Well rounded shoulders are a thing of beauty. When developed properly, the deltoids can look like a set of cannonballs that proudly stretch your shirt out enhancing the v-taper of the body. Also a good set of shoulders provide a strong base for training other upper body muscles as they are fundamentally used almost every time you use your arms.
Yet even with all of that in mind many people skimp on working one-third of the shoulder girdle; the read deltoids.
About the Deltoids
There are three sections to the shoulder muscles; the posterior (front), lateral (side), and anterior (rear). Generally speaking the anterior muscle is the smallest as a by-product of it not being used with the same regularity as the front and side muscles in day-to-day activities. Usually that is carried over to the gym where the muscle is trained last, if at all. But the muscles should be trained evenly and having a strong rear deltoid helps support the shoulder girdle as well as giving your shoulders protection from rotator cuff problems. Additionally strong rear deltoids will help with bench press strength and supporting the bar during squats.
Rear Deltoid Exercises
Usually the front deltoids get a lot of work from chest exercises as well as dumbbell presses or some form of machine press that most people do. But the side and rear deltoids need to be targeted specifically. Ideally you should always work your weaker muscles first so when it comes to working shoulders I recommend starting with rear deltoid exercises before moving on to the side deltoids and finishing with the front.
From the list below, using two of these rear deltoid exercises per session should put you on the fast-track to a well-balanced set of shoulders.
- Incline Bench Rear Dumbbell Laterals – Some people do rear laterals bent over while standing or sitting which is fine, but using an incline bench limits using any sort of momentum. Set an incline bench to 45 degrees. Lie chest down on it so the top of the bench is at your upper chest. With your arms hanging and head down, raise the arms up to the sides until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. The key is to keep the elbow slightly bent and imagine that you are drawing the elbows back in a nice smooth arc. Near the top of the motion tilt the pinkies up slightly to enhance the contraction.
- Reverse Pec Deck Flyes – This is pretty much the same as incline rear laterals except using a cable machine. Sit facing the pad on the pec deck machine. Adjust the arm handles of the machine so they start near the weight stack. Focus on holding and squeezing the rear deltoids at the contraction of the muscle.
- Single Kettlebell Rear Laterals – I like using kettlebells for a different feel and stress for controlling the weight during the arc. Start with a bell in one hand. Bend over at the waist and rest your other arm on the wall for balance with your feet in a staggered placement. Start with your arm straight down in front of you then slowly swing it up to the side trying to get the bell to shoulder height. When it comes back down let the weight travel past the middle of your body before starting the up-stroke again.
- Face Pulls – People will stare at you doing this exercise. Attach a rope handle attachment to a cable rowing station. Sit as you normally would for a row and grab a rope handle with each hand. Now perform a row but pull your hands towards the bridge of your nose, keeping your elbows up and back, and try and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Cable Rear Delt Backhand – This is an older exercise from the Arnold days but a great rear deltoid exercise. Use a low pulley in a cross-over station with a regular handle and lighter weight. Stand with knees slightly bent standing next to the pulley (it is on your left) with the handle in your right hand and arm angled down across your body. In one smooth motion arc your arm and hand to the right like you are swinging a tennis racket for a backhand. At the finish position your arm will be extended and your hand will be at shoulder height.