Looking for some smart ways to target your rear deltoids? This muscle group can be a bit difficult to get into, but no worries. You have options!
If you’ve been doing dumbbell shoulder press, barbell military press, or the Arnold shoulder press, you can stop struggling. While those exercises primarily target your anterior (front) deltoid muscle, you need to remember your shoulders are made up of 3 muscles: anterior (front), lateral (middle), and posterior (rear).
Why is this important?
Because people often neglect their rear deltoids. After all, you don’t see them when you’re flexing for the mirror, so they can be easy to forget.
Unfortunately, this muscle imbalance can cause rotator cuff problems, lead to incorrect compensation during pressing exercises, and will eventually pull your shoulders forward into the dreaded “caveman posture.”
Ready to do something about it?
By adding a few rear deltoid exercises to your shoulder workout, you can add muscle to your posterior deltoid and build complete shoulders.
Below you’ll find the best rear deltoid exercises for maximum posterior deltoid growth!
Plus, you’ll find training tips to maximize posterior delt growth, including workout hacks that save time and energy and boost recovery.
The 17 Best Rear Deltoid Exercises
For your convenience, we’ve separated these exercises by equipment:
Dumbbell Rear Delt Exercises
Do these exercises if you like to workout with dumbbells:
1. Seated Bent-Over Dumbbell Raise
Make sure you use low-weight dumbbells for this exercise. We like heavy low-rep training, but most of these rear deltoid exercises require you to raise your arms out to the side.
If you go too heavy, the motion turns more into a row then a reverse fly.
To put primary emphasis on your rear delts, raise the dumbbells straight out from your body. If you bring them too far back, you’ll switch the emphasis to your traps and rhomboids.
2. Standing Bent-Over Dumbbell Raise
Take it slow like Scott here to get the full benefit from this exercise. Remember to focus on the eccentric contraction (when you’re lowering the weight down) as you slowly lower the weight.
Don’t just drop your shoulders and start the next rep!
3. Single-Arm Seated Bent-Over Dumbbell Raise
If you’re doing the standing or seated bent over dumbbell raise and find one arm is weaker, then throw a few reps of this unilateral exercise into your workout for a few weeks until your weaker arms catches up.
4. Incline Reverse Dumbbell Fly
You can do this exercise on a flat bench, if you’d prefer.
Try to spend a half second at the top of the exercise—get a solid contraction, and then slowly lower the weights.
5. Lying Rear Delt Circles
Rear delt circles look pretty funny, but they’re great to throw on the end of a rear delt raise or reverse dumbbell fly exercise.
6. Incline Rear Delt Dumbbell Row
Try the reverse-grip dumbbell row this guy demonstrates last.
You’ll feel a huge contraction in your rear deltoids!
This is a super effective exercise that should definitely have a place in your rotation.
Barbell Rear Delt Exercises
If you’d prefer to work out with barbells, these exercises are for you:
7. Barbell Face Pull
Take a wider grip to put greater emphasis on your posterior deltoids.
Make sure you week the elbows wide. If you bring them in, it’ll turn more into a row rather than a barbell face pull.
8. Rear Delt Barbell Row
Make sure you get your chest parallel to the floor.
Focus on using your rear delts to pull the bar up. To do this, take a wider grip and keep your arms perpendicular to your body as you raise the bar.
9. Snatch-Grip Push Press
We are not a huge fan of this exercise, but it definitely blasts your rear deltoids.
It’s a more complex maneuver than those most rear deltoid exercises, so take your time to learn the form before increasing the weight.
Cable Rear Delt Exercises
Like to work out with cables? Here are the exercises for you:
10. Standing Reverse Cable Fly
Keep your arms straight as you extend them out from your body.
If you bend your arms too much, this will turn into a tricep pulldown rather than a rear deltoid exercise. Go too low with the pull, and you’ll start activating your lats.
Similar to the other posterior deltoid exercises, keep your arms high and perpendicular to your body—this will maximize rear deltoid activation.
11. Standing Rope Face Pull
Set up your pulley at chest height or lower. This is huge! This exercise is super hard to execute properly if the pulley is too high.
12. Seated Rope Face Pull
We prefer the seated variation because it’s easier to focus on the rear delt contraction.
13. Bent-Over Rear Delt Cable Raise
Like demonstrated, don’t use a handle for this exercise.
The only thing that should move is your shoulder.
This is another great unilateral exercise to help correct muscle imbalances.
Machine and Bodyweight Rear Delt Exercises
If you’d prefer to use machines or your own bodyweight, these exercises are perfect for you:
14. Reverse Machine Fly
Another variation of this exercise is just doing a single-arm reverse machine fly.
Make sure you keep tension during the eccentric contraction (bringing the bars back forward) to get full muscle activation.
Keep your arms straight out to the side—the bars don’t restrict you from coming in a bit, but this will detract from your rear deltoid engagement.
15. Inverted Row
We like the option of doing this on a smith machine and with your feet on the ground, but here’s another variation if you want to mix things up a bit.
16. Resistance Band Face Pull
These two resistance band exercises are great for rear deltoid isolation at home.
In a pinch, you can wrap the resistance band around a pole, column, bedpost, or even a tree.
17. Resistance Band Reverse Fly
Make sure the resistance band is high enough so your arms are in a straight line when you pull back.
