Andy Speer's Shoulder-Saving Chest And Back Workout

Think the bench press and shoulders are natural enemies? Maybe you just haven't been giving your shoulders and upper back the attention they need. This chest and back workout is just what your upper body has been waiting for!

Andy Speer's Shoulder-Saving Chest And Back Workout
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The focus of this workout is to add strength and hypertrophy to your chest and back, but not at the expense of your shoulders. In fact, with all the work you give your retractors and other overlooked upper-back muscles here, you'll actually help your shoulders get stronger, more balanced, and healthier, all while boosting your bench. Sound impossible? Just try it, and get back to me.

You may not have seen some of these exercises before, so I'm going to explain them blow-by-blow. I want you to remember them, because they could be the missing element that's been keeping you from feeling as invincible as you look.

Ready? Let's dive in.

Prone Y-Press

This is like a Y-raise, but with an extra pull-down in the middle. With your chest down on the floor, look right down, put your hands out in front in a Y at about 45 degrees, lift your arms, then pull your elbows back to your ribs. Press back out, and repeat. Focus on keeping a lot of tension in that upper-back area, keeping your shoulders pulled well off the floor and your chest up.

Prone Floor Swimmer

Prone Floor Swimmer

This begins in the same starting position as the Y-press, except that your hands are directly out front. Lift off the floor, and sweep your arms all the way around. As they cross behind your back, your palms turn up. Try to cross your hands over the small of your back, or at least do the best you can, then bring them all the way out to the front. Keep your hands off the floor for the entire set.

Dumbbell Scaption Raise

The word "scaption" means you're going to be working in the scapular plane, which is about 45 degrees off center. Use light dumbbells: 5, 8, maybe 10 pounds. Stand in a slightly bent-over position, with your back straight and abs tight. Go up at that 45-degree angle. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and back, and keep a nice, big chest.

Incline Prone Cuban Press

Prone Floor Swimmer

You'll do this on an incline bench, but as you can see in the video, you don't need much of an incline. Start with your elbows flared out to the sides, pull them up, then rotate them forward. In the standing version of the Cuban press, you'll sometimes actually do a press, but not here. Just rotate back down, and lower the weights to the floor. The key here is to keep your elbows even with your shoulders during the rotation. Don't let them sag.

Incline Batwing Row Hold

Use a heavier set of dumbbells for the batwing hold than for the Cuban press. This is a purely isometric hold at the top of a row position with a lot of tension in the upper back and between the shoulder blades. Don't go so heavy that you can't squeeze your shoulder blades together, though.

Push-up With Hand Release

Push-up With Hand Release

You'll start this push-up on the floor with your toes together and quads and abs tight. Lift your hands off the floor, squeeze your upper back, put your hands back on the ground, and push. Lifting your hands reinforces that shoulders-back tension during the horizontal press.

Bench Press

Do as many warm-up sets as you need to get warm but not fatigued. Those push-ups with hand release should have been a pretty solid warm-up! Now you'll do 6 working sets of 3. Between the first 3 sets, band pull-aparts will provide just a little more activation for your upper back. You don't want to over-fatigue things, so you'll still rest between the last 3 sets.

In case you can't tell, I want the bench to be as shoulder-safe as possible; that means chest up and shoulder blades pinned back as you lift the bar. Bring it down to just below your nipple line, pause lightly on the chest for 3 seconds, and then push. Lock it out, hold 1 second at the top, and do the next rep.

Band Pull-Apart

Band Pull-Apart

There's no need to go heavy or even stand up on the pull-aparts. Use a light- or medium-weight band, and do this move while sitting on the bench. Make a nice, big pull right across your chest and back out, working both scapular retraction and the rear delts.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Don't keep your elbows flared all the way out to the sides here. Keep them locked in at about 45-60 degrees from your body, which is the most shoulder-friendly way to press.

Bent-Over Barbell Row

Bent-Over Barbell Row

Start from the top on barbell rows, which allows you to really set your upper back in good posture. Tighten your abs, and lower down the way you would to the deadlift position, then pull that bar right up to your rib cage. Once again, you're squeezing your shoulder blades at the top and pushing your chest out while keeping your abs tight through the whole set.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

I like to keep the feet pretty squared up on the dumbbell row. You can stagger your back foot a little bit if you want to, but keep your hips and shoulders square and your abs nice and tight. As you pull, move the dumbbell back toward your waist and down, so you don't shrug your shoulder at the top. You're really getting a nice stretch and contraction on the lats and your upper back.



I prefer rings for these, but you can definitely use a TRX or even a cable stack if you need to. The Y-fly is kind of a two-motion exercise. Your body starts at about 45 degrees, and you'll do a high row, squeeze back your elbows and shoulder blades, and press out into a Y position. Then, bring it back down in one smooth motion. If you do it right, you should never have any slack in the straps. Constant tension on the straps means you have constant tension in your upper-back musculature throughout the motion.


The same thing holds for the T. Bring it straight out to the side and back down. Keep those abs tight so you don't go too far into extension in your lower back or let your hips drop. Your upper back should be pretty pumped by the end of 3 sets!

Push-Up With Squeeze

Band Pull-Apart

As you get to the top of the press, squeeze your elbows toward each other, trying to rotate in and bring your elbows in toward the center of your body. You're going to feel an extra hit on your chest as you get to the top of the push-up, so consciously focus on that squeeze. It can help to think about torque-ing the ground beneath you with your hands, corkscrewing out from the upper arm.

Farmer's Carry

You can use kettlebells, dumbbells, or whatever other weight you have, but the key is to use something with some substantial weight. Posture is also critical; stay as tall as you possibly can, putting a little tension into your upper back and making sure your shoulders don't round forward. This move provides static work for your upper back, great grip training, and some core work to superset with the push-ups. Walk about 100 feet, or whatever your gym space allows, keeping that same tall posture the whole time. Then, just set the weights down at the end of the walk.


There's only one thing left, and it's as important as anything else you did today: Stretch out your pecs and lats. Just 30 seconds on each side is enough, and then you're done. Just find a rack, a wall, a door, or anything else with a vertical surface, and put your forearm up against it so that your elbow is just slightly higher than your shoulder. Then, pull your torso out and away, putting a stretch on the pec minor and major.

To stretch your lats, use the same power rack or whatever you used, and just hold on to it while you pull your hips back until you feel a nice stretch all along the length of the side of your body.

The Workout Your Upper Body Really Wants

Try this workout on your next chest-and-back day, or if you currently do those muscle groups separately, consider combining them. It might be the best thing you do for your upper-body muscles and the health of your shoulders.