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Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants To Build Shoulders That Are As Strong As They Look

March 7, 2011 04:07 PM

In the strength training world lately, the bodybuilding crowds have been catching a lot of heat for being weak, disconnected, and training for "looks" only. Now personally, I don't believe that wanting to look big and strong is all that bad of a thing. Hey, it may not be my cup of tea to try to look like the next contender for Mr. O. (personally I would rather look like a Greek statue myself) but I am not going to speak badly about someone who has a preference to have the look of a granite rock over a statue come to life, especially if said bodybuilder is "as strong as he looks."
I was reading Pavel's phenomenal book Beyond Bodybuilding (a MUST HAVE by anybody who dislikes being weak in my not so humble opinion) and came upon three articles. One was a retro lift called the Bent Press, one was about the See-Saw Press and the other was about how the strength legend Paul Anderson was able to cross wire his nervous system by practicing to separate but related lifts, the Squat and the Good Morning. I couldn't help but think that applying these three concepts would create dense, muscular shoulders that simultaneously look and perform powerfully to the point that Hercules himself would think "That guy is as strong as he looks."
So let's talk a little bit about each one together before we talk about them separately. 
In both bodybuilding and old school physical culture, each one agrees that having big wide shoulders is a good thing, and the Bent Press seems to be an excellent way to get there. When you do a Bent Press you are essentially supporting the weight on your latissimus dorsi muscle, screwing yourself underneath the weight and standing up with the weight overhead. When a Bent Press is performed properly, you should be able to do more weight with that then any other single-handed lift. Arthur Saxon was able to do this with 370lbs! Putting up a lot of weight in this manner can teach you how satisfying lifting heavy is, it can prevent you from being afraid of the weight so that you can be confident in your other lifts, and it teaches your latissimus dorsi to get in on the action.
The See-Saw Press is a press that teaches the body about active negatives (i.e. pulling the weight down) and for some strange reason makes the presses feel stronger. It is also more "in the groove" with the military press, and for some neurological reason that goes over my head, it allows you to do more weight with more reps then a standard military press. Being able to do more weight with more reps for higher volume is usually a good thing, both in bodybuilding, and in strength training. In other words the See-Saw Press is awesome!
Paul Anderson trained two lifts back and forth with ample rest in between the exercises. Supposedly this coordinated the strength between the two because neurons that get fired close together would crosswire and get muscle fibers that might have been left dormant to come and help with the cause. A 1,202lb squat is pretty darn impressive! If it helped him work up to that, maybe the same thing can apply to us mortals. It is important to note that he left plenty of time between each exercise so that he wouldn't burn himself out.
So let's try and coordinate all this together for the purpose of building big, powerful, dense shoulders that are "as strong as they look." Take the two lifts, the Bent Press, and the See-Saw Press, and perform them in a manner similar to what Paul Anderson did with his good morning and squat. Hopefully we can "cross wire" some of the muscle fibers and get results like Paul Anderson did.
The lifts:
Bent Press, See-Saw Press
  • The reps: Bent Press for heavy singles (between 80 and 100% of your 1 rep max)
  • See-Saw Press 5 reps per side (10 reps combined at around 60-70% of your 1 rep max)
  • The rest: about 2-3 minutes between exercises. (This is not a huff and puff program)
  • The sets: Lots and lots of sets. Do as many as you can get in while staying fresh.
  • The frequency: 3 days a week should suffice but just plug this one into whatever program you are doing. 
  • Use common sense.
Here is what a sample training day might look like:
  • Heavy Bent Press: 1 per side (you can start off a little light on the first couple sets as "feeler sets" but work your way up to going heavy)
  • rest 2-3 minutes
  • See-Saw Press 10 reps combined (5 per side)
  • rest 2-3 minutes
  • Repeat until you feel like your freshness is starting to leave then call it a day. 
Do this frequently but with allowing at least a day between and don't do this at the expense of your other lifts. I recommend including a pulling movement on your days in between to balance everything out. Be patient and the strength will be sure to follow. At some point after you have given the program time to do its thing check your measurements and test your muscle and might. Let me know how it worked out for you.

Eric Moss, RKC is a fitness professional residing in Hopatcong, NJ, who is dedicated to making himself and his clients as strong as (or stronger than) they look. He helps his clients drop body fat quickly, gain strength quickly and uses kettlebells as his main tool and the RKC system as his main methodology.  He runs a fitness blog ( where he has become known as a straight shooter with a unique writing style and has been known to force companies to take videos down where they teach unsafe and ineffective technique with a couple words.  It has become an inside joke that he doesn't wear shirts but that is mainly because he has built up his physique along the lines of a Greek statue and exhibits it proudly.