How to get a body like Keanu Reeves: Upper body workout

 Keanu Reeves Top10 Ultimate Performance

Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves built an enviable body for his performance in John Wick and The Matrix, with a toned physique and well-developed shoulders.

While Reeves may not be ‘jacked’, this super lean and defined look is one that many of our personal training clients at Ultimate Performance seek to emulate. His leading roles in Speed and Dangerous Liasons in 1994 and 1988 respectively, saw the Lebanon-born actor rise to stardom. More recently, he has featured in Toy Story 4 and Always Be My Maybe, both of which were well received by fans.

However, most film fanatics will recognise Reeves for his incredible performances as Neo in The Matrix series. Ever since his early acting days, Reeves has upheld his slim physique while boasting broad, muscular shoulders. His 2019 red-carpet appearance at the LACMA Art Film Gala with girlfriend Alexandra Grant, is clear evidence of the hard work that Keanu puts in.

If your goal is to develop a lean physique with muscular shoulders, it is important to remember that a well-structured diet will play a substantial part, but resistance training is integral in a quest for bigger shoulders. By training the upper body more frequently, with a specific focus on the shoulders at least two to three times per week, it is more than possible to build a physique like Neo himself.

The Keanu Reeves 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.

Dumbbell shoulder press

The set-up

  • Pick up the dumbbell using a neutral grip and sit on the bench with them resting on your thighs, close to your hip crease.
  • Position your feet shoulder-width apart, under or behind your knees and flat on the floor.
  • Lean back against the bench, using your thighs to help get the dumbbells into position, level with your chest and then up to a stacked position, with the wrist, elbow and shoulder all aligned.
  • Point your chest upwards (but keep the ribcage tucked down) towards the ceiling and tuck your shoulder blades down into your back pockets.
  • Your shoulders and glutes should be touching the bench and there will be a small gap between your lower can and the bench.
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

The movement

  • From the stacked position at the top, “pull” the dumbbells down towards your chest with the arms at an angle of 45-60 degrees to your torso.
  • You have reached the end of your range-of-motion when you can no longer lower the dumbbells without the shoulder rounding forwards.
  • Pause before reversing the motion, under control, to return to the start position.
  • Pause again before repeating for the desired number of reps.
  • On the last rep, lower the dumbbells to the start position, tuck your elbows in and sit forwards using your legs to generate momentum. You can also ask a training partner to take one dumbbell from you at a time.

Trainer tips

  • The set-up and movement are the same as other versions of the dumbbell bench press but this angle places more emphasis on your shoulders.
  • Make sure that the dumbbells do not clang together at the top of the movement.
  • Ensure that you do not ‘shrug’ the weight up at the top. This reduces shoulder stability and increases the risk of injury. Focus on keeping the shoulder blades tucked down throughout.

Dumbbell row

The set-up

  • Select dumbbells of an appropriate weight and place them on the floor at the head of the bench. Consider using blocks for easy loading or take hold of the weights with wrist straps on a bench or raised platform.
  • Position your knee on the seat pad of the bench, and place your hand on the same side on the back pad of the bench. Make sure that your hand is slightly in front of your shoulder to support your body weight. Then position your other leg out to the side like a kickstand so that the hips are level and the spine is neutral.
  • Cue the client to maintain a neutral spine and to shift their body weight equally between all three contact points (the hand, the knee and the trailing leg).
  • Help the client to pick up the dumbbell (or wrap them elsewhere). Once in position, their arm should hang fully extended, with the palms facing inwards. Cue the client to maintain a neutral spine, expand the rib cage and evenly distribute their body weight.
  • Cue the client to press their hand, knee and foot into the floor whilst drawing the dumbbell up and back towards the mid-abdomen. Ensure that the chest stays lifted and the client looks at the floor just in front of the bench.
  • Do not allow the torso to rotate or the hips to lift. Cue these areas to remain fixed throughout.
  • This is the start and finish position for each rep.

The movement

  • Draw the elbows back towards your waist while pulling the shoulder blade back.
  • Keep your elbows tucked in so that the upper arms brush against your sides throughout the movement.
  • You have reached the end of your range of motion when your elbows cannot travel any further back without the shoulders rotating forwards and upper back rounding. The elbows should not move past the front of the shoulders.
  • Pause for a moment and focus on contracting the upper and mid-back muscles.
  • Reverse the motion, under control, to return to the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps. Rest for at least thirty seconds at the end of the set before repeating on the other side.

