Rear Delts Workout and Training Guide

The Ultimate Rear Delt Training Guide

by Cole Matthews - Last Updated April 6, 2019

The rear delts are like the black sheep of the shoulder muscles. They just don’t get the love that is piled onto the front and side delts. Walk into any gym and you’ll see guys pressing for the front delts and doing side laterals to bring out their lateral heads. However, you don’t see a lot, if any attention being given to the rear delt.

In this article, we aim to change all that. We’ll help you get full shoulder and back development in just 12 weeks.

The Big 10 Exercises to Bring Out the Rear Delts

1. Rear Pec Dec Fly

Sit on the pec dec machine, facing in toward the weight stack. Position the seat so that your hands and elbows are in line with your shoulders when you grab the handles. Position the handles so that are as far back toward the weight stack as is possible. Keep your torso upright and your back in a neutral position. Rest your chest on the back pad and take a hold of the handles.

Push outward on the handles with the side of your palms to bring your arms back as far as you can in a slow controlled movement. At the maximum range of the exercise the arms should be directly outstretched at the side of the body. Now focus on squeezing the rear delts. Return to the start position and repeat.

A benefit of doing the reverse fly on a pec dec machine is that it locks you into a precise movement. That means that you aren’t able to cheat by lowering your arms or using momentum to bring the weight back.

2. Leaning Side Raise

This is a variation of the traditional dumbbell reverse fly. Grab a relatively light dumbbell in one hand and lean forward on a rack so that your torso is at about a 45- degree angle, ensuring that your spine is in a neutral position. Let the weight hang at your side.

With the palm facing forward raise the elbow so that it is angled away from the body. As you come up supinate the forearm (twist your hand out). This will have effect of externally rotating the shoulder. Come up as high as you can and then hold and squeeze the top position. You will feel an intense cramp in the rear delt, after a 2-3 second hold slowly return to the start position and repeat.

Be sure to keep your shoulders square when you are doing this exercise. Remember too, that you are not bringing the arm out to the side on this move, but back behind you.

3. W Raise

A great exercise that includes all three of the actions of the rear delt in one movement is the ‘W’ Raise.

To perform the ‘W” raise sit on the end of a bench with a pair of light dumbbells in your hands. Arch your back as you hold the dumbbells together in front of you. Now perform a reverse fly by bringing tour elbows up nd back so that the dumbbells come up to form a ‘W’.

This is a great move to hit the rear delts because it extends the arms beyond the body, while also horizontally adducting the arm behind the body and externally rotating the shoulder. However, you will not be able to go very heavy on this exercise.

4. Cable “W” Raise

To perform the cable double raise you will need a cable pulley machine with dual handles and low pulleys. Set the pulley to the lowest level, load up a relatively light weight and grab the handles.

Stand facing the machine with your hands in internal rotation (thumbs pointing toward each other). Now, scoop your arms out (putting them into external rotation) and up high and back as far as you can. The movement should create a ‘W’ with your arms. Your elbows should be leading the direction, with the thumbs trying to catch up. So, you should be pushing the elbows and the thumbs back as far as you can.

On the reverse of the movement, scoop back down and in, so that the thumbs are once again pointing towards each other.

To make this exercise even more challenging, extend the arms out slightly in the top contracted position. This will put maximum stress on the rear delts.

5. Seated Bent Over 9-Degree Raise

Sit at the end of a flat bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Now bend over so that your chest touches your thighs. Touch the dumbbells together under your legs. Raise the dumbbells up to a position where they are 90 degrees from the body. Focus on contracting the rear delts as you perform the movement.

6. Standing Incline Bench Posterior Raise

Stand in a prone position on an incline bench that is set at 75 degrees. Hold two dumbbells with your arms extended in front of you under the bench. Raise the dumbbells up parallel to the floor. Be sure to keep the elbows slightly bent during the entire movement. You also need to ensure that the torso remains in contact with the bench throughout the movement.

7. Bent Over Pulley Raise

Stand in the middle of a cable pulley machine with the pulleys set in a high position.  Grab hold of the right pulley with the left hand and the left pulley with the right hand. Now bend over with your arms crossed and you back in a neutral position. Pull the handles up to the floor. Keep the elbows slightly bent throughout the movement. Strongly contract the rear delts in the top position, holding for one second count before your return to the start position.

8. Behind the Back Lateral Raise

Stand with your feet together, knees bent and the dumbbells held behind the body an touching each other. Now raise the dumbbells up and laterally back. As you bring the dumbbells up, twist them slightly to keep the pinkies higher than the thumbs. This will keep the emphasis of the movement in the rear head of the deltoids.

