Training and growing the muscles of the upper body have got to be a main reason we go to the gym.
The pursuit of a lean and formidable physique is something that I and many of my clients over the years have trained for.
Fewer muscle groups present this display of strength quite like the shoulders (deltoids), as they widen and define our frame.
However, when training our delts, it can be easy to get caught up in our mirror muscles, with all the focus being drawn to the anterior (front). Meanwhile, our rear delts can go missing.
In this article, I am going to share with you why it is so important to develop a complete set of shoulders, with my 13 best rear delt exercises and stretches for shoulder growth.
Let’s jump in.
Table of Contents
- What Is the Rear Delt (Posterior Deltoid)
- Anatomy of the Shoulders
- Main Benefits of Exercising the Rear Delts
- 13 Best Rear Delt Exercises
- Tips and Warnings for Training Rear Delts
- How to Stretch and Warm Up the Shoulders
- Rear Delt Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Thoughts
What Is the Rear Delt (Posterior Deltoid)
What we know as the shoulder, the deltoid is the muscle that surrounds our shoulder joint.
Made up of three components, anterior, middle, and posterior (rear), these fibers provide us with many of the movements of the shoulder.
The rear deltoid is responsible for movement including extension, external rotation, and horizontal abduction of the arm.
In general, the muscle of the shoulder is responsible for shoulder stability and performing many movements, which we use daily.
Anatomy of the Shoulders
The shoulder is the intersection of three separate joints with various muscles wrapped up in webs of connective tissue.
It’s one of the most complex joints in the body and a multi-planar powerhouse capable of moving in almost every direction.
So, to help you understand this monster joint, let’s break it down.
|Anterior Delt||Front out collarbone||Deltoid tuberosity of arm||Flexes the arm|
|Middle Delt||Acromion (outer side) of the socket joint (ball and socket)||Deltoid tuberosity of arm||Abducts the arm|
|Posterior Delt||Spine of the scapula||Deltoid tuberosity of arm||Extends the arm|
|Supraspinatus||Rear scapula||Rear upper humerus||Abducts the arm|
|Infraspinatus||Rear scapula||Rear upper humerus||Rotates arm Externally|
|Teres Minor||Upper two-thirds or rear scapula||Rear upper humerus||Rotates arm Externally|
|Subscapularis||Upper inside of humerus||Inside of scapula||Rotates arm Internally|
|Serratus Anterior||Lateral surface ribs 1-9||Inside of scapula||Draws shoulder blade to rib cage|
Main Benefits of Exercising the Rear Delts
The rear delt plays an important role in shoulder joint function. Here are some of the benefits of training targeting your rear delt in the gym.
Each muscle and piece of connective tissue in the shoulder is required to create a level of stability and function in the joint.
The rear deltoid is no different.
As the rear delt is part of a larger whole (the deltoid), the development of this tissue is required to balance against the anterior and lateral fibers.
While a considerable amount of stability comes from the rotator cuff, the rear delt plays a role.
Weaknesses in any supporting tissue may result in shoulder impingements due to glenohumeral imbalances.
The rear deltoid is an important player in your workouts because of its role in shoulder strength. Training these fibers improves the capabilities of the tissue overall.
Strengthening the rear delt will create a strong link in the chain of lifting, for movements such as rows, and pull-based movements.
The rear deltoids’ position makes it a great muscle to train if you are looking to make aesthetic improvements to the arms and upper back.
As the rear deltoid lines up with the rotator cuff, triceps, and aspects of the lateral arm, increasing definition to this area can give your arms a considerable amount of shape.
Earlier I mentioned that the rear delt is responsible for assisting in the extension, external rotation, and horizontal abduction of the arm.
Don’t underrate how important that is. Weakness of course through rear delt fibers may result in the alteration of biomechanical function, leading to possible injuries such as shoulder impingement.
This potential leads to difficulty training pressing movements and lifting overhead.
13 Best Rear Delt Exercises
As the shoulder joint covers so many different planes of movement, making use of a variety of different pieces of equipment is essential to target all the muscles involved.
The beauty of training rear deltoids is that you can use almost anything to train them.
