It’s time for another iteration of our hypertrophy specialty cycles, and this time, we’re bringing you another round of Glutes and Shoulders!
We did this for the first time in 2021. It was such a hit that in 2022 we built an 18-week cycle where the specialization muscle groups changed every 6 weeks.
In Fall 2023, we have the second version of the Glutes and shoulders cycle. This time, it is even better!
- 60-75 min workouts for Full Gym
- 60 min workouts for Home Gym
- 3-Day Full Body Option
- 4-Day Upper/Lower Split Option
- If you enjoy cardio, you have the option of completing up to 3 potential sessions each week of Zone 2 / Zone 5 Cardio
Full Gym Equipment Needed
- Squat rack
- Machines including: Cables, leg press, leg extension/curl (note there will be free weight swaps available for busy gyms)
Home Gym Equipment Needed
- Squat rack
- Resistance bands
Glutes (or Quads) + Shoulders
Paragon Co-founder Bryan Boorstein is here to chat more specifics about this cycle!
In this specialty cycle, be warned – the repeating movements hit hard, and the dramatically improved knowledge around using biomechanics (setup and execution) allows us to further bias specific muscle tissue with each exercise!
The newest addition to this cycle is that you, the athlete, will have the choice as to whether you want each glute movement to be glute dominant, or whether you’d rather prioritize quads.
The beauty of understanding biomechanics is that you can make a few subtle shifts in how you set up and execute movements, which will change the bias from glutes to quads (both will certainly still be receiving stimulus either way).
The two main components are the shin and torso angle at the bottom of the squat.
For quad dominant bias:
– Front shin will slant forward, driving the knee as far as possible over the toe at the bottom of each rep
– Torso will remain as vertical as possible, making the “moment arm” from knee to hip as long as possible; thus stretching the quad maximally.
For glute dominant bias:
– Front shin remains nearly vertical at the bottom of each rep
– Torso will angle forward as much as possible, allowing the “moment arm” at the hip; thus stretching the glute maximally.
Elements of Specialty Cycles
A few key elements are ubiquitous across specialty cycles:
- Priority muscle groups are trained FIRST in session
- Priority muscle groups will receive more volume
- Priority muscle groups MAY work closer to failure (exercise dependent)
- Priority muscle groups MAY use unique exercises or unique execution of common exercises to target SPECIFIC regions of the muscle
When looking at the general spectrum of training volume, and creating the optimal dose, we can think of it like a glass of water. The capacity of the glass is our total recovery available. The water is the volume of training we’re doing. If the glass overflows with water, we have exceeded our recovery capacity, and now we are starting to overtrain (meaning working harder, with less motivation, for minimal or no results).
The nature of specialization is such that certain muscle groups will receive additional training volume, while volume is decreased in other areas.
The good news is that a few studies demonstrate that maintenance volume for a muscle group is about 1/3 of the dose it took to build it. This means that if you were doing 15 sets a week for your back, you could maintain the muscle you built by doing approximately 5 sets per week.
The design of a specialty cycle will use this knowledge as leverage when constructing the program. Some muscle groups may temporarily reduce close to a maintenance volume so that others can be prioritized without exceeding recovery capacity.
Once those gains are cemented and the specialization cycle is complete, we can be confident that we will maintain what we just built during the subsequent phases of training.
The Weekly Training Split
*Note that the optional cardio add-on program will still be in effect. Continue to follow the advice in the Cardio Add-on Blog, regarding how to optimally include these sessions in the split below:
Monday: Lower Body (Glute or Quad focus)
Tuesday: Upper Body (Shoulder focus)
Thursday: Lower Body (Glute or Quad focus)
Friday: Upper Body (Shoulder focus)
The Full Gym / Home Gym Difference
***See the “repeating movements” section at the bottom for a discussion around the specific movements that may be different between the commercial gym and home gym programs.
Probably the most advantageous aspect of training in a commercial gym (with machines and cables) is the ability to utilize very targeted exercises without the hassle of setup.
Cables provide an extremely even resistance profile (meaning there is tension on the muscle through the entire range of motion). These positions can be emulated with bands, but the bands have a poor resistance profile (range-of-motion gets harder as the band gets more stretched) and are also difficult to progress from week to week.
Leg machines are one of the unique gems of the commercial gym.
