Cable Rear Delt Fly 101 Guide: Proper Form & Variations

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: December 28, 2023
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A cable rear delt fly or reverse cable fly is an essential part of a great shoulder workout routine.

Rear delt is a reasonably obvious shortening for rear deltoids, and that's what this exercise does, it works your posterior deltoid muscles as few other exercises can.

If you're looking to improve your shoulder strength and build up those delts, then read on as we walk you through it step by step.

Quick Summary

  • The cable rear delt fly is a key exercise in shoulder workouts, targeting the posterior deltoid muscles for strength and definition.
  • Variations like the bent-over cable rear delt fly and the 1-arm standing cable rear delt fly offer adaptability to the exercise, catering to different training needs and levels.
  • According to the Journal of Human Kinetics, shoulder strength, integral to exercises like the cable rear delt fly, significantly impacts overall upper body strength, enhancing performance in exercises ranging from barbell bench presses to lateral raises​​.
  • Personally, I think the cable rear delt fly is an underrated exercise that offers significant benefits for both posture and shoulder aesthetics, making it a must-have in upper body routines.

How To Do The Cable Rear Delt Fly

man working out using the cable machine

Based on my experience, mastering the cable rear delt fly is key in your shoulder workout, and while variations exist, we'll focus on the classic form first.

If you don't have one at home (most of us don't, you're not alone), then your gym is likely to, and if it doesn't, find a new gym that does.

Proper form is key in the cable rear delt fly; ensure your shoulders are aligned with the pulleys for optimal leverage, and execute the movement with slow, deliberate motions to prevent reliance on momentum and to isolate the rear deltoids effectively.

Preparation

  • First, make sure the pulleys on the cable machine are set to a height just above your head
  • The starting position is standing with your feet shoulder-width apart at the center of the cable machine
  • You are going to cross your arms for the cable rear delt fly so grab the right handle with your left hand and the left handle with your right hand
  • When you are ready to begin, take one step backward to put some tension into each cable

Execution

  • As with most strength training, form and posture is essential, and you need to keep your core tight
  • Next, contract your rear delts to bring your arms slowly forward until you get your shoulder blades together and you feel the pinch
  • Now just as slowly return your arms to the starting position
  • If you've done it correctly, there should only ever be a very slight bend in your elbows during the motion
  • Now return to the starting position, maintain core tightness, posture, form, and repeat

Repetition

The ideal workout to work those rear deltoids with the cable rear delt fly is around 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Don't push yourself too hard too soon.

Form is always more important than rep count. Once you are comfortable with the cable rear delt fly form, feel free to challenge yourself and change things up.

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2 Cable Rear Delt Fly Variations

1. Bent-Over Cable Rear Delt Fly

If you prefer or you just want a little variation in your life, you can also perform the rear delt fly in a bent-over position.

Set the pulleys in a low position, bend from the waist and keep your body parallel to the ground.

The motion is more or less the same, and you should still feel a slight pinch when you bring your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the rep.

From my coaching experience, I find the bent-over cable rear delt fly to be a fantastic variation for those looking to intensify their shoulder workout.

2. 1-Arm Standing Cable Rear Delt Fly

If your dominant arm is pulling too far ahead in size, strength, and swole, you may need to level the playing field and focus on just one for a session or two.

This variation is perfect for that, and the exercise is much the same, just done unilaterally.

You won't have the telling pinch to know you're doing it correctly, and it's also easy to let your posture and form slip (at least it is for me), so pay close attention.

From my coaching sessions, I've seen clients balance asymmetrical development by focusing on one-arm variations, which can be a game-changer for achieving symmetry.

Muscles Worked by the Cable Rear Delt Fly

man in a black shirt touching and looking at his shoulder

Your deltoids are separated into three strands: the front delt (anterior), middle delt (lateral or median), and the rear delt (posterior).

In my experience, the cable rear delt fly effectively targets the posterior deltoid, a muscle group often overlooked but crucial for balanced shoulder development.

In addition to this, the exercise also works the upper back muscles such as the rhomboids and erector spinae and being an effective exercise to strengthen your trapezius.

Finally, we cannot forget all the work our core muscles are putting into keeping our posture straight and secure, and so they'll feel that happy burn too.

3 Common Mistakes

instructor teaching a man the proper form

We've all been there in the gym open-mouthed, watching someone butcher an exercise we know and love.

If you're like me, then you'd be too shy to go over and offer assistance, or you assume they're doing some hip funky new variation you don't even know about.

Well, I don't have to worry about that online, so here are the three most common mistakes that will ruin your cable rear delt fly workout.

1. Bending Your Elbows

While you will need a slight bend in your elbows (it's built that way after all), you want to try to keep your arms as straight as possible throughout the cable rear delt fly.

We're here to work out our rear deltoids, and the more your arm bends, the more your biceps will step in to help and lessen the rear delts burn.

2. Eyes Bigger Than Your Rear Delt Can Handle

This is good advice for any new workout, but I've seen it first hand with the rear delt. Start with a small weight and work up gradually as you master the form.

If you put too much weight on too early, you won't complete the entire motion and compromise the workout's benefits as well as risking injury.

Your hands should be in line with your shoulders at the bottom of each rep.

3. Going Low

As we mentioned in the setup, it's essential to have the cables set to a height just above your head to work the rear delts.

If the cables are too low, or if you start pulling down instead of out during the exercise, you will switch from a rear delt workout to your lats.

While this is a great variation, it's not the intended goal for most and usually indicates poor form.

3 Main Benefits

shirtless man flexing his upper body muscles

1. Posture

If the tag team of nature and my desk job had their way, I would be a fully-fledged hunchback by now. Building your upper back strength can help stop the shoulder from rounding or slouching forward.

Poor posture still takes a conscious effort to correct, but it becomes much easier through focused exercise like this [1].

The cable rear delt fly not only enhances shoulder definition but also plays a crucial role in counteracting the negative postural impacts of a sedentary lifestyle, such as rounded shoulders and stooping, commonly exacerbated by prolonged computer use.

2. Strength

Some people like to call this an accessory exercise, but you ask Eddie Hall if he missed shoulder day, and I'll bet he'll disagree.

Shoulder strength, while perhaps not directly, has a significant impact on your overall upper body strength.

Training can improve everything from your barbell bench press to your lateral raise, according to the Journal of Human Kinetics [2].

3. Aesthetic Appeal

If you are working out because you want to look good, and let's admit it, even those of us who aren't still are, it's crucial to stay symmetrical.

Lots of gym bunnies overdo the chest and arms and forget about the shoulders.

Read more: How to Do Cable Flys with Proper Form

Easy at-Home Alternative

The bent-over dumbbell reverse fly is an excellent alternative to the cable rear delt fly if you prefer weights or just don't have access to the equipment.

As a coach, I often recommend the bent-over dumbbell reverse fly to clients who train at home.

The exercise is much like the bent-over cable rear delt fly mentioned above, but with weights in both hands instead of cables.

Ensure only to maintain a slight bend in your arms and bring your arms up and straight out to your sides.


References:

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/strength-and-flexibility-exercises/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7706677/
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One thought on “Cable Rear Delt Fly
Proper Form, Benefits & Variations

  1. Rear delt flies are the best exercise! I’ve improved my muscular balance and my upper back rocks!

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