Trainer tips

  • Make sure to the shoulder blades to move freely throughout the movement, rather than trying to keep them retracted. You want the scapula retractors to be involved!
  • Use weight lifting straps to stop grip strength limiting how much weight you can lift and prevent forearm fatigue from being distracting during the set.
  • Keep your body parallel with the bench. Do not allow yourself rise up throughout the set. This will reduce the range of motion and shift the tension to the upper back musculature.

Weighted dips

The set-up

  • Ensure there is plenty of range of motion in the shoulder joint for the elbows to reach 90 degrees.
  • Grip the handles in a neutral grip with hands slightly wider than the shoulders.
  • Use a step, or jump up to the top position of the movement, where the arms are just short of full lock-out.
  • Retract and depress the shoulders blades into a strong and stable position.
  • Cross the legs and squeeze the glutes.
  • Brace the mid-section
  • Keep the head in a neutral position.

The movement

  • Slowly lower down with control, closing the space in the elbow joint.
  • Keep the lower arms perpendicular to the floor.
  • Stop and hold once you have reached 90 degrees or until you limited by the shoulder joint (do not allow the shoulders to round).
  • Remain upright, keeping the shoulders in a strong and stable position.
  • Push hard into the palms to get back to the start position.
  • Repeat the rep when 5 degrees away from locking out the elbow joint.

Trainer tips

  • Avoid leaning forward to minimise chest involvement.
  • The upper back engaged throughout to keep your shoulders in the right position.
  • Aim to stop at the right angle and not go too deep in the movement, which will move the shoulders out of place.
  • Think about keeping constant tension in the triceps. Locking out removes the tension.

Weighted chin-ups

The set-up

  • Select a grip that matches your shoulder width and range of motion.
  • Take the bar and lift your legs up. If you cannot reach, you may need a bench to help.
  • Depress the shoulder blades and keep the head in a neutral position.
  • This is the start and finish position for each rep.

The movement

  • Keeping the torso braced, depress the shoulder blades downwards and then draw your sternum towards the bar, driving the elbows behind you.
  • Your end of range of motion is determined by how far you can pull yourself up without the shoulders rotating inwards, the upper back rounding or the bar touching the chest. Your range of motion will be the same as in a standard neutral grip pulldown.
  • At the top of the rep, pause and focus on contracting the lats and mid-back.
  • Reverse the motion, under control, to return to the start position. Do not relax at the bottom of the motion.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Trainer tips

  • Use chalk or straps to remove grip as a limiting factor.
  • Do not swing as the momentum will reduce the tension from the target muscles.
  • Keep the shoulders blades depressed at the top of the movement.

Seated dumbbell curl

The set-up

  • Pick up the dumbbells and sit on the bench.
  • Let your arms hang by your sides and hold the dumbbells with either an underhand or neutral grip.
  • Point your chest up and pinch your shoulder blades back together.
  • Position your elbows directly below your shoulders.
  • This is the start and finish position for each rep.

The movement

  • Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders.
  • Keep your upper arms still and wrists straight throughout the movement.
  • You have reached the end of your range of motion when you cannot move any further without your shoulders or elbows pulling forwards.
  • Pause for a moment and focus on contracting (squeezing) your biceps).
  • Reverse the motion, under control, to return the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Trainer tips

  • Keep your upper arms still and elbows fixed below your shoulders to keep maximal tension on your biceps.
  • Focus on curling your little finger up towards the ceiling to help create a more intense contraction.
  • Single-joint exercises like the dumbbell biceps curl require less full-body effort than multi-joint exercises and it can be tempting to cut short your rest period. Make sure you stick to the recommended rest interval to give your muscles time to recover and maintain performance levels.

