Research Review: Bigger Gains and the Best Exercise for Shoulders

GUEST POST: Chris Beardsley of Strength and Conditioning Research outlines the lastest in fitness studies, including the value of taking scheduled breaks and the best exercise for shoulders — period.

Chris Beardsley is a co-founder of Strength and Conditioning Research, a monthly publication that summarizes the latest fitness research for strength and sports coaches, personal trainers, and athletes. The views expressed herein are his and are based on the studies in the publication.

The fitness industry can be a confusing place, with many experts providing conflicting opinions. Scientific research is our best shot at providing objective and effective approaches to fitness. Studies likes these are essential reading for all strength and sports coaches, personal trainers, and dedicated athletes.

Strength and Conditioning Research is a monthly review service that covers new and interesting scientific studies on fitness topics. The studies included help answer difficult questions about optimal fitness, training, and body transformation.

Here are the summarized results of three recent studies that were covered in the review along with what these results mean for you.

Higher volumes of strength training lead to greater strength gains

Recently, some researchers led by Fernando Naclerio from the University of Greenwich found that strength training with three sets led to greater strength gains than one or two sets Effect of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Strength and Power. Naclerio, F., Faigenbaum, A.D., Larumbe-Zabala, E., et al. Center of Sports Sciences and Human Performances, School of Sciences. University of Greenwich. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 October 5..

What did the researchers do?

The researchers wanted to investigate the effects of different resistance-training volumes on improvements in strength and power. So they recruited 32 team-sport athletes who had at least 3 years of sports performance experience but with no resistance training experience.

The researchers divided the subjects into one of four groups: low volume (1 set per exercise), moderate volume, (2 sets per exercise), and high volume, (3 sets per exercise) in each training session, and a control group, which performed no training. The subjects performed their training sessions 3 times per week for 6 weeks, using 8 repetitions per set with a load of c. 75 percent of 1RM with 3 minutes of rest between sets.

What happened?

The researchers found that 1RM squat, bench, and upright row performance improved significantly more in the high volume group than in the low or moderate groups, as shown in the chart below.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that a higher volume (i.e. 3 sets) of resistance training is better for improving strength than lower volumes.

What does it mean for you?

If you want to improve strength, either for your sport or for gaining muscle, increasing the number of sets to at least 3 sets might be an effective strategy.

Short detraining periods in a long-term program do not reduce strength gains

A group of researchers led by Riki Ogasawara from the University of Tokyo found that in a long-term resistance-training program, short breaks of up to 3 weeks in length did not affect the overall strength and size gains achieved Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training. Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Ishii, N., et al. Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Chiba, Japan. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012 Oct 6..

What did the researchers do?

The researchers recruited 14 healthy young men and allocated half to a “Continuous” group and half to a “Periodic” group. Both groups performed a high-intensity, free-weight bench press exercise 3 days per week but the Continuous group trained without breaks over a 24-week period, while the Periodic group performed 2 cycles of a 3-week detraining/6-week retraining period after an 6-week initial training period.

Both groups performed 3 sets of 10 reps with 2 – 3 minutes rest between sets at an intensity of 75 percent of 1RM with a standardized grip width. The sessions were supervised and training loads were assessed every 3 weeks.

What happened?

The researchers observed that after 24 weeks, the total improvement in muscle cross-sectional area of the triceps brachii and pectoralis major and in 1RM strength were similar between the Continuous and Periodic training groups even though the Periodic group performed 25 percent fewer total training sessions and 33.5 percent less total training volume.

This happened because although the Periodic group lost strength and muscular size in the 3-week detraining periods, they regained it much faster than they originally gained it in the earlier training periods, meaning that they caught up with the Continuous group during each retraining period.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that short detraining periods of up to 3 weeks do not impede the muscular adaptations that occur over a long-term training program.

What does it mean for you?

Don’t be afraid to take a week off from training or to reduce volume and intensity from time to time. You will easily regain the lost ground and the recovery will likely lead to superior results further down the line.

Standing dumbbell presses are the best exercise for developing the shoulders

Recently, some researchers led by Atle Hole Saeterbakken from Sogn og Fjordane University College, Norway found that standing dumbbell shoulder presses are more effective for recruiting the shoulder muscles than seated dumbbell or either seated or standing barbell presses Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. Saeterbakken, A.H., Fimland, M.S. Faculty of Teacher Education and Sport, Sogn og Fjordane University College, Norway. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012 Oct 23..

What is the background?

The overhead press is a popular movement for developing upper body strength. A number of variations are commonly performed, including standing and seated versions and using barbells and dumbbells. Until now, however, it was not known which variation was best for recruiting the shoulder muscles.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers recruited 15 healthy young, male subjects who had several years of strength-training experience but who were not competitive athletes. The researchers measured the activity of the three shoulders muscles while the subjects performed 5 repetitions at 80 percent of their one-repetition maximum in each of the standing barbell press, seated barbell press, standing dumbbell press and seated dumbbell press.

What happened?

The researchers found that the standing dumbbell press was superior to the other exercise variations for each of the front, middle and rear shoulder muscles, as shown in the chart below.

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers concluded that the greatest activity of each of the three shoulder muscles occurred during standing dumbbell presses. They therefore suggest that the standing dumbbell press might be more effective for the muscular development of the shoulders than other variations of shoulder presses.

They suggest that this might be because of the decreased inherent stability of the standing dumbbell lift, which requires the shoulders to work harder to maintain the weights in the right movement pattern.

What does it mean for you?

If you want to build your shoulder strength or size, either for sport or to improve your physique, try the standing dumbbell press instead of using barbells or machines.

Will these findings impact your approach to fitness?  Share in the comments below!

 

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