Mr. O Delts That Make Them Say “Oh!”


.Analyzing the training routines of some of the past bodybuilding champions can be a great way to come up with ideas. That’s true for former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman’s training videos for sure. On most of his exercises Coleman overloads the semistretched point, which I keep harping on. That’s the point down near the turnaround where maximum fiber activation and force can occur.

For instance, to isolate and activate his side-delt heads’ after extremely heavy dumbbell presses, Coleman wedges himself into a Nautilus lateral-raise machine and only does the bottom half of the stroke, which really attacks that spot where his arms are next to his torso (the semistretched position). He uses short bottom partials, as he never gets his arms where they’d be parallel to the floor. At the bottom of each partial rep he explodes at the turnaround point for maximum force.

If you think about it, however, regular dumbbell laterals don’t have much resistance at the bottom. The real overload actually occurs when your arms are about a third of the way up through the arc (arms away from your torso). Plus, if you use a weight that you can drive all the way to the top (weakest position) where your arms are parallel to the ground, then the weight will be far too light to do much overloading down in the strongest position at the bottom.

Due to the nature of standard dumbbell laterals, when your arms are straight down, gravity pulls the weight toward the ground, putting more stress on your traps and not on your delts. If only you could get the resistance to pull to the side instead of down, you’d have better resistance on your delts.

See where I’m going with this? One-arm cable laterals are better than standing laterals for overloading the semistretched point because the cable pulls your hand and arm across your torso rather than straight down, but torso twisting and leg thrusting can make the exercise more of a trap builder and less delt-specific. Again, if you use enough weight to emphasize the strongest low position, you won’t be able to move your arm very far without some throwing in some momentum. A decent delt exercise, and one I like to do fairly often, but there’s something better…

It’s called the incline one-arm lateral raise. Sit sideways on an incline bench set to about 45 degrees, leaning with your nonworking side against it. Now your torso is at an angle as in the photo below. With a dumbbell in the hand of your outside arm, move the dumbbell down in front of you until it’s just lower than your waist. Don’t allow your arm to move all the way straight down as that will take tension off your delt. Reverse the movement right when the dumbbell is even with your inside hip that’s against the bench. Then raise it till your arm is just about parallel to the floor. A slight bend at your elbow is helpful.

Illustration from The Ultimate Mass Workout e-book:

Incline Lateral Raise

You get resistance when your upper arm is close to your body because of the the angle of your torso. You raise it to parallel, but because your torso is angled, that top position is really only about two-thirds up the arc of a standing lateral raise. You basically work the bottom two-thirds of the lateral raise stroke and you get LOTS of overload at the turnaround when the dumbbell is in front of your hips at the bottom of the stroke—just like Coleman does on the machine.

A version of the incline one-arm lateral was one of Arnold’s favorites, which may explain why he had that eye-popping width, even when he was fully clothed. Even more impressive considering he didn’t have super-wide clavicles.

Give the incline one-arm laterals a try and don’t forget to add some X Reps at the end of the set down near the turnaround point. Those partials can make every set two to five times more potent at building mass.

About the Author

Jonathan Lawson has been working in the health and fitness industry for over 20 years; weight training for 21 years, competed in numerous bodybuilding competitions, worked for IRON MAN Magazine for 17 years, co-owns where he has co-published over 15 e-books and writes a daily training blog.  He has appeared on the covers of, and been featured in, dozens of international magazines, books and e-books.