10. Cable Reverse Flye
Exercises that specifically target the rear head of the deltoid muscle pop up three times on this list, and with good reason — the rear delts don’t tend to get much attention. But for shoulders that will fill out your T-shirts, you’re gonna need rear delts that can keep pace with the meaty front and middle delts. Those latter two get additional work during chest and shoulder presses, while the rears really need ample attention of their own to thrive. For that, the reverse flye comes to the rescue, adding a dimension of muscle control and balance that the more popular reverse pec-deck flye cannot match.
Main Area Targeted: rear deltoids
Strengths: Like all cable-based moves, the key attribute is continual tension on the muscles being worked. Unlike dumbbells, barbells and some machines, on which the tension eases at certain points of the range of motion because of gravity and inertia — with cables, the resistance is always counter-pulling, in this case meaning your rear delts never get a break as you rep.
How-To: Attach D-handles to the upper pulley of a cable machine. Now grasp the left-side handle in your right hand, then step over and get the right-side handle in your left before stepping to the center, equidistant from each stack. Straighten your elbows without locking them out, your palms in a neutral grip. From here, keeping your arms elevated at the level of your shoulders and elbows fixed, open your arms out to your sides, pulling each handle across to the other side by engaging your rear delts. When you reach a point at which your arms are outstretched in a “open hug” pose, reverse the motion to bring the handles back to the start position. Know that one hand will cross over the other when in front — it doesn’t matter which is high and which is low, although you can switch from set to set if you prefer.
9. BENT-OVER DUMBBELL LATERAL RAISE
Some would argue that the one-arm bent-over lateral raise — allowing you to focus all your effort on one side at a time — is superior to the two-armed version. We disagree. The unilateral version increases the ability to cheat, allowing you to rotate more at the waist when repping. Doing both arms at the same time cuts down on that kind of momentum, putting more pressure on your rear delts to carry the load. Main Area Targeted: rear deltoids Strengths: The bent-over raise is versatile and can be performed either standing or seated at the end of a flat bench leaning over your knees. And the use of dumbbells means other muscles come into play for stabilization — which may not mean a heck of a lot for your rear delts but does help create a more functional physique overall. How-To: With a dumbbell in each hand and your chest up, back flat, knees slightly bent and eyes fixed on a point on the floor just ahead of you, bend over at the hips until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Let the dumbbells hang directly beneath you with your elbows fixed in a slightly bent position. From there, powerfully raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides in an arc until your upper arms are about parallel with the floor. Pause at the top for a squeeze, then lower the dumbbells back along the same path, stopping just before your arms go fully perpendicular to the floor, and start the next rep.
8. One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise
For those of you already fretting that this list has begun with three isolation movements instead of major compound exercises, take note — the shoulder is a smaller muscle group that benefits greatly from such targeted weaponry. The thing is, presses tend to lean most heavily on the anterior (front) delt, leaving the side and rear heads slightly less stimulated. That’s not to say presses aren’t ideal in many ways (as you’ll see as you keep reading), but for complete shoulders, you also want to exhaust each head on its own. And when it comes to the middle delt, nothing beats a lateral raise. Main Area Targeted: middle deltoids Strengths: Just like the cable reverse flye, the cable here offers constant tension, in this case right on the prominent middle delt that splits the center of the deltoid muscle. The ease of switching between resistance via the pin on the weight stack also makes cable raises ideal for drop sets to failure. For a different feel, you can try these with the cable running behind your back instead of across the front of your body. How-To: Stand sideways to a low cable pulley with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a D-handle in the hand opposite the pulley. Your nonworking arm can be on your hips or braced on the pulley structure. Keep your abs tight, chest up and shoulders back and, without engaging momentum, raise the cable out to your side in a wide arc, keeping your elbow and hand moving together in the same plane. When your arm reaches a point just above shoulder level, hold it momentarily as you contract the delt, then slowly lower down along the same path, stopping before the weight stack touches down. Finish all reps on that side before switching to the other.
7. Cable Front Raise
You could take the first four moves in this list, throw ’em in a bag and dump them out in any order you wish. Doesn’t matter — they’re all about equal in their benefits for the respective delt head they target. In the case of the cable front raise, you’ll call on the anterior delt to take on the load, benefiting again from that continuous tension the cable provides. One caveat: If your shoulder workout is heavy on presses, you’ll want to prioritize the lateral and rear-delt raises, but from a purely muscle-sculpting perspective, the cable raise to the front is brutally effective. Main Area Targeted: anterior (front) deltoids Strengths: The placement of the cable in side laterals across your body can cause some awkwardness because of the drag. That’s eliminated with front raises, which allow the cable to roam free during the range of motion. It’s a small benefit, sure, but it eliminates a minor distraction when repping. How-To: With a D-handle in one hand, stand in a staggered shoulder-width stance with your back to a low cable pulley. Place your nonworking hand on your hip for balance. With your chest elevated, back flat and knees slightly bent, powerfully raise the cable up and out in front of you until your upper arm is about parallel with your working shoulder. Squeeze, then slowly lower your arm back to the start position (without letting the stack touch down) and repeat. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other.