From the front, your delts may look awesome — big, rounded, full. Maybe the word “cannonballs” comes to mind. But what happens when you turn around? Do your delts suddenly disappear from that back angle, shriveled like a deflated balloon? You can thank all of that chest and shoulder pressing you do, which calls upon lots of help from the anterior and middle delts, but doesn’t do all that much for the rear head of the deltoid muscle. To compensate, you need to give the rear angle some direct attention, and there’s no better place to begin than the bent-over lateral raise.
Muscles Worked: Deltoids, with a primary emphasis on the rear head of the three-headed muscle.
Starting Position: Standing with a dumbbell in each hand, bend over at the hips until your torso is just about parallel to the floor. Keep your chest out, back flat and your knees slightly bent, and let the dumbbells hang directly beneath you with your elbows straight but not locked out, palms facing each other.
Action: Maintaining the same slightly bent position of your elbows throughout, powerfully raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides until your upper arms are about parallel with the floor and at the level of your shoulders. After flexing your rear delts strongly at the top, slowly lower the dumbbells back toward the start position, stopping just short to maintain tension on the muscles, and reverse into the next rep.
Do: Try “pouring” out the dumbbells at the top — angle your wrists just slightly downward so your thumb is lower than your pinkie, as if you’re letting a small flow of water out of a jug. It tends to accent the squeeze on the rear delt.
Don’t: Bounce your knees and rock your upper body to add momentum to your reps.
Variations: The bent-over raise can also be done seated — sit at the end of a flat bench and bend over so your chest is just above your lap. This option is helpful if you tend to cheat your reps up with extra body english while standing. You can also do laterals one arm at a time.
Uses: For most people, the development of the rear delt lags the middle and front heads, meaning you may want to prioritize the rear by inserting bent-over laterals right after presses as the first raise in your routine — doing that, you’ll have plenty of energy to hit them hard. Or you can also rotate which lateral move you lead with from workout to workout: Start with standing raises one week, then bent-over raises the next, and front raises the third.
Advanced Technique: If you’re short on time, you can superset rear-delt laterals with side raises, doing them back to back with no rest in between. Like many dumbbell movements, rear lateral raises also ideal for “running the rack,” either pyramiding up or down the rack in five- or 10-pound increments with minimal rest between sets.