5 Rear Delt Exercises for Strong and Durable Shoulders

Build more durable deltoids! Bulletproof the backs of your shoulders with rear delt exercises using bands, cables and dumbbells.

Training your shoulders with Overhead Presses, Frontal and Lateral Raises and Bench Press variations may already be an important part of your routine. Those are all great exercises. But you need to work your posterior/rear deltoids, too, or risk a shoulder complex imbalance and an increased risk for shoulder injuries.

This is where the best rear delt exercises come in. The posterior deltoid actually acts more like a back muscle. It has three main functions. It's the primary horizontal abductor (reverse fly motion) of the shoulder, and it also assists in external rotation and extension of the humerus (upper arm bone).

Aside from its postural benefits, the rear delt plays a major role as a dynamic stabilizer of the shoulder, making it a training necessity.

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Let's take a look at five of the best rear delt exercises that will improve your upper-back musculature and posture as well.

1. Band Face Pull

Rear Delt Exercise: Band Face Pull

The Band Face Pull is a highly effective rear delt and upper-back exercise, because it involves 2 of the 3 functions of the rear deltoids—horizontal abduction and external rotation of the upper arm bone. The tension created by the band highly activates the rear delt and upper back, making it an excellent warm-up/primer before an upper body training session. It is also a great choice as a "burner" at the end of an upper-body, shoulder or back training session.

If used as a warm-up, 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions will suffice. If used as a finisher, 25-30 reps will have your rear delts and upper back screaming!

How to:

  • Tie a band of moderate resistance to a squat rack pole or other fixed pillar.
  • Grab the band with both hands, palms facing each other.
  • Use a square or split stance, whichever is more comfortable.
  • Drive your arms back while keeping your elbows slightly above shoulder level, and slightly externally rotate your shoulders at the end.
  • Hold the end position for a second, then return to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  • Repeat for the remaining number of repetitions.

2. Seated Cable Rope Face Pull

Rear Delt Exercise: Seated Cable Rope Face Pull

The Seated Cable Rope Face Pull is similar to the Band Face Pull. However, it allows for more horizontal abduction and external rotation of the shoulder and heavier loading. If there's no seated cable pulley station, then assume the same standing position as the Band Face Pull. Program this movement on your upper body, shoulders, or back training sessions for 2-4 sets of 12-20 repetitions, and you'll reap the benefits of a stronger set of rear delts and upper back.

How to:

  • Attach a rope (the one used for Triceps Extensions) to a seated cable station. If there isn't one, just attach it to any cable pulley.
  • Sit upright with a slight bend in your knees. If standing, use a square or staggered stance, again, whatever feels more comfortable.
  • Grab the rope tightly with your palms facing each other. Eliminate any slack, or extra space, between your fingers and the rope.
  • Drive your arms back and pull the middle of the rope attachment toward your forehead while keeping your arms above shoulder level.
  • Externally rotate your shoulders at the end.
  • Squeeze your upper back muscles and hold the end position for a second, then return to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  • Repeat for the remaining number of repetitions.

3. Cable High Pulley Lateral Extension

Rear Delt Exercise: Cable High Pulley Lateral Extension

The Cable High Pulley Lateral Extension, sometimes referred to as the "Wolverine," is one of the best posterior chain exercises, period. The movement heavily recruits the rear deltoids, lats, middle and lower traps and rhomboids, among others. The rear delts assist with extension of the humerus (upper arm bone).

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Keep in mind the three main functions of the rear delts. It's important to train all of them. Perform these for 2-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions, also on upper-body or pulling training sessions.

How to:

  • Remove all attachments from a cable station pulley, including the metal clip/hook.
  • Set the pulley at one of the highest settings, depending on your height.
  • Grab the ball-like ends of the pulley with your palms facing in. Grab the left pulley with your right arm, and the right pulley with your left arm.
  • Assume a square stance (feet even).
  • Extend both arms simultaneously in a diagonal direction until your arms are beside you.
  • Hold the end position for a second by squeezing your upper back muscles, creating tension, then return to the initial position in a controlled manner.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

4. Wide Grip Inverted Row

Rear Delt Exercise: Wide Grip Inverted Row

The Wide Grip Inverted Row is an instrumental exercise that you'll rarely find gym-goers attempting. But this should be a staple pulling exercise in any program. With this row variation, your rear delts are extremely recruited, along with the rest of your upper-back musculature. Horizontal abduction of the upper arm bone is the main task of the rear delt during this pull.

Begin with only your body weight, and add load in the form of a plate if necessary. You can also increase the difficulty by slightly elevating your feet on a bench or step. If it's too difficult with your legs fully extended, bend your knees accordingly. Aim for 2-4 sets of 8-15 repetitons.

How to:

  • Rack a barbell at about, or slightly below, your waist height. A Smith machine barbell also works well.
  • Begin by lying face-up with the barbell directly above your chest and your heels together.
  • Grab the barbell wide enough so that there's a 90-degree angle at your elbow at the end phase of the movement.
  • Keeping your elbows at shoulder level, pull yourself up until your sternum almost touches the bar. Aim to keep a straight line from head to ankles.
  • Drop slowly until your elbows are fully extended.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

5. Dumbbell Bent-Over Reverse Fly

Rear Delt Exercise: Dumbbell Bent-Over Reverse Fly

Another fantastic exercise for building the rear delts is the Dumbbell Bent-Over Reverse Fly. The bent-over position not only puts the rear delts at a good angle to fight gravity and produce force, it also requires the posterior core/spinal erectors to work, involving more posterior chain musculature. This movement is a classic that's passed the test of time. Perform these for 2-4 sets of 10-20 repetitions.

How to:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells tightly. Use a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  • Use a square stance, with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Maintain a neutral neck position, and make sure the dumbbells are under your chest with your elbows slightly bent.
  • Raise your arms out to the side until they're parallel to the ground. Move only at the shoulders.
  • Squeeze your upper-back muscles at the end position and hold for a second.
  • In a controlled manner, lower the dumbbells back to the initial position.
  • Repeat for the remainder of repetitions.

The Optimal Grip

Always pay close attention to your grip when training. This, along with other factors, will determine how effectively you can load an exercise, recruit muscle, and transmit force.

When it comes to the rear delts, a recent study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., and colleagues found that a neutral grip (palms facing each other) significantly increased rear deltoid activity during a machine Reverse Fly, over a pronated (palms facing down) grip. For optimal results, incorporate both types of grips when training your rear delts.


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