The 12 Best Rear Deltoid Exercises for Balanced Shoulders

Best Rear Deltoid Exercises

And the award for the most-ignored muscle in bodybuilding goes to – the posterior deltoids!

Out of sight and out of mind, a lot of lifters do no direct training for their rear delts, and their overall upper body development is less impressive because of it.

The rear delts are a small but crucial muscle for appearance, joint health, and performance. And yet, despite its importance, it’s often missing from many bodybuilding workouts.

In this article, we reveal the best rear deltoid exercises for strong, healthy, balanced shoulders.

Deltoid Anatomy

Deltoid Anatomy

Your shoulders are made up of three major muscles – the deltoids. The deltoids work together but can also be emphasized and trained separately. The three deltoids are:

Anterior deltoid – located at the front of your shoulder, the anterior deltoid is responsible for flexion, horizontal flexion, and medial rotation of the shoulder joint. As such, this deltoid is involved in all chest and overhead pressing exercises. Of the three, the anterior deltoid is generally the largest and most well-developed.

Medial deltoid – also known as the lateral deltoid, this muscle is located on the side of your shoulder. Its primary role is the abduction of the shoulder joint. Bodybuilders do exercises like dumbbell and cable lateral raises to target this muscle. The medial deltoid is responsible for the width of your shoulders and your V-taper.

Posterior deltoid – positioned on the back of your shoulder, the posterior deltoid is responsible for extension, horizontal extension, and external rotation of the shoulder joint. While it is involved in most back exercises, bodybuilders typically do more pushing than pulling, which is why the posterior deltoid is often underdeveloped compared to the anterior deltoid.

Underdeveloped posterior deltoids can lead to poor posture, less upper body mass, and an unbalanced physique. It could also increase your risk of shoulder pain and injury.

Weak posterior deltoids could also impede your performance of several vital exercises, not least lat pull-downs, pull-ups/chin-ups, all types of row, and biceps curls. That’s because the posterior deltoids act as stabilizers during these movements. If they fail before the muscle you’re targeting, your set will come to a premature halt, and your workout won’t be as productive.

So, if you want bigger biceps or lats, you MUST also strengthen your posterior deltoids!

The Best Rear Delt Exercises for Balanced Shoulders

Not sure how to start prioritizing your posterior deltoids? Here are the 12 best rear delt exercises!

1. Reverse cable crossovers

The great thing about reverse cable flies is that you can easily superset them with regular cable crossovers for your pecs. This is a valuable time saver and delivers a balanced upper-body workout.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in the middle of a cable crossover machine. Using the high pulleys, hold the left cable in your right hand and the right cable in your left hand. Cross your wrists in front of you with your arms extended, but elbows slightly bent. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Open your arms and pull your elbows back until they are slightly behind your shoulders. Really squeeze your shoulders together to maximize muscle engagement.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat.


2. Band pull-apart

I’m a HUGE fan of band pull-aparts. In fact, I keep a band next to my desk, so I can break up long periods of sitting with sets of pull-aparts. These mini-workouts help undo the damaging effects of prolonged sitting and make sure my rear delts stay strong.

Get yourself a resistance band and try to do 50-100 reps every day to keep on top of your rear delt development.

How to do it:

  1. Seated or standing, hold a resistance band with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Raise your arms out in front of you. Bend your arms slightly and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Open your arms and stretch the band out across your chest.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat.


3. Bent-over reverse dumbbell fly

You can do bent-over reverse dumbbell flies standing, seated, or prone on an exercise bench. Regardless of the option you choose, this is an effective if somewhat challenging posterior deltoid exercise. Don’t go too heavy, or you’ll end up using your back more than your dear delts.

How to do it:

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, position your upper body so that it’s roughly parallel to the floor. Let your arms hang straight down from your shoulders. Turn your wrists, so your palms are facing inward. Pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Keeping your elbows slightly bent but rigid, open your arms and raise the dumbbells until your arms form a T-shape.
  3. Lower the weights back to the starting position and repeat.


4. Face pull

The face pull is a popular upper back exercise. However, it’s also an excellent move for your posterior deltoids. Sadly, a lot of lifters make the mistake of using too much weight and turn this exercise into a standing row. This takes the stress off your rear delts and puts it on your lats. So, don’t go too heavy and focus on keeping your arms parallel with the floor.

No cable machine? No problem! You can also do face pulls with a resistance band.

Learn how to do face pulls the right way in our in-depth guide.


5. Wide-grip seated row to the chest

Regular seated rows are an excellent lat exercise that also works your posterior deltoids. However, you can make them more rear delt-centric by adopting a wider grip and pulling the bar into your chest instead of your abs.

Try doing a set of wide-grip seated rows to the chest immediately followed by a set of regular seated rows to really pump up your rear deltoids AND build your lats.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a long bar to your seated row machine. Hold the handle with an overhand, wider-than shoulder-width grip. Sit up straight with your knees slightly bent, and core braced. Pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Leading with your elbows and keeping your wrists straight, bend your arms and pull the bar into your chest.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.


