The Shoulder


There is something special about shoulders, that place them almost on par with breasts and butts for women, and pecs and biceps, for men. How we define nice shoulders may vary from person to person, but when you get down to it, it’s only a discussion of degrees. Shapely defined shoulders are attractive to most everyone, on everyone. It’s even a recurring female fashion trend to add shoulder padding in blouses and blazers.


Some interesting facts about the shoulder. It is the most mobile joint in the the human body, able to move the most degrees in ever single plane of motion. The “shoulder girdle” is involved in almost every possible torso exercise. This creates the opportunity for a great variety of possible exercises, but this comes with increased ***joint laxity***, compared to your other joints, creating greater risk of injury do to accidental hyperextension leading to muscular and connective tissue damage. The fact of its extreme mobility puts it at the most risk of accidental injury, and it’s necessary involvement in all torso exercises put it at risk of over use injuries.
Click this for a detailed overview of the shoulder joint: shoulder anatomy, in detail

The number of possible shoulder exercises/movements can be overwhelming, and trying to do every possible variation in every possible movement pattern would be an all day, monotonous, and dangerous, mess.

Here’s a rundown of the most frequently used shoulder exercises seen in a typical health club:

1. Dumbbell Military Press (standing)
2. Dumbbell Seated shoulder press
3. Dumbbell Lateral raises
4. Dumbbell front raise
5. Dumbbell bent over reverse fly’s
6. Barbell Military Press (standing)
7. Smith machine seated shoulder press
8. Nautilus (or other manufacturer) shoulder press machine
9. Nautilus (or other) lateral raise machine
10. Pec Fly/**rear delt** machine
11. Cable front raise
12. Cable lateral raise
13. Cable rear deltoid
14. Cable overhead press
You can look all these up on the invaluable website:

And these are just the most common ones. I could probably expand this list for pages if I wanted, but I don’t want to and most of you don’t want me to, either. These are just deltoid specific exercises. Then there are all the other major muscle exercises of the torso that put tremendous stress of the deltoids. For example, all of the following chest exercises work the anterior (front) deltoid intensely:
*Push ups, Olympic bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, dumbbell pec fly, cable pec fly’s, machine pec fly*.

All of the next group work the posterior (rear) deltoids and other muscles of the back shoulder girdle:

*Pull ups, Lat pull downs, long pulls, dumbbell bent over rows, barbell rows, cable rows, machine rows (nautilus or other) *.

With so many exercises hitting anterior and posterior deltoids heavily, one aught to wonder why some exercisers insist on spending so much time on trying to target those areas specifically. For the vast majority of gym goers lifting weights, overhead presses and lateral raises are all that are needed to develop well shaped and strong shoulders, as all the other exercises you should be doing for your upper body are taking care of the other two regions of the deltoids.

Given the over importance shoulder training seems to take on with serious weight lifters of both sexes, it shouldn’t be surprising that shoulder pain is one of the three most frequently sited gym associated injuries (lower back and knees being the other two).

If you’re not a competitive bodybuilder, or someone who wants to look like one, my advice is to cut down on shoulder training, and focus on lateral raise and/or shoulder press, while making sure that your chest (pushing exercise=anterior deltoid) and back (pulling exercises=posterior deltoid) exercises are truly challenging.

Of course, always follow strict good form. The first really bad rep performed should be the last rep of the set.

Happy training.

Weight training for youths

Knowledge is a never ending pursuit. Knowledge is constantly evolving, growing, and often changing our outlook in revelatory ways. Change is the nature of the honest intellectual.

The pursuit of intellectual integrity demands that the pursuer keep an open, but skeptical, mind, and when better evidence and new facts emerge, re-evaluation and change must follow.

This is a strength. Science is always looking at reality, and whenever a flaw in an answer is exposed, it looks for a better answer, based on new evidence and better observation, as opposed to dogmatically insisting that the earth is, indeed, the center of the solar system and flat, with the sun and planets all revolving around it.

This isn’t indicative of mistake. Once upon a time illness was thought to be the fault of bad spirits; that’s why we say “bless you” when you sneeze. Eventually, the nascent medical profession in the 16th century started making some connections to environment and certain illnesses (evidence that was known in to ancient Egyptians and Greeks, Babylonians and Romans, the great dynasties of ancient China and the Hindu wiseman of the subcontinent, as well as those unfortunate wise women of the middle ages burned at the stake for “witchcraft”). We now know better. We understand the role of bacteria,virus, environment, and genetics in human health, so our approach in treatment changed. Gradually. Some approaches were wrong and later corrected. Some were ahead of their time. Vaccination was used in the later 18th century during the American revolution with some success and very high risk. This led to further study, further experimentation, further refinement. Today, it’s unlikely that any reader of this post knows anyone with polio. If we lived in a faith determined world we’d still be trying to pray the flu away and dying in the millions instead of it being a moderate inconvenience (it was the deadliest persistent disease in human history until the discovery of bacterial causes and antibiotics).

So where is all this high minded exposition going? The New York Times has printed a new health article on the importance of weight lifting for children.

My friend and reader Thane pointed me towards this article: in the NY Times about weight training for youths.

Until 20 years ago, everyone outside of a few researchers considers this harmful and dangerous. For the last 10 years the published evidence has been mounting to the contrary. I found that evidence compelling and philosophically sound, but would have still cautioned against it as the preponderance of opinion still was strongly opposed. 5 years ago the debate was 50/50, but the trend was clear. No new evidence supporting the dangers of proper weight training for children emerged, while evidence of its being beneficial continued to accrue.
Perhaps this information will start filtering into the mainstream, and we can start teaching our children healthy habits earlier, to take into their adult lives, without dogmatic falsehoods holding them back.