This is not to say there is anything wrong with free-weight squat-style movements. Still, one thing that cannot be argued, is that free-weight squats will always fatigue the midline (low back), and often cause that to be the limiting factor in progression (before the legs truly reach fatigue).
By using leg press or hack squat-style machines, we can easily work the quads and/or glutes to deeper levels of fatigue without limitation.
With Paragon’s menu of program offerings, the Full Gym programs will always list the “most optimal” movement as the primary.
However, we will continue to list some free weight/home gym alternatives (“swaps”) for those who may be traveling, or find themselves in a crowded gym, and unable to get the machine they want.
The Home Gym program will list the “most optimal” movement for the feasible equipment.
It’s important to understand that there will not be a drastic or significant difference in using the free weight or machine-based movements, and you should feel confident that your “gains” are in good hands, regardless of which option you choose!
As always, the ability to work hard and be consistent over time will move the needle more than anything related to equipment!
Progression Through the Training Cycle
At Paragon, we program with an “increasing effort” approach, purposefully working closer to failure each week. This will also continue to be the protocol for the specialization cycle.
There are a few great elements that this approach provides:
- It makes progression an expectation each week. You need to add weight or do more reps to ensure you get closer to failure than the prior week. It also has the side benefit of creating “mini wins” each week, in which you leave the gym feeling accomplished and did something productive!
- It ensures you have a self-test each cycle. As you add weight or reps each week, you will inevitably butt up against failure in the final week. If you significantly exceeded your prior weeks’ performance in this final testing week, you know you were sandbagging (and you adjust by increasing loads the next cycle).
Much of this philosophy revolves around a different progression model for the demanding lengthened compound movements (squat, RDL, etc.), and the less demanding short overload movements (often isolation movements, but not always). For a deeper understanding of how and why we program short and lengthened movements differently, read the below blogs:
As far as how this relates to progression, it mostly comes down to the fatigue cost of performing these exercises. Due to how fatiguing (and complex) the “Lengthened” movements are, we will often begin cycles at around 5 reps from failure.
The lengthened movements will often progress like this:
Week 1 – ~5 reps from failure
Week 2 – ~4 reps from failure
Week 3 – ~3 reps from failure
Week 4 – ~2-3 reps from failure
Week 5 – ~1-2 reps from failure
Week 6 – ~0-1 rep from failure
We do not need to hit failure on these big movements to see maximal gains.
For the “short” movements, the fatigue cost is so low, we can often begin a cycle at ~2-3 reps from failure.
The short movements will often progress like this:
Week 1 – 2-3 reps from failure
Week 2 – 1-2 reps from failure
Week 3 – 1 rep from failure
Week 4 – 0-1 reps from failure
Week 5 – Failure + intensity techniques
Week 6 – Failure + intensity techniques
The specific intensity techniques are meant to help us “get more” from these less fatiguing movements, and the specific details of each will be explained within the body of the programming in the latter weeks of each training cycle!
How to Know How Far from “Failure” You Are
First, let’s define failure: We should assume that taking a set to failure means that you can no longer perform a rep with the same technique. This does NOT mean that you contort your body to achieve another rep. That is beyond failure because the intended musculature is no longer the one moving the weight. Your first rep should look the exact same as your last rep, just a slower grind through the concentric (lifting) portion of the rep.
I understand the sentiments of those who don’t necessarily feel comfortable projecting their “reps from failure” very accurately and worry that you might short-change yourself.
The model described above (increasing effort week to week; adding load or reps) effectively ensures we ultimately get to “failure” at the end of each training cycle.
This approach is a “fail-safe” of sorts.
As you add weight or reps, you will get closer and closer to failure, and ultimately you will feel what “tough reps” feel like towards the end of the mesocycle.
In the final week of each mesocycle (before deload week), even the demanding “lengthened” movements will be taken right up to the point of technical failure. This then provides you the tools to re-assess your effort and weight selection as you head into the subsequent mesocycle.
To provide a little general context around “failure,” I want to introduce the term “Maximal Concentric Intent.”
This means you are trying to lift every rep as fast as possible (control the descent… explode the ascent). This is performed without launching from the bottom, but to assertively try to move the weight quickly.
