12 Best Rear Delt Exercises For Mass

February 20, 2022

The importance of training the rear delts moves past purely aesthetic reasoning. Many training programs overemphasize anterior deltoid development resulting in muscular imbalances in the shoulder and can potentially lead to shoulder injury.

To balance the shoulder muscles, you must target the side delts and rear delts. The rear delts are one of the most neglected muscles among bodybuilding enthusiasts. If you want bigger shoulders, you must prioritize the rear delts.

Before I dive into the best rear delt exercises, we must understand basic shoulder anatomy so we can best select exercises to target the correct muscle.

Anatomy Of The Shoulder

The shoulder consists of three muscles:

  • Anterior deltoid (front)
  • Medial deltoid (side)
  • Posterior deltoid (rear)
Best Rear Delt Exercises For Mass

The rear deltoid provides a 3D look and will make your physique pop when looking from the side. Rear delts are responsible for shoulder extension and horizontal abduction [1].

12 Best Rear Delt Exercises For 3D Delts

Reverse Pec Deck

The reverse pec deck satisfies the exact movement the rear delts are responsible for. So much so that the reverse pec deck elicits the most significant rear delt muscle activation compared to rowing variations [1,2].

This is personally my go-to movement when targeting the rear delts as it’s easiest to get the mind-muscle connection. Here’s how to get the most out of the reverse pec deck:

  • Adjust the seat so your arms are at shoulder height when holding the handles.
  • Don’t hold the handles where you would for chest flies. Place your hands palm down on the inside handle and keep them relaxed.
  • With your arms slightly bent, lead with the elbow and push the handles with your pinky fingers.
  • Reverse fly until your upper arms are pointing directly to the side of your body.
  • Control the handles back to the starting position.

Many lifters get this exercise so wrong when targeting the rear delts. Firstly, holding the handles where you would chest fly causes the arms to have too much tension and take over. Placing the hands on the handles with the palms down targets the rear delts and keeps the arms relaxed.

Secondly, you shouldn’t intentionally move the shoulder blades like other reverse fly movements. Everything should be solely focused on the rear delts performing the work. Which means you can’t pull the handles past your body.

Bent-Over Reverse Fly

If you don’t have access to a reverse pec deck machine, the bent-over reverse fly is your next best option. You mimic the same motion but with free weights instead. Many lifters will perform the reverse fly to target the rhomboids and mid traps.

We want to reduce the involvement of these muscles while focusing on the rear delts. Here’s how:

  • Hold light dumbbells bend over, so your torso is parallel to the floor or close to it. Have soft elbows, so they are slightly bent.
  • Perform the reverse fly motion in a wide arc Y shape, not directly to the side. Turn your thumbs slightly down as you perform the movement like you are pouring two drinks from the bottle.

Your shoulder blades should be left as still as possible with only the arms moving. This will isolate the rear delts and reduce the involvement of the mid traps and rhomboids. It will feel like a swinging motion which is perfectly fine.

Seated Bent-Over Reverse Fly

The seated bent-over reverse fly is another variation to target the rear delts alongside the mid and upper traps. This version is lower back-friendly if you have lower back problems that prevent you from doing the bent-over variation.

Because you can’t completely bend your torso over, you’ll involve more traps, which is a less potent rear delt builder. But still a great one to cycle into your training. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit on the end of a bench and bend over, holding the dumbbells under your thighs.
  • Bring your arms up to the side in a reverse fly motion.

This is a hard exercise to get wrong, so it is excellent for beginners to get extra upper back volume.

Heavy Rear Delt Swings

This is a John Meadows special. It combines heavyweights with high reps. The ultimate combination for packing on rear delt mass. These will be partial reps, and for extra posterior delt stimulation, you can superset them with normal reverse flies. Here’s how to do them:

  • Set up an incline bench and lie face down. Hold heavy dumbbells with straps, so grip is not an issue.
  • Swing the dumbbells to the side. These will only be partial reps.

It’s really that simple. Your rear delts will be on fire as you get to ultra-high rep sets.

Cable Face Pull

The cable face pull has added benefits of targeting the rear delts and external rotators of the shoulders. For lifters that spend a lot of time pressing, balancing the internal rotation with external rotation from the face pull can maintain balance and reduce the risk of injury in the shoulders.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Set the cable attachment to face height. Use the rope and grip it like performing a neutral grip overhead press or how you would when performing the triceps extension.
  • Pull the rope to your nose while pulling the rope apart. The end position will look similar to a double biceps pose.

