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Get Toned, Strong and Shapely Shoulders



No one would claim that it’s effortless to shape and firm your thighs and hips, but at least those areas can be monitored by a full-length mirror. However, unless you sandwich yourself between a couple of mirrors, your upper back and rear shoulders – areas that can be seen by others, especially in the warm months – are difficult or impossible to be seen by you. Sometimes that translates into an “out of sight, out of mind” position when it comes to planning your exercise routine. If this describes you, then your upper back and shoulders may be somewhat neglected, a little weaker, and have less shape than you want.

If you want to look your best in your sleeveless and backless tops that are begging you to wear them this spring and summer, you may want to spend a little time training those “out of sight” muscles. Incline dumbbell raises are excellent for targeting those hard-to-see places of the posterior part of the shoulder, and some of the upper-back muscles.

The posterior fibers of the deltoid muscle, the rhomboids major and minor muscles, and the trapezius muscle are all strongly activated by incline dumbbell raises. The deltoid muscle originates from three different bony regions on the shoulder. The anterior part of the deltoid flexes the shoulder (i.e., raises the arm forward). The medial deltoid raises the arm laterally to the side of the body (abduction of the arm at the shoulder joint). The posterior (rear) deltoid extends the arm at the shoulder, pulling the arm backward.

Incline dumbbell raises preferentially activate the posterior part of the deltoid muscle. The posterior fibers of the deltoid attach along the spine of the scapula (shoulder blade), a bony ridge located on its upper and posterior side. They anchor on the lateral side of the humerus bone, about one-third of the way from the shoulder toward the elbow. These fibers produce a strong extension, which brings the humerus bone to a posterior position, and this is the primary function of inclined dumbbell lateral raises.

The posterior fibers also contribute to lateral rotation of the humerus at the shoulder joint. Lateral rotation turns the medial side of the arm out and away from the body (i.e., counterclockwise rotation of your right arm).

The rhomboids major and minor muscles are deep muscles of the upper back that lie just medial to the scapula, and they are also activated by incline dumbbell raises. When they are strengthened, they will add firmness to your upper back and help improve your posture. The fibers of both the rhomboid minor and major muscles extend along the midline of the back at the thoracic vertebrae, and attach on the medial border of the scapula (the side closest to the vertebrae). The larger rhomboid major muscle sits just below the smaller rhomboid minor muscle. Both muscles adduct the scapula (squeeze the shoulder blades together) and rotate the scapula upward – like when you raise your arms over your shoulders. The medial part of the large trapezius muscle attaches to the vertebrae medially and to the scapula laterally. These muscle fibers assist the rhomboid major and minor during scapular adduction during the pull backward in the incline dumbbell raise.

Incline Reverse Flye Dumbbell Raises

Incline dumbbell raises provide an excellent means for isolating the posterior fibers of the deltoid, rhomboids and medial trapezius muscles.

1. Select an incline bench that has no more than a 45º angle. Take a dumbbell in each hand and lie facedown on the bench. Your arms will be hanging toward the floor with your thumbs adjacent to each other at the beginning of the lift.

2. Your knees should remain slightly bent to reduce any lower back strain. Bend your elbows just slightly, then raise the dumbbells out to the side of the body and as high as possible. The trajectory of the dumbbells should fall slightly inferior (behind) the shoulder joint, but the dumbbells should be raised to the same level of your shoulders (or higher if possible).

3. Rotate your shoulders (not your wrists) as the dumbbells approach the very top position. The lateral side of the hand (the side with the thumb) should be turned toward the ceiling at the top position.

4. Hold the top position for a count of one or two, then slowly reverse the movement to the starting position.

5. Do not pause at the bottom or between repetitions, but immediately continue upward. The posterior shoulder should be under constant tension from the beginning to the end of the exercise.

6. Be sure that you lift the dumbbells as high as possible. At a minimum, your arms should be parallel to the floor at the top position. Hold this for a count of two, because this will ensure the greatest muscle contraction and activation of all of the fibers in the posterior deltoid and upper-back muscles.

The shoulder is literally held together by its muscle attachments, and therefore, it is never wise to lift the dumbbells quickly or explosively. It is especially important to be in full control of the dumbbells during the lateral rotation part at the top of the movement. Try to go for the best exercise form to activate the muscles, while protecting your shoulder joint from injury.

If you work carefully and with smooth, strict movements, your shoulders will respond by strengthening and firming. In addition, the muscles of your middle back (between the shoulder blades) will be strengthened and toned by this exercise. This will help your posture, and improve the quality of your entire upper body.

After a couple of months of incline dumbbell raises, you will show so much improvement that you will want to show off your new firm and toned shoulders. Your hard work certainly deserves the attention!


Andersen LL, Andersen JL, Suetta C, Kjaer M, Sogaard K and Sjogaard G, 2009. Effect of contrasting physical exercise interventions on rapid force capacity of chronically painful muscles. J Appl Physiol, 107, 1413-1419.

Kibler WB, Sciascia AD, Uhl TL, Tambay N, and Cunningham T, 2008. Electromyographic analysis of specific exercises for scapular control in early phases of shoulder rehabilitation. Am J Sports Med, 36, 1789-1798.

Minning S, Eliot CA, Uhl TL and Malone TR, 2007. EMG analysis of shoulder muscle fatigue during resisted isometric shoulder elevation. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 17, 153-159.

Moore KL and AF Dalley. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Fourth Edition. Baltimore, Lippincott Williams & Williams, Kelly PJ, Editor, 1992, pp. 690-698.

Reinold MM, Macrina LC, Wilk KE, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Barrentine SW, Ellerbusch MT and Andrews, JR 2007. Electromyographic analysis of the supraspinatus and deltoid muscles during 3 common rehabilitation exercises. J Athl Train, 42, 464-469.

Uhl TL, Muir TA and Lawson L, 2010. Electromyographical Assessment of Passive, Active Assistive, and Active Shoulder Rehabilitation Exercises. PM & R, 2, 132-141.

Yoshizaki K, Hamada J, Tamai K, Sahara R, Fujiwara T and Fujimoto T, 2009. Analysis of the scapulohumeral rhythm and electromyography of the shoulder muscles during elevation and lowering: comparison of dominant and nondominant shoulders. J Shoulder Elbow Surg, 18, 756-763.

The post Get Toned, Strong and Shapely Shoulders first appeared on FitnessRX for Women.

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