Bent Over Lateral Raises: Muscles Worked, Exercise Demo, and Benefits

In the past few articles I covered various shoulder isolation movements (front and lateral raises) that can build serious muscle mass, increase shoulder health, and help many strength, power, and fitness athletes fill out shirt sleeves. The shoulder is a complex joint, and as athletes we know all too well the stress that we put our shoulder under. It is for this reason that we as coaches and athletes should devote some TLC to the even the smallest muscles in our bodies, in this case the posterior deltoid. Therefore, in this article we will discuss the bent over lateral raise, and all that it has to offer us as strength, power, and fitness athletes.

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Muscles Worked

The bent over lateral raise is a variation of the lateral raise which has the lifter move the weights outwards (laterally) as the torso itself is forward to varying degrees (instead of being vertical). Below is a list of the specific muscles groups targeted by this shoulder raise variation.

  • Posterior Deltoid (Back)
  • Lateral Deltoid (Lateral)
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids

Bent Over Lateral Raises Exercise Demo

Below is a great video demo instructing us on how to properly setup and execute the bent over lateral raise.

Benefits of the Bent Over Lateral Raise

Below are some benefits of the bent over lateral raise, many of which are also discussed deeper in my lateral raise article (which includes some of the front and rear lateral raise variations).

1. Increase Size of the Posterior Deltoid

Larger rear deltoids is not just something that happens by chance. These little muscles are pretty reluctant to get into the action since most of the surrounding muscles (rhomboids, lats, traps) kick into most heavy and more complex movements, overpowering these small but important muscles. Using bent over lateral raises is a surefire way to increase muscular hypertrophy (size) of the posterior shoulder, which in turn can increase pulling and pushing strength, overhead stability, and help you look even stronger from behind.

2. Increased Pulling and Pushing Performance

Building significant muscle mass can result in more raw material to be trained for a specific purpose. In the case of the rear deltoids, more muscle (and more active motor neurons, due to the specific training done to acquire them) can result in better shoulder stability when bench pressing, snatching, and event deadlifting (as they aid in keeping the scapulae and shoulder stable while pulling). In an earlier training session I was doing snatch hang high pulls, really working on high elbows and building some mass in the traps and posterior shoulder. It was a few days prior to that session that I was doing some of my lateral raises, specifically preparing for this bent over article. When I was setting up for the high pulls, I was able to actively think about setting my elbows in similar positions to call upon the rear deltoids and posterior shoulder effectively, which just so happens to be the correct way to position oneself in the snatch.

Bottom line is increasing muscle mass and motor movement patterning from the bent over lateral raise can pay dividends in similar more sport specific movements once you are able to translate that information effectively.

3. Strengthen Shoulder Stabilizing Muscles

Shoulder stabilization and strength is key for overhead and pressing movements. Increasing the posterior shoulder health will surely impact the performance during the snatch, jerk, bench press, handstand push ups, dips, etc. By increasing the posterior shoulder, you help to find better balance in the strength of the pectorals and anterior deltoids, which can aid in injury prevention and shoulder integrity.

Sets x Reps

Rear deltoid training, while important, may find itself at the end of a workout session, at best. Doing the little things correctly on paper is great, however so many athletes and coaches fail to target these small stabilizers. The great thing about them is that since they are small, you can do a few sets of truly focused work a week and see some pretty significant differences in muscular development and even movement mechanics of other lifts (see snatch example above).

When performing these, I find it best to train them in the same fashion I would lateral or front raises, with 3-5 sets of 12-20 repetitions with moderate weight, being sure to restrict range of motion to target only the rear deltoid. If you start to feel the traps and rhomboids get into the mix, your rear deltoids may simply be fried OR you are lifting the loads too high and allowing the stronger upper back muscles to take over. Please refer to the exercise demo section, as the video does an amazing job at pointing this out.

When to Do Them

When training the small muscles in the shoulder you have a few options. The biggest key is to make sure that you do them, so if this means you perform them on a more bodybuilding focused day (which I do on Thursdays) or after heavy pressing sessions (which I also do on Saturdays)…it’s up to you. You can even do them during warm-ups, however the goal and intent would be to get the muscles primed for other movements rather than muscle hypertrophy. Be aware that shoulder performance may be slightly affected  if you are to train these prior to main lifts (in the same session and/or following day, basically the same as if you were to pre-fatigue any muscle in a workout…).

Build Better Deltoids, No Matter Your Sport

I have really enjoyed covering deltoid training in the past few articles. As a weightlifter and someone who enjoys some good ole-fashioned pumping iron, these simple and effective shoulder isolation movements are a perfect accompaniment to a mentally challenging day. Take a look at the below deltoid training exercise guides and get your pump on!

Featured Image: @realmattwenning on Instagram