*Note – while we want to lift as quickly as possible in a controlled manner, we recommend doing a controlled 2-3 second descent. For example, in a Back Squat you would take 2-3 sec to get to the bottom range of motion, and then QUICKLY stand back up.
Think about the difference between flooring the gas pedal on your car versus pressing it confidently to pick up speed quickly.
If you lift every rep by confidently pressing the gas pedal, you will eventually feel the concentric speed slow, even though you are exerting maximum effort. This first “slower” rep is usually 3-4 reps from failure (a great place to begin week 1 of the cycle).
This video by Jeff Nippard is extremely well done, and he demonstrates what failure looks like on a number of different common movements. You can see how the rep speed slows despite the hardest effort to move the weight.
Exercise Order / Sequencing
One thing you may notice as somewhat non-traditional in this cycle is the precise way the exercises are ordered during the training day.
As discussed in the section “Progression through the training cycle,” there was discussion around short versus lengthened movements (with links to further reading on the topic).
The exercise sequencing is structured with this in mind.
Short overload movements are placed first in many cases; there are three main reasons:
1. Short movements provide a LOCAL warm-up for the target muscle
2. Short movements provide a much more ACUTE stimulus to the target muscle
3. Short movements have a significantly lower fatigue cost per set
If we look at the Kas Glute Bridge (or Hip Thrust), these exercises are limited by the “short position” (I.e. the point where you fully extend the hips, squeezing the glutes). Thus, these movements train the glutes specifically, and it is difficult to incorporate other muscle groups to do the job.
When we look at the Leg Press or Back Squat as “lengthened compound movements,” there is much more opportunity to compensate. We can manage this to an extent, by using the proper setup for your desired bias, but our bodies are always going to try to find the “easiest” way to accomplish the task at hand.
By pre-fatiguing the glutes with the Bridge or Thrust, we can be confident that the glutes will be receiving the lion’s share of the stimulus on these larger compound movements.
The other consideration with this sequencing is that muscles are capable of producing much more force/power at longer muscle lengths than at short lengths; and that the ability to produce force at long muscle lengths does not appear to be limited by fatigue at the short position.
In layman’s terms, this means that you can still perform at a high level on a lengthened movement after a short movement, but the reverse is not necessarily true (if you performed the Bridge or Thrust after the squat or leg press, you would see more of a drop-off in performance.
The same is true for the shoulders, and you will notice similar sequencing with the Y-Raise before the Anterior Delt Press, and the “no loss of tension” lateral raise just prior to the more lengthened lateral raise variation.
This sequencing has been shown in practice to optimize the hypertrophic stimulus and push blood flow to the target muscle, allowing the muscle to warm up optimally, and ensuring the stimulus on each movement is directed where we want it to go!
How to Build to Working Sets
The reps may differ, but this is a common way we will conduct our repeating movements:
RDL or Back Squat (or any large compound movement) you may want to do the OPTIONAL sets
For a less demanding movement, you can probably do just 1-2 warm-up sets and then get into work sets.
OPTIONAL 30-50% of working weight x 10-15 Reps
50% of working weight x 8-12 Reps
75% of working weight x 4-6 Reps
OPTIONAL 85-90% of working weight x 1-2 Reps
It’s important to understand that the “warm-up” sets are low-fatiguing. The earlier sets of higher reps are meant to be a super easy effort in which you are just beginning to prepare the muscles for the work ahead (Less than 50% of the weight you’ll use for your first working set).
As the weight increases, we continue to prepare (but not fatigue) by lowering the reps. Even the final warm-up sets are for lower reps than the work sets (and with less weight). This will allow the body to feel the heavier load, such that a psychological and physiological adaptation occurs, ensuring that the “work sets” don’t feel overwhelmingly heavy.
You may need 1-2 additional preparatory sets if you are stronger.
If you are not as strong, you may need fewer prep sets, but the principles all still apply!
You also will not need nearly as many warm-up sets for smaller muscle groups. For curls, shoulders, and triceps, I usually just implement one “feel it out” set, then jump into work sets. For example: I may use 25-30# DBs for 6-8 Reps before my work set with 40# DBs for 10-12 Reps.
Rest Periods Between Sets
Rest periods are ALWAYS important.
Science is overwhelmingly in agreement that more rest is better than less rest. Every study in the last half decade has shown better hypertrophy resting 2-3 min between sets when compared to 60-90 second rest.