Chest-supported rope triceps extension

The set-up

  • Position an adjustable bench in front of a cable column, roughly one to two metres away.
  • Adjust the bench angle to 70-90 degrees.
  • Adjust the cable to the top of the column and attach two long rope attachments.
  • Kneel on or stand leaning into the bench, facing the cable column.
  • Take the two ropes. Make sure to hold the rope at the bottom so that your hand touches the rubber stopper (do not grip the rubber stopper itself).
  • Position yourself so that your shoulders are in a neutral position (not extended behind or flexed in front).
  • Focus on maximally flexing the elbow.
  • Focus on squeezing through the shoulder and elbow joint.
  • This is the start and finish position of each rep.

The movement

  • Ask the client to extend the elbows down and back in a controlled arcing motion, whilst keeping the shoulders and wrist fixed. The upper arm should stay still.
  • The client should hold the ropes with a neutral grip.
  • Cue the client to keep their chest up and keep their shoulders and shoulder blades back and down.
  • The client has reached their end range of motion when their elbow is fully extended.
  • Ask the client to pause in the extended position for 1-2 seconds, before reversing the motion under control and returning to the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Trainer tips

  • The client should not let their shoulders or upper back round.
  • Ensure the client does not let their head drop down as this may strain their neck.
  • Cue the client to lock into a position similar to a pressing movement, with the shoulder blades fixed.

Dumbbell lateral raise

The set-up

  • Perform this exercise with your chest supported on a bench. This allows you to maintain a stable position and focus on the movement. Use the closest setting if the bench does not allow you to set it to a 75-degree setting.
  • Pick up the dumbbells, straddle the bench and lean into it so that your torso angle matches the bench angle.
  • Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip and let your arms hang just outside of your thighs (to maintain a slight level of tension throughout) with a small bend in your elbows.
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

The movement

  • Push the dumbbells out to your sides while keeping your shoulders depressed. Your elbows should travel just in front of your shoulders.
  • You have reached the end of your range-of-motion when you cannot lift the dumbbells any higher without your shoulders shrugging upwards.
  • Pause for a moment before reversing the motion, under control, to return to the start position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Trainer tips

  • Do not use momentum to ‘swing’ the weight upwards. Keep control of the dumbbells at all times.
  • Keep your little finger slightly higher than your thumb throughout the movement to keep maximal tension on your medial deltoid.
  • If you cannot pause briefly at the top and bottom of the rep, the load is too heavy.
  • Single-joint exercises like the lateral raise require less effort than multi-joint movements but make sure to stick to the prescribed rest period to ensure you can maintain performance.
  • This is a complex exercise so start light and only increase the load when you are happy with your technique. Use a mirror to monitor your form.

Face pull

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.

Med ball slam

The set-up

  • Select a medicine ball heavy enough that it requires your full body to slam it onto the ground (3kg and over).
  • Adopt a shoulder-width stance and ‘root’ yourself into the ground.
  • Adopt a squat position by driving the knees out over the toes and keeping the back straight.
  • This is the start and end position for each rep.

The movement

  • Use your legs to press up from the floor and bring the medicine ball overhead until your arms are straight.
  • Slam the ball as hard as you can onto the floor, squatting slightly as you do so and keeping the abdominals engaged.
  • Pick up the medicine ball and repeat as many times as possible for the full duration of the set (thirty seconds).

Trainer tips

  • Although this is a timed exercise, do not allow your form to become sloppy.
  • Focus on using the legs to drive the movement, not the upper back or arms.
  • Try and generate as much power as possible when slamming the ball down and keep the abs tight throughout.
  • Rest for the prescribed amount to ensure you can work consistently hard throughout all the sets.

Why this workout works

When targeting shoulder development, remember that the deltoids are comprised of three separate muscles; the anterior deltoid (front shoulder), the medial deltoid (side shoulder cap) and the posterior deltoid (rear of the shoulder).

By cleverly targeting each individual muscle, you can ensure rapid shoulder growth and cannonball delts. If you want to really emphasise a specific muscle, it’s important to dedicate enough training volume to that muscle group. As a result, the deltoids are a focus in each series of the workout.

This workout should be performed as paired sets, where you perform one exercise immediately followed by the next before resting. This allows you to perform a greater amount of work volume in a short period.

The exercise pairings should not impede your ability to work to the same intensity when you return to the first exercise. Using different repetition ranges across the workout also allows us to hit both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibres for maximum effect.



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