How to get a body like Dave Bautista: Shoulders and traps workout

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Dave Bautista

American actor and former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista is the epitome of old-school muscle.

He is perhaps most known for his gargantuan size from his WWE wrestling days – and it is that monolithic muscle that saw him play Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy, and henchman Mr Hinx in the James Bond film Spectre.

Ever since his WWE career came to an end, Bautista found a passion for acting and looked no less impressive on the big screen than he did in his wrestling days. He even ventured into Mixed Martial Arts, but acting was his newfound passion as he moved well into his 50s.

In his pomp, Bautista was 290lbs of raw muscle. When Ultimate Performance clients want to add muscle mass to their frames, Bautista is often a name we heard mentioned as a longer-term goal. Having maintained an incredible shape since his WWE debut in 2002, Baustista’s longevity is also extremely admirable.

It’s the former wrestler-turned-Hollywood star’s hulking shoulders that most men set out to emulate.

To get shoulders and traps like Bautista, it’s important first to understand the muscles and how best to target them.

The Dave Bautista workout

How to perform the exercises

This guide is aimed at trainees with a good knowledge of the exercises and how to train safely and effectively.

To start your life-changing body transformation today, visit any one of our gyms around the world or begin your online training program.

Cable bent-over rear-delt raise

The Set-Up  

  • Cable in each hand, either a neutral or pronated grip (whichever feels most comfortable, adjust handles accordingly).
  • Cables will cross over each other.
  • Keep your shoulder blades locked in place and flat, with your core engaged.
  • Bend over approximately 30-45 degrees.

The Movement 

  • Elbows fully locked, raise the handles outward and towards the ceiling.
  • Contract hard at the peak of your range while maintaining a neutral spine and shoulder blades flat.
  • Lower the weight back to start position and go again without a pause.

Trainer Tips 

  • Allow the arms to hang forward throughout the range of motion for a greater stretch and tension across the rear delts.
  • Keep the shoulder blades pinched and locked in place instead of retracted (this will minimise upper back involvement).
  • Cables allow tension throughout the entire movement, which results in greater overall stimulation and tension across the fibres.

Reverse ‘pec deck’ flyes

The set-up 

  • Facing inward on the pec deck machine, ensure the seat height allows your upper arms to stay parallel to the ground.
  • Keep shoulder blades retracted.
  • Grip the handles with either a pronated or neutral grip.

The movement 

  • Drive the handles outwards and back.
  • Pause and contract at the end range (as far back as you can without shrugging or your shoulders rolling forward).
  • Bring back to the start position with full control of the load.

Trainer tips

  • As you engage the movement, imagine wrapping your elbows behind you as if to meet each other.
  • Keep the shoulder blades retracted and always use a full range of motion.

Cable face-pull with rope

The set-up 

  • Start with the rope attachment at eye level.
  • Grip both ends of the rope and set the shoulder blades down and lock them tight.
  • Arms should be fully stretched forward and the torso vertical at the start position.

The movement 

  • Leading with your elbows, drive them back like you are about to elbow someone behind you.
  • Aim to pull the centre of the rope attachment to your forehead.
  • At all times, lead the movement with your elbows instead of your arms (wrists should end around the same plane as your forehead while elbows ideally end behind your head).

Trainer tips

  • Always ensure you work through a full range of motion.
  • Pinch your shoulder blades together with your upper back locked down and retracted (this will cancel out movement from these muscle groups allowing more tension to be placed on the rear delts).
  • Do not lean back or swing from the hips to compensate range of motion and stimulation with momentum.

Dumbbell lateral raises

The set-up 

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms positioned to the side or front of your hips.
  • Keep a slight bend at the elbow.

The movement 

  • Raise the weight outwards to the side and up toward the ceiling, leading with your elbows.
  • At the top of the motion, aim for your upper arm to be parallel to the ground and your elbow the highest point.

Trainer tips

  • Rotate your hands internally to keep the ‘pinkies’ higher than the thumbs at the top of the movement
  • Always lead with the elbows, wrists should not end up higher than your elbows at the top of the movement.
  • Lower the weight with control to the start position and continue to the next rep immediately without pause.
  • Do not rock your torso back and forth to generate momentum. You want to keep tension on the delts.

Single-arm cable lateral raises

The set-up 

  • Holding on to the cable machine with your non-working hand, lean away from the machine with your working hand holding the handle of the pulley.
  • Keep your core braced and a slight bend at the elbow.

The movement  

  • Relax your traps and initiate the movement by driving your elbows away from your body and up to the ceiling (think reaching outward and up).
  • Pause at the top for 1 second, focusing on contraction.
  • Lower the handle slowly with control and do not let the weight touch the stack. Without pausing at the bottom, initiate your next rep.

