You’ve been hitting the gym religiously and your shoulders are starting to look really impressive—the shoulder press and bench press paying off in terms of your upper body aesthetic.
But what about the muscles you can’t easily see in the mirror?
Muscle imbalances can lead to serious issues down the road, so it’s best to avoid them when you can. So, while the side and front delts get much of the love from a host over classic lifts, it’s the posterior deltoids that are in need of some extra care and attention.
Below we have the 7 best rear delt movements to bring your shoulders back into sync.
The posterior delt is one part of the deltoid muscles, which make up your shoulder muscles with the front and side delts. However, the rear (posterior) delts act more like back muscles when it comes to your body’s musculature.
The rear delts are used as the main stabilizing muscles when your elbows come parallel to your body or go behind it. That means whenever you’re pressing, throwing, or bringing your elbows closer to your body, they’re hugely important.
However, as far as shoulder exercises and chest exercises go, it’s usually the anterior deltoids that get much of the attention with exercises such as push-ups and the bench press. Without giving the rear delts enough love, your aesthetics and health will suffer since your posture will become more rounded.
Building up the rear delts can also lead to a bigger bench press. While the connection might not be obvious at first glance, the rear delts are necessary for stabilization and helping you bring down the bar to your chest.
Here are the 7 best deltoid exercises for your rear delt shoulder workout.
Reverse Pec Deck: Another way to term the reverse pec deck is the “machine rear delt fly” since that’s what the movement comes down to in the end. However, there are some unique benefits that the pec deck imparts.
For this movement, you’ll be using the pec deck but in reverse. So, you’ll be facing the back-pad of the seat as you use the arms of the machine to delt fly. As well as your rear delts, the reverse pec deck will also work your rhomboids and middle traps.
The benefit of using machines is that less stabilization is required. And what do fewer stabilization requirements mean?
It means that you can focus entirely on the muscles of the hour—your rear delts—rather than having to engage other muscles to stabilize the weight. If, for example, you were using free weights and had to stabilize, it might be the stabilizers that are failing before your delts. This means that your delts are never worked hard enough as they could be, resulting in gains left on the table.
You should be able to move slightly more weight on the machine, and your size and strength gains will thank you for it. Furthermore, the technique is easier to master since you’re locked into one plane of motion. This is a great workout to add to the end of your gym session, just to burn out your target muscles a bit more before calling it quits; aim for a lower weight but a higher rep range.
In order to perform this movement, you’ll want to sit facing the backrest of the pec deck. Grab onto the handles of the machine in the forward position, and initiate the movement by moving the arms out, and then backward. As you separate the arms, squeeze the shoulder blades together at the top of the motion while keeping your body stable.
Pause at the top of the movement, and then slowly return to the starting position.
Incline Bench Reverse Fly: The incline reverse fly (or rear fly) is an exercise that targets the rear deltoids, along with certain muscles that help your posture in the upper back, and your rhomboids and lower and middle traps.
Scapular retraction happens during this movement, meaning your shoulder blades are pulled back towards one another. That means this is a great exercise to do to help mitigate the effects of constant desk work and bad posture throughout the day.
And why the incline bench?
The incline of the bench will help to prevent cheating—or at least make it much more difficult to do. Since you’ll be on the incline, you won’t be able to use momentum as you normally would, making the movement significantly more challenging. But guess what? More challenge means more gains.
You’ll want to begin by setting up an adjustable bench to an angle of around 30-degrees. After grabbing a set of dumbbells, sit down on the bench with your chest against the back of the bench. Keep your feet planted and your shoulders at about the same height as the back padding, with your arms hanging down—but don’t let them freely hang. Instead, maintain some tension.
Initiate and only move at the shoulders, with your arms arcing out and up until they’re parallel to the floor. You’ll want to maintain a slight bend in your elbows throughout the whole motion.
At the top of the movement, give your shoulder blades a squeeze, and pause before lowering back into the starting position.
Single-Arm Cross Body Cable Pulls: Otherwise known as the single-arm cable lateral raise, this movement is meant to build the muscles of the shoulders—specifically the posterior and medial deltoids.
This exercise helps to introduce a couple of unique features and benefits into your workout.
For one, the fact that this is a unilateral movement means that only one side of your body is going to be involved in the work at any one point. While you may not be able to work with as much weight, unilateral exercises are extremely useful for helping against muscle left/right imbalances.
Although we may not sense it, chances are that our stronger side is usually doing a lot of the work when using both sides of our body. Isolating each side will help to prevent imbalanced development, while also helping to strengthen our core and avoiding injury.
Furthermore, the pulley machine introduces constant tension into the movement. With free weights, there isn’t constant tension on the target muscle—unlike with cables. This constant tension is very important for developing muscles through the full motion of the exercise.
You’ll want to position the cable at the lowest option available on the machine, and then attach a single grip handle. Reach across your body with the hand furthest away from the machine, and grab the handle with a neutral grip.
Maintain a slight bend in your elbow throughout the entire movement, and initiate the exercise by moving your shoulder and pulling the handle across while also raising it. Keep your core engaged as you reach the top of the exercise. Pause for a moment before reversing the movement slowly and returning to the starting position.
Seated Cable Row Face Pulls: Another excellent rear delt exercise, the seated cable row face pull is an awesome movement to add to your back-workout repertoire.
This movement is very similar to the simpler band face pull, but being seated will allow for a more horizontal abduction of the shoulder, while also having a greater external rotation. Put together, these pieces mean you’ll be able to use a heavier loading.
