise with bent knees if you aren’t strong enough to do them with straight legs. Do eight sets of 12 reps.
• Wear a belt when doing all exercises. This will place less stress on your trunk muscles and keep them from growing too large.
• Don’t do exercises such as twists and side bends for the obliques. These will thicken your trunk and ruin the look.
• Avoid whole-body exercises, such as squats, lunges, step-ups, deadlifts, cleans and snatches. These exercises – while critical for power athletes – tend to cause excessive muscle growth in the trunk.
• Control your body fat. You have to be lean to achieve this look – below 10-15 percent fat. Watch what you eat and get plenty of aerobic exercise.
• Take a high-protein bar before you lift. Several studies have shown that this will help you gain muscle fast.
• Take a creatine-protein supplement. There is good evidence that this will help you gain muscle safely.
You can develop the new look – wide shoulders, v-back and a small waist – if you work hard and watch what you eat. The secret is to build muscle in the right places and minimize surface fat, particularly in your abs.
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Superset Routine for Wide Shoulders, V-Back, Small Waist
4 Sets/12 Reps of Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
4 Sets/12 Reps of Seated Front Raises
4 Sets/12 Reps of Seated Laterals
4 Sets/12 Reps of Rear Bent-Over Deltoid Raises
4 Sets/12 Reps of Pull-Ups (Wide Grip)
4 Sets/12 Reps of Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns
4 Sets/12 Reps of One-Arm Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows (Knee On Bench)
4 Sets/12 Reps of Seated Rows
8 Sets/12 Reps of Roman Chair Leg Raises
8 Sets/12 Reps of Hanging Straight Leg Raises