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.
Overhead presses are the best way to start your shoulder workouts as they target all three heads (emphasis on the front and middle). The superset is a one-station dandy that targets the middle delt (upright row) and then the rear delt (though it’s done one arm at a time), requiring only a change in handles.
Cable Upright Row
Cable Lateral Raise
Tip: Don’t cheat on upright rows or single-arm bent-over cable raises.
The wide grip hits the upper lats and middle back muscles especially well. Both major types of back exercises are included here: rows and pulldowns. The superset is done on the same cable station: the first exercise targets the upper lats; the latter the lower lats.
Standing T-Bar Row
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
Straight-Arm Cable Pulldown
Tip: For maximum contraction, retract your scapulae on each rep of back exercises.
Because there are so many muscle groups that make up the leg, this is the only workout that consists of two supersets. Go heavy on the leg press and then rep to failure with bodyweight squats (great for quads emphasis). After three sets grab a pair of dumbbells and alternate romanian deadlifts with lunges (more emphasis on glutes and hams).
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
Tip: The multijoint-based supersets will fully exhaust your lower body in minutes.
Though not a multijoint move, the barbell curl is considered the top mass builder as you can move the most weight. With your elbows tight to your sides — don’t allow your elbows to pull forward so there’s no contribution from the shoulders — you can work both biceps heads. You’ll get a slightly different angle of pull with the first cable curl and the benefit of working each side independent of the other. Move the cable quickly to the top and you shift the focus to the biceps’ short head.
Standing One-Arm Cable Curl
Standing One-Arm High-Pulley Cable Curl
Tip: To engage additional muscle fibers, hold and squeeze at the peak contraction.
Again, starting off with a multijoint move allows you to go really heavy and overload the arms. The superset pairing requires an EZ-bar and a flat bench; when you hit failure with the skullcrushers, go right into the pressdown. With your arms angled toward your head (as opposed to by your sides) on the skull, you get more long head activation, which is important as it’s the bulkiest of the three triceps heads.
EZ-Bar Cable Skullcrusher
Tip: Overload with heavy weights early in your workout.
A handful of scientifically engineered workouts to get you back outdoors into the sun without compromising your gym time. And suggestions for building your own perfect superfast workouts in the future.
As you grow in wisdom, you realize that few things in life should take 90 minutes. Not your wait in line at the DMV, not your commute and certainly not your workout. We’ve all done it — droning through an exhaustive list of exercises, taking too much rest between sets, waiting on a machine that has a perfectly adequate (and available) substitute nearby. The amount of time wasted in the gym is shameful — and woefully unproductive. Efficiency is king, particularly when it comes to building a stronger, better-looking physique. This collection of workouts allows you to get in, get pumped fast and get out, all in 15 minutes or less. Greater size, better-muscle quality and no more wasted time are just minutes away — and you get to enjoy the summer outdoors much more.
Start each workout (except the biceps) with a multijoint exercise.
- It’ll provide the greatest overload on the target muscles.
- The exercise can burn more calories. Researchers at Truman State University (Kirksville, Missouri) found that subjects burned 50% more calories on the squat than they did on the leg press.
- The free-weight compound moves require the use of more stabilizers to get through each rep.
- It’s acceptable to use machines for compound exercises. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get more out of your machine moves. You can also safely use more resistance with a machine than a free weight. One study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that lifters were about 4% stronger on the Smith-machine squat and 15% stronger on the Smith-machine bench press than their free-weight counterparts.
- Multijoint moves break down more total muscle fiber, which leads to more muscle mass in the long run.
Supersets for Speed
Supersets require lifters to pair two exercises for the same muscle group and perform them consecutively, sans rest. Supersets save time.
- To up the intensity ante with these workouts, you’ll be performing two exercises in a row for the same bodypart.
- The first exercise stimulates the target muscle for gains in size and strength; the second exercise hits the muscle from a different angle and helps fill it up with blood, a process known as creating the pump.
- In addition to speedier workouts, hitting a muscle from slightly different angles within a single superset allows you to maximize the number of muscle fibers worked.
- Most supersets listed here in the five examples that follow include a multijoint move followed by a single-joint move. This allows you to adequately overload the target muscle group with heavy weight before moving on to a more precise, isolation exercise with proportionately less resistance.
- In the interest of time, get your equipment ready for both exercises before you get started. You take a brief rest period only after you complete both exercises.
Keep in mind that you can also speed things along by using a more strategic selection of exercises.
- The workouts that follow have you occupying as little space as possible in the gym, while still getting your sweat on, full blast.
- Each of the six routines (for each of the major muscle groups) allows you to train to build size and strength, allowing for rest periods so that the muscle group can recover. While they cut down on the volume, they don’t cut down on the results. It being summer, we’re sure there are other outdoor activities you’d rather be doing.
Build Your Own Superspeed Workouts
Here are six suggestions for 15-minute workouts that cover the major body-parts: legs, chest, shoulders, back, biceps, triceps:
First Move: For your first exercise in each of these superfast workouts, you do three sets of a multijoint free-weight or machine movement (for muscle groups except arms) in which you reach muscle failure between 8–10 reps. Rest 1–2 minutes between sets.
Remaining Moves: After the first exercise, a multijoint move done in straight sets fashion, you’ll pair two moves done in superset fashion. The first movement in the superset is typically another multijoint exercise, followed immediately by a single-joint movement (for slightly higher reps). You rest 60–90 seconds only after you’ve completed both moves.
And If You Have Extra Time: While you can get in and out of the gym in just 15 minutes, you can also combine 15-minute blocks and do multiple bodyparts in a slightly longer, more comprehensive workout.
You’ll do two presses (from different angles), starting off with the upper pecs, which are commonly undertrained because most chest workouts start off with flat-bench presses. The superset combo is a press and flye using the flat bench; all you need are both sets of dumbbells at the foot of the bench.
Machine Incline Press
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Press
Flat-Bench Dumbbell Flye
Tip: With your pressing movement, drive through the concentric phase forcefully.