When it Pays to Lie

Time to resurrect lying side laterals!

Rummage through bodybuilding’s lost-andfound department, and you never know what you’ll find. You might trip over an Arm Blaster (nonexplosive) or a moon bench (nongluteal). Liver tablets, bull glandulars and wacky print baggies are piled in boxes. In one musty corner are the nearly forgotten poses of yesteryear — the archer, the vacuum, the kneeling twisting back double bi. The most heartbreaking category, however, are all the exercises that were once gym staples but are now severely neglected — lifts such as the dumbbell pullover, the power clean and the Zottman curl. Who was Zottman, anyway?


The lying side lateral is the perfect example of such a “lost” exercise. Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized the movement in the ’70s and, a generation ago, every bodybuilder — from weekend toners to Mr.O contenders — was doing them. Today, the primary alternative to standing laterals is machine laterals. It’s a rare occasion when someone lies down to work medial deltoids. It’s likely the majority of current bodybuilders aren’t even aware of the option.

Men who win multiple Mr. Olympia titles often make a lift their own. For Dorian Yates, it was underhand barbell rows. With his parking-lot lunges, Ronnie Coleman has turned an activity previously associated with aerobicizing into a supreme test of strength and endurance. Arnold actually popularized more than one lift, including the press named after him, but lying side laterals is the only one to fall into obscurity, and for no reason other than indolence. You don’t need a parking lot or a barbell loaded with plates. You can do them in most gyms, even most home gyms. What’s more, they stress side deltoids in a manner no other lift can. It’s time to resurrect the lying side lateral.


Lie on your left side. It’s best to use an incline bench without a seat or an abdominal board set at a 30-degree angle, although you can also use an incline bench with a seat or a decline bench (with your head at the high end). If necessary, you can perform this lift on a flat bench or on the floor. Brace your body in a firm position. Grasp a dumbbell in your right hand. (By necessity, the dumbbell will need to be lighter than for standing side laterals.) Rest the dumbbell on your right thigh or, for a longer range of motion, behind your glutes.

Keeping your right arm slightly bent, raise the dumbbell in a semicircular arc. Stop just before it is directly over your shoulder joint. Any movement beyond there is accomplished with momentum, not muscle. After completing 10-12 strict reps, lie on your right side and repeat with the dumbbell in your left hand.

In essence, by lying down, you reverse the stress of a standing or seated side lateral. With the latter two, there is less tension during the first half of the movement (when you’re moving your arm[s] more outward than upward) and much more during the top of the movement (when you’re moving your arm[s] mostly upward). On the other hand, when doing a lying side lateral, the dumbbell is moving upward from the beginning. Thus, gravity is pulling against you during the first portion. It is only when you approach the top of the lift that the dumbbell stops moving higher and the stress lessens. In fact, if you continued the arc, the weight of the dumbbell would pull your arm down with virtually no tension at all.


Also somewhere in bodybuilding’s lost-and-found are gravity inversion boots. This torturous footwear fueled an ’80s trend of hanging upside down from chinup bars. It turned out most of us nonbats don’t enjoy having blood pool in our heads. Still, the bodybuilding science behind inversion boots was sound. By altering your position to the ground (and, thus, gravity’s pull), you can alter the manner in which traditional exercises stress your muscles. For example, hanging upside down, you can place more emphasis on the contraction of abdominal exercises.

Lying side laterals work on this same principle. They focus on the beginning and midrange of the movement, while other side laterals (dumbbell, cable and most machines) focus on the contraction. Their unique stress reversal is precisely why you should include them in your shoulder routine, if only on occasion. Alternate them with standing laterals or include both lying and standing laterals but with reduced volume (two or three sets of each). Let’s make sure this found lift is never lost again. As for those wacky print baggies, some things are better left lost. - FLEX


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