The rear deltoid muscles are possibly one of the most underloved muscles in the back and shoulder.
As a coach, I know that most people think that their regular compound exercises will do the trick on their rear delts.
But if you're trying to carefully sculpt your body, you should add one or two isolation exercises that hit the rear delts in a meaningful way.
To help you better plan your next back day, I've put together some information I've gained through years of experience and research.
- The seven best rear delt exercises are dumbbell incline raises, seated dumbbell rear flys, dumbbell rear delt pulls, one-arm bent over rows, bent over alternating flys, side-lying raises, and modified planks.
- These exercises specifically target the rear deltoids, which are key for arm movements and shoulder rotation.
- According to the Cleveland Clinic, the posterior deltoid muscle also plays a crucial role in controlling upper body posture by maintaining the alignment of the upper spine and shoulders.
- In my opinion, consistently practicing these exercises is the most effective way to strengthen and define the rear deltoids, contributing greatly to a well-rounded shoulder workout.
What Is The Rear Delt?
The rear delt is the furthest back of the 3-headed deltoid. These upper back muscles play a crucial role in arm movements and rotating the position of the shoulder .
It's that rounded-out muscle that sits at the top of the upper arm bone and covers the entire shoulder joint. It's why they are also often called the rotator cuff muscles.
In my coaching experience, understanding and focusing on this muscle has significantly improved my clients' shoulder health.
"Like most other muscles in your body, the deltoids are skeletal muscles. Tendons attach them to bones. Skeletal muscles are voluntary muscles, meaning you choose to move them."
But these shoulder muscles don't just play a role in moving your arm because they extend quite far back towards your spine.
Let's take a closer look.
What Do The Rear Delts Do?
The rear delts assist predominantly in moving your arm up and down in a lateral way. If you slowly lift one arm to the side and feel the delt with your other hand, then you'll notice the tension increase.
When you rotate your stretched-out arm, you should be able to feel the different heads of this muscle engage.
However, the posterior deltoid muscle also plays a role in controlling your upper body posture by keeping your upper spine and shoulders straight, according to the Cleveland Clinic . It essentially stops that hunched-over posture with rounded shoulders.
Rear delt exercises play a pivotal role in rectifying the muscular imbalances caused by a sedentary lifestyle, significantly improving posture and shoulder mobility, thereby reducing the risk of shoulder injuries.
I've personally noticed a remarkable improvement in my shoulder flexibility and posture since I started incorporating specific rear delt exercises.
How Often Should You Exercise The Rear Delts?
From my coaching perspective, including targeted rear delt exercises in every back and shoulder workout has shown great results for both myself and my clients.
That doesn't mean you should do all the above rear delt exercises. Instead, pick 1 or 2 of them to go along with your typical routine.
Now, if you have some significant posture problems that may be due to weakened rear delts, then you could consider adding a few more sets, but for most people, there's probably no need to do more than nine sets for your rear delts a week.
How Do You Isolate The Rear Delt Muscle?
Here are the seven best rear delt exercises that I recommend you add to your back and shoulder days. Pick 1 or 2 of them at a time and keep mixing them around.
In addition to targeting the rear delts, these exercises engage various back muscles, offering a comprehensive workout that supports spinal health, essential for overall upper body strength and stability.
Personally, I've found that alternating these exercises in my routine enhances muscle engagement and growth.
1. Dumbbell Incline Raises (3 sets of 8–10 reps)
You'll need an adjustable bench for this, and you want to set it up at about 45 degrees:
- Sit on the bench facing the backrest and grip a dumbbell in each hand to get into the starting position.
- Now lean forward so that your upper body leans against the backrest.
- Keep the elbows slightly bent to avoid overextending them and reduce injury risks that are common, according to MedicalNewsToday .
- Now slowly raise the dumbbells up and forward so that you end up in a Superman posture.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back down.
2. Seated Dumbbell Rear Fly (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
Another option on a bench, especially if you don't have an adjustable one, is seated rear deltoid flys:
- Sit at the end of the bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Tilt your body forward to a 45-degree angle.
- Slowly lift the dumbbells in a wing-like motion and lift them up to shoulder height.
- Then lower them down to the starting point and feel the tension on the rear deltoids.
Related Article: Reverse Pec Deck Fly
3. Dumbbell Rear Delt Pulls (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
This is one of the rear deltoid exercises where you might want to consider picking up some heavier dumbbells than normal:
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Pull up your shoulders as you would in shrugs, but also bring your hands about halfway up your chest.
- Slowly lower your hands down again.
Also Read: Rear Deltoid Stretch
4. One-Arm Bent Over Rows (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
I suggest using a bench or chair to lean on and help you keep your balance:
- Start in a standing position with a dumbbell in your left hand.
- Place your right knee and hand on the bench to get your back in a straight and horizontal starting position.
- Let the dumbbell hang down beside the bench and start the rear delt row in a slow movement.
- Pull the dumbbell to your chest, and then lower it back down again.
5. Bent Over Alternating Flys (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
This is a nice variation of the regular back flys that I like to use to target the rear deltoids:
- Stand with your knees slightly bent and a dumbbell in each hand.
- Get into a bent-over position where your back is close to horizontal.
- Lift the left dumbbell up perpendicular to the side up to shoulder height.
- Lower it down again and switch to the right arm.
6. Side-Lying Raises (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
This rear delt exercise will take a lot of practice to get the balance right:
- Lay down on your right side, ideally on a workout bench.
- With your left hand, grab a dumbbell and let it hang down in front of your chest.
- Use your right arm to stabilize your body by placing it on the ground in front of the bench.
- Raise the dumbbell straight up above your body.
- Slowly lower it back down again.
7. Modified Planks (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
The final one of my recommendations is to do some bodyweight rear delt exercises:
- The starting position is in a plank position on your elbows.
- Now round out your shoulder and neck by pushing your upper spine up high.
- Then lower your spine down between your shoulder blades and lift your head up.
- Make this a slow movement and concentrate on engaging the delts.
Can You Work Your Rear Deltoids without Weights?
Yes, you can work your rear deltoids without weights by doing modified planks. By using your own body weight to create tension on your delts, you’ll strengthen them with a compound-type movement.
Are Rear Delt Injuries Common?
Rear delt injuries are quite common, especially with repetitive straining movements .
That's why it's important to mix up your posterior deltoid exercises regularly to avoid always causing the same strain.
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