This movement is also customizable if you don’t have access to a seated pulley machine. You can do it standing as well but it won’t allow for the same abduction, nor the same amount of stabilization.
Once again, you’ll be wanting to use a lighter weight than you’re used to but also programming in anywhere from 10 to 20 reps for each set—an excellent way to gas out your target muscles at the end of a workout.
You’ll want to attach a rope to a seated cable pulley station, and then sit down upright. Maintain a slight bend in your knees. If you’re standing, keep your feet slightly wider apart than usual and bend the knees. Continue by grasping the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
Initiate the movement by bringing your arms back, aiming to bring the middle of the rope attachment to your forehead. While you do this, your arms should be kept above the level of your shoulders. Once you get to the end of the movement, externally rotate your shoulders and squeeze your upper back muscles.
Hold this position for a moment, and then slowly return back to the starting position.
Barbell Bent-Over Rear Delt Row: Where would our backs be without the classic barbell row? Not very well developed—that’s where. The barbell bent-over rear delt row puts a little spin on this classic movement and switches up the emphasis to be placed on the rear delts and upper/middle back region.
Part of getting into the correct position with this variation of the bent-over row is to know how to properly hinge your hips from the lumbar spine. Additionally, you’ll probably be grasping the bar a bit wider than you’re normally used to.
The wider bar positioning means that not only will your rear delts be hit, but so will your traps and upper back. This movement can also be performed with a pulley machine, T-bar row, or a Smith machine.
Properly engaging your abdominals and maintaining spinal posture is key to effectively executing this lift.
Choosing your desired weight, stand up straight while grasping onto the barbell with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Your hands should be grabbing it overhand, with palms facing the body.
Bend the knees slightly, maintaining this throughout the whole motion. Then, bend over while keeping up the positioning of the natural arch of your back. Allow the arms to hang in front of you with the barbell, but maintain some tension so you don’t place unnecessary stress on your shoulder joints.
Your torso should get to a parallel level with the ground. Once you’re in position, flare the elbows outward, so your torso and arms resemble the letter “T”.
Initiate the movement by pulling the barbell up towards the upper chest. While you do this, make sure that your upper arms are kept perpendicular to the torso. As you reach the top of the movement, squeeze your delts and exhale. Slowly reverse the motion and return to the starting position.
If properly done, you should be emulating a bench press but in reverse. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t be allowing your biceps to do any of the work—your arms are just there to keep the weight attached to your rear delts and upper back, nothing more.
Dumbbell Seated Rear Lateral Raise: Rear lateral raises are a terrific movement to use when trying to develop the rear delts.
This is an isolation exercise for your posterior delts, even though it does work with certain postural muscles in the upper back region. Once again, that will prove to be super beneficial if you find yourself stuck at a desk all day.
Like many of the other movements here, performing rear lateral raises will help in a host of functional push, pull, and overhead motions. Furthermore, the increased strength will carry over to exercises such as deadlifts, push-ups, and dips.
By doing this exercise seated, you’ll effectively be removing a lot of the potential for cheating by using momentum. And as we all know by now, too much momentum will make things easier and not allow us to reach our full gain-potential.
Begin by finding a bench and sitting on the edge of it, with your feet placed just beyond your knees and firmly kept on the floor. To get into the correct position, bend over and rest your torso on the thighs. Continue by grabbing the dumbbells with each hand—palms facing each other with a neutral grip.
Let your arms hang but maintain some tension in them so as not to impinge your shoulders. Also, you should ensure that you’re keeping a slight bend in your elbows throughout the whole motion. Your hands should be either right behind your ankles or just to the sides of them.
Initiate by raising your upper arms to the sides in an arcing movement, but make sure you maintain their form.
Continue until your elbows are about at the height of your shoulders. While you go through the movement, try to keep your upper arms perpendicular to your torso and your elbows in the correct position. Pause at the top, squeezing your rear delts, and then slowly reverse the motion back to the starting position.
Wide Grip Inverted Row: Although the inverted row isn’t a conventional choice for training the rear delts, that definitely doesn’t reflect on the results it’ll get you.
This variation of the classic row we all know and love will leave your delts super gassed out by the end of a set—not to mention the rest of your upper back muscles. The main goal of the rear delt during this pull is to horizontally abduct the upper arm in order to pull your body weight up.
However, you don’t need to just use your body weight.
This movement allows for a ton of variation and ways to progress. You can load a plate, for example, attaching it to your chest or back. Another way is to elevate your feet on a higher surface. The increased angle will mean that you’ll have to support more of your body weight since less of it will be resting on your legs.
And if it’s too difficult? Try giving your knees a slight bend.
To prepare, you’ll want to rack a barbell at (or slightly below) waist level. Lie down underneath the barbell, with your feet together. The barbell should be directly above your chest.
Continue by grasping the barbell. You’ll want to grab it at a wide enough distance for there to be a 90-degree angle in your elbows at the end of the movement. With elbows at shoulder level, pull yourself up towards the bar until your upper chest almost touches it. Your core should be engaged, and a straight line should go from the head to your ankles.
Reverse the motion and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Although the rear delts are a relatively smaller muscle, that doesn’t mean you can strive for growth in that department.
However, that also means that working out hard will only get you a part of the way there.
Sure, shoulder exercises are important for your deltoid muscles, but it’s even more important to fuel up correctly in order to give your muscle groups the energy they need to develop. That means plenty of high-quality protein, healthy and complex carbs, and excellent sources of fat.
But if you’re looking to get an edge when it comes to bulking up and gaining mass, a high-quality creatine can take you even further. Put all the pieces together and your back and delts will come up to new levels of strength and aesthetic.