Panda Express

In just over a year, Simeon Panda has rocketed up the Musclemania pro ranks, thanks to an impressive V-taper and a nearly flawless physique. Here, he shares one of his best high-intensity shoulder workouts, designed exclusively for us.
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It’s early morning in London, England, and though it’s a temperate 64 degrees under light drizzle, it’s downright cold for Simeon Panda. He’s recently arrived home from Las Vegas where thermometers toyed with the 110-degree mark.

His visit to Sin City was all business — shooting this article for us and taking back-to-back meetings with promoters and sponsors. All part and parcel of his larger ambitions. (Think fitness empire.)

Now back across the pond, it’s time to pull up the bootstraps and get back to work. Though Panda stays in shooting shape year round, he wants to live up to his own high standards. “When I watch the footage, I always see flaws that need to be corrected, bodyparts that need work,” he says. “But most of all, this year I want to master the art of posing. At the pro level it really is an art, and in order to present my physique at its best, I want to get better at that.”

Simeon Panda

To improve his onstage prowess, Panda is kicking it old-school and studying videos of three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane, who was the master when it came to stage presence, fluidity and art. “I am also learning a lot from my friend [and fellow Musclemania pro] Ulisses Jr.,” says Panda. “Ulisses has a number of videos and is also giving me some one-on-one help.”

Surely Panda will master his posing routine for the upcoming competition, for if history is any indication of the future, he has proven to be a very quick study when it comes to bodybuilding. In fact, Panda has only been competing one year and actually won and turned pro at his very first competition.

Lift for Life

Panda came from athletic stock, excelling at speed-based sports while growing up in London, such as rugby and track and field — “blessed with fast-twitch muscle fibers in abundance,” he admits. But as a skinny 16-year-old, he also wanted to add some muscle, finding the lean body of a sprinter, plus his 6’1” frame, was working against him.

So he took up weightlifting to try to fill out and, as many of these stories go, immediately fell hard for the endeavor. “From my first day of training I knew it would be something I would want to do for the rest of my life,” he recalls.

Nearly a decade later, Panda was happily toiling away at the gym, getting larger and more defined. People would always ask him if he was going to compete. He’d overhear his friends talking about shows and who won and whether the decision was deserved or political, and he’d think, “Who cares?” That wasn’t his world.

Until one day it was.

“I went to a show, and I spent almost as much time looking at the crowd as I did the bodybuilders onstage,” he says. “I was intrigued. There was so much energy, and unlike back at the gym I wasn’t just witnessing it, I felt it, too. After the show I felt enthused to work even harder, and I decided that I wanted to present my own physique to the crowd.”

The package he put together was formidable, helping him nab first place in the heavyweight tall division and overall title at his introductory show, the Musclemania Europe in June of 2013, which elevated him to pro status. He went on to take fourth in the heavyweight tall class in his first pro show, the Musclemania Universe Bodybuilding Championships in Miami that same month, and third in the Musclemania World Championships in Las Vegas in November 2013, thus chalking up a not-too-shabby contest history in a matter of months.

Reaching Out

It’s clear that Panda has some ridiculous genetics, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in hard work, too. “I never set out to be a bodybuilder — I just loved lifting so much that I wanted to do it all the time,” he says. “My consistency helped me build a physique with enough mass to be competitive. And I don’t train to compete — I train because I love it. The competitions are a distant second place. I just want to push myself to be the best, and it’s exciting to see the progress I make every year.”

Panda is also taking his advocacy to a new level with his Muscle Camp Tour with Ulisses Jr. “Ulisses and I have so many fans around the world, and understandably we cannot reply to every email,” he says. “So the Muscle Camp Tour enables our fans to have a one-to-one conversation with us and ask us anything they choose. The camps always start with an in-depth revelation of exactly what Ulisses and I have done and do to achieve and build on our physiques, which is followed by a Q-and-A session.”

Panda excuses himself from the phone conversation. He has a workout to attend to, cold drizzle or otherwise, as part of his continual quest to perfect a nearly perfect physique.

PANDA-Style Shoulder Training

This workout, designed by Panda, epitomizes his training style: heavy, intense and somewhat nauseating. It starts with a quadruple drop set of seated military presses. “Using a drop set for the first exercise increases the stress on the muscles being worked,” he explains. “Since you are continuously working to fatigue without a break, this should increase the adaptive response from the body and stimulate growth.”

As if a quadruple drop set wasn’t hard enough, he adds a gut-kicking twist. “As the weight gets lighter, you should increase your reps,” he says. “Though you may be fatigued from the prior set, you should technically be able to perform more repetitions the lighter the weight becomes.”

