by Christian Thibaudeau, Chris Shugart T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- The two best ways to look dramatically bigger? Lose fat and build your shoulders.
- These workouts pair the muscle snatch with the overhead carry, then finish things off with bodybuilder pump work.
- Besides building muscle, these workouts are metabolically challenging and will shred you up fast.
- The muscle snatch is one of easiest Olympic-style lifts to learn. Instead of complex technique, you muscle the weight up. It’s also easy on the wrists.
- The overhead carry builds muscle via occlusion and the micro-oscillation effect.
- Perform these workouts twice per week.
2 Ways to Get “The Look”
The look. You know it when you see it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a 140 pound guy or a 220 pound guy. Doesn’t matter if it’s a short woman or a tall woman. It’s that look of symmetry and power, that coveted V-taper that screams athleticism.
The two main things that add to this look? That’s easy:
- Keep your body fat relatively low.
- Have fantastic shoulders.
Shoulders Define the Physique
Delt development has the greatest impact on how your physique is perceived:
- If you’re lean with a little extra muscle you’ll look “fit.” But if you add 5 pounds of additional muscle in just the right places, like the delts, you’ll go beyond merely fit and graduate to “jacked.”
- What if you have good traps but small delts? Well, you’ll look like a traffic cone. Bring up the delts though and you’ll look beastly.
- How about a thick waist but small shoulders? You’ll look like a box. In a shirt you might even look fat. But a thick, muscular waist with well-built delts? You’ll look like a powerhouse.
- A fit female without good shoulder development might just appear skinny. But if she brings up her delts she’ll look like a top CrossFitter or figure competitor.
The only problem? Most people can’t build decent shoulders, even when they do everything “right.”
Building delts should be easy. Overhead presses, lateral raises, front raises, etc. The same generic workouts you’ve seen in magazines for years. You know them all, you’ve probably tried them all, and yet you still have lagging shoulders.
What’s going on here?
Those exercises are good, but unless you have just the right genetics, they won’t build your shoulders by themselves.
2 Missing Shoulder Exercises
We’ve worked with numerous athletes and regular gym-goers, and two exercises have made the biggest difference when comes to the V-taper.
The muscle snatch
The program below includes both. As a side effect, it nails the core musculature in a whole new way, and it’s metabolically challenging, leaving you sucking wind and burning fat.
Here’s what you’re going to do:
- Muscle-snatch a barbell and hold it at the top.
- Walk with that bar, performing an overhead carry.
- Finish off and fine-tune the delts with traditional hypertrophy exercises.
Let’s break it down.
Muscle Snatch: The Bodybuilder’s O-Lift
The muscle snatch is the Olympic-style lift for people who just aren’t interested in doing the full Olympic lifts. The muscle snatch is, essentially, the bodybuilder’s Olympic lift.
With the muscle snatch, we get rid of all the things that turn many people off from Olympic lifting. There’s no “catch” with the wrists bent backward and there’s no complicated technique required, like squatting deeply under the bar as it rises.
You simply yank the bar from the floor or from the hang or blocks. As it gets to your neck you quickly whip the elbows under the bar while it’s still moving and overhead press it. In other words, you muscle it up.
Phase 1: Explosive high pull to the neck, focusing on keeping the bar as close to the body as possible.
Transition: When it reaches its target (neck/clavicle), make a lightning-fast switch to…
Phase 2: The fastest overhead press you can do.
Unlike other Olympic lifts, you don’t explode up with the legs – your feet don’t leave the floor. You push hard with the legs, but there’s no jumping to create momentum.
Mistakes to avoid:
- Letting the bar drift away from your body. If the bar is too far away from you there’s no way you can be in a good position to press it up after the turnaround.
- Pulling it too high (face level instead of neck/clavicle) and finishing the movement as a loaded external rotation instead of as a press.
The Overhead Carry
Remember, we’re learning the muscle snatch because when we get that down pat we’re going take a little walk once the bar is locked out.
Most people think of the overhead carry as a conditioning exercise, core developer, or work capacity builder, and it certainly does those things. But it’s also very effective for increasing strength and building muscle.
The overhead carry builds muscle mostly via the occlusion effect.