6. Reverse pec deck

The reverse pec deck guides your movements, so you are free to focus on pushing your rear delts and upper back to their limit. This is a valuable exercise for bodybuilders looking to trigger maximum hypertrophy. Like reverse cable crossovers and regular cable crossovers, this exercise makes a great superset with the pec deck done in the usual way.

How to do it:

  1. Rotate and lock the handles to the rear. Sit with your chest against the backrest. Reach forward and grip the handles with a neutral or overhand grip. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core.
  2. Keeping your elbows slightly bent but rigid, open your arms and extend them backward until your hands are level or slightly behind your shoulders.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat.


7. External cable rotation

External rotation is one of the most underused functions of the posterior deltoids. This exercise is often thought of as a rotator cuff exercise, which it is, but you’ll also feel it deep in your rear delts. Don’t go too heavy with this exercise; it’s a subtle, controlled movement that works best with light weights and high reps.

How to do it:

  1. Set an adjustable cable machine to around waist height. Attach a D-shaped handle to the pulley. Stand side-on to the weight column and hold the handle in your furthest hand. Bend your elbow to 90-degrees, tuck your upper arm into your side, and position your forearm across your upper abdomen.
  2. Without twisting your hips or shoulders, rotate your arm outward as far as you comfortably can.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise with a resistance band.


8. Wide grip inverted row

No barbell, cable machine, or resistance band? No problem! You can train your posterior deltoids using just your body weight for resistance. Inverted rows are typically thought of as a lat exercise but, done with a wider grip, they’re also an excellent move for building the posterior deltoids.

Just make sure you pull your chest to the bar to fully engage your rear delts. If your elbows drop, your lats will end up doing more work than they should.

Read all about inverted rows in our detailed guide.


9. Single-arm reverse cable fly

The advantage of this exercise over other rear deltoid moves is that it allows you to train one arm at a time. This helps strengthen the mind-muscle connection and means you can identify and fix any left to right strength imbalances. As an added benefit, you just need a single cable to do this exercise, so it’s ideal for busy or less well-equipped gyms.

How to do it:

  1. Stand side-on to a low pulley machine. Bend your knees slightly, hinge forward from your hips, and hold the cable with your furthest hand. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Draw your arm across and up until it’s roughly parallel to the floor. Keep your hand level with your shoulder.
  3. Return to the starting position and repeat.


10. Cable supine reverse fly

The cable supine reverse flye is an effective isolation exercise for the posterior deltoids. Done face up on a flat bench, it provides lots of support for your lower back and also stops you from cheating as you cannot use your legs or upper body to help raise the weight.

Learn how to do this unusual but effective exercise here.


11. Prone incline dumbbell press

Most pressing exercises work your anterior deltoids more than your rear delts. That all changes when you do prone incline dumbbell presses. This exercise is a lot tougher than it looks, so don’t go too heavy too soon!

How to do it:

  1. Set an incline bench to 45-degrees. With a dumbbell in each hand, lie face down on the bench. Raise the dumbbells up to your shoulders and pull your shoulders down and back.
  2. Press the weights forward and up, so your arms form a straight line with the rest of your body.
  3. Lower the weights back to your shoulders and repeat.


12. Rear deltoid barbell extension

This is one of the few rear deltoid exercises that involve shoulder joint extension. Looking like a cross between a barbell hack squat, bent-over row, and triceps kickback, this unusual movement is a little awkward but highly effective for building posterior deltoid strength and mass. You’ll probably feel it in your triceps too. Be warned; this one is a lot harder than it looks, so go light.

How to do it:

  1. Hold a barbell behind your back, palms facing backward. Bend your knees and lean forward without rounding your lower back. The barbell should be across the back of your knees.
  2. Keeping your arms straight, raise the bar out and back behind you as high as you can.
  3. Lower the bar back to your legs and repeat.

More Resources on Shoulder Exercises:

Rear Delt Exercises – Wrapping Up

The best way to bring your rear delts up to standard is to train them before hitting your anterior or medial deltoids. Start each shoulder workout with 2-4 sets of a couple of the rear deltoid exercises listed above. This will ensure your rear deltoids are as well developed as the other two deltoid heads.

You can also try stacking your shoulder workouts in favor of your rear deltoids. One way to do this is the 3:2:1 method. With this system, you do more sets or exercises for your rear deltoids and fewer for the medial and anterior deltoids.

For example:

  • Reverse cable crossover – 3 sets 12-15 reps (rear deltoids)
  • Dumbbell lateral raise – 2 sets 8-12 reps (medial deltoids)
  • Barbell overhead press – 1 set 6-10 reps (anterior deltoids)

Better still, why not have a rear deltoid day, and dedicate an entire workout to this underappreciated muscle. It won’t take long and shouldn’t be an especially hard workout, but that extra training session will add a lot to your physique.

However you do it, it’s time to stop neglecting your rear delts. After all, they play a crucial role in your appearance, performance, and the overall health of your shoulder joints.


Post a Comment