Trainer tips 

  • Keep your torso rigid and your back straight, do not use momentum to move the weight.
  • Intentionally leaning hard on your pivot foot (the working side), will allow you to apply force into the ground, enhancing the stability of the movement and force production.

Seated dumbbell shoulder press

The set-up 

  • Bring the dumbbells directly above your elbows, with the upper arms at an angle of 40-60 degrees to their torso at the start position.
  • Point your chest upwards (but keep the ribcage tucked down) towards the ceiling and tuck their shoulder blades down.

The movement 

  • Press the weight upward in a straight line rather than inwards. Think of the elbows extending toward each other at the top while dumbbells end directly above the shoulder and elbows at the top position.
  • Lower down the weight with control and briefly pause at bottom before repeating.

Trainer tips 

  • The back arch should not be changed if your overhead range of motion is limited. Instead, keep this variable the same and manipulate the angle of the bench
  • Always finish each rep with your arms in a stacked position at the top of the movement.

Cable upright row with rope

The set-up 

  • With the setting of the rope at the bottom, hold the rope with an overhand grip.
  • Keep your torso still and your shoulder blades pinched together.

The movement 

  • Drive your elbows up and out.
  • Lead with the elbows and ensure to keep them higher than your hands.
  • Pause at the top for a full and deliberate contraction.
  • Lower the weight back to start position and pause momentarily without losing tension before repeating.

Trainer tips  

  • Using the rope attachment will allow your hands freedom to move and grip width to vary as you move. This makes it less stressful on the shoulders and wrists compared to using a barbell.
  • Focus your attention on the humerus (upper arm) and elbows and not the forearms and hands.

Barbell shrugs

The set-up 

  • Start by performing a rack pull to bring the weight up. Your grip on the barbell should be slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Ensure your shoulder blades are firmly pinched together and retracted.
  • Arms/elbows should be fully locked out and hang down to the ground.

The movement  

  • Elevate the weight up in a shrug motion and squeeze hard while pausing briefly at the top.
  • Move the bar in an ‘up and back’ motion rather than a vertical straight line.
  • Incorporate a pause at both the bottom position and the contraction at the top.

Trainer tips 

  • Always execute the movement with a full range of motion. Do not sacrifice range of motion for weight.
  • Focus should be on contracting the traps hard at the top and stretching them at the bottom.

Why this workout works

The deltoid has three heads – Anterior, lateral and oosterior, each with specific functions.

Here we will discuss the main actions of each head during resistance training.

  • Anterior head: Involved in flexion and internal rotation of the arm (imagine reaching forward and covering your belly with a 90-degree angle at the elbow).
  • Lateral head: Involved in abduction of the arm (imagine reaching outward to the side of your body).
  • Posterior head: Involved in extension and external rotation of the arm (imagine drawing your arm backward and your hand outward to the side with a 90-degree angle at the elbow).

In this programme, we will aim to work each head individually by intentionally isolating them through a full range of motion. This is key in building well-balanced and developed shoulders – that ‘3D’ look that is sought after by every iron disciple.

The common misconception would be to hammer out presses on top of presses and then do an extra set of presses just for good measure. This can be detrimental not only to your delt gains, but also emphasise imbalance and risk of injury.

The anterior delts receive a decent amount of stimulus from virtually all pressing movements (including the chest ones that many people are already doing from 16 different angles). This means that even though direct work is needed, we are likely already accumulating a high degree of stimulus to your front delt as it is.

Therefore, in this program we will be applying slightly more focus on the posterior and lateral delts, with only a single heavy compound lift directed at the anterior head. The extra attention given to the posterior and lateral heads will likely improve shoulder joint integrity and reduce shoulder rounding forward which usually arises from excessive pushing as opposed to pulling movements. And for the cherry on the cake, good old vanilla barbell shrugs for the traps.

Weight selection: With delt training, always prioritise form and tension over trying to go as heavy as you possibly can, but keep in mind that loads should still be challenging within the given rep range. Not only will this help you manage fatigue so you can train the muscle more frequently, it will also allow you to learn how to properly isolate and activate the smaller lateral and posterior delt muscles.

The aim of this session is to apply stimulus to the rear and side delts via one ‘heavy’ movement each followed by a high-rep superset each. The workout ends with heavy presses and shrugs. With the goal of isolating and driving as much blood and stress to the smaller and often less trained posterior and lateral heads. For anterior delts and traps, a few effective heavy sets would suffice as they are both highly activated in many other compound movements. Do this workout twice a week and get stacked like Drax.



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