From barbells and cables to pure and simple bodyweight, here is my list of top exercises to get the rear delt development you always wanted.
1. Dumbbell Bent-Over Rear Delt Row
The bent-over rear delt row targets the fibers of the posterior shoulder.
This is due to the angle of the elbows and positioning of the hand, allowing for greater extension at the shoulder.
- Bench (for support)
How To Perform Dumbbell Bent-Over Rear Delt Row
- Start by finding a dumbbell and a bench.
- Assume a split stance, leaning forward at the hip, with one hand holding a dumbbell and one hand resting on the bench.
- Begin by positioning the dumbbell in neutral.
- From here, row the dumbbell upward, elbow angled 45 degrees off the side of the body.
- Aim to lift the dumbbell toward the shoulder joint.
- Once you have reached this position, gradually lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Repeat.
- The movement can be difficult to perform. Start with a lighter weight as the technique is slightly different from that of a regular row.
- For this exercise, you do not need a heavy weight to work the rear. Focus on contracting the rear delt as you lift the weight for best results.
2. Dumbbell Reverse Fly
A staple exercise for rear delt development, the reverse fly is great for targeting the fibers of the rear delts while engaging the whole body.
How To Perform Dumbbell Reverse Fly
- Start with a pair of dumbbells, standing with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend forward at the hips and allow arms to hang with dumbbells in a neutral grip.
- To begin the movement, gradually lift weights out to the sides, pulling shoulder blades together.
- Raise dumbbells until your arms are straight in line with your shoulders.
- Gradually lower to starting position. Repeat.
- Use a light weight to begin as the bent-over position can be difficult to hold.
- Focus on bringing the shoulder blades together while squeezing the rear delts at the top of the fly.
3. Standing Reverse Cable Fly
The reverse cable fly is one of the most effective ways to target the rear delt. It’s as if the machine was created specifically for this exercise.
Cables offer a degree of freedom and range that isn’t always available with other pieces of equipment. That freedom allows us to take the shoulder into a great angle of extension, which is essential for targeting the rear delt.
- Dual adjustable cable machine
How To Perform Standing Reverse Cable Fly
- Begin by setting up the cables at the top and standing in between the pulley.
- Grab a cable in each hand, crossing over, so each hand holds the opposite side.
- To begin the movement, start with the chest high, pulling the cables across the body.
- Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together and contracting the rear delts.
- Pull cables until they are in line with the shoulders, then gradually release. Repeat.
- Keep chest up and proud through the duration of the movement. This will put you in a great position to target the back and rear delts.
- Start with a lighter weight to begin and focus on contracting rear delt fibers.
4. Single-Arm Bent-Over Reverse Cable Fly
The single-arm bent-over reverse cable fly is an excellent addition to any rear delt workout.
The cable provides a constant resistance that is great for targeting the fibers of the posterior shoulder.
- Single cable
- Single grip attachment
How To Perform Single Arm Bent Over Reverse Cable Fly
- Using a single cable pulley, stand with your shoulder next to the machine with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bending at the hips, grab the cable grip using the hand furthest away from the machine.
- To begin the movement, gently engage shoulder blades and pull the cable out to the side.
- Pull cable until the arm is out straight to the side and in line with the shoulders.
- From here, slowly lower the cable. Repeat.
- Similar to most rear delt exercises, begin with a lighter weight and focus on contracting the rear delt.
- If you need additional support in this position, you can brace yourself by grabbing the cable machine frame with the arm closest to the machine.
5. Cable Bent-Over Row
The cable bent-over row is an exercise that is typically used for the back. However, it’s on this list as it also hits the fibers of the rear delt.
- Single Cable
- Bar Attachment
How To Perform Cable Bent-Over Row
- Using a single cable, adjust to the bottom position, equipped with a wide bar handle.
- Stand in front of the cable, aligning it to the midline of the body.
- With feet shoulder-width apart, bend forward slightly at the hip and grasp the bar with a wide, overhand grip.
- To begin the movement, gently retract the shoulder blades and row the bar toward the chest with elbows out wide.
- Row until the bar reaches the chest, and gradually releases to lower. Repeat.
