Corey St. Clair submitted this question. He is the owner of St. Clair Strength and Fitness, located in Eagle, Idaho. Corey is a professional Strongman and served as a student assistant for me at Boise State University.
I was first introduced to elevator progressions by legendary Dan Riley, former strength and conditioning coach of the Houston Texans and Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. I was fortunate enough to have visited Riley during one of my professional development tours while I was on staff at Arizona State University.
The primary rationale for implementing elevators is to attack various planes of movement in a single training session. Elevators consist of a linear progression of either vertical to horizontal presses or horizontal to vertical presses. I recommend elevator progressions using dumbbells. I’ve used them with barbells, but it’s more efficient to use dumbbells. The set up is harder because of the rack height adjustments needed for the barbell.
In elevator progressions, you simply change the angle of your adjustable bench for each set of the prescribed workout. You can choose to go from zero degrees to a flat bench press at 90 degrees to a seated shoulder press or vice versa. Depending on the volume you’re looking for, you can choose a 3–5 set elevator (the five set approach is displayed on video). The three set choice is the basic elevator and includes the flat bench press, 45-degree incline press, and 90-degree seated shoulder press. You can add in a low or steep incline press for a four-set model or both for the five-set model.
I prefer the downward progression because I’ve had major shoulder issues and need to keep the flat bench press at a lighter load than if I started with an upward progression. I prefer volumes of 8–10 repetitions per set. The goal is to complete the prescribed number for each set (if not, use continuation sets as seen in the video). This is a very good choice for major assistance work. I highly recommend doing these coupled with an upper body pulling movement (i.e. bent over rows).
Here are two workouts I’ve used. They’re very good for adding size and strength using elevators coupled with an antagonistic pulling movement.
Workout #1: Three-stage elevator with hammer back blast
A: Hammer iso lateral pull-down X 12
Alternative: Cable supine pull-down
B: Dumbbell seated shoulder press X 10
C: Hammer iso lateral high row X 12
Alternative: V bar 45-degree pull-down
D: Dumbbell incline press X 10
E: Hammer iso lateral mid row X 12
Alternative: V bar seated row
F: Dumbbell bench press X 10
This is done in what I call a medley (circuit) fashion. Each exercise is performed on a 90–120 second turn around (interval). If you’re using 120 seconds, perform exercise A at zero seconds followed by exercise B at 120 seconds, exercise C at 240 seconds, and so on.
Workout #2: Three-stage single arm elevator with single arm pull
A1: Single arm supine pull-down X 12 right arm (ra)
A2: Single arm supine pull-down X 12 left arm (la)
B1: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (ra)
B2: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (la)
C1: Single arm 45-degree pull-down X 12 right arm (ra)
C2: Single arm 45-degree pull-down X 12 left arm (la)
D1: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (ra)
D2: Single arm seated dumbbell shoulder press X 8 (la)
E1: Single arm bent over dumbbell row X 12 right arm (ra)
E2: Single arm bent over dumbbell row X 12 left arm (la)
F1: Single arm dumbbell bench press X 8 (ra)
F2: Single arm dumbbell bench press X 8 (la)
This workout can also be performed in medley fashion. Rest for 30 seconds between every movement.
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