While the rear delt is often trained indirectly through most pulling movements like rows and pull ups, dedicated isolation work for the rear delts can add quality muscle mass, improve shoulder function, and improve pressing performance for beginner lifters and serious athletes alike.
Direct training the rear delts can be done by performing wide grip rowing movements with the elbows flared, upright rows, and pull aparts using dumbbells, cables, bands and even bodyweight.
The 13 best rear delt exercises are:
- Dumbbell Reverse Fly
- Dumbbell Face Pull
- Dumbbell Upright Row
- Thumbs Down Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Cable Reverse Fly
- Cable Face Pull
- Cable Upright Row
- Cable Wide Grip Row to Face
- Band Tear Apart
- Band Face Pull
- Machine Reverse Fly
- Bodyweight Reverse Flye
In this article, we will discuss in detail the best rear delt exercises you can do with dumbbells, cables, bands, and no equipment at all. We will explain how to perform each of them and review some tips on how to incorporate them into your program.
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How Do You Build Your Rear Delts?
When looking to build the rear deltoids, you need to first look at your workout program to see how much they are indirectly getting trained from other movements.
Exercise like pull ups, pulldowns, bent over rows, dumbbell pressing, and even olympic weightlifting movements (like snatches and cleans) all rely on the rear deltoid for stability and strength.
If you are looking to add additional rear deltoid work to your current training program, you can start by performing 8-12 additional work sets per week and see if that helps make a difference (and doesn’t negatively impact your performance elsewhere).
Starting by performing 3-4 total works sets that target the rear delts per workout (3-4 days a week) can be a good way to add volume without increasing soreness or impeding recovery from hard training and stress from heavier compound lifts.
Rear Delt Exercises With Dumbbells
Below is a complete list of the best rear delt exercises with dumbbells. While there may be other movements that also target or at least train the rear delts, the below four (4) exercises will offer you the most effective way to directly train the rear delts with dumbbells.
1. Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly
The belt over dumbbell reverse flye can be performed lying face down on an incline bench (supported) or bent over (self supported). The goal here is to get your body to be close to parallel to the floor, or slightly angled upwards from that to ensure gravit is still pulling the weights on a downward angle (instead of you being upright).
The chest supported reverse fly is a great option because it minimized the amount of body swing and momentum that can be used, and also does not allow the lifter to change their angle to make the movement easier as they get more tired (the more upright you are, the easier the movement is and the less it targets the rear delts).
For the sake of this article, we will discuss how to properly perform the bent over dumbbell reverse flye (self supported).
How To Do It
- Grab a pair of light dumbbells, one in each hand, and hinge at the hips as if performing an RDL or bent over row
- Your back should be flat, and your chest should be up, with the shoulders being slightly higher than the hips
- With your palms facing one another, straighten your arms below you
- You can also have the palms facing your body, so that the thumbs are next to each other (this will also help isolate the rear delts)
- With a slight bend in the elbows, pull the weights outwards as if you were trying to touch the walls (laterally), making sure to not bend the elbows throughout the movement more than they were initially set
- Lift the weights as high as you can before your shoulders start to hunch forwards or until you feel like you lose the contraction in the rear delt
- Pause at the top of the movement for a second or two, then slowly lower the weights down, following the wide arcing path in which they were lifted
Think about lifting the weights in an arcing movement pattern, rather than bending the elbows and growing” the weight upwards. Keeping your elbows straighter will be harder, and you will not be able to use as much weight, so be OK using lighter dumbbells and slowing the reps down to really feel the rear delts.
2. Bent Over Dumbbell Face Pull
The bent over dumbbell face pull is a very similar exercise to the bent over dumbbell reverse fly. In this exercise, you will allow the elbows to bend as you lift the weights upwards, keeping your elbows flared out to the sides.
By bending the elbows and keeping them flared outwards, instead of keeping the elbows straight or rowing the weights up with your elbows tucking into the body, you are able to lift heavier loads yet still isolate the rear delts. This is a great exercise to train the rear delts with heavier weights and build muscle and strength.