You aren’t limited to pulling at nose height. You can pull lower to the chin to target the mid traps or the forehead to incorporate more upper traps.

Barbell or Dumbbell Face Pull

You likely won’t have a cable machine if you train at home or a CrossFit gym. This free weight alternative works just as well and requires dumbbells or a barbell. While the video shows a bent-over variation, you can do this as a chest-supported variation on an incline bench. Here’s how to barbell face pull:

  • Loosely grip the barbell in your fingertips just outside shoulder width.
  • Bend over, so you are parallel to the floor.
  • Pull your elbows up and out until the barbell gets close to your nose or forehead.

Band Pull Apart

The band pull apart is the poor man’s reverse pec deck. With band resistance, you train the exact horizontal arm abduction motion to trash the rear delts. The most beneficial thing about this exercise is you can do it anywhere, any time. If your rear delts are lacking, have a band by your desk and reach 100-200 reps per day.

Or in between every set of pressing in the gym, perform 20 band pull aparts. You can get massive volumes for your rear delts with little to no fatigue and no detriment to your performance. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hold a band in front of your chest with your arms extended and palms facing down.
  • Keep your elbows soft so they are slightly bent, and pull the band apart until it touches your chest.

Cable Scarecrow

The cable scarecrow is a more versatile variation of the band pull apart. You can change the level of the cable attachment to emphasize specific muscle groups. For example, the video shows a cable scarecrow from low to high to target the rear delts and upper traps. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hold the left cable in the right hand and the right cable in the left hand. Let the cables crossover in an ‘X.’
  • Pull your hands apart with soft elbows, so they are slightly bent.

Meadows Row

This is the second John Meadows exercise on this list, and for a good reason. He knows his stuff! The Meadows row will allow you to load the rear delts with heavy loads and develop other muscles of your back.

It’s a serious builder of back muscle. Here’s how to do it:

  • Load one end of the barbell and place the other end in a landmine base or a corner to anchor it. Use smaller plates for a better range of motion.
  • Position yourself perpendicular to the end of the barbell and hold the end using straps.
  • Stagger your feet, so your leg forward is the opposite to your hand holding the barbell.
  • Row the bar with your elbow flared out to target your upper back and rear delts.

If you have a T bar row machine in your gym, you can also use that.

Barbell Row To Chest

The barbell row to chest is like the barbell face pull but pull much lower down the body. But you’ll be able to use much heavier loads to tax the upper back and rear delts. Here’s how to do it:

  • Use a wider grip than a typical barbell row. Row the barbell to your chest with your elbows flared to the side

 in a bent-over position.

A straightforward exercise to cap those rear delts.

1-Arm Dumbbell Row Elbow Out

You may have noticed a theme here. Rowing with the elbows out is the ticket to massive rear delts. Rowing with the elbows close to the body targets the lats. We get the horizontal abduction to target the rear delts when the elbows are flared.

The 1-arm dumbbell row is another variation where you can flare the elbow. Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand and lean on something sturdy or place your knee and hand on a bench.
  • Turn your hand, so your palm is facing behind you.
  • Row the dumbbell with your elbow flared.

Incline Prone Lateral

The incline-prone lateral lets you isolate the rear delts by removing anybody English or momentum. It’s an epic rear delt isolation exercise and is a free-weight alternative to the reverse pec deck. Here’s how to do it:

  • Lying face down on an incline bench, hold two light dumbbells.
  • Perform a wide ‘Y’ motion and slowly rotate your palms down. Stop once your arms are parallel with the floor.

Summary

These are the best rear delt exercises you can do to build 3D delts. Growing the rear delts isn’t fancy. It can be very dull. But to provide balance to your physique and potentially reduce the risk of injury, it is worth doing.

References

1. Campos, Y. A., Vianna, J. M., Guimarães, M. P., Oliveira, J. L., Hernández-Mosqueira, C., da Silva, S. F., & Marchetti, P. H. (2020). Different shoulder exercises affect the activation of deltoid portions in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of Human Kinetics75(1), 5-14.

2. Botton, C. E., Wilhelm, E. N., Ughini, C. C., Pinto, R. S., & Lima, C. S. (2013). ELECTROMYOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS OF THE DELTOID BETWEEN DIFFERENT STRENGTH TRAINING EXERCISES. Medicina Sportiva17(2).

About the Author

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your training.

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