Most importantly, we just need to make sure that neither the cardiovascular system (breathing) nor local muscle fatigue will be limiters in our ability to do the best possible set each time.
Below are the General Guidelines:
- (Warm-up sets don’t need as much rest, but work sets definitely do!)
- Compound Lower Body Movements = 2-3+ minutes
- Compound Upper Body Movements = 2+ minutes
- Isolation work (arms, lateral raises, etc.) = 60-90 seconds
There is no rule here. It’s just important to match the intended effort level and let that dictate how much weight and/or reps you achieve. This is the best way to manage the accumulation of fatigue and provide yourself with the best opportunity to exceed performance in the assessment weeks.
Working to Failure / Testing Week at End of Cycle
Throughout the first 5 weeks of a training cycle, we have increased weight and/or reps weekly to meet the demand of “getting closer to failure.”
We don’t want to go to the point of failing something like a squat or an RDL.
When you look at the failure spectrum, it can be ambiguous for a large compound movement like a squat. First, you might fail to maintain the exact same position as a prior rep (regarding torso/knees/hips). Second, you might sacrifice position by leaning forward more at the hips. Third, you might let your knees shoot back, letting the butt/hips rise too fast. Fourth, you might actually fail a rep (or round your back and let the bar roll forward over your head).
I would encourage you to look at failure as the first example.
When positioning is compromised in any way… when a rep looks different than the prior reps, that is a failure. This approach to big compound movements will keep the stimulus where we want it and reduce injury risk. If you compromise position, you are, in effect, asking other muscles to help!
You’re saying, “my quads can’t do this anymore.”
So, if you then bring the hips/glutes in to help, you are working beyond failure for the muscles you are attempting to target. Increased fatigue cost and increased risk of injury for almost no return. One other related concern is regarding rest at the top of the rep.
Much like execution, which needs to be standardized from rep to rep, we need to do the same for resting at the top of reps. If you can increase your squat reps because you stood there at the top, with your joints stacked, for an extra few seconds, that is not an identical performance to the prior week.
For this reason, we encourage a “one breath” rule on any of these movements where there is a resting place. Hopefully, this can help cement how you should think about failure as it relates to these big, demanding compound movements.
Specifics of the Glute / Shoulders Cycle
With the glutes and shoulders being the target regions for this cycle, we have a few important elements to discuss.
First things first… The shoulders (“delts”) are made up of 3 heads.
The Anterior (front) delts are trained in unison with many exercises for the upper chest. Any sort of steep incline press or front raise type motion will train both areas to varying degrees.
The Lateral (side) delts are the ones most responsible for creating the illusion of a smaller waist. This is generally a very coveted area and is trained most directly by raising the arms to the side (more specifically, slightly forward of the side, about 30 degrees)
The Rear delts sit on the back of the shoulder and are worked most commonly with “back” rowing movements. They respond very well to a “semi-pronated” grip (between neutral and pronated), in which the elbows travel at ~30-45 degrees from the torso.
In this cycle, we will target each of the regions with at least one movement, and the side delts specifically will be the primary focus of the cycle as far as the upper body goes.
For any movement you perform, it’s important to remember that the muscle that is stretching at the end range of a movement, is the muscle that receives most of the stimulus. So whatever area you can feel receiving the biggest stretch is likely the one you are biasing. We can bias the muscles we want by manipulating how we execute certain movements (as discussed in the introduction at the top of this write-up). Subtle shifts in hip or knee position can be a game-changer for the glutes and quads.
Training the shoulders has its own set of challenges; mostly, it takes some intelligent programming to get the shoulder muscles to “stretch” (where this is much simpler with the glutes and quads).
Any DB raise-type movement (lateral, front, or rear delt) will be limited by the short position (meaning the point where the DBs ascend and move away from the body). For maximizing hypertrophy, we want to figure out how to make the bottom of these reps more difficult (when the muscle is stretched).
Cables will allow you to set up with the cable coming from behind the back, which is actually how you reach a fully lengthened position for the lateral delt. You can provide more resistance at this stretch position by setting the height of the cable at “wrist height” (instead of coming from closer to the ground).
For those using DBs at home, we will be using much heavier DBs and focusing primarily on the bottom 60% of the range-of-motion (Meaning the DBs will never actually come all the way up to the top where it is significantly more difficult).
