The 5 Best Rear Delt Exercises to Include in Your Shoulder Workout

Best Rear Delt Exercises to Build Your Shoulders

When you hit the gym, chances are you are not putting much thought into your rear deltoids. While it is possible to strengthen these muscles during a shoulder or back workout, this may not be enough for your current fitness goals. 

Throughout this article, you’ll learn about the best rear-delt exercises to help you maximize posterior deltoid strength and function. 

What Are the Rear Delt Muscles?

The posterior deltoids, known familiarly as the "rear delts," are located on the backside of your shoulders. The rear delt muscle makes up one of three other muscles in the shoulder. Each deltoid muscle is made up of three sections, also known as “heads,” including the anterior deltoid (front), lateral deltoid (side), and posterior deltoid (back). Together, these muscles lay over our shoulder joint in an upside-down triangle [1]. 

The rear deltoid originates from the spine of the scapula and inserts on the humerus bone in the upper arm. Though small in size, it can generate a lot of force when assisting in pulling your arm backward and retracting your shoulder blades together. 

Benefits of Strengthening the Rear Delts

Strengthening the back of the shoulder through various isolated or compound posterior deltoid exercises can help benefit the joint in several ways.  

Strong Rear Delts Ensure that Your Shoulder Is Proportional

Regarding building upper-body strength, the rear delts are not always prioritized. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, this can be problematic for achieving proportional shoulder muscle size and definition. 

The rear delts are also smaller and more stubborn than the other deltoids. Focusing on isolated rear-delt exercises strengthens the posterior deltoid while also helping it grow at the same rate as your anterior and lateral delts and minimizes the risk of muscle imbalance [2].

The Integrity of Your Rear Delts Improves the Health of Your Shoulders

Our shoulder muscles are like machines. When one muscle doesn’t do its job, everything else can break down. In this case, inadequate rear delt muscle activation during heavy pulling movements (i.e. back rows, pull-ups, lat pull-downs, etc.) will increase your risk of injury. 

Focusing on muscle growth through the shoulder, especially in the posterior deltoid, can contribute to the health of your entire shoulder joint and nearby muscles including the rotator cuff muscles, rhomboids, and traps. This can not only help increase your strength during pulling exercises, but it also works to support your shoulder stability and mechanics during most pressing movements such as bench presses, shoulder presses, and push-ups [3].

The Rear Deltoids Help with Posture

Along with functional strength, the rear delts also contribute to our posture. The posterior fibers that run along the rear delt muscle assist the back in extension and act as a stabilizer within the shoulder joint to maintain an upright posture. 

Since most of our day is spent hunched over a desk, maximizing muscle mass and strength in the rear delts can help you avoid slumping-induced back pain.

5 Best Rear-Delt Exercises

The secret for rear delt development is using a combination of compound and isolated exercises to strengthen, build, and tone the posterior deltoids [4].

Below are some of the best rear delt exercises that include multi- and single-joint movements with several alternative exercises to add variety to your workout routine.

1. Bent-Over Barbell Row

The bent-over row is a compound exercise that targets a range of muscles in the back including the latissimus dorsi, mid- and-lower traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids.

How to do it: 

  • Start by holding a barbell in your hands in an overhand grip (palms facing down) 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent 

  • With a neutral spine, hinge your upper body forward and down into a 45-degree angle by flexing your hips 

  • From this starting position, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you slowly lift the bar toward your chest

  • Your elbows should stay close to your body as you pull the bar in

  •  Slowly lower the bar back down back to starting position, maintaining a slight bend in the elbows as they extend 

Some excellent alternative rowing exercises that help strengthen the rear delt muscles include the single arm row, seated cable row, cable upright row, and rear delt row.

2. Dumbbell Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is a great resistance exercise that targets the rear delts and many other major muscles in the upper back. Dumbbell rear delt exercises also improve shoulder health, minimize muscle imbalance, and prevent injury during most other complex pulling movements. 

How to do it: 

  • In a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold two dumbbells by your sides  

  • Maintaining a neutral spine, hinge at your hips to bring your torso down and forward into a 45-degree angle from the floor 

  • Let your arms hang straight in front of your body, keeping a slight bend in your elbows

  • Raise your arms up and out towards the side of your body, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement 

  • Slowly lower back down to starting position before initiating the next rep

This rear delt exercise can be switched out with other similar movements such as the machine reverse fly, reverse pec dec, standing cable reverse fly, seated dumbbell rear fly, and bent over rear lateral raise. 

3. Cable Face Pull

Cable face pulls isolate and target the rear delts to maximize strength gains in the posterior shoulders along with the traps, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles. This exercise can also be done using a resistance band rather than a pulley cable. 

How to do it: 

  • Adjust your cable so that it’s level with the top of your head and lock it in place

  • Set your weight and grasp the hands with both palms facing in

  • Take a step back until your arms are fully extended and stand with your feet hip-width apart

  • Lean back and pull the rope slightly to lift the weight in good posture

  • From this starting position, flare your elbows out wide as you pull your hands toward your face 

  • Slowly extend your arms back toward the starting position without resting the weight back down or allowing your shoulders to roll forward 

4. Lying Rear Delt Circles 

Lying rear delt circles are a great exercise to improve the health, strength, and mobility of your shoulder joint. It’s also one of the best rear delt exercises for activating the posterior muscles, with some support from the front and sides. 

How to do it: 

  • Begin by lying face down on a flat bench with your upper body firmly pressed against the pad

  • Grab hold of a light dumbbell with each hand and raise them off the ground to your sides at hip height

  • Begin the movement by extending the dumbbells towards your head in a circular pattern until they touch gently in front of you 

  • Slowly reverse the path to return back to the starting position

5. Bodyweight Cobra

Bodyweight cobras are another great exercise that works to build strength, mobility, and posture as well as help improve thoracic extension and low back stability. Bodyweight rear-delt exercises are a great option for those who don’t have access to free weights or bands.

How to do it: 

  • Lie face down on the ground with your arms extended straight out to your sides

  • Spread your fingers wide and begin to activate your glute muscles 

  • Begin to raise your torso as high as possible while externally rotating your palms up (thumbs pointing up) as you pull your shoulders back 

  • Keeping your chest high, hold this position at the top for 1-2 seconds before slowly returning back down to the starting position

  • Rest for half a second before repeating your next rep

Rear Delt Exercises: Key Takeaways

Just because you can’t see them (without a mirror) doesn’t mean your rear deltoids aren't essential for a well-rounded physique and optimal athletic performance. Consider adding the five rear-delt exercises outlined above into your shoulder training routine to maximize power, strength, and muscle mass gains.

Training your rear delts properly not only helps build upper-body strength but also improves the mechanics and integrity of your shoulder joint and reduces the risk of injury. And be sure to check out our Guide to Building Bigger Traps to go along with your rear-delt workouts!

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