A new twist on cables will give you a complete shoulder workout in just 16 minutes.
In a fitness world where everything seems to be over-hyped and under-delivered—sure, you can have a six-pack overnight!—it’s a welcome relief to find a 20-minute shoulder workout that can actually be done in just 16. Not that those four minutes are going to mean much to you, unless you’re late for work because you missed your subway train or your sirloin steak is just a bit overdone. But for those who don’t like to spend hours in the gym training like a competitive bodybuilder, it’s good to know you can get a complete delt workout that hits all three heads in about the same time it takes those guys who live in the gym to put down a protein shake.
While you’ve probably done a few delt exercises using cables before, you’ve probably never done your entire routine using them. But with the advent of dual cable machines, like the one made by FreeMotion Fitness, you can set up shop in front of one for your entire workout because you can do just about every conceivable type of shoulder exercise here—even shoulder presses. (Okay, I said the workout was fast; I never promised that the other members wouldn’t give you menacing looks for hogging the equipment.)
If you’re used to free weights, cables offer a number of advantages. When doing a move like a standing press with cables, your core muscles are highly active in helping to stabilize your torso, meaning you’re engaging more muscle groups and burning more calories. In addition, whereas the target muscle is simply resting between reps at the bottom position of single-joint dumbbell shoulder moves (like front raises), this isn’t the case with cables; the angle of pull (coming from the machine) keeps continuous tension on the front delt (or target muscle, depending on the exercise) from the top of the move to the bottom.
The workout here starts with a multi-joint pressing move for a couple of challenging heavy sets, then two lighter sets, before doing a single-joint move for the front and rear delt heads, so in total you work all three delt heads. To boost intensity, on your last set of each exercise quickly drop the weight by about 25 percent when you reach muscle failure and keep the set going until you reach muscle failure again.
Dual cables won’t replace free weights, but they make for a nice change of pace to work your shoulders in a different way from what they’re likely accustomed to—and at 16 minutes, just think of what you can do with those extra four minutes added to your life.
Standing Overhead Cable Press
The instability with cables is a bit similar to doing dumbbell presses: You sacrifice some ability to use heavy weights, but your core gets a more thorough workout. This movement can also be done seated with a low-back bench placed in front of the dual cables.
Target Muscles: Middle and front delts, and triceps
Set-up: Rotate the cables to the bottom position and attach D-handles. Grasp the handles and face away from the machine. Stand erect with your chest out and back slightly arched, knees unlocked and palms facing forward.
Action: With a strong motion, press into a full arm extension overhead without locking out your elbows. You may have difficulty bringing the handles together as you do with dumbbells because the cables may not clear your body. Lower to the point where the handles are just outside your shoulders, with your elbows pointing out to your sides; the weight stack shouldn’t be touching down between reps.
Alternating Front Cable Raise
With a regular cable, you can’t alternate reps; you can do that only with dumbbells. But with the FreeMotion, you get the benefit of continuous tension—meaning there’s a pull on the front delts, even when your arms are in the down position—while being able to alternate sides, as with dumbbells.
Target Muscles: Front delts
Set-up: Stand erect a step forward from the machine to ensure that there’s tension in the cables when your arms are by your sides. Use a split stance for better balance, keeping your knees soft. With straight arms, grasp the D-handles with a palms-down grip and hold them by your sides.
Action: With a smooth motion, raise one arm directly in front of your body to about shoulder height, keeping your arm as straight as possible without locking out your elbow. Lower with control and repeat on the opposite side.
Intensity Booster: Start out with both arms simultaneously, then alternate sides. Going back and forth between sides affords each side a short break while the other side is working to help you continue the set past failure.
Reverse Cable Flye
This move mimics the reverse pec-deck flye, but that machine locks your elbows in the slightly bent position. Here, you need to consciously do that—otherwise, this becomes a triceps move.
