In the previous blog post we looked at execution and how to effectively apply constant tension to targeted muscle groups (chest & back). As we move into part two we will be looking at various exercises for shoulders and arms. I will be providing tips and cues on how to get the most out of each exercise whilst applying tension to the appropriate muscle groups. As I discussed in the previous blog post “Exercise Execution & How To Apply Tension Part 1: Chest & Back”, one of the biggest challenges is keeping tension on the working muscle. The more experienced you get at applying and maintaining tension, the greater the results will be.

It’s all about the intricate details (Placing tension):


Take the seated dumbbell press for example: The movement should be completely vertical, if you lean back 10 degrees you will automatically turn this into a chest/shoulder movement. If the goal is to train the deltoids (shoulders) make sure you have the appropriate amount of external rotation and avoid leaning back into the bench. Try not to think about pushing the dumbbells to the ceiling, concentrate on bringing your elbows together above your head.


Tips & Cues –


  • Try a neutral grip and concentrate on pushing the elbows together, dumbbells shouldn’t touch
  • Maintain abdominal position (lock the abdominals down)
  • If you’re tight in the pec minor area some of you may find this hard to keep your elbows back, make sure you have the appropriate amount of external rotation
Seated Dumbell Press - personal training - CSS Fitness

Seated Dumbell Press – Neutral Grip

Exercise execution (Shoulders) – Standing Overhead Press (OHP)


How to perform the OHP:


In my opinion if you want healthy strong shoulders then you need to press and pull in a variety of different angles with a variety of different grips. A purpose of pushing overhead is to build bigger and much stronger shoulders.

To begin the strict overhead press you should start with the bar on top of the clavicle (collar bone) which is the same position you would start a push press. In terms of the grip positioning you want to make sure that the bar is held in your palm and not your fingers whilst still on top of the clavicle. The grip width will vary from person to person but taking a grip a little wider than shoulder width is a strong position. This will hopefully ensure that the triceps are not parallel to the ground and therefore elbows are pointing at more of a 45 degree angle towards the floor. From this position you are now ready to press the bar overhead in a straight line ensuring you lock out at the top of the movement. When the bar is overhead we should have alignment of the bar, shoulder, and the front of the hip. What we would ideally like to see is that the body is safely stacked underneath the bar with the head positioning inside or slightly in front of your arms when you lock out. This will create a really strong position for your body to hold the bar in ensuring you can safely and efficiently hold heavy weight overhead. Mark Rippetoe provides a beneficial video demonstration on how to perform this movement efficiently.


Tips & Cues –


  • One thing we want to consider and avoid is the bar path travelling around or arching around our face which tends to be a common mistake when performing the OHP. Ideally we want the bar path to be in a straight line so in order to do that without bumping your chin/nose you will need to start with your chin up and back. A simple cue would be to literally just give yourself a double chin that way the bar will be able to travel straight through.
  • The more tension you have throughout your body the stronger you will be. Keeping your body tight by contracting the abs, quads and glutes will help transfer over into a stronger overhead press.
  • Personally when it comes to pushing the head through as the bar clears the head I feel in a strong and stable position. I feel that this also helps with bar alignment which is crucial to a safe and efficient lift. Think about moving your head through a window which is created by your arms.
Standing Overhead Press - personal training - CSS Fitness

Standing Overhead Press


OHP:  6 Week Program Template


*All percentages should be based off a true 1RM (Week 7 re-test 1RM)*

OHP Program Template - personal training - CSS Fitness

OHP – Program Template


Exercise execution (Shoulders) – Lateral Raise


Some people when performing this exercise tend to pick a weight that is too heavy for them which leads to poor form and generally a lack of desired results. My recommendation would be to start out a little lighter and learn the correct movement pattern in order get the most out of the side lateral raise. For most people the dominant muscle group that they tend to initiate the movement with is the traps. There is room for a little bit of momentum when it comes to the lateral raise, however, it remains important that we firstly initiate movement with the delts and then we can have a little momentum and assistance from the traps as the weight gets heavy. If you would like more information on the active range of motion for a lateral raise, then check out MI40 Instagram page.

Tips & Cues –


  • This exercise can be done whilst seated or from a standing position. The principles still remain the same as we try to avoid initiating movement with the traps and keep constant tension on the working muscle (Delts)
  • Firstly, keep your chest up and lock the abdominals down nice and tight. Start with the dumbbells about an inch away from your side and then think about pushing the dumbbells away from you into a fully shortened position
  • Shifting or losing tension can happen when you start leaning forwards and rotating inwards, arching your back and rotating, and lowering the dumbbells past the starting point of an inch away from the body where there is no tension
Lateral Raise - personal training - CSS Fitness

Lateral Raise


Exercise execution (Triceps) – Tricep cable pushdown


The majority of people when performing this exercise stand too close to the cable machine and end up in a poor position for placing tension on the triceps. If you want to change the stimulus on the triceps and train them through their entire contractile range, then standing further away from the cable machine would be beneficial. Training your triceps in the shortened range first while you have the most energy will be optimal as this is when they’re at their weakest. You can then begin to step closer to the cable machine in order to train your triceps in a more lengthened range which will also make it slightly easier as you become more fatigued. If you then spin around and face away from the cable machine raising your hand slightly above your head you can now train your triceps in its fully lengthened range.

Tips & Cues –


  • Train your triceps through their entire contractile range
  • Train the shortened range of the triceps first and then move into the lengthened range
  • Don’t stand too close to the cable machine putting yourself in a poor position

Exercise execution (Triceps) – Close Grip (CG) bench press


When performing the close grip bench press the goal is to apply tension to the triceps. Grip width and how you lower the bar will play an important role when it comes to applying and maintaining tension on the triceps. A common error in regards to grip width is gripping the bar too close, placing unwanted stress on the wrists and elbows. In terms of lowering the bar, make sure you control your tempo with the intention of placing maximum tension on the triceps. When you lower the bar it’s important to stay focused on the bar path and where it should be tracking. Lowering too high towards your upper chest/clavicle region is not optimal and will not recruit the triceps efficiently. Keeping your elbows tracking straight down and avoiding them flaring out is more beneficial. I would recommend lowering the bar just below the chest, then driving through with the triceps to finish. If you would like to see a video tutorial of this exercise then both Jim Stoppani and Scott Herman provide good examples of how to perform this movement.


Tips & Cues-

  • Common mistakes are gripping the bar too close and putting unnecessary stress on the wrists and elbows
  • In terms of grip width, place your hands wide enough so that when you lower the bar your forearms are relatively close to your torso. For most people this will be around shoulder width apart
  • When you lie down on the bench and have your grip width sorted, try crossing your feet over and having them in the air. This will take the stability that your lower body provides out of the exercise ensuring your upper body is doing all the work (specifically triceps)