How To Do It
- Get yourself set up either on an incline bench or bent over, with dumbbells in each hand (same set up as the reverse fly)
- With your palms facing one another, and arms fully extended towards the floor, separate the hands so that they are roughly 12-16” apart from one another
- Lift the weights by flaring your elbows outwards, allowing them to bend as you pull the weights up
- If you do not feel your rear delts, be sure that your elbows are flared out to approximety 90 degrees
- At the top of the movement, the hands (and dumbbells) should be in line with the chin or eyes (pull to the face)
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold a brief pause, making sure your shoulder and head are not rounded downwards toward the floor
- Lower the dumbbells in the same path they were lifted, making sure to keep the elbows flared at all times
By flaring the elbows and pulling the weights to your face, rather than tucking the elbows in and pulling to your chest, you target the rear delts more rather than the lats.
3. Dumbbell Upright Row
The dumbbell upright row is performed standing and can build both the rear delts and traps. This exercise is often effective when done with control, and moderate to light weights.
Think of this exercise as the standing version of a face pull, in that your elbows pull straight up and they stay flared out as you lift the weights past the face (or at least the chin). If you cannot lift the weight part of your chin, you need to go lighter (unless you have pain in the shoulder doing this).
How To Do It
- Start standing up, with one dumbbell in each hand
- Move the dumbbells to the front of the body, so that the palms are facing you and your hands are approximately 12-16” apart from each other
- With your chest up, and back flat/arched, slightly lean forward 5-10 degrees to allow the dumbbells to be off the body an inch or two
- Lift the elbows upwards, keeping them flared out
- As you elevate the elbows, make sure they stay above the wrists at all times
- Lift the weights until you cannot lift them anymore pain free, or until the dumbbells are at face level
- Pause at the top, making sure the elbows are high and pointed up and out, not back
- Slowly lower the weights to the initial starting position (1-2 second lowering phase) and repeat
This can be a tricky exercise, especially if you are using too much weight. The upright row should be done with slow and controlled repetitions, and often much less weight than you think. It is also important to control the lowering phase of the exercise, as it has the most effect on muscle hypertrophy (controlling the eccentric phase and time under tension).
4. Thumbs Down Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The thumbs down dumbbell lateral raise is a delt exercise that has been slightly modified to target more of the rear delt. By turning the thumbs downwards (pronounced) you expose the rear delt, turning the regular lateral raise into a hybrid lateral raise and reverse fly exercise.
This is a great lateral raise variation to really overload the rear delts and train them with heavier loads. While the rear delt can grow with lighter loads just fine, it sometimes can be helpful to train the rear delts with heavy to moderate loads in the 8-12 rep range (with good form and control) to maximize muscle growth.
How To Do It
- Start by standing up tall with a dumbbell in each hand
- Move the dumbbells to the front of your body, and turn the palms so that the thumbs are facing in and your pinkies are facing out (palms should be facing your body)
- With your chest up and shoulder back, start the dumbbell 6-12 inches apart from one another, and never bring them closer than that until you are done with the entire set
- With a slight (very slight) elbow bend, flare your elbows outwards so that they can be lifted out and up, as if you were trying to touch the walls to your sides
- At the top of the movement, pause and make sure that your thumbs are still pointing downwards
- Slowly lower your hands back to your sides, keeping the thumbs down the entire time
It is helpful to focus on lifting your pinkies upwards with straight (or slightly bent arms). If you do not feel the rear delt, lift the weights higher, straighten the arm more, and you rep speed down (on both the concentric and eccentric phases)
Rear Delt Exercises With Cables
Below is a comprehensive list of the best rear delt exercises with cables. The below four (4) exercises are variations of the dumbbell ones listed above, and offer the added benefit of better individualizing angles at which the muscles are hit, as well as offering constant muscular tension throughout the entire range of motion.
5. Cable Reverse Flye
The cable reverse fly can be done standing, rather than being bent over with dumbbells. By setting the cable height at chest/shoulder level, you can train the rear delts effectively.
You can also adjust the cable height to lower settings to also train the read delts and delt/traps.