Because the muscles are contracted continuously for a fairly long period of time, and also because of the limb position (higher than the heart), it’s hard for your body to send blood to the shoulders and arms – that’s the occlusion effect.
Your muscles are both deprived of oxygen (hypoxic state) and unable to get rid of the accumulating metabolic waste (lactate hydrogen ions). This increases the release of local growth factors which can stimulate hypertrophy.
The overhead carry can also increase strength via enhanced motor unit recruitment. Walking with the bar overhead creates a form of micro-oscillation.
The motion of the loaded bar created by walking forces your body to constantly and rapidly change its fiber recruitment. You can actually feel this as a “twitchiness.” Over time, this will make your more efficient at recruiting a wide array of muscle fibers.
It also increases rate coding and recruitment speed. In short, you get stronger.
Overhead Carry: 10 Meters = 1 Rep
One guideline when planning loading parameters with the overhead carry is to equate walking 10 meters with doing one rep in a regular lift. (One meter = a little over three feet.)
For example, a set of 6 reps on a major lift would mean walking 60m with the bar overhead to get the same type of effect. By “type” we mean what quality we’re developing – strength, size, etc.
If you combine the overhead walk with an overhead lift to get the barbell up – like the muscle snatch – you count both as reps. So, if you do 3 muscle snatches followed by a 50m of overhead walk this equates to a set of 8 reps.
If your main goal is to build muscle mass using overhead carries it means that your total “rep” count should be between 6 and 10. Using 10 “reps” as a goal, you can do this several ways:
- 6 muscle snatches, then walk 40 meters with bar overhead
- 3 muscle snatches, walk 20 meters, then repeat
- 4 muscle snatches, walk 60 meters
- 2 muscle snatches, walk 80 meters
- 1 muscle snatch, walk 90 meters
Use a challenging load and you’ll stimulate a lot of muscle growth. If your goal is mostly strength then you’ll want to shoot for 2 to 5 “reps” using various combos as described above.
Overhead Carry for Time
Besides reps, you could also shoot for a specific time frame and cover the longest distance possible in that time.
Dropping the bar and bringing it back overhead during the set is permitted as long as you keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to do as much work as possible in the given time. If you’re in a small space, you can use this method to turn around.
Note: Turning around with the bar overhead can be tricky and we don’t recommend it once you work up to a heavier weight or feel very fatigued. Instead, put the bar down, turn around and muscle-snatch it back overhead. You can also walk slower or take smaller steps to increase TUT in a smaller space.
When working on resistance/strength-endurance, shoot for sets of 90-120 seconds. Sets of that duration also have a positive effect on posture if you focus on keeping the bar aligned behind your ears when it’s locked overhead.
You can also alternate a close-grip muscle snatch with a more traditional wide-grip. If performing this workout twice per week, use the close grip one day and the wide grip the next.
Fine-Tune and Finish Off the Delts
At this point, you’ve muscle-snatched the bar overhead, getting all the benefits of that lift. You’ve also walked with the bar overhead, reaping all the benefits of that movement. Now let’s finish things off with traditional hypertrophy exercises.
The goal in this part of the workout is to use higher-reps, isolation exercises, time under tension, multiple angles of attack, and good old “pump ‘n burn.” Lactate accumulation is maximized when the muscle is under tension for 45-70 seconds.
Example: Triple Tri-Set
For this tri-set, move from one exercise to the next without rest. Choose weight so that you fail or come close to it somewhere in the 10-12 rep range.
- A1. Lateral raise
- A2. Front plate raise
- A3. Seated rear-delt dumbbell raises
Repeat the whole tri-set 3 times.
The options for this part of the workout are endless: overhead press using the “21’s” rep pattern, cable lateral raises, etc. Just keep the tension constant for at least 45 seconds and go for the burn.
You Can’t Go Wrong
There are many ways to put all this together. It’s honestly hard to go wrong here. You’ll get great results just following this basic outline:
- Practice the muscle snatch until you’re good at it.
- Perform muscle snatches with the overhead carry.
- Complete the workout with a bodybuilder-style tri-set.
- Perform twice per week with 2-3 days between workouts. Use a wide grip for the muscle snatches on day one and a narrower grip on day two.