"The Jackson Five" as it appeared in the Feb. 2007 issue of FLEX magazine
Even in the dog days of precontest training, when Johnnie Jackson says Âlight weight,Â it never is. Ronnie Coleman made the reversepsychology mantra Â spoken just before lifting a particularly prodigious poundage Â famous, but fellow Lone Stars Jackson and Branch Warren repeat it just as frequently.
Its usage, sometimes muttered, sometimes shouted, is one of the many things you just have to be there to hear when the going gets too tough to fully grasp. Bringing that sort of insight to you, along with other, more technical nuances you can use to tweak your own shoulder program, is FLEX Â making another stop as we travel the globe to witness the toughest workouts of the worldÂs best bodybuilders. Two weeks after Jackson, 35, won his first pro contest, the Montreal Pro Championships, and six days before he placed second at the Atlantic City Pro, we watched him train at StroudÂs Fitness in suburban Dallas and saw firsthand, in five advanced lessons, how the newest pro titleholder built a set of XXXLshirt- stretching shoulders.
LESSON 1: PRECONTEST VERSUS OFFSEASON
With the Atlantic City Pro and Mr. Olympia fast approaching, Jackson consumes just 75 grams of carbohydrates the day we see him work out. That morsel of energy food would seem like a feast compared to the amounts taken in during the next two and a half days, when he consumes no carbs at all. With the exception of a two-day carb-up prior to his victory in Montreal on September 3, Jackson has been severely restricting his carbohydrates for weeks. So, it is no wonder his energy and strength are as depleted as his fat reserves. For a man of his legendary strength, the weights are impressive but not awe-inspiring: eight reps with 130-pound dumbbells for overhead presses, and side laterals with 70-pound dumbbells for 10 reps.
With his full quota of carbs and calories in the offseason, Jackson regularly presses 150-pound dumbbells for 15 reps, uses 100- pound dumbbells for 10 reps of side laterals, and upright rows are 335 for 12 reps. HeÂs hoisted as much as 405 for eight reps for upright rows. In the weeks leading up to a contest, Jackson increases his reps, decreases his rest periods between sets and does more intensifying techniques, like supersets. ÂOffseason IÂll go down to five or six reps; precontest IÂll go up to 15-20 reps,Â he states, Âso itÂs a pretty big shock to my body, using a lot more reps and resting a lot less between sets.Â
LESSON 2: PRESSING CONCERNS
Jackson warms up on an Icarian shoulder press machine before proceeding to the dumbbell rack. He pyramids his sets of dumbbell overhead presses and stretches between sets, continuing to make sure his shoulders are properly warmed up before grabbing the heaviest weights. During each rep, he lowers the dumbbells to ear level. He stops just short of lockout at the top.
ÂAnytime you use a full range of motion, youÂre going to use more of the muscle,Â he explains. ÂHaving said that, I do use a shorter range sometimes. It all depends on how IÂm feeling that day and how achy my shoulders are.Â
Although he claims heÂs never been particularly strong in overhead pressing movements, heÂs always made them the cornerstone of his deltoid routines. He believes lessadvanced bodybuilders should do the same, by starting their workouts with dumbbell overhead presses or military presses using a barbell or Smith machine.
ÂThe same concept that I have for chest I have for shoulders: focus on a lot of pressing movements,Â Jackson prescribes. ÂTry to go as heavy as you can for eight to 10 reps. Do a warm-up set and three working sets. If youÂre looking to gain mass, youÂll have to lift the heaviest weights possible for eight to 10 reps.Â
LESSON 3: GRIPS AND ANGLES
The seemingly little details, such as the width of your grip or the angle of motion you achieve by a slight turn of your wrists, can make a big difference in how an exercise targets muscles. What follows are notes from observing the exercises in JacksonÂs routine, and his comments on his techniques.
