Bench press, the perceived holy grail of upper body strength. Starting from the first time you wrapped your hands around the cool steel of a barbell, the ultimate conquest has been to increase how much weight you can load on the bar and press. First, it was to claim a spot on the sacred high school weight room chart. Then, it was to build a better set of pecs worthy of flexing for the girls at spring break in college. Now, it’s to continue chasing the physique you had back then by doing the same stuff that worked when you were 20.
Sure, you might be able to bench press a minivan, but all that benching is causing some serious issues. Forward rounded shoulders, crappy posture, and a lack of balance in strength in the smaller muscles that make up the rotator cuff are commonplace for those that prioritize bench over everything else. A significant amount of rowing will go a long way to offset benching but if you keep ignoring other muscle groups, you’re going to wind up the old guy in the weight room with his gut hanging over his weight belt blabbering on about how much he used to bench.
A main reason why serial benchers develop poor posture is because they lack development in the opposing muscles to the bench press: the rear deltoids. Along with the anterior and medial deltoids, the rear delts make up the larger muscles of the shoulder. When the front and medial delts are stronger and more developed than the rear delts, the shoulders will tend to round forward and expose a “hunchback” type of look. Probably not what you had in mind when you bench pressed your way to #1 on the chart senior year.
The rear delts get the least amount of love in programming from the typical trainee. Maybe it’s because you can’t see them in the mirror, maybe it’s feeling like a few sets of rows will offset hunchback status, whatever the case, they usually get ignored. Hitting the rear delts on a regular basis will provide some great benefits:
· Improved posture
· More stable and less injury prone shoulder
· Stronger base of support for pressing movements (bench/incline press/overhead press)
· 3D look to the shoulders
· More aesthetically well-developed shoulders and arms
If that doesn’t sell you on swapping one of your 4 weekly benching sessions for some rear delt training, I don’t know what will. Some dudes just won’t get off that bench press.
Two “Go To” Movements for Rear Delts
These movements are great as stand-alone exercises you can tack on to any upper body training day. Use them at the tail end of a workout after you’ve finished your main movements for the session. If you really want to get nuts, do them together as a superset and completely obliterate every fiber in the rear delts.
Machine Rear Delt Flyes
This lift can be performed on any pec deck/reverse flye machine that is found at most gyms. If your gym doesn’t have something like this, substitute a standard dumbbell reverse flye.
Adjust the handles so they are all the way to the rear of the machine. Start with palms facing down and set the seat height so your arms are parallel with the floor. Using a slight bend in the elbows, move the handles of the machine from the starting position all the way out to the side until you form a straight line with both arms across your body. Hold and squeeze your shoulder blades together for a brief second. Return to the starting position under control and repeat.
Do 3-4 sets for 15-20 reps and make sure to pause for a second at the back of the movement on each rep.
Rear Delt Swings
This is another exercise I stole from John Meadows’ Mountain Dog Training and when finished will feel like your partner held a blow torch to the back of your shoulders. Enjoy!
Set an adjustable bench similar as shown in the video. Lean on the bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Keeping elbows locked straight, push the dumbbells away as far as you can and then control the momentum of the dumbbells as they approach the starting position.
Go heavy here. Do more than you would do for a standard dumbell rear delt flye. Remember, push the dumbbells away and control the descent as much as possible. If you can get them all the way up, you went too light.
Do 3-4 sets x 25-30 reps.
If supersetting, perform these in the order listed and give yourself a solid 2 minutes to recover after the swings before you hop back into the flyes.
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