The Gritty Workout Your Upper Body Needs

Are you constantly chasing down new exercises to fill out your workouts? There's a better way! Take the classics and make them feel brand new with these simple tweaks.

It's no secret that varying your routine keeps your body positively adapting and makes your workouts more interesting. But the question, of course, is how to do it. Do you have to dramatically switch movements or entire styles of training to see results?

I say you don't.

Creating variety in your training doesn't just mean constantly doing new exercises; it can also be about changing the way you do the exercises. As Steve Weatherford and I showed in the "True Muscle Trainer," you can certainly stick with the basic muscle-building exercises, but apply them in a variety of not-so-basic ways.

Making new gains from classic muscle-building exercises can be as simple as adding a strategic isometric pause at a certain part of the range of motion, incorporating an exaggerated eccentric portion to finish the set, or a mix of the two. This can be accomplished by performing four types of sets:

  • Pause-go (PG) sets
  • Go-pause (GP) sets
  • Pause-go-eccentric (PGE) sets
  • Go-pause-eccentric (GPE) sets

I've already written about the scientific benefits of isometrics and exaggerated eccentrics; I'm now providing you with a chest, shoulder, and triceps workout that will help you put these techniques to use to give yourself a new training challenge and spark new muscle gains.

You're about to see sets of staple chest, shoulder, and triceps exercises in a whole new light, all while getting a great workout that will give you an incredible pump.


Note: For even more detail, watch the director’s cut of this video workout, with exercise demonstrations included, at the bottom of this article!

Nick Tumminello's True Grit Pause-Go Chest-and-Back Training
Paired Set:
1

Dumbbell Chest Press

2 "build-up" sets of 5-6 reps, 2 PGE sets of 8 reps
Dumbbell Bench Press Dumbbell Bench Press

Supine band external rotation

3 sets of 10-15 reps
Supine band external rotation Supine band external rotation

Paired Set:
2

45-degree cable chest fly

3 GP sets of 8-10 reps
45-degree cable chest fly 45-degree cable chest fly

Dumbbell rear-delt fly (Shown seated)

3 PGE sets of 8-10 reps
Dumbbell rear-delt fly Dumbbell rear-delt fly

Paired Set:
3

Incline Dumbbell Press

3 sets of 8-12 reps, each set coming close to failure
Incline Dumbbell Press Incline Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell Shoulder A

3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder A Dumbbell Shoulder A

Paired Set:
4

45-degree dumbbell shoulder raise

3 PG sets of 8-10 reps
45-degree dumbbell shoulder raise 45-degree dumbbell shoulder raise

Rope Triceps Extension

3 GPE sets of 8-10 reps
Rope Triceps Extension Rope Triceps Extension

Paired Set:
5

Parallel Bar Dip

1 "density set" of 50 total reps, broken up into as many sets as necessary
Parallel Bar Dip Parallel Bar Dip

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Technique Notes

Dumbbell chest press

Dumbbell chest press

Slowly lower the dumbbells outside your body until your elbows go just below your torso and you feel a slight stretch in your chest. Press the dumbbells back up without allowing your wrists to bend backward at any time. Keep your elbows directly under your wrists throughout.

Perform these PGE-style; pause at midrange for 8 seconds, perform approximately 8 reps, then stretch out the eccentric for 8 seconds on the final rep.

Supine band external rotation

Hold the ends of the band in your hands, with your upper arms on the floor and perpendicular to your torso and your elbows bent 90 degrees. Keeping your knees slightly bent and legs still, drive your hands toward the floor behind you while your upper arms remain flat on the floor. Maintain an elbow bend of 90 degrees throughout. Touch the floor with the back of your hand while keeping your wrists straight.

45-Degree cable chest fly

45-Degree cable chest fly

Stand just in front of a cable cross-over machine with the cables attached at shoulder level. Grab the cables and extend your arms out to your sides with a slight bend in the elbows. Bring your arms together in front of you while keeping a soft bend in your elbows, as if you were hugging a tree, until your palms touch in the center. Slowly reverse the motion until your arms are back out to your sides and your elbows are just behind your shoulders. If necessary, a slight forward torso lean is acceptable.

Perform these GP-style, do 8 or so normal reps, then pause with your palms touching for 8 seconds at the end.

Dumbbell rear-delt fly

While bent over with your back straight, keeping a slight bend in your elbows, raise your arms out to your sides until they are parallel with the floor. Your arms should be at a 90-degree angle relative to your torso at the top of each repetition. Do not swing the dumbbells up. Pause for 1 second at the top of each repetition, and slowly lower the dumbbells in front of your torso.

Perform these PGE style; begin with an 8-second pause in the top position, then pause for 1 second at the top of each rep.

Dumbbell incline press

Dumbbell incline press

Slowly lower the dumbbells outside your body until your elbows reach just below your torso. Reverse the motion, and press the dumbbells back up. You can also perform the incline dumbbell bench press in an alternate-arm style by pressing one arm while the other arm remains straight. When performing the alternate-arm version, do not begin lowering one arm until the opposite arm (which just performed the press) is fully straight.

Dumbbell shoulder A

Stand with your torso roughly parallel to the floor with your knees bent 15-20 degrees and your back straight. Keeping a small bend in your elbows, raise your arms out to your sides, just outside your hips, pointing your thumbs toward the floor. Your arms should be at a 15-degree angle relative to your torso at the top of each repetition, thus forming an "A" shape with your torso. Pinch your shoulder blades together at the top of each rep. Pause for 1 second at the top of each repetition, then slowly lower the dumbbells in front of your torso.

45-degree dumbbell shoulder raise

With your elbows slightly bent, raise your arms out to the sides at roughly a 45-degree angle until the dumbbells reach just above your shoulders. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to your sides. At the bottom position, do not allow the dumbbells to rest against your hips; keep your hands just outside your hips to maintain some tension in your shoulders throughout.

Perform these PG-style; start with an 8-second pause, followed by 8-10 normal reps.

Rope triceps extension

Hold one side of the rope in each hand with your arms by your sides and your elbows at 90 degrees. With your knees slightly bent, straighten your elbows toward the sides of your body until your arms are straight and the bottoms of your hands touch your thighs. Don't allow your shoulders to round forward as you press the rope downward on each repetition. Keep your elbows by your sides throughout.

Perform these GPE style; do the reps first, then pause, then take 8 seconds on the final eccentric.

Parallel-bar dip

Parallel-bar dip

Lean your torso slightly forward as you bend at your elbows, and slowly lower yourself down until your elbows reach at or just below a 90-degree angle. Press yourself back up, keeping your elbows slightly bent at the top of each repetition.

If you don't have access to a dip station, you can make your own with a squat rack and two empty barbells, as I explained in my article "7 Gym Hacks You Need to Know". Set the safety pins a little higher than waist height, set up between the barbells, and start dipping. Don't worry about the barbells rolling when you perform the dips. They shouldn't move once you put your weight on them.