Face Pull vs. Rear Delt Fly: What’s The Difference?

August 27, 2023

The shoulders are a muscle group targeted for functional fitness and aesthetic appeal. Two exercises that often pop up in shoulder-specific workouts are face pulls and rear delt flys.

The face pull involves pulling a rope, band, dumbbells, or barbell toward your face while keeping your elbows high, focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades together at the movement’s peak. In contrast, the rear delt fly involves holding dumbbells or using a cable machine to perform a wide arc motion with your arms, primarily targeting the rear deltoids.

These aren’t the only differences between the two exercises. Further, how do you know which one to use?

Face Pull vs. Rear Delt Fly Key Differences


Regarding face pulls, you’ll typically need a cable machine with a rope attachment, although a resistance band can also be an alternative. You can also face pull with dumbbells and barbells, but the movement is more advanced using those.

Rear delt flys are more versatile in equipment; they can be performed using dumbbells, a cable machine, or specialized gym machines designed for this purpose, such as a reverse pec deck.

Your choice might depend on what’s available, but each piece of equipment brings nuance to the exercise. For example, the reverse pec deck is a fixed machine, making it easier to relax your arms and force your rear delts to perform the work.

Muscles Worked

Rear Delt Fly vs Face Pull

Face pulls predominantly target the rear deltoids, the traps, and the various muscles that make up the rotator cuff. They’re excellent for building balanced shoulders and play a role in shoulder health.

On the other hand, rear delt flys focus more narrowly on the rear deltoids when done correctly. While both exercises hit similar muscle groups, the face pull engages a broader range of muscles than the rear delt fly.


Both exercises have similar learning curves. The hardest thing for new lifters to learn is engaging the rear delts in both movements. It’s a muscle you don’t see, making it challenging to have the mind-muscle connection.

The difficulty with the rear delt fly is isolating the rear delts and not using the mid-back muscles like the rhomboids and traps. The difficulty with the face pull is learning to pull the rope apart with high elbows instead of creating a rowing movement.

When To Use

Face pulls and rear delt flys can be used interchangeably in the same situations. For example, as part of a warm-up before an upper body day or at the end of a session to finish off the posterior delts and rotator cuff muscles.

However, if you are training physique, the rear delt fly may be a better option as it better targets the rear delts to maximize muscle growth. As a Powerlifter or general athlete, the face pull may be a better option since it trains the rotator cuff muscles for general shoulder health.

How To Face Pull

This step-by-step breakdown of the face pull focuses on the cable and band variation. However, the same movement is used regardless of the equipment. If using dumbbells or a barbell, you’ll perform the same movement with the arms and shoulders but in a bent-over position.

  • Stand in front of a cable machine and adjust the pulley to upper-chest height.
  • Attach a rope to the cable machine. Hold each end of the rope with your palms on top. Step back to create tension on the cable. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and your core engaged.
  • Pull the rope toward your face while keeping your elbows high and out to the sides. Imagine you are pulling the rope apart as you bring it closer to your face.
  • At the end of the movement, your hands should be on either side of your head. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together at this point to engage the rear deltoids and traps effectively.
  • Slowly extend your arms back to the starting position, maintaining tension on the cable.

Face Pull Benefits

Improved Shoulder Health

One significant benefit of the face pull is its positive impact on shoulder health. This exercise targets the major muscles like the rear deltoids and smaller, stabilizing muscles in the rotator cuff.

By engaging a comprehensive set of shoulder muscles, face pulls can help reduce the risk of injuries, especially those common in overhead and pushing movements.

If you frequently lift heavy or perform athletic activities that strain your shoulders, face pulls can serve as an excellent preventive measure.

Enhanced Posture

In today’s digital age, many suffer from sitting in rounded shoulder positions for extended periods. Not addressing this can lead to various problems, including back pain and muscular imbalances.

Face pulls can come to the rescue. This exercise helps strengthen the upper back and rear shoulder muscles, critical for maintaining an upright posture.

Regularly performing face pulls can help you pull your shoulders back, aligning them more effectively over your hips and reducing the hunched appearance that comes with poor posture.

Balanced Shoulder Development

Many popular exercises like bench presses, push-ups, and shoulder presses focus predominantly on the front and side deltoids. However, focusing on the rear deltoids is crucial for well-rounded and balanced shoulder development.

Neglecting the rear deltoids can lead to imbalances that affect your appearance, strength, and mobility.

This balance is aesthetically pleasing and functionally beneficial, making your shoulder movements more efficient and less prone to injury.

How To Rear Delt Fly

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and find a space with enough room to fully extend your arms. You can also perform this exercise seated, in which case a flat bench would be needed.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing each other, and the dumbbells should be aligned with the center of your body. Sit at the edge of the bench with your feet firmly on the ground if you’re seated.
  • Slightly bend your knees and hinge at the hips until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and your core engaged.
  • Extend your arms below your body, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. This is your starting position.
  • Keeping your core tight and back straight, lift the dumbbells to the side in a wide arc. Imagine you are pouring two drinks from a bottle.
  • At the top of the movement, your arms should be parallel to the ground, and you should feel a strong contraction in your rear deltoids. To target the rear delts, avoid pulling your shoulder blades together. A true rear delt fly doesn’t have the shoulder blades move.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position in a controlled manner, keeping tension on the rear deltoids.

Rear Delt Fly Benefits

Targeted Muscle Building

The rear delt fly is particularly effective for isolating and building the rear deltoids. This is crucial for anyone aiming to develop well-rounded shoulders, as traditional exercises like bench presses and shoulder presses primarily target the front and middle deltoids.

By isolating the rear deltoids, you can achieve a more balanced muscle development, which is aesthetically pleasing and beneficial for functional strength and movement.

Improved Posture

Poor posture is a common issue that many people struggle with, often due to sedentary lifestyles and extended computer usage. The rear delt fly can be a game-changer in this regard.

By strengthening the rear deltoids and upper back muscles, this exercise helps naturally pull your shoulders back, aligning them over your hips and correcting the hunched posture commonly seen in desk workers.

Over time, this can lead to a better appearance and reduced strain and pain in the upper back and neck areas.

Enhanced Shoulder Stability

While the rear delt fly specifically targets the rear deltoids, the stabilization required to perform the exercise also engages other surrounding shoulder muscles.

This improves shoulder stability, which is vital for various activities, from lifting heavy objects to performing athletic movements like throwing or swimming.

Enhanced shoulder stability can also reduce the risk of injuries, making this exercise beneficial for anyone involved in sports or activities that require strong and stable shoulders.


Face pulls and rear delt flys are exceptional exercises for developing your upper body, particularly the shoulders.

Face pulls are versatile, target a range of muscles, and are excellent for overall shoulder health. Rear delt flys are more focused, primarily targeting the rear deltoid when done without moving the shoulder blades.

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.

Want More Great Content?

Check Out These Articles