- When deciding the weight, choose a resistance that allows you to row, while supporting your body weight. This will allow you to sit back into the position, and focus on your lifts.
- Prior to each rep, focus on gently retracting and activating your rear delts. This will help you target these fibers.
6. Cable Face Pulls
Cable face pulls are a great exercise that engages many of the muscles of the upper back and shoulder, rear delts included.
Due to the rope attachment and high rowing technique, the exercise allows for a greater range of motion at the shoulder.
- Single cable
- Rope attachment
How To Perform Cable Face Pulls
- Using a single cable, adjust the pulley to just above head level with a rope attachment.
- Position yourself in front of the pulley, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grasp an end of the rope in each hand with your thumb pointed upward.
- To begin the movement, gently engage shoulder blades and row rope handles past ears.
- While performing the movement, focus on pulling shoulder blades together and squeezing the muscles of the upper back.
- From here, release the rope and lower the cable slowly with control. Repeat.
- Prior to every rep, gently engage the shoulder blades and squeeze muscles of the upper back and rear delts.
- When pulling the ropes, be sure to maintain hand position around the ear for the entire set. This will help you target the muscles rear delt and upper back the whole time.
7. Kneeling Cable High Low Pull
The kneeling cable high low pull provides an extra layer of stability. Kneeling allows you to focus more on the movement and muscular contractions.
- Single cable
- Rope attachment
How To Perform the Kneeling Cable High Low Pull
- Using a single cable and rope attachment, set pulley to waist level.
- From here, kneel in front of the cable and grasp rope handles with thumbs facing up.
- To begin, gently activate shoulder blades and row rope toward your head, aiming to have a handle pulling past your ears.
- Once the movement is completed, gradually lower the cable to the starting position. Repeat.
- For each repetition, focus on engaging the shoulder blades and squeezing the rear delt muscle
- Throughout the set, keep your chest up. This will help to improve rear delt and upper back activation.
For more great shoulder cable exercises, check out cable shoulder workouts.
8. Barbell Single-Arm Landmine Row
The single-arm landmine row is a great alternative to the conventional methods of resistance of a dumbbell or cable.
With the landmine, we can assume a different position. This affords greater spacing and access to a more direct resistance.
- Weight plate
How To Perform Barbell Single-Arm Landmine Row
- To begin, set up your landmine with a barbell and a weight plate to match your strength level.
- Position yourself at the weight end of the barbell with your shoulders in line with the bar.
- From here, place feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend forward at the hips and grab the end of the barbell with an overhand grip.
- To begin, gently activate the shoulder blades, and row the barbell with the elbow pulling backward and to the side.
- Focus on squeezing the rear delts as you lift the barbell.
- Once you complete the lift, gradually lower. Repeat.
- Start with a lighter weight since the landmine attachment offers a different resistance path.
- For best results, focus on the rear delt for the entire lift. This will help you lock and target the muscle.
9. Barbell Inverted Row
By placing ourselves directly under the barbell, the inverted rows are a great way to attack the upper back and rear delts using our own body weight.
- Squat rack
How To Perform Barbell Inverted Row
- Using a barbell and squat rack, adjust the bar rack to the lower two-thirds of the rack.
- From here, lie on your back and position yourself up the bar.
- With an overhand grip, grab the bar with both hands and arms stretched out.
- To begin, engage the upper back and row your body upward toward the bar.
- Lift until chest touches bar, squeezing rear delts.
- Once completed, gradually lower to the starting position. Repeat.
- Position the bar based on arm length. This will allow you to reach a full range of motion.
- Similar to push-ups, the more upright your body is during the movement, the easier the movement will be. Adjust the bar high and body position to your resistance requirements.
10. Landmine Wide Grip T-Bar Row
Land mines are such a versatile piece of equipment, as they allow us to assume a variety of different positions. One, in particular, that is an old favorite is the T-bar row.
This exercise is excellent for back development, while the change in handles allows for the recruitment of different muscles of the back.
- Weight plate
- Wide grip attachments
How To Perform Landmine Wide Grip T-Bar Row
- To begin, set up the landmine with a barbell, weight, and T-bar attachment.