How To Do It
- Stand in front of a cable system, with the pulley set at shoulder height
- Grasp the handles, one in each hand
- You will want to have your arms crossed in the starting position, so when you grab the handles grab the left handle with your right hand and vice versa
- Straighten the elbows, and pull the handles apart laterally until the arms are out to the sides of the body
- Hold that position briefly, then slowly lower the weights back to the stack, and repeat for reps
Adjust the height and play around with the angle at which the pulleys are set at. You may find it more isolated by having the handles at thigh or knee level, and raising upwards, while others may find it more isolating to have the hands set at shoulder level and pulled straight apart.
6. Cable Face Pull
The cable face pull is a rear delt exercise that is done often with a rope to allow the hands to be pulled apart as they get closer to the body.
This is another exercise that can have the pulley starting height vary based on the individual preference. You will want the handle to at least be starting at chest height (and pulling on an upward angle), and going now higher than slightly above the head (and pulling downwards to the body). Any higher and it will become a pulldown, whereas if it is too low it will become an upright row.
How To Do It
- Stand in front of a cable system, with the pulley set at chest height
- Attach a rope attachment to the cable clip, and grab the ends of the rope with each hand
- You will want to have you palms and thumbs turned downwards as you grab the end of the ropes
- Pull the elbows backwards towards your ears, and allow the hands to separate from one another as you pull the rope closer to your face (you should be pulling the ends of the rope apart to allow for the center of the rope to move towards your face
- Make sure to keep the elbows elevated, and up towards the ears
- When you have pulled the rope back enough, pause and make sure your shoulders are not rounded forward, then reach the hands out in front of you slowly to return the weight to the stack, and repeat for reps
This can be a tricky exercise to target the rear delts because the traps, biceps, and back muscles may want to overtake the movement. Try to not use any momentum, and pull the weights up slowly, and lower them slowly to really maximize muscle isolation.
7. Cable Wide Grip Horizontal Row to Face
This is a cable row pulled to the face rather than the chest, done with a wide grip. By pulling the bar or attachment more towards your face, you isolate more of the rear delts and posterior shoulder muscles rather than the lats.
You can also use a wide, parallel grip, meaning that your thumbs will be pointed upwards as you flare your elbows out during the row.
How To Do It
- Start by facing a cable stack, either seated or standing (seated will allow for a better set up)
- Grab an attachment (bar or parallel grip bar) and extend your arms straight in front of you
- Sit up tall, and pull the elbows back towards your ears, making sure to keep the elbows flared out away from the body (do not let your elbows drop downwards towards the floor)
- Pull the elbows and arms back, using your rear delts and upper traps/back
- The bar or attachment should be at face level, not chest level
- Pause when the hands are pulled back as far as they can go without rounding your shoulders or back forward, then extend your arms back in front of you, making sure to keep your elbows up, and repeat for reps
The key to this is to lift the elbows up, and keep them up as you pull the bar or attachment back to your body. If your elbows drop or pull the weight towards your chest or stomach rather than your face, you will not isolate the rear delts.
8. Cable Upright Row
The cable upright row is a vertical pulling movement that targets the rear delts and traps, and can be done by setting a cable to the low position and pulling upwards, lifting the elbows up towards the ceiling.
The upright row does not require a ton of weight, contrary to what many believe or do in the gym. Rather, taking your time and focusing on good technique and keeping constant tension of the muscles can result in good muscle growth with less weight and shoulder joint stress.
How To Do It
- Stand in front of a cable system, with the pulley set at the lowest height
- Attach whichever attachment you prefer, which for the sake of this guide will be the straight bar
- Grab the bar with a double pronated grip (palms down) with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width
- Step back from the cable pulley a few inches, and extend your arms out so that the elbows are straight and there is tension on the muscles and cables
- With your chest up, lift the elbows upwards as high as you can, making sure that the elbows are higher than the wrists at all times
- You can even allow the hands to get pulled up to face level, as long as you can get the elbows higher
- Pause at the top of the rep, and then slowly lower the weight down, focusing on keeping the elbows higher than the wrists at all times
This is an easy exercise to do incorrectly, and an even easier one to have some shoulder discomfort in when doing it incorrectly. The key with this is to lift the elbows out and up, and to not use body momentum or swinging of the weight to lift it. Controlling the eccentric phase (lowering) is also important to maximizing muscle hypertrophy and isolating the rear delts.