Throughout the discussion of the repeating movements below, I will reference some of the differences between the exercise and execution across the Full Gym and Home Gym Programs.
A. Cable Glute Med Kickback
Alternative Movement you can swap:
-Banded Glute Med Kickback
B. Rear Foot Elevated DB Split Squat – Glute Dominant
Alternative Movement you can swap for glutes:
– DB Split Squat – Glute Dominant
– Single Leg Leg Press
– Single Leg Machine Hack Squat
Alternative Movement you can swap for quad:
– Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squat – Quad Dominant
– Rear Foot Elevated DB Split Squat – Quad Dominant
– Flat Foot Split Squats (Quad Dominant)
– DB Split Squat – Quad Dominant
C. Bent Knee RDL
(BB, DB, or Trap Bar)
The Part A Kickbacks will serve two purposes. First, to warm up the glute med, which provides stability for the knee, making the subsequent compound movements more effective. Second to provide a stimulus for the glute, and specifically the glute med, which doesn’t get trained with sagittal plane movements (forward and backward exercises, such as squats and RDL which train the glute max).
The Kickback is quite effective with bands or cables because both will be short-overloaded, which is the purpose of the movement. Just make sure that if you use a band, you set it up so that there is some tension at the stretch position so it doesn’t go limp there.
In Part B Split Squat, we want to avoid ankle flexion (i.e. keep the shins as vertical as possible), to target the glutes. If the knees begin to shift forward at all, this will begin to involve the quads more.
Initiate each rep with hip flexion, meaning we lean forward with the torso (essentially providing a deeper stretch for the glutes), while the shins stay vertical. Most people will find the Rear Foot Elevated option to be the most effective for glutes, as it sort of deloads the back leg and puts more of the weight into the glute of the front leg.
The same cues hold true for a hack or leg press. Keep the shin vertical by putting the foot higher onto the foot platform, and make sure to drive/press through the heel!
The Part C RDL is a movement that can be performed with a Hamstring bias or a Glute bias. This all depends on how much the knees bend. The objective is to stretch the glute at the bottom (not the hamstring), and a moderate amount of knee bend will facilitate a deeper glute stretch at the bottom.
The amount of knee bend will be individually dependent. If you use too much, you’ll feel the quads working more, and if you don’t use enough, you’ll feel the hamstrings working more (note: you should feel some hamstring, even with the proper amount of knee bend). Look to find a position where you feel the glute is STRETCH at the bottom of each rep.
A. Cable Y-Raise
Alternative Movement you can swap:
– Face Down DB Y-Raise
– Bentover DB Y-Raise
B. Steep Incline DB Anterior Delt Press
Alternate movement you can swap:
– Cable Anterior Delt Press
C. Rear Delt Pulldown (D handles)
Alternative Movement you can swap:
– Wide Grip Cable Pulldown
– Wide Grip Banded Pulldown
– Strict Pull-ups
– Machine Assisted Pull-ups
– Rack Pull-ups
– Foot Assisted Pull-ups
The Part A Y-Raise is how we get this shoulder party started. The Y-Raise is a bit of a hybrid movement that will target the side delt, mid trap, and rear delt. It is the ideal movement to begin the day because it is mostly short overloaded with cables (and very short overloaded with DB’s), and therefore less fatiguing than the movements that follow. You won’t be able to use a ton of weight, and that’s OK! Try to make a “Y” at the top, like Y-MCA!
The Part B steep incline press is meant to be a “front delt” movement, but we should expect some upper chest in there, too. You’ll want to find a level of incline such that the DBs are touching the front delts at the bottom, and finish above the face, instead of over the chest (hence the “line of press” is the proper path to bias the front delts over the chest). Most people will find 60-75 degrees to be a good range for the incline of the bench.
In Part C, we have a Rear Delt Pulldown. This is very much like a standard pulldown that you would perform with the long bar. In fact that movement would be a second-best option to the way it is shown in the demo video (where we put some D-handles onto the wide bar). This setup allows a semi-pronated hand position, which will allow the elbows to travel perfectly at 30-45 degrees from the torso, and allow max retraction of the scapula as your hands near your torso. This same movement can be emulated with the Rack pull-ups, as well (sliding D-handles over a barbell, or just doing a standard overhand pull-up is fine!