- Near the handle, stand over the barbell with a foot on each side.
- Leaning forward at the hips, grab the wide handles with an overhand grip.
- To start the movement, focus on pulling the shoulder blades together and the elbows back.
- Squeeze the rear delts as you row the handle toward the chest.
- Once you have completed the movement, release the barbell and lower it to the starting position. Repeat.
- When performing wide rows, focus on drawing elbows backward. This will help to activate the muscle of the upper back.
- When training to target rear delts using a T-bar, start light and focus on elbow path and contracting the muscle fibers.
Love the T-Bar Row? Check out our other article T-Bar Row Alternatives.
11. Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly
Training the rear delt and back with bodyweight can be difficult. However, the bodyweight reverse fly is a great one that can be done anywhere.
How To Perform Bodyweight Rear Delt Fly
- Lying on your back, place your hands out to the side in a ‘T’ with a closed fist, thumbs facing the ceiling, and bend the knees at 90 degrees.
- To begin, gently lift your head and engage the shoulder blades.
- Push the bottom of your fist to the floor and gently lift the shoulders off the floor while squeezing rear delts.
- Lift between 2-5cm off the floor and the lower. Repeat.
- If you are new to the movement, you can make it easier by performing exercises upright next to the wall. This reduces the resistance.
- When performing the movement, focus on the contraction of the rear delt and upper back rather than the degree of movement. This will help you hit your target muscles and reduce the occurrence of injury.
12. Standing Rear Delt Retraction
The standing rear delt retraction is a great way to target the posterior shoulder without equipment.
By standing and using the wall, this exercise can be done anywhere at all different experience levels.
How To Perform Standing Rear Delt Retraction
- To begin, position yourself with your back against the wall, with elbows out wide to the side.
- Start by walking feet away, slightly angling the body.
- Activate your shoulder blades and gently press your elbows into the wall.
- From here, gently move hips back and forward bracing the rear delts with each movement.
- For beginners, perform the exercise in an upright position. This will decrease the load and make the exercise easier.
- This movement can also be performed as a hold.
13. Wide Neutral Grip Chin-Ups
The wide neutral grip chin up is a great exercise that allows us to target the rear delt using nothing more than a barbell and our own bodyweight.
This is due to the hand position and the wide grip, as it helps us obtain a greater degree of extension at the shoulder joint.
- Chin up bar with wide neutral grip
- Step for assistance
How To Perform Wide Neutral Grip Chin Ups
- Begin by stepping up and grasping the wide neutral grip.
- To start the exercise, focus on squeezing shoulder blades together and contracting the rear delt.
- From here, pull yourself up, aiming to have your chest meet the bar.
- Once the rep is completed, gradually lower yourself to the starting position. Repeat.
- For beginners, this exercise can be difficult to perform. Alternatives such as the wide neutral grip lat pulldown or bent-over row might be a better substitute.
- A resistance band or assisted chin-up machine can also help new lifters perform this movement.
Tips And Warnings For Training Rear Delts
Training the rear delts is similar to working other muscles of the body in that you should warm up appropriately before your workout sets.
Your warm-up should also involve at least one set of muscle activation where you focus on voluntarily squeezing and contracting the fibers of the rear delt.
This will help you target the muscle fibers and continue to build your mind-muscle connection for future lifts and development.
How to Stretch and Warm Up the Shoulders
Stretching the Shoulders
The shoulder is the junction between the collarbone, shoulder blade, and upper arm.
The muscles surround the joint, helping to encapsulate and combine the structures into what we see as our shoulders.
Stretching a joint like the shoulder requires us to take it through a variety of different movements and positions to target all the different muscle fibers.
How To Stretch The Middle and Rear Shoulder
- From the standing position, lift one arm across the body.
- Use the opposite to support the elbow, and pull the shoulder in toward the chest.
- Hold for 10 – 20 seconds. Switch sides.
How To Stretch The Anterior (Front) Shoulder
- Standing in a doorway, assume a split stance.
- Place hands on either side of the doorway at chest height.
- Gently lean forward, gauging the level of stretch.
- Hold for 10 – 20 seconds.
