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Muscle building exercises for chest, back, and shoulders

By John Hansen


Decline Dumbbell Press
Performing the dumbbell press on a decline bench targets the lower pectorals. Most bodybuilders have no problem building the lower pectorals because the standard bench press effectively develops this area. However, if you need more mass in the lower pecs, dumbbell presses on a decline bench direct the stress to that area of the muscle.

To perform this exercise, lie on a decline bench set at a 45-degree angle. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, pull the elbows back and lower the dumbbells to the outer edge of the lower pecs. Press the dumbbells straight up and together at the top position to complete the exercise. Controlling the weights is very important because the body is in a precarious position. The shoulders, in particular, are vulnerable to injury if the dumbbells go in the wrong direction on the way down.

Use the upside-down V angle when performing the decline dumbbell press. Press the dumbbells to the full extension to peak-contract the lower pectorals. Lower the weights very slowly to control the movement when pressing the dumbbells back to the top.

Do two or three sets of this exercise at the end of your chest training session if the lower pecs are a weak area. Because you are already warmed up, you can use a moderately heavy weight for the first set and increase the weight for the second and third.


Seated Cable Rows
Although this exercise uses cables instead of barbells or dumbbells, it’s still considered a basic exercise for building size and thickness because it involves the lats, low back, biceps, forearms, and even the hamstrings to a lesser extent. It’s the perfect exercise to follow a heavy barbell movement like bent-over rows.

With the knees bent and the low back arched, grab the handle attached to the cable. To develop more width in the lats use a wide-grip attachment. Pull the attachment in toward the belly button as you bring the upper body back until it is perpendicular to the floor. Keep the elbows close to the body throughout the movement. They should brush against the ribs as you bring them back to the finished position. It’s important to keep the low back arched with the chest out in the finished position.

To return to the beginning of the movement, keep the low back arched and slowly lower the weight, stretching the lats. It’s acceptable to lean the upper body forward as long as you keep the low back arched and flexed. Because the low back is the weak link, it’s important to keep this area tight. As with the wide-grip chins, avoid locking the elbows in the starting position. Keep a slight bend in the elbows to maintain the tension on the latissimus muscles.


Barbell Shrugs
The barbell shrug is the most basic exercise for building the trapezius muscle. Because this movement allows you to use heavy weights, it is one of the most effective exercises for building big, thick traps.

To begin, grab a barbell and hold it with straight arms in front of the thighs. Keeping the arms straight, shrug the barbell up by contracting the traps. Try to touch the delts to the ears to achieve a full contraction. Try to shrug the shoulders slightly back as you raise the weight to the top. The slightly backward angle involves more of the trapezius muscle than just shrugging straight up. Lower the bar slowly and let the traps relax at the bottom position so that the muscles get a full stretch. This allows an even greater contraction on the next rep.

You can also do barbell shrugs holding the weight behind the thighs. This angle isolates the lower, inner traps. Some gyms have specially designed bars that are bent out in the middle so you can comfortably shrug the bar from the back without interference from overly developed glutes. Behind-the-back barbell shrugs were a favorite of Mr. Olympia Lee Haney, who was renowned for his huge traps.

Do at least four sets of barbell shrugs. Warm up with a moderate weight, then add a plate to each side of the barbell each succeeding set. Because the traps are a powerful muscle that responds best to heavy weights (a heavy weight traditionally limits reps to six, while a moderate weight limits reps to 12), finish with a heavy set for six to eight reps. Occasionally begin your shoulder workout with barbell shrugs before moving onto the other deltoid exercises so that you can use heavier weights than you can at the end of the workout.

This is an excerpt from Natural Bodybuilding.

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