9. Hip Huggers

Take a relatively heavy pair of dumbbells and stand with the at your sides, palms facing inwards. Now draw your elbows up and back as you rotate your hand position to face forward. You want the dumbbells to travel up alongside your torso about 10-12 inches as your elbows move back beyond your body. You should stop a little above the level of your navel.

Thst exercise will give you an excellent contraction directly in the rear delts and is a move that allows you to go heavy in hitting this area. It will allow you to beef up your posterior delts, which is an area that most guys are lacking in.

10. Underhand Rear Delt Raise

Grab a single dumbbell and stand with it in one hand and the other hand leaning against a wall that is about a foot in front of you. Hold the dumbbell at your side in a palm forward position. Now pull your elbow up and back to bring the dumbbell to the level of your ribcage. As you come up externally rotate the dumbbell to lift your palm toward the ceiling.

This extension of the arm back behind the torso is the key to activating the posterior delts. This exercise allows you to do that more effectively that the traditional rear delt fly movement. The addition of the external rotation of the dumbbell will fire up the rear delt to take the focus of the action.

Integrating Front and Side Delt Work

The following exercises will be included on our overall delt routines that we will present at the end of this article.

Military Press

Sit on a flat bench with a loaded barbell held across the upper chest and at the base of your neck. Press the barbell directly overhead, keeping the elbows slightly bent at the extended position. As you push up, lean forward slightly so as to engage more of the front delts in the movement.

Scott Press

Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with the dumbbells facing forward. Now swing the elbows back and up with the palms facing forward. Press up until the weights are level with the top of the head. Do not go higher than this. As a result, you will be performing three fifths of a normal pressing movement.

In the top position, the pinkies should be higher than the thumbs. As you return the dumbbells back to the starting position, bring the head slightly forward to more fully engage the front delts.

Heavy Lateral Raise

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells together in front of your groin. Bend over slightly, maintaining a neutral back position. Now use slight momentum to bring the dumbbells up and out to the side. Bring the arms up to a lateral position, with the elbows slightly bent.

Single Bent Over Lateral Raise

Lean in front of a dumbbell rack, with a dumbbell in one hand and the other hand resting on the rack for support. Start with the dumbbell down between your legs. Now swing the dumbbell up forcibly to the side. As the dumbbell comes up and out, turn it slightly so that the pinkie is higher than the thumb.

Key Rear Delt Training Tip

The best piece of advice for rear delt training is to work hard to isolate them while you are working them. Because the rear delts are a small muscle group, the larger muscles that surround them will try to take over. That is one reason why you need to control your ego and keep the weights light in order to isolate and squeeze the rear delts.

Check out the Lumberjack Press article for more delt training tips.

Sets & Reps

You should train your rear delts as part of your overall deltoid workout. Train the front delts first, then the side delts and work the rear delts last. That way fatiguing the rear delts will not impact upon your ability to perform overhead pressing moves for the front delts.

The weight that you use when working your rear delts should allow you to perform between 10-15 reps with strict, isolated form. Your rear delt work will probably come at the end of your workout, so you should include the following intensity enhancers to really work them to the limit.

Drop Sets

Perform 6 reps with the heaviest weight you can perform with good form. Then immediately drop tht weight and pick up the next weight down. Perform another 6 reps. Now go down to the next weight down. Continue until you have performed 4 or 5 drop sets.

One and a Half Reps

A great intensity enhancer for the quads is to perform one and a half rep sets. This involves going down into a full descent and then only coming back up half way before going down into the full descent again. It is a great way to put maximum tension on the quads. At the end of the set your legs will be on fire. We only recommend doing one and a half reps on the first set of the exercise, when your shoulders are the freshest!

Here is a suggested rep scheme for performing 3 sets on an isolation rear delt exercise . . .

1st set – 15 reps (30 second rest)

2nd set – (increase weight slightly) 12 reps (30 second rest)

3rd set – as many reps as possible (amrap)

Modified Back Moves

Three traditional back exercises that will do wonders for your rear delt development when done properly are the following:

  • Seated Rowing
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rowing
  • Bent Over Row

The key to activating the rear delt during these movements is to get the arms out to the side rather than having the elbow pinned in to your ribcage. So, when you’re doing seating rowing, you do not want to keep the elbows pinned in to your sides. By swapping a ‘V’ handle for a straight bar and taking a wider grip than you normally would, you re able to get the elbows out wider and higher with every repetition. This will hit the rear delts far more directly.

The same thing applies to the one arm dumbbell row. In order to more fully engage the rear delts on this exercise, you should allow the elbows to come up and out as you pull the dumbbell up. This may require dropping down the weight a little.

