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Build Your Upper Body

Ronnie Coleman's mass-building advice for chest, shoulders, back and arms.
Chris Lund

 QUESTION 

I have well-developed legs, but my upper body needs work. Can you give me your best mass-building advice for chest, shoulders, back and arms? 

 ANSWER 

I have good advice for all of those bodyparts. I'll break it down in a list of "don'ts," giving you two of my top guidelines for each. 

CHEST

Don’t cheat on bench presses. A lifter who squirms and lifts his lower back off the bench in an effort to press more weight is only cheating himself out of maximum pectoral development. Instead, lift what you can handle for proper form: plant your feet on the floor, keep your back and your butt in contact with the bench, and take a wide grip, allowing your elbows to angle out as you bring the bar down to mid-chest, lightly touching it before reversing the motion.

Don’t substitute the decline for flat or incline presses. I love decline bench presses, but I do them in addition to flat benches. You can most likely handle more weight on the decline, but the pectoralis major is best worked by flat and incline moves. 

SHOULDERS

Don’t go heavy on isolation moves. Isolating the front, middle and rear delt heads is especially difficult when you’re trying to lift too much weight in your front, lateral or bent-over raises. Save your heavy lifting for your shoulder presses.

Don’t train any other major bodypart on shoulder day. Treat delts like you would back, legs or chest; don’t try to pair them with another major muscle group, as they require numerous exercises to be fully worked. If you’re fatigued from training another bodypart, it’s hard to give the delts the attention they need to respond. 

BACK

Don’t get fancy. Most of your back exercises should be heavy compound movements, both rows and pullups/pulldowns. Trying to isolate smaller areas of your back may be important for a pro trying to improve a specific weakness, but the rest of us will do just fine with the heavy basics.

Don’t necessarily stop at failure. For the dense muscles of the back, I’ve seen my best results when I go to failure on most sets and then get two additional forced reps on my final working set of each exercise.

ARMS

Don’t get stuck in a workout rut. Arm development benefits from workout variety. You can use the same exercises most of the time, but try changing the order or putting them together in supersets, trisets or giant sets.

Don’t relax at any time during a set. Maintain constant tension, even during the descent, and get a hard peak contraction at the top. This goes for all of your bodypart training, but arms are a great opportunity to practice and hone this technique.

I’ve also given you two sample workouts — one for chest and one for biceps. Focus plenty of effort and attention on your weaker areas, and you’ll find they have no choice but to respond. 

 COLEMAN’S SAMPLE CHEST & BICEPS WORKOUTS 

CHEST

  • Barbell Bench Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Incline Barbell Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Flat-Bench Dumbbell Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10-12
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes | SETS: 4 | REPS: 10-12 

BICEPS

  • Standing Barbell Curls | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12
  • Alternate Dumbbell Curls | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12
  • EZ-Bar Preacher Curls | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12
  • Cable Curls | SETS: 4 | REPS: 12 

 FLEX 

 

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