Target Muscles: Rear delts
Set-up: Adjust the machine’s arms so that the pulleys are above shoulder height. Attach D-handles (alternatively, you can use no handle and grasp the rubber ball between your thumb and index finger). Stand erect, a few feet in front of the unit, facing the machine. With your right hand, grasp the left handle; with your left hand, grasp the right handle. Extend your arms well out in front of you, keeping your elbows locked and slightly bent.
Action: In a wide, sweeping motion, bring the handles out to your sides as far back as possible while retracting your shoulder blades, ensuring that you’re not extending your elbows (straightening your arms). As your hands come in line with your torso, your chest should swell out. Let the pull of the weights reverse your direction, controlling the movement until your hands meet in the middle. You can physically cross your hands at the start to slightly extend the range of motion, but alternate which side goes on top from one set to the next
20-Minute Superspeed Delt Training
Duration: 6 weeks
Add the following to your weekly routine
Overhead Cable Press
Alternating Cable Raise
Reverse Cable Flye
10, 10, 10***
10, 10, 10***
*Doesn’t include warm-up sets. Do 1-2 with light weights but never take warm-ups to muscle failure
**Choose a weight in which you reach muscle failure by the target rep.
***On your last set of each exercise, once you reach muscle failure quickly reduce the poundage by about 25 percent and continue with the set to the second point of muscle failure.
Cowboys use them to capture cattle or win a steer-roping event. Climbers rely on their strength as they scale rock faces. Camp counselors know their worth, dispensing teams of children to tug and pull at each end. Even corporate upper-management types use ropes in this fashion to build team spirit. Who’d have thought that a measly rope could have so many purposes? But that’s not all. To that list, you can add “total-body trainer.” If you’re looking for a novel way to amp up your workouts — and your physique — here’s what you should know about a growing fitness trend called battle ropes.
Sometimes referred to as “power ropes” or “combat ropes,” battle ropes can be anywhere from about 20 to 100 feet in length, made of natural or artificial fiber, and weigh from 20 to 75 pounds, depending on the rope length and diameter (on average 1.5 to 2 inches). “The longer and thicker the rope, the more of a challenge it poses,” explains Antonio Reyes, an NASM-certified trainer at UFC Gym in Torrance, California.
Because of their size, these aren’t ropes you can pick up at any local Home Depot, but many fitness centers now stock their own, and numerous equipment manufacturers offer more affordable versions for personal use.
While a spectator or dyed-in-the-wool “I use nothin’ but free weights” type might scoff at its potency, rope training is far from a walk in the park. “When using battle ropes, you train multiple muscle groups in all three planes of motion — sagittal, transverse and frontal,” says Reyes. “This not only gives you a great conditioning effect but it also improves strength, coordination and endurance.” Simple point: Your game — no matter what it is — improves significantly.
Battle ropes jack up your heart rate in minimal time, making rope training an unparalleled fat-burning activity. “The ropes give you a great interval-training workout, which every ounce of research indicates is the best way to optimize calorie burn, fat burn and heart health,” states Jim Karas, celebrity trainer to Hugh Jackman and others, and author of The Petite Advantage Diet (HarperOne, 2011). Due to their weight and the instability caused when you swing ropes — which forces you to engage your muscles in response — rope training also increases lean muscle mass, which in turn contributes to an increase in metabolism and fat loss.
We provide three level-appropriate workouts, or you can freestyle your session by choosing 4–5 moves and arranging them in a circuit. Battle the ropes up to three days per week and you’ll be combat-ready in no time!
Do each move in order, then repeat once or twice.
Set Up Your Ropes
- Choose a space that provides plenty of room on all sides to perform the movements.
- Secure the center of the rope around a strong fixed point, such as the base of a Smith machine or through a heavy kettlebell, or around a tree trunk or fencepost.
- Make sure the rope is of equal length on each side before starting the exercises.
- Face the ropes, hold an end in each hand, and walk backward until the ropes are straight.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider, with your weight distributed evenly between your feet.
- Descend into a quarter squat and lean slightly forward with your chest up.
- Keep your back flat, your head up and your abs tight as you perform the moves.