On the Bent Over Row, you will want to bring the bar up higher than on a normal row by allowing the elbows to be out and up as you pull. Again, you may have to drop the weight to achieve this.

When you perform these three exercises in the manner just described you will be shifting the emphasis of the movements away from the lats to the rear delts. As a result, you need to be able to target your use of the exercise. You don’t want to perform them this way all the time or you will compromise your lat development. Really, you should consider these as different exercises to your normal lat training that specifically allow you to hit the rear delts with the heavy weights needed to build mass in that area.

The Workouts

We can now put the information that we have learned into action with three workout programs. We suggest that you perform each shoulder workout once per week. Do each workout for a month and then switch onto the next one. At the end of the 12-week training period, take a week off from training and then start back with Workout A.

Workout A

  • Military Press – 4 x 12 / 10 / 8 / 6
  • Heavy Lateral Raise – 3 x 8
  • Rear Pec Dec Fly – 3 x 15 / 12 / amrap
  • Cable W Raise – 3 x 15 / 12 / amrap

Workout B

  • Scott Press – 4 x 12 / 10 / 8 / 6
  • Single Bent Over Lateral Raise – 3 x 8
  • W Raise – 3 x 15 / 12 / amrap
  • Standing Incline Bench Posterior Raise – 3 x 15 / 12 / amrap

Workout C

  • Military Press – 4 x 12 / 10. 8 / 6
  • Seated Row (rear delt variation) – 3 x 8
  • One Arm row (rear delt variation) – 3 x 8
  • Bent Over Barbell row (rear delt variation) – 3 x 8

The Importance of Rear Delt Training

You’ve probably heard the old adage that if you want to get ahead of the pack, do the opposite to what everyone else is doing. That truth is certainly borne out when it comes to rear delt training. All the other guys in your gym are probably going to be neglecting them, so you need to do the opposite.

Prioritizing your rear delts will improve the aesthetic look of your body. The most aesthetic bodies in the world all have great rear delt development. Beyond that, well developed, strong rear delts will also go a long way toward keeping your shoulder area stabilized while you are doing the bigger, more powerful compound exercises.

As an example of the rear delts helping to stabilize during a compound exercise, consider the bench press.

Most people get to a point on the bench press where they are unable to continue making progress in upping their bench press numbers. Often the reason is not that they are unable to push the weight off your chest. Instead, it’s because of your overall ability to balance the weight. If your key stabilizers like the rear delts are not sufficiently strong, you will not be able to improve you bench press max.

Why The Rear Delts Need Work

Unless you give equal emphasis to all three heads of the deltoid muscle you will never achieve complete shoulder development. Beyond that, people who lack rear delt development tend to have poor posture, with rounded shoulders. That, in turn, leads to overstretching of the rear delts which make them even weaker.

People with underdeveloped rear delts will often feel pain in that area. That’s because the overdeveloped front and side delts pull on the rear delts, creating tension. The weakness in the rear delt was compensated for by trigger points and spasms which try to make the shoulder joint feel more stable.

So Why Don’t People Work the Rear Delts?

There are three key reasons as to why people don’t give attention to training their rear delts:

Out of sight, out of mind – the front and side delts are in your face every time you look in the mirror. But not so with the rear delts. As a result, a lot of guys tend to forget to train them.

Ego – when you compare the rear delts to the front and side delt, it appears to be a rather small, weak and insignificant muscle group. You cannot lift the heavy weights on them that you can throw around on larger muscles groups. That doesn’t play well into people’s egos!

Lack of knowledge – to hit the rear delts effectively, you need to perform some specialist isolation exercises. A lot of guys simply don’t know about them or, if they do, they don’t know how to perform them correctly.

Shoulder Anatomy

The deltoids make up the bulk of the muscle group that we refer to as the shoulders. There are actually three individual muscles within the deltoids . . .

The anterior delts

The lateral delts

The posterior delts

The anterior delts are more commonly referred to as the front delts. The lateral delts lift the arms up to the side and away from the body. Developing the lateral delt creates width to the upper body. The posterior, or rear delts, pull your arms backwards. The rear delts get a lot of work when you are training your back.

Rear Delt Function

There are three key functions of the rear delt:

Extending the arm back behind the body

External rotation of the shoulder

Horizontal adduction, moving the rm from in front of the body to behind the body

In order to effectively work the rear delts, you need to perform exercises that will directly simulate these actions.

In order to build size in the rear delts you need to add in heavy horizontal puling movements. Most people focus all of their energy on pulling in the vertical plane. However, to achieve balanced upper back development (which incorporates the read delts), you need to be doing more horizontal pulling movements.

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