The rear delts are an almost forgotten muscle group in the workout routines of many individuals possibly due to them being completely out of sight when looking at yourself from a front view.
But by not devoting time to this area of the upper posterior chain (backside of the body), you’re asking for both visual and functional imbalance.
Therefore, we recommend fitting in a select few rear delt exercises to remedy this and you don’t have to change your whole routine around either. A few additional movements added into your training can be entirely sufficient when done correctly.
Here’s some information about the rear delts we’ve provided some great exercises to build this are of your shoulders as well...
WHAT ARE REAR DELTS?
The rear deltoids are one of the three heads which make up the deltoids (anterior and lateral delts are the other two muscles) located on the posterior section of the shoulders; not visible when looking at yourself from the front.
The posterior deltoids help to stabilize the arm during abduction past 15 degrees and it also works with the latissimus dorsi to extend the arm during ambulation (walking).
WHEN TO TRAIN REAR DELTS
You can train the rear delts when you train shoulders.
Working the rear delts first can really be beneficial for your development since it is usually the weaker shoulder muscle when compared to the anterior and lateral heads.
It’s important to note that the rear delts receive decent stimulation during your back exercises so you could just add one isolation movement to effectively finish them off.
You should also choose at least one isolation exercise following a push workout.
WHY SHOULD I TRAIN REAR DELTS?
It’s simple. We do a lot of pushing movements in our workout routines (e.g. bench press, shoulder press, and other pressing variations) and oftentimes not nearly enough pulling.
This can result in an imbalance in the rear delts, therefore weakening our ability to maintain scapular retraction during exercises and this is bad news for our shoulders and posture (rolling forward and potential for injury due to improper movement within the ball and socket joint) and structural health in general.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is another issue that can occur without proper scapular retraction during heavy lifting which is when the blood vessels and nerves between your collarbone and first rib become compressed. This can result in numb fingers plus pain in the shoulders and neck.
But then you have the aesthetic issue where your front deltoids are overdeveloped and then your rear delts look flat. The rear delts are what’s going to give your shoulders a 3D look from all angles.
You also might be double-dipping and doing too much anterior work (you’re not alone if you are) without enough posterior training. So, next time you train your shoulders, be aware of how much work you’re doing for each head and adjust accordingly.
BENEFITS OF REAR DELTS FOR SHOULDER GROWTH
Shoulder press (targets front and lateral delts) and lateral raise (targets the lateral or side delts) variations are very important for developing impressive shoulders.
It’s not uncommon for the front deltoids to be overdeveloped from all of the pressing and again, if you want that 3D look then we highly recommend dedicating time to specifically rear delt training.
You’ll really begin to understand just how important nicely developed rear delts are when you start to see improvements.
EFFECTIVE REAR DELT EXERCISES
You’ll need to incorporate a few different rear delt exercise variations to isolate the muscle effectively. And research does support the importance of utilizing certain exercises to maximize development which we’ll talk about shortly.
Keep in mind that when performing any rear delt exercise your elbows should reach behind your body (transverse extension at the glenohumeral joint) regardless of if examples do not include this important aspect.
Your arm should be raised at an angle away from your body to fully engage the rear delts through effective external rotation, unlike the back row where the arms move up and back close to the torso.
So, always use a weight you can handle to ensure you’re performing each exercise effectively.
Here are some of the best rear delt exercises with a video example and instruction; which you should definitely include in your training...
BARBELL/DUMBELL INCLINE ROW
The dumbbell incline row keeps your torso stable so that you can focus on the row but the incline is ideal for being able to row through a full range of motion.
As a result, one study conducted by ACE research concluded that the 45-degree incline row is a superior exercise for targeting the rear delts when volunteers performed this movement along with several other common rear delt exercises.
This was determined by electromyographic testing which uses electrodes on the muscle to measure muscle activity.
Keep in mind that although the volunteers had some training experience, you have to use your own best judgment for what works best for you since there are always different variables involved when it comes to individual results.
- Lie prone on a 45-degree incline bench and grip each dumbbell with hands pronated (overhand grip). Drive your elbows up and back while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat.
ROPE FACE PULLS
The face pull is a must-have isolation exercise for the rear delts and it’s an exercise that you can include after every workout to ensure you’re giving the rear delts enough attention.
It not only works the posterior deltoid pretty well but the traps and rhomboids are involved as well. Not to mention, the face pull is an excellent movement for improving posture by training the upper muscles of the back and shoulders.
CABLE REAR DELT PULLDOWN
The cable pulldown is not just a ‘back’ exercise. In fact, you can simply modify your positioning to really hammer the rear delts. You can also load up the weight which is really to help you improve strength and hypertrophy.
- Lean back a little more than you would if performing the lat pulldown. Pull the bar back with your elbows up and out to get a full contraction in the rear delts.
TIP: Use an underhand grip to maximize external rotation.
BENT-OVER DUMBBELL RAISES (SEATED)
A classic exercise for the rear delts, the bent-over dumbbell raise is another beneficial movement for targeting the upper posterior chain. But the big benefit of using dumbbells is that any weaknesses will be identified rather quickly which is good news because you can address for better overall development.
The same ACE study mentioned previously mentioned found that the seated version of the bent-over lateral raise came out top along with the 45-degree incline row for muscle activation.
Well, the seated variation also prevents using a lot of momentum and you can really just focus on performing the exercise without having to stabilize your body.
CABLE REVERSE FLY
Cables are one of the best tools for training both the rear and lateral deltoids. You can apply constant tension in essentially any position which is ideal for this standing reverse fly variation.
- Attach two single grip handles about chest height. Cross your arms to grip the handles, bend your elbows slightly and slowly pull externally rotating your shoulders and drive your elbows back. Return your arms to a crossed position but keep tension on your delts for an optimal stretch.
REAR DELT WORKOUT
Always take the time to do at least two warm-up sets in pyramiding fashion to protect your joints and prepare for progressing up in weight. How often you perform either of the following workouts will depend on your level of training experience and how often you train your deltoids in general.
Use a weight relative to your strength and experience.
Cable rear delt pulldown
- 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- 2 sets x 15 reps
Barbell/dumbbell incline row (choose whichever variation is most comfortable for you)
- 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- 3 sets x 15 reps
COMMON QUESTIONS + ANSWERS
Q: HOW OFTEN CAN I TRAIN REAR DELTS?
A: It’s a good idea to include at least two rear delt exercises every time you train shoulders.
Your rear delts get a lot of stimulation from back exercises so no need to overdo it on these days and as mentioned previously just add one isolation exercise to top it off.
Training rear delts directly once or twice a week is sufficient depending on your overall training volume.
Q: ARE REAR DELTS BACK OR SHOULDERS?
A: Since the rear delts are one of the three heads of the shoulder, well... it’s part of the shoulder. Although it is located on the ‘back’ side of your body but it’s not considered a back muscle.
You should know by now that the rear delts are worked when training back since the act of pulling the elbows behind the body does engage these muscles.
Q: ARE REAR DELTS IMPORTANT?
A: The rear delts are often neglected and no muscle should be if you desire full aesthetic development, function, and structural health. The rear delts are very important for all of the reasons we talked about above.
A weak posterior chain will throw off your muscular and functional balance which will not only carry over into other aspects of training but everyday activities as well.
Q: WHERE ARE YOUR REAR DELTS LOCATED?
A: The rear delts are located on the posterior side of the shoulder and not the shoulder blade (scapula).
Rear delts definitely need their own separate training but you don’t have to overdo it. Just incorporate a few exercises every week to really focus and isolate the rear delts and that should be enough.Make sure to note the technique basics and use a little variety for optimal development.