Another take on Spinning

A really good blog post about spinning, for those of you who don’t participate in it.


Spinning is a form of exercise that focuses on endurance, strength, intervals, high intensity (race days) and recovery. It  involves a special stationary exercise bicycle with a weighted flywheel in a classroom setting. The features of the stationary bicycle include a mechanical device to modify the difficulty of pedaling, specially shaped handlebars, and multiple adjustment points to fit the bicycle to a range of riders. Many exercise bicycles have a weighted flywheel which simulate the effects of inertia and momentum when riding a real bicycle. The pedals are equipped with toe clips which allow for one foot to pull up while the other is pushing down. Some exercise bikes have clip-less receptacles for use with cleated cycling shoes.

A spinning class involves a single instructor at the front of the class who leads the participants through routines designed to simulate terrain and various outdoor riding situations. Some of the movements…

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BBC News – Inactivity ‘killing as many as smoking’

Inactivity is a truly silent killer.  Too many Americans, and others in the developed world, simply do not move enough to maintain minimal standards of health.  There are many culprits, and no doubt the easiest one pundits will blame is probably video games.  I take issue with that, however.  In the 19th century politicians and social critics railed against the evils of too  much reading; it will make you act out, unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and make you lazy sitting around for hours every day.  In the 20th century it was television.  Now it’s video games.  Every new mode of entertainment frightens, distresses, and annoys those too old to understand it.  If it didn’t annoy the older generation, it probably wouldn’t be popular in the first place.  Regardless, these excuses don’t hold water.  Individuals can abuse anything, but the fact is we have created a society that does not privilege physical activity unless you happen to be physically gifted to begin with.  Gym is usually one of the first things eliminated from budget strapped schools, right after the arts, rather than raise taxes in order to be able to continue offering these vital programs.  No one wants their taxes raised, but then decry when their services are cut.  Why do so many of us insist on believing in the magical free ride?  Worried about corruption and waste?  Grow up!  it exists in every human endeavor.  It exists in your own homes ever time a husband or wife holds back a little extra from a paycheck, or a child keeps the change when the are sent out on an errand, or a freaking credit card is used for any reason!  If you can’t escape waste, fraud, and corruption in your own home, what magical world do you live in that allows you to believe it won’t exist in the public sector?  Get over it.  Put your money where it belongs, into the future for your children, and that future should include you living long and healthy enough to play with your grandchildren.

So now that I’ve given you my two cents, read this article published in the prestigious Lancet.

BBC News – Inactivity ‘killing as many as smoking’.

Work Out Posts

Everyone is looking for the magic routine or the magic exercise, as if there is some secret that will transform your body better, quicker, easier, than any other.  Sorry.   That doesn’t work.  People always assume that the advice they can get from some super trainer of celebrities is going to work better than they could get from their neighborhood gym trainer.  Uh-uh. The advice you get from any trainer is going to be the same crap shoot you’d get from any other trainer.  You have no way of knowing if the advice is good or bad unless you have good knowledge to know better yourself, and the average gym goer simply doesn’t.

This brings me to one of my personal issues with training blogs, in general. Most of the blog posts out there (and I subscribe to more than a few) seem to focus on describing killer routines or Best Butt Busting exercises (or any other body part you might want to develop).  They can’t all be the best, can they?  This is sensationalism at it’s most idiotic.There is no magic and there are no shortcuts.  There is knowledge and evidence based training, and there is bullshit.  Every exercise is a tool, but not every tool is appropriate for every job.

The problem I have with these posts is that there seems to be an assumption that the reader will understand how to do these workouts and exercises properly, and be able to integrate them into their existing workouts effectively.  Inevitably, someone writes in how following so and so’s advice led to a major knee, lower back or other musculoskeletal injury and that so and so doesn’t know what they’re talking about and is a horrible trainer.  Most of my readers are not fitness professionals or professional athletes, and I have no way of knowing if any specific advice I give will be followed properly, but I will be held responsible by that person if anything goes wrong.  It almost never seems to occur to these complainers that perhaps they did the exercises badly, or improperly implemented the advice.  All the same, I fault the Fitness expert writing for not properly qualifying their advice.  I also blame them for giving too much of this kind of advice.  Every other post seems to tout this or that exercise as the best for a specific muscle group, and the posts in-between talk about this or that routine as being the greatest.  As these bloggers and professional writers are far and away the most popular, I suppose I can’t totally condemn them.

That said, people still want to know:  what is the best exercise routine a person can follow for overall fitness?  So here it is, a routine that will absolutely get you in great shape if you do it fervently every other day till the day you die,  assuming you follow all the rules of intensity that I’ve laid out innumerable times and you are otherwise physically healthy with no major pre-existing injuries:

  1.  Walking Lunges with dumbbells: perform up to 7 sets, with rep ranges between 12 steps and 30 steps, so long as the last 3 steps of every set are exhausting.
  2. Pull ups/Lat Pulldowns: perform up to 7 sets, with rep ranges between 6 and 15 reps, making sure the last rep of every set is almost impossible to complete.

    A US Marine Doing Pull-ups.
    A US Marine Doing Pull-ups. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  3. Push Ups (toes or knees): perform up to 7 sets, as many reps as you can with good form on every set (even if it’s 50 reps on the 1st and 2 reps on the last).

    English: an exercise of chest
    English: an exercise of chest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make sure you know how to do every exercise correctly, or get a trainer to show you.  Just doing these three exercises, in the routine I’ve laid out for you, is the most perfect and magical workout ever devised by mortal man.  Do this every other day, throw in cardio on in-between days.   Don’t forget to eat like a champion athlete and sleep like a 10-year-old, and you will get into unbelievably great shape practically overnight (ok, in 6-12 months).