As you pull back with both arms, your elbows will try to turn down. Resist this motion! Keep them facing up.
5 Simple Tips to Maximize Posterior Deltoid Growth
The soft impact of the trails will decrease the pounding on your knees.
Although the trails can benefit runners seeking softer surfaces, you’ll need to avoid injuries caused by technical terrain.
1. Add Rear Delt Training to Your Upper Back Workout Routine
The posterior deltoid is activated as a secondary muscle in many rowing exercises. So while you’re blasting your upper back during your back workout, throw in a rear delt exercise.
Add it to the end of your back routine so it doesn’t detract from your primary back exercises (like the deadlift and barbell row).
By training your rear delts during your back workout and shoulder workout, you’ll give your posterior muscles the extra attention they need to keep up with your anterior delts.
Which leads right to tip #2…
2. Don't Train Shoulders and Upper Back on Consecutive Days
Since you’re already pounding your rear delts during your back workout, separate these two workouts days to maximize recovery.
Not only will this help with your posterior deltoid growth, but this will help you make gains in all of your shoulder and back workouts.
By prioritizing recovery, you’ll have well-rested primary and secondary muscles to execute your most important compound exercises.
We like to start the week with chest day, then move to back.
Just to note, you probably don’t want to do your shoulder workout right after chest day, either.
Exercises like the close-grip press and incline bench press require a lot of anterior deltoid activation—by separating shoulders from your other upper body workouts, you’ll be able to give your deltoids the primary attention they need to maximize growth.
3. Focus on a Few Rear Delt Exercises. You Don't Need All 17
The extensive list of exercises above isn’t intended to make up your rear deltoid workout. You only need a few to completely engage your rear delts.
Choose 2-3 of your favorite rear delt exercises to focus on over an 8-12 week program. Add 1-2 of them to your shoulder workout, and then add the remaining exercise to your back workout.
There’s a wide variety to choose from—some you’ll really enjoy, and others you’ll probably feel like you’re not engaging your rear delts at all.
And that’s fine! Choose a few, perfect your form, and then work on progressive overload for the next 8-12 weeks.
4. Make Progressive Overload Your #1 Goal
The biggest mistake you can make it just going through the motions. Maximum muscle growth doesn’t come from just doing the exercises!
Muscle growth comes from increasing strength, and increasing strength comes from increased volume.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress placed on the body during exercise training.
To increase strength or muscle mass, your muscles need to be stressed in a way that forces your body to grow in response to the new demands.
This should be your #1 goal during every workout. Every time you hit your rear deltoids, you should be looking to increase stress in some way:
- Increase reps
- Increase weight
- Improve form
- Increase sets
- Faster recovery time
5. Don't Overdo It
If you feel like your posterior deltoids have fallen behind, it’s easy to get over anxious and embark on a vicious quest to conquer this muscle imbalance.
Good for you. But take your time.
Start by adding 1 rear deltoid exercise to your shoulder routine. Then add one to your back workout. Then add another to your shoulder workout.
But, for shoulder’s sake, don’t just dive all in and add a buttload of volume to your posterior delts next week.
That’s a recipe for injury.
Take it nice and easy. Give your muscles time to heal and grow.
Top 2 Research Proven Posterior Deltoid Exercises
The American Council on Exercise teamed up with exercise scientists from the Clinical Exercise Physiology program at the University of Wisconsin—LaCrosse to find which shoulders exercises are the most effective for muscle growth.
They found the Seated Rear Lateral Raise and the Incline Rear Delt Row were the two best rear deltoid exercises for activating your posterior deltoid muscles.
Does that mean you can’t do other rear delt exercises?
No, not at all.
Most of the other exercises in the study focused on anterior and middle deltoid exercises, so it’s no surprise these two emerged as the winners. But at least you can do these exercises knowing science supports they’ll give your posterior deltoids near full muscle engagement.
Scientists from the study suggest beginning your shoulder workout with posterior deltoid exercises.
Typically, your posterior deltoid is the weakest of the 3 muscles, so you’ll want to give it your full energy before moving on to anterior deltoid exercises.
The Ultimate Rear Deltoid Workout
To maximize posterior delt growth, you’ll need to approach your shoulder training strategically.
Don’t just go start throwing around weight, doing this and that exercise, and expecting 3D boulder shoulders to pop out the next time you look in the mirror.
Here’s a more methodical approach.
- Standing Bent-Over Dumbbell Raise (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
- Seated Military Press (3 sets of 4-6 reps)
- Arnold Shoulder Press (2 sets of 4-6 reps)
- Lateral Dumbbell Raise (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
- Reverse Machine Fly (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
This rear deltoid workout routine maximizes posterior delt growth by making it a priority.
You start and end the workout with posterior delt emphasis, while still giving the necessary attention to the anterior and middle delt.
Feel free to substitute your favorites from the list of the best rear deltoid exercises when building your own routine.
Remember, it’s all about balance. Don’t take your posterior delt goals overboard and neglect the rest of your shoulder (it’s hard to do but theoretically possible).
By focusing on your rear delts and working them intentionally into your routine, you’ll be on your way to complete developed shoulders, a key ingredient in a powerful, aesthetic upper body.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. When you see “TFT Team” this is because the content was not written by a single author, but rather a team effort.