Best Rear Delt Exercises

23 Exercises for Posterior Shoulders Picked by Certified Trainer

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: May 9, 2022

The rear delts are a relatively small muscle on the back of your shoulders. Yet they play a significant role in developing a solid and proportioned physique.

Unfortunately, this small muscle group is hard to target because most of the exercises also involve the larger muscles of the back and shoulders. As a result, many people have disproportionately small and weak rear delts.

That’s why I compiled a list of the 23 top rear delt exercises for targeting and growing this underused muscle. Read on to learn how to bring up your lagging rear delts for increased strength and more prominent shoulder caps.

23 Best Rear Delt Exercises

What Are Rear Delts?

The shoulder muscle comprises three smaller muscles called the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid (delt for short).

Specifically, the anterior is on the front, the lateral is on the side, and the posterior is on the back. Therefore, the posterior delt is also called the rear delt.

Rear Delt Anatomy

Benefits of Building Rear Delts

It’s important to develop all three deltoid muscles to create proportioned shoulders and avoid injury caused by muscle imbalances. But focusing on rear delts in the process has several benefits.

First, the rear delt gives your shoulders more depth and thickness when viewed from the side and rear. So if you want big shoulders from every angle, you need to build that rear delt!

Second, well-developed rear delts create a defined separation between the upper back, trap, and shoulder muscles. This split between the muscles makes them stand out and look more prominent.

And lastly, strong rear delts increase your strength on compound pulling movements like the bent over barbell row and power cleans.

  • Make your shoulders appear thicker
  • Create definition between your shoulders and back
  • Increase strength on other exercises

How To Work The Rear Delt

The primary function of the rear delt is pulling your shoulders back. In other words, it helps move your arm back towards the rear of your body.

However, The functional overlap between the rear delts and other posterior muscle groups makes it challenging to isolate. And that’s why the rear delt is a lagging muscle for many bodybuilders and athletes.

Therefore, the most effective way to train the rear delt is with specific pulling and fly type exercises. In addition, you must use proper form to avoid using the larger muscles of the upper back and traps.

This list of exercises gives you the best exercises for targeting the rear delts. And explains how to use proper form to isolate the target muscle.

Rear Delt Exercises

To make this list of rear delt exercises easier to digest, I’ve divided it into sections based on the equipment used. There is a section for dumbbells, cables, barbells, machines, resistance bands, and “others.”

This segmentation also helps you find the exercises that work with your available gym equipment. So whether you work out at a fancy health club or in your backyard, there are at least a few rear delt exercises you can do.

Dumbbell Rear Delt Exercises

You can do several rear delt exercise variations if you have light to medium-weight dumbbells. Here are some of the best options.

1. Bent Over Rear Delt Fly

The bent-over dumbbell fly is one of the most common rear delt exercises. Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand with your feet shoulder-width or slightly narrower.

Next, lean forward at the waist and bend your knees until your torso is 15 to 45 degrees to the floor. Then let your arms hang straight down while keeping your shoulders back.

From here, pull your elbows back and up towards the ceiling while slightly bending your arms. Then, control the dumbbells as you lower them back down to the starting position.

With bent-over flies, it helps to externally rotate your hands as you perform the movement. Also, think about pulling through your upper arms instead of your hands.

2. Chest Supported Rear Delt Fly

One drawback of the standing bent over rear delt fly is that it’s easier to cheat by using body momentum. And the bent-over position can put some strain on your lower back.

But you can fix these issues by doing the dumbbell rear delt fly with your chest supported on an incline bench. First, set an adjustable bench to an angle of 15 to 45 degrees.

Then grab some dumbbells and lay face down with your chest at the top of the incline bench. Now perform the rear delt fly exercise as described above.

3. Seated Bent Over Rear Delt Raise

Another way to prevent cheating on the rear delt fly is to do them while seated on a bench. For this variation, start by grabbing some dumbbells, sitting on a bench, and leaning forward until your chest touches your knees.

In this position, the exercise is like a hybrid between the bent over and chest supported rear delt fly. The benefit is that it reduces momentum and you don’t need an adjustable incline bench.