- Dumbbell shoulder presses
- Upright rows
- Cable rear laterals
- Dumbbell side laterals
- Dumbbell front raises
Jackson sits slightly forward on the seat in order to lean back a bit. He keeps his palms facing forward and his elbows out, and doesnÂt bring the dumbbells together at the top. ÂSome people do presses with their elbows more in front, but I feel like it stretches and targets my shoulders more if I keep my elbows at my sides and my hands over my elbows. I donÂt usually bring the dumbbells together at the top, but I wonÂt say itÂs wrong to do it that way.Â
He takes a medium-width grip and lifts the bar to his lower chest. ÂI take a widerthan- normal grip for upright rows because my traps are pretty much overpowering my shoulder area and making me look a little narrower than I should. The wider grip takes the focus off my traps and pinpoints my side delts.Â
These are done from a standing position, with the cable crossover stations set at their highest positions. Jackson, who doesnÂt use handles, crosses his arms in front at the start of each rep and pulls down and back, keeping his arms straight at the point of contraction. He supersets these with upright rows. ÂWhen I use the cables instead of the machine or dumbbells, I get a slightly fuller range of motion, and I can squeeze a little harder to really isolate the rear delts. ItÂs the same with not using handles and just gripping the cables; that way, I can focus more directly on my rear delts and really squeeze. I do the supersets precontest, but not in the offseason.Â
Jackson starts each rep with the dumbbells at his sides instead of in front. ÂThis has always been a real comfortable exercise for me, so I go heavy on it. I focus on keeping my elbows up. Try to keep your elbows slightly above your hands. I like to bring the dumbbells into the sides of my legs instead of in front, because it makes the movement stricter and it keeps the focus on the middle delts. It pretty much forces you to raise your arms directly out to your sides.Â
He does these seated, alternating arm to arm, lifting with his thumbs up instead of palms facing down. ÂSitting down, [the movement is] stricter, so I can isolate the front delts more, and I like to alternate to focus more on each side individually. With the dumbbells held upright instead of palms down, again, I feel it more in my front delts, which is what IÂm trying to isolate with this exercise.Â
LESSON 4: TRAPS
Jackson has perhaps the most pronounced trapezius development in all of bodybuilding. Improbably high mass is stacked atop his clavicles like mountains on a horizon. He still works traps indirectly in movements like deadlifts, but, wanting to build better balance, he rarely does any direct Âtrapping.Â He performs upright rows in a manner that focuses less on his traps and more on his side delts. He doesnÂt shrug anymore, mainly because he believes he did enough during his teen years to last his entire bodybuilding career.
ÂWhen I was younger, I had no idea what I was doing, but after every workout IÂd do shrugs, because I could use so much weight,Â Jackson remembers. ÂWhen I was 15 or 16, IÂd put every 45 I could fit on a bar and shrug it for 15 or 20 reps. So when people saw a kid in the gym doing that, theyÂd be like, ÂOh my god, look at this guy!Â So I used to just do it to show off after every workout, and I had no idea I was building traps like this. ItÂs funny that some of the things you do when you have no idea what youÂre doing affect you for many years later.Â
Jackson doesnÂt propose training traps every workout; once or twice per week should suffice. ÂShrug as heavy as you can over a full range of motion. I like kind of high reps for traps. I recommend the 15- to 20-rep range. Do four sets of shrugs with a barbell one workout, and four sets with dumbbells at your sides the next workout.Â
LESSON 5: INTENSITY
For nearly two years, Jackson, Warren and Jay Moore trained together. Although they all remain good friends, Warren and Moore returned to their roots at ArlingtonÂs MetroFlex Gym in 2006, while the third member of the Texas trio Â never a fan of MetroFlexÂs heat and dirt Â continued to train at StroudÂs Fitness, alone. JacksonÂs intensity hasnÂt waned.
ÂI donÂt mind training with a partner, but I train just as well by myself,Â Jackson avers. ÂIÂm selfmotivated, and I have goals that I want to reach. ThatÂs whatÂs important to me. You can accomplish anything in life as long as you have patience and heart and youÂre willing to put in the work. I know itÂs all about myself, anyway. Either get the work done or stand by the wayside and watch everyone pass you by.Â
One way he keeps his intensity up is by changing his routine from week to week, and this is even easier when the exercise selection isnÂt a shared decision. ÂI donÂt have a set routine where I come in and do the same thing every time,Â the army veteran explains. ÂItÂs never regimented.Â Variety is great, but he knows the most reliable way to intensify is to do one more rep or use five more pounds than last time. ÂThe stronger you get for reps, the bigger you get. ItÂs as simple as that,Â Jackson opines.
Odds are that at some time, probably early in the morning on the day youÂre reading this, Jackson said Âlight weightÂ before repping out with a weight every other mortal would rightly peg as a hell of a heavy load. Nobody was watching. He sometimes lets himself into StroudÂs before sunrise, turns on lights and trains, just him and iron in the otherwise silent gym. He doesnÂt need witnesses to his new personal bests. He knows when he ÂownsÂ a heavy weight as if itÂs light, and he knows heÂll then grow stronger and better, and thatÂs all that matters. FLEX