Broad, well-defined shoulders are the mark of a commanding physique — but building them requires more than a frontal assault. If you want fully-developed shoulders, it’s essential to make rear delt exercises a regular part of your training.
“The rear deltoids are the unsung heroes of the upper body,” says personal trainer Amanda Dale, M.A., A.C.E.-C.P.T. They provide strength in rowing movements, help with stability in pressing movements, and are largely responsible for the lean, toned look of the mid-to-upper back, she adds.
Unfortunately, Dale says, the rear delts are often the weakest of the three heads comprising the deltoid. This is largely the consequence of a sedentary lifestyle, which, not coincidentally, often counts poor posture among its casualties. If you don’t address the muscular imbalance between the fronts and backs of your shoulders, you could end up with poor shoulder mobility and mechanics — and potentially set yourself up for a shoulder injury in the process.
To get you started, we’ve rounded up 12 of the best rear delt exercises to incorporate into your routine.
1. Dumbbell Reverse Fly
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Push your hips back and hinge forward at the waist until your torso is almost parallel with the floor. Let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other.
- Keeping your back flat and abs engaged, maintain a slight bend in your elbows as you raise your arms out to the sides until they reach shoulder level. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
- Slowly reverse the move to return the weights to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
2. Resistance Band Face Pull
- Anchor a resistance band to a stable point several inches above your head.
- Facing the anchor point, grab the band with an overhand grip, keeping your hands about six inches apart.
- Step back from the anchor point with your arms extended in front of you until you feel tension in the band.
- Keeping your back straight and elbows high, pull the band toward your face, stopping once the band approaches your nose.
- Slowly reverse the move to return to the starting position, and repeat for reps.
3. One-Arm Dumbbell Row
- Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, place your other hand on a bench or stability ball in front of you. Step your right leg back keeping it straight, and bend your left leg slightly. Lean your chest forward, keeping your back flat.
- Drive your elbow up, bringing the dumbbell to your ribcage.
- Release your arm down and repeat.
- Do equal reps on both sides.
4. Inverted Row
- Secure a bar in a rack at waist height, and lie on the floor underneath it.
- Using an overhand grip, grab the bar with both hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, and hang with your arms fully extended. Your shoulders should be directly below your hands, and your feet should be hip-width apart. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your body straight from head to heels, pull your chest up to the bar, and pause briefly at the top of the movement.
- Slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended, and repeat for reps.
5. Reverse fly on bench
- Holding a set of dumbbells, sit on a bench or stability ball. With your feet flat on the ground, hinge at the waist to lean forward slightly, and bring your dumbbells behind your calves, palms facing each other.
- With a slight bend at the elbow, raise your arms outward and squeeze your shoulder blades, keeping your palms facing the floor.
- Release your arms slowly and repeat.
6. Dumbbell Bent-Over Row
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Engage your core, push your hips back, and hinge forward at the waist until your torso is almost parallel with the floor. Let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other.
- Keeping your back flat, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the weights up to your sides.
- Pause, then lower the weights to the starting position. Repeat for reps.
7. Pterodactyl Fly
- Holding two light dumbbells at your sides, assume a long, runner’s lunge position, with your stronger leg forward, torso leaning forward, and forming a straight line from your back leg to your head. Keep your back leg straight.
- Keeping your torso still and the back of the hands facing the ceiling, slowly raise the dumbbells directly out to the sides until they are parallel to the floor, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your ankle and repeat.
8. Chest-Supported Dumbbell Row
- Set an incline bench at 45 degrees.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells, and approach the bench with your chest toward the angled pad, then lean onto it. Plant your feet firmly on the floor, and let your arms hang straight down, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the dumbbells to your ribcage.
- Slowly reverse the move, and repeat for reps.
9. Post Delt Fly With Resistance Bands
- Hold the handles of a resistance band and assume a shoulder width stance, using both feet to stand on the center of the band to secure it.
- Exchange handles between your two hands so that the bands cross.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge at your hips until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and your back is flat. (If necessary, spread your feet wider to create more tension on the band.)
- Keeping your torso still, raise the handles as far as possible directly out to your sides, with the back of your hands facing the ceiling.
- Lower the handles fully, and repeat.
10. Dumbbell Y-T-I Raise
- Lie face-down on a stability ball or bench holding a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang straight toward the floor, palms facing each other.
- Keeping your head neutral, raise both arms at 45 degrees to form a “Y” shape. Pause briefly. Then, lower the weights back to the starting position.
- Lift the weights again, this time straight out to your sides to form a “T” shape, palms facing down. Pause briefly at the top of the movement before lowering the weights.
- Finally, lift the weights by extending them straight behind you to create an “I” shape, palms facing each other. Hold briefly and lower the weights.
- Repeat the entire sequence for the desired number of reps.
11. Dumbbell Arnold Press
- Sit or stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Keeping your back flat and core engaged, curl the weights up to shoulder level, palms facing you. This is the starting position.
- Keeping the weights at the same height, externally rotate your arms out to the sides so your palms face the front of the room, and press the weights directly overhead.
- Reverse the move to return the weights to the starting position. Repeat for reps.
12. Bodyweight Cobra on Stability Ball
- Lie face-down with your abdomen on a stability ball, and your legs extended straight behind you. Flex your feet to support your weight on your toes.
- Keeping your gaze toward the floor, extend both arms in front of you to form a “Y” shape. Your palms should face the floor.
- Sweep both arms out to the sides and bring them behind you as you lift your chest and bring your gaze forward. End with both arms behind you, thumb pointing to the ceiling.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, and repeat. Add weights to intensify the move.
Your rear delts are referred to physiologically as the posterior head of the deltoid, joining the anterior and lateral heads to form the full deltoid muscle. The three heads originate along the scapula (shoulder blade) and collarbone, and connect midway down your humerus (upper arm). The rear delts join the shoulders and back, and are technically part of your posterior chain. This means you can effectively hit your rear delts with both shoulder and back exercises.