Rear Delt Raise Exercises

4. Dumbbell Rear Delt Row

The dumbbell rear delt row is a compound movement similar to a dumbbell row for your back and lats. However, you want to keep your elbows out wide and pull the dumbbell higher up on your chest in order to target the rear delts.

The starting position is the same as the rear delt fly. But then you bend your elbows more when you pull your elbows up and back.

As with the fly, you can do rear delt rows in the standing, chest supported, or seated positions.

Related: Compound Shoulder Exercises for Delt Growth & Strength

5. Chest Supported Rear Delt Row

The chest-supported variation of rear delt exercises helps you reduce body momentum and isolate the target muscle. And the same concept applies to the rear delt row.

Again, set an incline bench at 15-45 degrees. Then lean forward and perform the rear delt row movement as described above.

6. Dumbbell Upright Row

The upright row is a popular exercise for targeting the rear delts and traps. For this variation, stand with a dumbbell in each hand on the front of your thighs. Then pull the dumbbells straight up the front of your body to about neck level.

7. Rear Delt Around The Worlds

The around the world exercise is usually done while laying on your back to target your chest and anterior delts. However, you can also perform this exercise face down to target your rear delts.

Cable Rear Delt Exercises

Next up are the cable rear delt exercises. You will need a cable apparatus and a few different handle attachments for these variations.

8. Single Cable Rear Delt Fly

The cable machine is a great way to perform a standing rear delt fly with one arm at a time. Start by setting the pulley at about shoulder height. Then grab the cable or single hand attachment by reaching across your body.

Now pull your arm back across your body while keeping your elbow relatively straight. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps.

9. Dual Cable Rear Delt Fly

Another way to do the cable rear delt fly involves two cables. First, set the pulleys at just above head level. Reach across your body to grab the cable on the opposite side of each hand.

Next, perform the rear delt fly movement by pulling the cables down and back at about a 45-degree angle to target the rear delts.

10. Cable Rear Delt Row

Cable rear delt rows are a good exercise option for hitting your posterior deltoids. Unlike the dumbbell version, you can do the cable rear delt row while standing or seated.

Start by placing the pulley between waist and shoulder level. Then grab the cable using a single hand or wide bar attachment. Next, perform the row movement by pulling the cable towards your body at chest level.

11. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is another solid rear delt exercise. You can use a bar, dual handle, or rope attachment for this variation.

One benefit of doing upright rows with the cable is taking a step or two back from the low pulley. This makes the exercise sort of a hybrid between an upright row and a face pull.

12. Face Pulls

The face pull is essentially the same movement as the upright row, except the pulley is about head level. With the higher pulling angle, your shoulders rotate externally, which incorporates the rear delt.

Barbell Rear Delt Exercises

Now let’s jump back to free weights and look at barbell rear delt exercises.

13. Barbell Rear Delt Row

To perform the rear delt row using a barbell, start by grabbing the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Then lean forward and pull the bar up and back towards your chest while keeping your back flat.

You can perform the barbell rear delt row using an incline bench to support your chest as well.

14. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is the most common variation of the movement. And you can pull some more significant weight to overload your rear delts on this exercise.

However, remember to keep the bar close to your body to avoid shoulder injury. Also, think about pulling your elbows straight up to the ceiling.

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Machine Rear Delt Exercises

If you’re working out at a fitness club, you probably have access to a few machines. So let’s look at some machine rear delt exercises.

15. Machine Rear Delt Fly

Most gyms have a fly machine, also called a pec deck, which can be used for your chest and back. For the rear delt fly, adjust the handles so they are all the way behind the seat.

Then, sit on the machine with your chest facing the back pad and grab the handles. If the handles have horizontal grips, grab those with your palms facing the floor. Otherwise use the vertical grips with palms facing out.

Next, perform the rear delt fly in a slow controlled fashion as described above and shown in the video below.

16. Machine Lateral Raise

The machine lateral raise is normally used to target the side delt. And it’s a great exercise because the seated position and fixed movement path make it difficult to cheat.

But you can also use the machine lateral raise to target your rear delts by sitting farther back on the seat and leaning forward to the chest pad. Alternatively, you can sit facing away from the pad and push up using the back of your arms.

17. Smith Machine Upright Row

The Smith machine upright row is a way to simulate the barbell exercise. With this variation, the bar travels on rails that dictate the movement path.