A. Kas Glute Bridge
3 total sets x Reps 15-12-9
Target ~6-4-2 reps from failure across the 3 sets
Rest ~2-3 min before the heaviest set
Alternative Movement you can swap (stay consistent through the cycle):
– Smith Machine KAS Glute Bridge
– Machine Kas Glute Bridge
B. DB Step-up (Glute Dominant)
Alternative Movement you can swap:
– Cable Step-up (glute dominant)
– Banded Step-up (glute dominant)
C. Leg Press – Glute Dominant
Alternative Movement you can swap for glutes:
-Back Squat (Glute Dominant)
-Foam Roller Hack Squat (Glute Dominant)
Alternative Movement you can swap for quads:
– Leg Press – Quad Dominant
– Machine Hack Squat
– Landmine Hack Squat
– Foam Roller Hack Squat
– Heels Elevated Back Squat w/ Pause
– Heels Elevated Safety Bar Squat (pause)
A quick note before getting into the specific movements:
For the “At Home programs, the back squat is Part A, because there is no “support” for the midline, as there is in a leg press. Thus, putting the back squat last could lead to some technical errors in execution. If you are swapping to the Foam Roller Hack Squat (glute dominant) you now have the support you need and could put this movement in Part B or C as it’s written below for the full gym programs.
The Part A Kas Glute Bridge is the one movement that didn’t make the cut for the 3-day programs. When organizing the training cycle, the lengthened “squat pattern” movements just provide more ROI to grow your glutes.
Given that the Kas bridge is a short overload movement, it provides a nice local warm-up for the glutes and gets them firing for optimal recruitment during the subsequent lengthened movements.
The Part B DB Step-ups have been a highly requested movement, so in this cycle, they make their first appearance as a repeating movement! As described in Monday’s write-up, the points of performance for “glute dominant” would be a relatively vertical shin with a torso leaned forward.
If looking to target the quads, you would perform this movement with more focus on “knee over toe” at the bottom of each rep, and keeping the torso more vertical throughout.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is using a box that is too high. You will likely want the thigh to be parallel at the bottom (not below parallel). If the box is too high, you will notice a desire to use the plant leg to push off. In very specific terms, we want zero contribution from the back leg. Gentle toe touch on the ground, and then ascend back up, with all drive coming from the front leg.
Part C is only a Leg Press or Squat and provides another lengthened overload movement to drive stimulus to the glutes (or the quads, based on execution). For my home gym peeps, make sure you see the note at the top of this day of training regarding exercise ordering as a result of which exercise you select instead of the leg press.
A. Superset Movements:
DB Lateral Raise – No loss of tension
Dual Cable Lateral Raise (Bottom 60% ROM)
Alternative Movement you can swap for Cable Lateral Raise:
– DB X Lateral Raise – Bottom 60% focus
B. Chest Supported Machine Row
(semi-pronated; rear delt focus)
Alternative Movement you can swap:
– DB Incline Chest Supported Row
– Head Supported DB Row
– Chest Supported Cable Row
– Chest Supported T-Bar Row
The Part A Delt superset is going to smash your shoulders! It is what’s called a “short/lengthened” superset, where the first movement biases the “contracted” position (i.e. the top of the lateral raise), while the second movement provides a stimulus more on the lower ranges of the movement.
If using cables for the behind-the-back laterals, you will want to set the cable at approx. “wrist height” to accentuate the lengthened position more. This will make the exercise the hardest at the bottom.
With the swap to the X Lateral Raise, we are looking to accomplish the same thing; making the bottom of the rep proportionately harder. If swapping, make sure you increase the weight of the DBs for the X Lateral Raise (Likely double the weight used for the “no loss of tension” laterals)
The Part B Row movement utilizes the “semi-pronated” grip to target the rear delts, which are a large part of what makes the back “pop” from behind. This is the same grip position we discussed in Tuesday’s write-up above.
While both days look to use the semi-pronated grip (halfway between neutral and overhand), the main difference today is that we are pulling horizontally, whereas Tuesday’s session was pulling vertically (from above).
For many people, the DB chest-supported row will be just as good as the machine row variations. DBs are extremely malleable, and easily allow you to find the perfect “semi-pronated” grip to allow for max retraction of the scapula on each rep!