How To Stretch Lats
- From the standing position, raise one arm overhead.
- With this arm, bend the elbow to relax the forearm and hand behind the head.
- Place the opposite hand on the bent elbow and pull inward toward the body.
- Hold for 10 – 20 seconds. Switch sides.
Warming up the Shoulders
Effectively warming up the shoulders requires movement through all planes.
Dynamic stretches are a great way to prepare our bodies for a workout.
Studies also indicate improved performance from regular dynamic stretching in as little as four weeks, improving power, strength, and muscular endurance.
You can also perform movements that replicate your upcoming session. A good example is performing a chest or bench press with a lighter weight for your first set.
This helps to increase blood flow to the working muscles, warms up the muscle and connective tissue, and prepares the nervous system.
Movements such as arms swinging across the body and circular motion can also be beneficial.
Prevent Shoulder Injury Tips
Injuries to the shoulder joint can be incredibly frustrating. Like many joints of the body, you don’t realize how useful a functioning joint is until it is in pain.
Fortunately, preventing injury can be easily done by appropriately warming up and activating the muscle tissue before our workouts.
Bands and cables are a great way to activate our rotator cuffs before and after a session that incorporates the shoulder joint.
The rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) is responsible for stability and fine control of the shoulder joint.
Warming up and activating these fibers can go a long way in decreasing the occurrence of injury to surrounding muscles and joints of the shoulder.
Shoulder Care Tips
Correct shoulder care requires the combination of the above practices for the long-term health of the shoulder.
Injuries to the shoulder and the rotator cuff become more prevalent with age.
Implementing a routine consisting of dynamic, warm, and activation exercises and stretches is the best way to reduce injury and preserve shoulder health.
Rear Delt Frequently Asked Questions
What exercise has the most rear delt activation?
Rear deltoid activation requires the shoulder to be taken into extension, and the shoulder blades into retraction.
A study was conducted to determine the most effective exercises in activating the effective posterior (rear) deltoid fibers.
Exercises included the seated row, inclined lat pulldown, and reverse pec deck. The pec deck came out on top.
This is due to the added range of motion that the movement allows.
During the movement, the shoulder can be taken into a great range through horizontal abduction. This increases the contraction of rear delt fibers.
How often should I train rear delts?
The frequency of training varies depending on the individual and goals.
If you are looking to train for rear delt growth, aim to train them 2-3 times per week both with a focused approach on a shoulder day and incidentally through chest and back days.
This allows you to train shoulders 2-3 times per week while still allowing for adequate rest which is crucial to muscle growth.
How many exercises should I do for the rear delts?
The number of exercises you should perform while training rear delts depends on the individual and their goals.
For someone looking for growth, they should aim for 3-4 exercises dedicated to targeting the fibers of the posterior delt.
These should be rows and dedicated rear delt exercises such as reverse flys and rows.
Two exercises will suffice if someone is just looking for balance and correct mechanical function.
Is the rear delt the shoulder or the back?
The rear delts placement anatomically positions it as a part of the shoulders. However, when we are training, it can be considered the back.
Due to the rear delts position, it is used in many pull-based movements that we categorize as back.
Is rear delt work necessary?
Rear delt work is an essential part of training. Training the fibers of the posterior shoulder is aesthetically appealing and more importantly, mechanically beneficial.
The fibers of the rear delts also border with other muscles of the upper back and arm. Training this area can help emphasize all surrounding muscles.
Does training rear delts improve posture?
The rear deltoid has many functions that can, in fact, contribute to improving posture.
Actions such as external rotation, extension, and horizontal abduction of the arm are all performed by the rear delt.
These movements are all helpful in improving posture as they pull the body backward and help us remain upright.
Training shoulders is an excellent way to improve your overall physique and the rear delt is no different.
However, as it is positioned posteriorly (behind), we can often forget to target its fibers with the same intent as its anterior counterparts.
By focusing on the rear delts, we can not only improve the function and stability of our shoulder joint but significantly improve upper back and arm definition.
Now, the question remains.
Do you have trouble training your rear delts, or have any tips to share?
Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to share this article with someone who could use it.