The rear lateral raise, also called the bent-over lateral raise, is an exercise that increases strength and hypertrophy (growth in size) of your rear deltoids. These are the small muscles found on the backs of your shoulders.

Rear lateral raises also strengthen other muscles in your upper and lower body, including your trapezius and rhomboids.

Among their many benefits, rear lateral raises support proper posture and help make daily and athletic movements easier.

Read on to learn how to do rear lateral raises, their benefits, and safety precautions to consider.

A rear lateral raise is an exercise that you do with dumbbells. It involves hinging at your hips to bring your torso almost parallel to the floor. You then raise your arms up and to the sides.

Rear lateral raises primarily target the posterior deltoids. Here are all the muscles this exercise benefits:

Synergist musclesStabilizer muscles
infraspinatuserector spinae
lateral deltoids triceps brachii
teres minor wrist extensors
middle and lower trapezius gluteus maximus
rhomboids adductor magnus

For muscle hypertrophy, include rear lateral raises in your regular weightlifting routine. You can also use them as part of your warmup.

To give your muscles a chance to heal, aim to have one or two days of rest in between sessions. On these alternate days, you can target other muscle groups. Allow for one full day of rest each week.

Do 3 to 5 sets of 12–20 repetitions.

Standing rear lateral raise

To do a standing rear lateral raise:

  1. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows throughout this exercise.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, bending your knees slightly.
  3. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, resting your arms alongside your body.
  4. Elongate your spine and engage your core as you hinge forward at your hips.
  5. Position your torso so that it’s almost parallel to the floor.
  6. Allow your arms to hang down below your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
  7. Engage your shoulder blades as you raise the weights to the sides.
  8. Stop when your elbows are at shoulder height. Your pinky finger should be slightly higher than your thumb.
  9. As slowly as possible, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Seated rear lateral raise

To do this variation, sit on the edge of a flat bench or chair. Follow the same directions as for the standing rear lateral raise.

Prone rear lateral raise on an incline bench

This variation helps maintain alignment and proper form. It prevents you from moving your torso or using momentum to complete the exercise.

Lie facedown on an incline bench. Follow the same directions as for the standing rear lateral raise. Press your chest firmly against the pad throughout the exercise.

If you don’t have an incline bench, you can try resting your forehead on a high table or plyo box. To prevent upper body movement, don’t allow your forehead to raise from the surface.

Pro tips

  • Don’t use weights that are too heavy. They may sacrifice your form, causing you to swing or bounce during the movement. Your goal is to keep your body still and avoid using momentum to lift.
  • It’s better to do more reps with a light weight than to use too heavy of a load. Using a light weight allows you to move with control. This ensures you’re targeting and strengthening your rear deltoids.
  • To stabilize your body, draw your shoulder blades back and down. Squeeze them together at the top of the movement.
  • Move your upper arms in a path that’s perpendicular to your torso. This helps you avoid using your back muscles and latissimus dorsi to complete the movement.
  • Bending your knees slightly helps prevent hyperextension and makes it easier to keep your back straight.
  • If you notice your low back has rounded, bend your knees a bit more or raise your torso slightly.

Strengthening your shoulder and upper back muscles helps build strength in your rear deltoids and upper body. On an aesthetic level, strong deltoids will help your upper body look bigger, stronger, and more toned.

Building these muscles lowers your chance of injury, promotes good posture, and helps with shoulder stabilization. It can also help make your body more symmetrical and aligned.

Isolating the posterior deltoids during rear lateral raises is key because the nearby muscles often do the work during workouts. These muscles include the rhomboids, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi.

Improving strength, alignment, and mobility helps with athletic and everyday movements, including pushing, pulling, and overhead movements.

Strong rear deltoids can give you power and stability when performing weightlifting exercises such as the bench press, snatch, and deadlift. They also help with pushups, handstands, and dips.

Strength training may also:

  • strengthen your bones
  • help you maintain a healthy weight
  • improve your overall well-being
  • boost your cognitive function
  • enhance your energy levels
  • improve your mobility, flexibility, and stability

Rear lateral raises should be safe for most people, as long as you’re in good physical condition and have a regular fitness routine.

If you’re new to fitness, have injuries, or have medical concerns, talk to a doctor, physical therapist, or personal trainer before starting this exercise. Make sure you can breathe naturally throughout the movement. Stop if you experience any pain or discomfort after doing this exercise.

The rear lateral raise isolates your rear deltoid. Targeting this muscle helps to strengthen, tone, and stabilize your shoulders and upper body.

Strong deltoids help with pressing, pulling, and overhead movements. This makes it easier to complete your athletic and daily activities while reducing your risk of injury.

Take care when adding rear lateral raises to your routine, and consider working with a fitness expert when you begin.