- Use a full range of motion with each rep, making sure the wave goes all the way from your hand to the other end of the rope.
Using both hands, move the ropes up and down simultaneously from head to hip height, keeping your core tight and your back straight.
Advanced Move: Double/Alternating Waves, Moving Side to Side
Shuffle to the right and then to the left as you continue your rope waves. This move is great for hand-eye coordination and balance.
Advanced Move: Squat Double Waves
Instead of remaining stationary during your waves, perform squats to further challenge your legs and arms.
Just like double waves, except you wave the ropes in an alternating pattern.
Advanced Move: Double/Alternating Waves, Walking Forward & Back
Take 4–5 large steps forward while doing either a double or alternating wave. The ropes will feel heavier as you move forward, so use larger arm motions to keep them moving.
Advanced Move: Reverse-Lunge Alternating Waves
Alternate lunging to the rear as you perform alternating waves.
Move your hands apart and together quickly to make the ropes slide in and out in horizontal waves along the floor.
Advanced Move: Rope Jacks
Hold a rope end in each hand and do jumping jacks to challenge your shoulders and cardiovascular system.
Double In-and-Out Loops
Move the ropes in opposite directions like a double-dutch jump rope, looping them outward for a number of reps, then changing direction and looping them inward.
Double Rope Slams
Using both hands, simultaneously lift the ropes high as you come all the way up onto your toes, then slam the ropes as hard as you can onto the floor, using your whole body to whip them downward.
Hold the rope ends together and trace a horizontal figure eight in the air in front of you. The larger the figure eight, the more challenging it is.
Bring both hands close together and keep your elbows tight to your sides. Quickly swish the ropes from side to side along the floor like a snake, keeping your core tight and using your abs to move the ropes, not your arms.
Your Workout, Your Way
To make a move easier: Decrease your range of motion and slow your tempo.
To make a move harder: Increase your tempo and/or range of motion.
All football players have to endure intense training in order to improve their games.
What’s needed physique-wise, you ask? You need a strong core and hips, not to mention strength and endurance. Here are three moves that achieve all of those criteria—courtesy of Michael Seril, the founder of the Excellence Through Exercise Foundation. Now’s the time to get ready for flag or touch football. Do three sets, 12-15 reps, of each movement.
Medicine Ball Wood Chop
Benefit: Seril says this is “one of the best exercise[s]” for developing powerful hips and a strong core, both of which are “key” to football fitness.
Set-up: Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. Begin with the ball held outside and above your right shoulder. The movement is initiated by your right hip—not your arms.
Action: Lower the ball diagonally across your body, bend your legs while in motion, and pause when it is just below and beside your knee. Reverse direction to the starting position, completing your desired number of reps. Repeat movements on the other side.
Ab Twist with a Bar
Benefit: In addition to building strength and endurance, Seril says this movement will improve flexibility, all of which are “very important for athletic power and injury prevention.”
Set-Up: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, with the bar on your shoulders.
Action: “Initiate the movement with your hips,” advises Seril, not your waist or lower back. Look straight ahead. Rotate your torso not quite 90 degrees in one direction, pause for a second, and return to the center position. Then rotate in the other direction. Keep the movement under control—don’t use momentum from the bar (the pause at each side and in the center position helps prevent this).
Hanging Knee Raise
Benefit: Seril says this exercise “improves abdominal, lower-back and hip flexor muscles.” The movement is triggered by the abs and core, not the legs.
Set-up: Grip a high bar, palms facing forward, and ensure your body is hanging freely (your feet shouldn’t be touching the floor). Before you initiate the exercise, make sure your arms are fully extended and you have a slight arch in your lower back.
Action: Raise your knees toward your chest, rounding your back and pause when your knees are slightly above your belly button. Your thighs should be slightly above parallel to the ground. Then slowly lower your legs back to the start position. Control your movement with your core by moving at a slow pace. Don’t use momentum to swing your knees up. When you’re ready for a new challenge, keep your legs straight instead of bent.