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The Bomber, Part 1: Muscle-Building Workout for Chest, Biceps and Shoulders

By James Parker

Below is the first installment in a comprehensive workout I fondly call "The Bomber". This is a workout that I like to use with fighters preparing for a fight, fighters just trying to lay a good, strong base with some additional cardiovascular conditioning, or for myself to (frankly) be able to keep up with my younger fighters. Like most exercise routines I write about here, the bomber is rough. So, go into this with the idea that you are either already in great condition and want something to push yourself even harder, or have consulted with your physician and feel comfortable modifying this routine. To help avoid overdoing it, I've broken this routine into three parts, publishing them separately, so that you can introduce The Bomber slowly.

The Bomber is also meant to be broken into parts because it functions on a hypertrophy schedule. That is, it combines a major muscle group with a minor one, switching these groups on each day of training, and hitting each group once per week. So, we'll have a four day per week schedule, with this article covering chest and biceps (Monday), and shoulders (Tuesday). Next time, I'll show you legs and abs (Thursday). Finally, we will have back, triceps (Friday). Obviously, which specific days you work out is up to you—the idea is just to hit each group once, and spread it out across the week. Never stay in the gym longer than an hour, either. Since this routine is vicious (or should be…you workin’ hard enough?), anything over an hour reduces your chances at recovery and can have a negative impact on your other weekly activities. 

Day One: Bomber for Chest
Do all chest exercises first before moving on to biceps. Pick three exercises if you are doing them separately, but you can also do all the exercises together if you choose to do super-sets. When adding super-sets, don’t over-do the number of sets per exercise—remember that super-sets double the work load, increasing the stress on a particular muscle group or joint.

Start by warming up with regular push-ups (2 sets of 10 reps), then move on to the heavy work load.

Exercise How to Repetitions Sets Notes
Spiderman or Rock-climber Push-ups Start in regular push-up position, and then, as you descend in your push-up, bend your leg and bring your knee from one side of your body up to the elbow of that same side. Alternate from left to right sides at each descent, unilaterally hitting each side of your body. 6 - 8 2 - 3
Parallel Bar Dips Stand between two parallel bars with one hand on each bar. Take a step and press up so that you are above the bars with your upper body, arms straight to hold you up, with legs dangling between and below the bars. Bend your elbows to lower your body between the bars, coming down until your hands are near your chest with elbows bent behind you, then straightening your elbows to press back up and lift yourself back to the straight-armed start position. 8 - 10 2 - 3 You can either do these separately or as a super-set exercise right after the spiderman push-ups. To make these even nastier, add a lightweight dumbbell (10 - 20 lbs), held between your feet. Make sure you can easily do at least 10 reps with your own body weight before adding the dumbbell.
Feet-Inclined Push-Ups This push-up is essentially an incline press. By putting your feet up on anything from a flat bench to the front of a preacher bench, you move the angle of your arms above your head mimicking the same position they would have in an incline bench press. 6 - 8 2 Be aware of the strain placed on your shoulders. Don’t overdo the angle, to avoid turning this into a shoulder exercise. Also, watch your balance; falling from here will scrape your knees at the least. To make it harder, try lifting one foot off of the bench, and curling it slightly back (in scorpion fashion), while doing this exercise.
Toe-Touch Push-Ups Begin a standard push-up, but as you come up, swing your leg underneath you and through to the other side, while raising your hand on the side that the leg is coming through to. Lift the leg as high towards the sky as you are comfortable with, and, with the hand off the ground, reach out and touch your toe. Like the Spidey push-ups, do each side unilaterally after each push-up. 6 - 8 2 This one is a little more about balance than the push-up and can definitely work your rotator cuff as well as the arms and chest.

Day One: Bomber for Biceps
Do only a few sets for biceps. You don't want to overtrain a smaller muscle, but you also want to avoid overtraining the body as a whole. Remember, you have hit your chest hard, so over-doing it for the biceps just adds to your recovery needs. Think more about maintaining intensity over a short period of time. This is the idea with all supporting muscles.
Exercise How to Repetitions Sets Notes
Reverse Curls Take an Olympic bar and grip it over-hand, so that the palms are facing down through out the entire exercise. Everything else is similar to a basic barbell curl. Keep your wrists straight and knuckles leading the way during the lift. 6 - 8 2 Start light, as this particular exercise uses some muscles that tend to be under-developed in most people (the top of the forearm). Do one light set to adjust to the exercise and get the pull muscles ready, then perform the standard 2 sets.
Alternating Dumbbell Curls This one is self explanatory, but I’ll add a few tips. Your hands should start with palms neutral, meaning that at rest, your palms face your sides. As you curl, your hands should start to rotate so that the palms face upwards as you clear your thighs. At the end of the curls your palms, with pinky finger leading, should be slightly turned up and out, away from your body. This is called supination, and can enhance the range of motion your muscles and joints do, plus it can also add to the intensity of the peak of the curl. 6 - 8 2
Dumbbell Hammer Curls Again, this exercise might be self explanatory, but fighters should know that although the brachialis is a smaller muscle in the biceps area of the arm, it is a powerful muscle that can enhance the grip-strength of fighters that like to grab their opponent. Focus more on the strength of muscle for this one, rather than size. 6 2 You can do these curls to the front and simultaneously, or alternating in a cross-body curling style.

