GRIT SET 3: BENCH PRESS / ROTATOR CUFF WORK
Strength: Horizontal pressing
Weakness: Shoulder external rotation
A lot of what you do in the gym involves shoulder internal rotation. Nearly all pushing exercises, as well as a surprising number of pulls, put you in an internally rotated position. However, most people’s programs lack targeted shoulder external rotationn work to balance it out.
Additionally, the movements that do manage to make it into programs—cable external rotations, band external rotations, and those little plate-wavey things—all kind of suck, to be frank. For example, when performing the traditional standing external rotation with band, it’s easy to inadvertently substitute lumbar-spine extension—bending backward—for external shoulder rotation. It’d be hard to tell the difference.
You might think you’re doing the exercise correctly, when in reality you’re cheating the external rotators by not working them through their fullest available ROM. You’re also teaching your body to use a dysfunctional movement pattern.
A few years ago, I figured out that the easiest way to fix this problem is to simply get on the floor and perform a supine band shoulder external rotation. It’s a mouthful, but man is it effective!
NEW SHOULDER EXTERNAL ROTATION / ROTATOR CUFF EXERCISE
WATCH THE VIDEO – 3:23
Over the years I’ve had many clients and athletes tell me they feel that performing some light sets of the band shoulder external rotations in between their sets of heavy barbell or dumbbell bench presses helps their shoulder feel less tight and more ready to do the next set of presses. I don’t know of any studies to back this up, but it’s been my experience as well. So take that for what it’s worth!
GRIT SET 4: ABS / POSTERIOR CHAIN WORK
Strength: Posterior chain
Weakness: Anterior core
The glutes, hamstrings, and lower back aren’t weaknesses for everyone. Plenty of people have seen the writing on the wall and gotten their backsides strong by using a combination of classic multijoint strength moves and targeted accessory work like barbell Romanian deadlifts (RDLs), single-leg dumbbell RDLs, 45-degree hip extensions, reverse hip extensions, and stability-ball leg curls.
Since all of those exercises essentially focus on the posterior core musculature (i.e., glutes and lower back), I like to pair these moves with anterior-core-focused (i.e., abdominal) exercises.
KILLER ABS EXERCISE PIKE ROLL OUT ON FITNESS BALL
WATCH THE VIDEO – 1:55
Before you go start blindly repeating the old “heavy squats and deadlifts are all I need to strengthen my abs and obliques” mantra, let me save you the typing time. No, they’re not enough, particularly when it comes to the anterior core. Likewise, I’m not in the “no spinal flexion allowed” camp, due to a lack of convincing evidence that I should be. That said, I pair both flexion and anti-extension abdominal-focused exercises with posterior-chain exercises.
Two of my favorite abdominal exercises to do following a set of posterior-chain work are stability-ball plate crunches and the stability-ball pike roll-back. I’ve found these two abdominal exercises make a nice compliment to the posterior-chain exercises, particularly because many athletes over the years have said that these moves help offset some of the lower-back muscle tightness—I said tightness, not pain—that results from using the back extensors during posterior-chain exercises.
If you want something without spinal flexion, you’ve got options, too. Stability-ball stir-the-pots and single-arm planks are great anti-extension exercises to pair with posterior-chain work.
GRIT SET 5: STRAIGHT-ARM PULL-DOWN / FACE PULL
Strength: Triceps and lats
Weakness: Upper/mid back and rear delts
One of my go-to pairs on back-training days consists of performing a set of face pulls, then using the same rope to perform a set of straight-arm pull-downs.
This pair works well, not only because it allows you to hit two different areas of the back musculature, but also because both exercises can be performed back to back, in the same place, with the rope attached high on the cable column.
STRAIGHT ARM CABLE PULL DOWNS 3 VARIATIONS – LATS EXERCISE
WATCH THE VIDEO – 00:29
I also perform a triset of triceps extensions, face pulls and straight-arm pull-downs on occasion, as all three of these exercises can be performed in the same place with the same rope handles at the same high attachment point on the cable column. On a chest, shoulders, and triceps day, you can also just do some face pulls between sets of triceps extensions.
No matter where you do them, face pulls allow you to get in some extra volume for the rear delt and middle-back muscles, two areas of weakness and underdevelopment for physique-sport competitors, athletes and exercise enthusiasts—in other words, pretty much everybody in the gym.
GRIT SET 6: BICEPS CURL / DUMBBELL A
Weakness: Upper/mid back and rear delts
Because the upper back and rear delts are such a common weak spot, you may benefit from an additional Grit set to target them. One of my most-used paired sets combines dumbbell biceps curls with dumbbell shoulder A’s, which are a variation of rear-delt flyes that also target the posterior shoulders and middle-back musculature.
Here’s how to perform shoulder A’s:
WATCH THE VIDEO – 1:12
I like this paired set for three reasons:
- Like the other paired sets above, both exercises use dumbbells, so they can both be performed in the same spot.
- The shoulder A’s also require an isometric contraction of the triceps, which helps to serve as a “diverting exercise” to the biceps curls that preceded them. Your biceps will be forced to relax and recover, making these moves an ideal match.
- Back and biceps often go together in a program, and this paired set covers both areas. That said, this paired set can also be done if you’re doing an arm-focused day in order to get some extra middle-back work in, which, as I already said, you probably should be.
PAIR UP AND GRIT IT OUT
Using paired sets when doing total-body workouts for the purposes of maximizing strength is nothing new—it’s just something that’s widely misused. So if you’re doing full-body routines, feel free to blend any of these into the mix and see if they’re more effective at helping you maintain strength throughout your session.
However, these pairings are especially effective for body-part-split training programs. I use them regularly with clients and athletes who are interested in maximizing muscle development in their weaker areas. If you’re not interested in that, just keep doing what you’re doing. It’ll catch up with you eventually!