Next comes a giant set of cable moves — upright rows, front raises single-arm laterals and rear-delt flyes — designed to burn out all the muscle fibers, 360 degrees around. The moves are to be performed back to back with no rest in between, and only minimal rest (one to two minutes) between each giant set. “This [giant set] should be excruciatingly painful with the idea being that you shock your muscles into taking action,” he says. “The action they take is the adaptation to these newfound stresses in the way muscles know how: repair and strengthen.”

To wrap things up, Panda prescribes six sets of barbell shrugs to fry your traps. “I believe that high volume is necessary to work a muscle group to its limit,” he says. On these, he advises using heavy weight and decreasing reps as the load becomes immovable.

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Seated Military Press

Setup: Position yourself on a barbell military station with your feet spread wide on the floor for stability. Take an overhand grasp on the bar with your hands just outside shoulder width, elbows down and torso upright.

Seated Military Press

Action: Clear the bar from the supports, then lower it down slowly toward your clavicles. At the bottom, breathe out as you drive the weight back overhead, extending your elbows to just shy of full extension.

Training Tip: Make sure your grip is wide enough so that when you grasp the bar and lower it your elbows form 90- degree angles.

Cable Upright Row

Cable Upright Row

Setup: Attach a rope to the lower cable pulley and grasp it with both hands, palms facing your thighs. Stand a few paces back from the base of the machine with your torso erect or slightly leaning back, and shift your shoulders down and back. 

Action: Pull the rope up toward your chin by driving your elbows skyward. Pause a moment at the top before lowering slowly to the start, stopping before the stack touches down between reps. 

Training Tip: Your upper body should remain still and stationary; don’t use momentum to jerk the weight up.

Cable Front Raise

Cable Front Raise

Setup: Using the same rope attachment as in the previous exercise, this time grip the ends of the rope with your palms facing each other, elbows straight and lowered so your hands are in front of your thighs. 

Action: Keeping your arms rigid, raise them straight up in a smooth arc to shoulder height or slightly above. Pause a moment, then lower to the start under control, resisting the weight of the stack on the return. 

Training Tip: This is an anterior delt–focused exercise, but you can also bring in some middle delts by holding the ends of the rope apart from one another.

Single-Arm Cable Lateral Raise

Single-Arm Cable Lateral Raise

Setup: Attach a D-handle to the lower cable pulley and stand sideways to the machine with the handle in your outside hand, palm facing the weight stack and hand in front of your thigh. Place your opposite hand on your hip or on the machine for stability, bend your elbows slightly and draw your shoulders back. 

Action: Keeping your elbow slightly bent, slowly raise the handle up and to the side until it comes to shoulder height or slightly above. Pause a split second, then lower to the start (again, not letting the weight stack touch down between reps). Complete all reps on one side before switching.

Training Tip: Think about leading this motion with your elbow, not your wrist, to emphasize the middle delts rather than the traps.

Rear-Delt Cable Flye

Rear-Delt Cable Flye

Setup: Attach handles to the lower cable pulleys on a cable crossover machine and stand in the center of the machine. Hold the handles in opposite hands so the cables cross in front of you, and bend forward from the waist while maintaining a flat back. Bend your elbows slightly and keep them like that throughout the movement. 

Action: Open your arms out to the sides and upward, pulling the cables across your body your arms rise. When your wrists align with your shoulders at a point parallel to the floor, pause and squeeze before slowly returning to the start. Don’t let the stack touch down between reps.

Training Tip: If you’re shifting your upper body, generating momentum to move the weight, or if your elbows are bending excessively during the exercise, you’re going too heavy — stop the set, drop the pin a notch and try again.

Barbell Shrug

Barbell Shrug

Setup: Load a barbell in a power rack and grasp it with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Pick it up and take a few steps back, so you’re holding the bar in front of your thighs with your feet hip-width apart or slightly wider. 

Action: Keeping your arms straight and torso upright, drive your shoulders up toward your ears and hold it there a split second. Lower to the start and get a good stretch before beginning the next rep.

Training Tip: Avoid bending your elbows, which engages the biceps. Instead, keep your arms straight and shrug your shoulders straight up and down — no rolling to the front or back.

Panda’s Go-To Supplements

“I take BCAAs for recovery, as well as L-arginine, which is needed for protein synthesis and which encourages the release of growth hormone. I also take HMB, which has been shown to slow the breakdown of muscle protein, and creatine to improve strength. Finally I take cod liver oil, which alleviates joint stiffness and has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, as well as skin, hair and nails.”

The Playlist

Panda loves to listen to music while he trains. Here’s a snapshot of what he was listening to while training for the Musclemania World Championships:

1.Rick Ross: Rich is Gangsta 

2.The Game: Heavy Artillery 

3.Rick Ross: War Ready 

4.Schoolboy Q: Studio 

5.Pusha T: Doesn’t Matter 

6.Pusha T: Sweet Serenade 

7.Wu-Tang Clan: Triumph 

8.A$AP Rocky: Peso 

9.Kanya West and Jay-Z: No Church in the Wild