Day Two: Bomber for Shoulders
The day after chest/biceps I do shoulders. This can be atypical of a standard hypertrophy routine, so be aware that the goal is not to develop boulder shoulders as much as it is to make these muscles adapt to the stress of constant work for endurance. All three heads of the shoulder need to be trained, not just the more popular front and medial deltoids that add to shoulder width. This routine accomplishes that.

On this day, I reverse the process one might normally do when training muscles and start with a boxing routine on the bag to thoroughly exhaust the delts. I’ll warm up with light rapid straight punches, putting little force into them, then move on to the more intense hooks, upper cuts, and over-hand rights made popular by Chuck Liddell. For some combo suggestions, check out the bag training articles posted here by myself and my other RealJock colleagues. Spend at least 10 - 15 minutes working the bag, focusing most on various punches and elbow strikes utilizing a lot of shoulder movement. Don’t be afraid to get the whole body involved, by adding knees and kicks to the routine and spinal rotation to your strikes, but make the lion’s share about shoulder movement through a ballistic range of motion. After that it’s time to do a quick and nasty weight routine to finish off your deltoids.
Exercise How to Repetitions Sets Notes
Simultaneous Front and Lateral Dumbbell Raise With your wrists flat and elbows slightly bent, raise one arm straight forward to the front of your torso while you simultaneously raise the opposite arm straight out to the side. 8 - 10 2 You are essentially doing two exercises at once, which require some coordination and balance. Pick a weight that allows for both and don’t let your ego guide this one.
Seated Reverse Flys Start by sitting on the end of a bench. Leave space behind the knees and legs for your arms to swing out and up. Folded over at the waist with your upper abs touching your upper quads, palm a dumbbell in each hand with the thumbs facing each other. As you raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides, you’ll want to make sure the pinky finger is leading the raise the entire repetition. 6 - 8 2 This hits the rear deltoid, which is missed by many hypertrophy routines, but is essential to developing all the muscles involved in punching.
Dumbbell Hammer Curls Again, this exercise might be self explanatory, but fighters should know that although the Brachialis is a smaller muscle in the biceps area of the arm, it is a powerful muscle that can enhance the grip strength of fighters that like to grab their opponent. Focus more on the strength of muscle for this one, rather than size. 6 2 You can do these curls to the front simultaneously, or alternating in a cross-body curling style.
Barbell Overhead External Rotation Start with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle up and out to the side, so that the upper arms are parallel to the ground, the forearms are pointed downward, perpendicular to the ground, and the knuckles are facing downwards, gripping the bar. Do this exercise in two parts. First, raise the bar while keeping the elbows bent at 90 degrees, until the forearm is parallel to the ground. Pause, and then continue the raise until the arms are in opposite position to your starting position, with the forearms vertical and elbows still bent at 90 degrees. Be sure to pause at the mid-way mark to allow the rotator to make the adjustment between the two angles with little trouble. Lower the weight the exact same way, pausing again in the middle of the rotation. 6 2 I like this one because it hits two angles and ranges of motion for the rotator. Use fairly light weight at first. The barbell is ideal, because it makes it easier to hold the arms in the required position for this exercise.
Next time I’ll go over the bomber for legs and abdominals, and then finish my bomber routine with back and triceps in the article after that. Enjoy, and be smart about how you do this. Don’t get over-zealous, potentially causing injury. These exercises can be hard enough even with light weight, and you can always go heavier once you’ve found their measure. In point of fact, a rest day right after these exercises can only help you, and will allow these hard-hit muscles to get even stronger for the next time you come to play.

About James Parker: James Parker is a certified personal trainer, mixed martial artist, mixed martial arts conditioning coach, and freelance writer in Los Angeles, California.