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CNA Lifestyle

Next-Level Workout: How to sculpt defined shoulders and strengthen your core

In this new eight-part series, CNA Lifestyle brings you trainer-certified moves to help you reap more results from your workouts.

Plateau. It’s not a word you want to hear after religiously going to the gym to build the body of your dreams. It’s a blight on your trajectory of muscle gain, strength increase and overall performance. It doesn’t do anything for your motivation. But it happens.

To help you get out of your workout rut, CNA Lifestyle spoke to various trainers to highlight the specific exercises that will let you break out of your fitness funk. We kick off the series with the shoulders.


You hit a plateau because your body gets accustomed to the physical stresses that you put it through. In fact, it only takes your body three weeks to get used to any workout, said Jeff Huang, 27, fitness manager at Virgin Active in Marina One.

The shoulder has about eight muscles that form the outer shape of the shoulder and underarm. These muscles aid in a wide range of movement, and help protect and maintain the shoulder joint. But as the small guys, shoulder muscles don’t show results as satisfactorily as when you work the major muscles, such as your back, chest or thighs.

Despite plateauing, you will still feel tired after a session because you’re moving your body doing the same exercise.

But don't belittle their size; your shoulder muscles can spell big trouble if they are weak.

“Your shoulders’ stability will be compromised. This will put your shoulder joint in an abnormal position, and cause impingement and irritate the nerves, leading to inflammation,” said Huang. “In the extreme case, the muscle instability may even result in a frozen shoulder, where the shoulder joint becomes so stiff, you can’t raise your arm to shampoo your hair.”

(Photo: nonlinear)

The workout rut you’re in can kick off a chain reaction that traps you in a no-result state. “Despite plateauing, you will still feel tired after a session because you’re moving your body doing the same exercise," said Huang. “But after a month, you’re not feeling and looking stronger. That affects your motivation to train and you may start to do other things, or you may be more inclined to give up."


You may be no stranger to the typical standing barbell shoulder press when it comes to working out the shoulders. In fact, you may be too familiar with it.

“The plateau comes about when you have been executing the same number of reps and sets using the same weight,” said Huang. No two people react the same way to workouts. But when it comes to building bigger, stronger shoulders, the trick is to load the weight, he added.

Huang’s solution to help you shake up your shoulder routine: The squat and press. “The movement uses your legs, so you can use a much heavier weight and up the workout intensity in the shoulders. A person might be able to lift 40kg in the traditional standing press; but when he also uses his legs, he might be able to lift another 10 per cent or 20 per cent more.”

(Photo: nonlinear)

Despite incorporating the use of the legs, Huang said that the squat and press will still work the shoulders “because you’ll need to use them to drive the barbell up and above your head”.

Start with 15kg or 20kg and do just two sets of five repetitions each, even if you are no stranger to lifting weights above your head. “The first set is to let the person understand the movement, and also to gauge how heavy he or she can lift,” said Huang.

The second set is for you to practise the movement and observe if you’re executing the exercise correctly. Huang recommends raising the intensity by aiming for three sets of eight reps the following week. “Anything more than that and you may lose your form,” he said. “After a month, I would recommend loading the volume by increasing the number of reps.”

“When you’re starting your workout and still feeling fresh, go heavy. Towards the end, you can switch to lighter weights but use higher repetitions and focus on activating the muscles,” he said.

Next-Level Workout is a fitness series from CNA Lifestyle. Consult your doctor before starting any training programme.

Source: CNA/bk