The benefit is that you don’t have to stabilize the bar, which can help you focus on contracting your rear delts.

Resistance Band Rear Delt Exercises

Recently, we all found out what it’s like to have our gyms closed down. And if you’re like me, you scrambled to set up a decent home gym.

Luckily, you can train your rear delts pretty well with nothing more than a set of resistance bands and exercises like the rear delt fly and face pull. But here are a couple of unique rear delt exercises you can do with bands.

18. Resistance Band External Rotation

It’s good to warm up your rear delt with an external rotation because it strengthens the rotator cuff and the stabilizer muscles of the shoulder.

Start by looping the band around a sturdy object. Then grasp the end of the band in one hand and step out, so the band crosses in front of you.

With your arm bent 90 degrees, rotate your hand outward away from your body while keeping your elbow locked in place at your side. Then switch sides and perform the exercise with your other arm.

19. Resistance Band Pull Apart

This variation is similar to rear delt flies. Simply grab one end of the band in each hand and pull it apart while keeping your arms relatively straight.

With this exercise, your hands are in the pronated position which activates more rear delt.

Click Here For A Complete List Of Resistance Band Shoulder Exercises

Other Rear Delt Exercises

Fear not if you’ve read this far and still haven’t found an exercise you like. Here are a few more rear delt exercises using different equipment or just your body!

20. Side Lying Rear Delt Raise

While you can do this exercise with a dumbbell, I included it in this section because you don’t need much weight and you can use a small weight plate or any other dense object.

This exercise involves laying on your side on a bench. Then you reach across your body with your top arm to grab a weight and perform a rear delt raise.

21. Inverted Row

An inverted row is essentially a horizontal pull-up that you perform while hanging from a barbell on a rack or a Smith machine bar. For targeting your rear delts, think about doing this exercise like you would a rear delt row.

In other words, pull the bar towards your chest while keeping your elbows out. And use an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.

22. Behind The Head Lat Pulldown

The wide grip lat pulldown is one of the best lat exercises there is. So you might not associate it with working your rear delts. But the behind the head variation actually involves a lot of posterior delt due to the external rotation of your arms.

Now you might hear people say this variation is bad for your shoulders. However, it’s perfectly safe if you maintain a neutral spine and neck position by scooting forward on the seat or sitting backward so the pulley is behind your head.

23. Side Plank

The side plank is a popular core strengthening movement and it’s not very commonly used in a shoulder workout. However, your rear delt does a lot of work during the side plank to keep your arm stabilized. And it’s a burn unlike any of the other exercises on the list!

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Rear Delt Workout

Now you have twenty-three awesome exercises for rear delts. But you might have analysis paralysis from all those options.

So I’m going to give you an example rear delt workout. In addition, I’ll explain how to program these exercises in terms of frequency and sets/reps.

Rear Delt Workout Frequency

The first thing to establish is how often you will train shoulders. The answer to that depends on your experience and your goals.

For beginners or people who can only work out a few days a week, a total body 3-day split works well. That means you would do a couple of shoulder exercises each workout three times per week.

More advanced lifters might work single muscle groups in each workout. This is called the bro split workout routine, and it works great for growth (despite the name).

In that case, you would work your shoulders for an entire workout, once or twice a week. And you want to include at least a couple of rear delt exercises in those workouts.

Bro Split Rear Delt Exercises

Rear Delt Workout Sets & Reps

To grow your shoulders, it’s best to use a hypertrophy training program. That means using weights you can handle for 6-12 reps.

Also, you should aim for 4-6 sets per exercise. And each workout should include from 5 to 8 exercises. So that’s around 24-32 sets per workout.

Rear Delt Workout Example

A rear delt-focused workout starts to take shape with all this in mind. So here is an example using some of the exercises and tips you just learned.

Rear Delt Workout

Front Delt Exercises

In this article, you learned how to make your shoulders bigger and stronger with rear delt exercises. But if you want truly big shoulders, you can’t neglect your front delts!

So check out these 23 Best Front Delt Exercises for boulder shoulders.

With this information, you’re well on your way to building massive shoulders. And if you found this article helpful, take a look at some of my other great content below!

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