Strong, boulder shoulders means having killer rear delts. What is the rear delt? The rear delt is the muscle on the posterior (back side) of the shoulder. Although it may not carry as much glory as the anterior deltoid, the rear delt is very important for your strength development.
If you’re looking to bump up your overhead press without injury, pack muscle on your shoulders and look like a behemoth lifting on shrugs these 5 killer rear delt exercises are for you.
Before we share the best exercises for rear delts it is important you understand the basic anatomy. Having an understanding for the anatomy will always allow you to focus on the muscle and stimulate growth over time.
Training isn’t just about lifting heavier and heavier – it’s about developing a connection with your muscles and the movements you want them to do.
The anterior deltoid is the large muscle on the front of the shoulder. This is the muscle that many people will overtrain – simply by doing too much bench press and overhead press. Although the anterior deltoid is the largest and strongest muscle of the shoulder you should consider that its primary role is to flex the humerus at the shoulder (raise the arm in front of you) so many overhead pressing motions will also use the triceps for the action.
The lateral deltoids are the muscles on the side of your shoulder. The only way to hit this muscle is to do static or isolated raises that force your shoulder into abduction (pulling the arm away from the body). A common exercise is the “lateral shoulder raise” with a dumbbell or a cable.
The posterior deltoid, or commonly known as the rear delt is the muscle that allows all of these motions to occur. It does not get much of the glory in terms of muscle bulk but it stabilizes the shoulder during overhead press and helps to maintain good posture in the upper back.
Best Rear Deltoid Exercises for Beginners
Hitting the rear delts is all about positioning. Understanding that this muscle is positioned on the back of your shoulder means we need to use exercises that isolate the upper back.
Three Effective Methods to Isolate the Posterior Deltoids
1. External Rotation
This anatomical term means rotating the humeral head backwards. A common exercise that forces external rotation is the face pull. As you pull the cable towards you, the wrist moves past your ear and the humerus (arm bone) slightly rotates backwards – forcing the posterior deltoid to pull and stabilize the movement.
2. Hold Contraction for 1-2 Seconds
Static pauses should always be used in the early stages of strength training but this rule is especially true when we are training the rear delts. The rear delts are a muscle that wont see very much volume or time under tension during other exercises.
Since the rear delts are seldomly used in most other big lifts we must ensure that they receive special attention and longer holds during regular sets and reps.
Holding for 1-2 seconds on each repetition allows the muscle to go through a full range of motion and contract with optimal power and strength.
Trainer Tip: You may also want to try using slow eccentric movements. This means lengthening the muscles slowly. In a face pull, this would be returning the cable to the original position very slowly – for a count of 3-4 seconds.
3. Bent-Over Position
Using the bent over position puts the body in a position of mechanical disadvantage. The muscles of the upper back are directly working against gravity and must work harder though a range of motion. This is why exercises like the bent-over row have been an all-time favourite of all strength and bodybuilding coaches.
Isolating and training the rear delt means externally rotating the humerus, using slow contraction speeds and using a bent-over position.
5 Killer Rear Delt Exercises for Bodybuilding
Looking to put on some mass in the shoulder? Checkout these killer rear delt exercises for bodybuilding and strength training.
1. Bent-over Row
A strength coaches favourite. This exercise requires minimal equipment and can be modified to nearly any athlete or individual. Here your goal is to pull weight off the ground and into your hip – forcing the large muscles of your back to contract in a mechanical disadvantage.
We suggest keeping your rep range around 6-8 reps and pulling for power or slow tempo speeds. This will allow you to make the most of an exercise built for developing power and stability in the back.
2. Cable Face Pull
Perhaps the best way to isolate the rear delts is through a cable face pull. Set your anchor point to about eye level or just above the shoulder. Trying to keep your elbows out, pull the cable so that your thumbs touch your ear. Pause and hold at the end range of motion and repeat for 12-16 reps each set.
This exercise is great for isolating the rear delts!
3. Wide Grip Upright Row (EZ Curl Bar)
Using a wide grip ensures that your traps aren’t doing all the work that your rear delts should be doing. This is an exercise that should be performed in lower volume – simply because of the compromising position it puts the shoulder in. We suggest 8 reps of 3 sets with a moderate weight.
Checkout the video below of legendary Charles Glass for a form check! (Skip to 3:30)
4. Side-Lying Rear Delt Raise
When performed properly this could be the most effective exercise for hitting all the muscles of the posterior shoulder. The side-lying rear delt raise should also be performed with lower volume – especially if you are a beginner. In this exercise you should be sure to use the most of the eccentric motion (lowering the weight) because it forces the rear delts to contract and stabilize the dumbbell.
Trainer Tip: Using chains for this exercise can be a great way to add variability into your training program.
5. Cuban Press
A personal favorite of mine and an exercise that certainly does not get the attention it deserves. This is a great exercise to finish your shoulder workout with as it will train all the muscles through a good range of motion. Keep your reps high and the weight light – this exercise is all about slow contractions and full range of motion.
Checkout the video below for a form check on the cuban press.
Conclusions: Rear Delt Exercises – Intensity and Overload
The rear delts are a muscle that do not get the attention they deserve. Unless you are a premier bodybuilder this muscle will seldomly show its face in the gym – but this does not mean you shouldn’t train it. The rear delts are an important muscle in your development as an athlete – especially if you are involved in power-based sports.
Final Trainer Tips: Maintain your intensity, do not to overload the posterior shoulder and take care to incorporate plenty of rotator cuff mobility exercises into your program.
CSEP – CPT, Expert in Exercise Physiology
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.