Rear Delt Exercises With Bands
Below is a comprehensive list of the best rear delt exercises with resistance bands. The below three (3) exercises are variations of the dumbbell and cable exercises listed above. The great thing about resistance bands is that they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and can be used in any setting (home gym, while traveling, etc).
9. Band Tear Apart
The band tear apart (or band pull apart) is a standing reverse flye done with straight elbows. This exercise targets the rear delts, as well as helps increase scapular stability by increasing strength and stability of the scapular muscles.
The key here is to keep the arms extended and elbows fully locked out the entire time.
How To Do It
- Grab a resistance band with a pronated grip (palms down)
- Your hands should be shoulder width apart, and fully extended in front of you
- Make sure that the band is tight and has tension on it (the band segment between the hands)
- Stand up tall, with your chest and head up, and shoulders pulled back
- Pull the band apart laterally, making sure to keep your elbows straight
- Pull the band apart until the band touches the chest (again, make sure your elbows are locker out)
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together, and then slowly reverse the direction, returning to the starting position to repeat the entire process for reps
You need to keep the elbows locked out the entire time. In order to target the rear delts you will also need to make sure the band is hitting you at the chest while you are standing as tall as possible.
Related Article: 7 Resistance Band Exercises for Legs (Plus, Sample Workouts)
10. Band Upright Row
The banded upright row is done just like the cable or dumbbell upright row, with the only difference being that you will need to step on the resistance band to anchor it as you stretch it out.
The key here is to make sure you are fully on the band, and to not let the band slip out from underneath your feet as you perform the upright row.
How To Do It
- Grab a resistance band and step on the middle of the band with both feet
- With your hands on the ends of the resistance band, stand up tall with your chest up, back flat, and palms facing backwards (pronated)
- Lift the elbows upwards, placing a stretch on the band
- The higher you lift the elbows, the harder the movement becomes
- The elbows should go to ear level, and always make sure your elbows are higher than your wrists
- Pause at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the hands downard, not allowing the resistance bands to pull your arms down too fast (slow and controlled eccentric phase)
- Once you have reached the bottom of the movement, with straight arms, stand up tall again and repeat the entire process for reps
The more band you have between your feet, the less band is exposed outside of the feet. This will result in the band having more tension and making the movement more difficult to perform. You can adjust the band tension by taking a more narrow stance or letting more band be exposed between the outside of your feet and the hands.
11. Band Face Pull
The band face pull is a rear delt exercise that is done often with identically to the rope face pull, just with a band attached to a study beam, pole, or squat rack
Like the cable face pull, you can adjust the angle of the face pull by securing the band to various heights. For the sake of this guide, the band face pull will be done from chest level
How To Do It
- Stand in front of a sturdy beam, pole or squat rack and loop one end of the band through the other at chest height
- If you are using a band that has handles on both sides, and is not a loop, simply place the band around the pole one time, and grab the handles, making sure the band is at chest or head height
- You will want to have you palms and thumbs turned downwards as you grab the end of the bands
- Pull the elbows backwards towards your ears, and allow the hands to separate from one another as you pull the band closer to your face (you should be pulling the ends of the band apart to allow for the center of the band to move towards your face
- Make sure to keep the elbows elevated, and up towards the ears
- When you have pulled the band back enough, pause and make sure your shoulders are not rounded forward, then reach the hands out in front of you slowly to return the weight to the stack, and repeat for reps
Like the cable face pull, you can change the angle at which you perform this movement. Make sure to always keep the elbows high, regardless of the angle.
Rear Delt Exercises With Machines
There is only one main machine exercise that can be done to effectively target the rear delts. While it is important to note that you may be able to perform some machine exercise to also target the rear delt, it may not be the best option when compared to the below exercise or others in this article.
12. Machine Reverse Flye
The machine reverse fly is often done on a machine that can target the rear delts when facing inwards, or the chest when facing outwards.
This is a great machine to minimize chest reps and really help train the rear delt to full failure.
How To Do It
- Start seated, facing the pad
- Set the seat high so your hands grasp the handles and are at shoulder height
- The hands should be extended in front of you
- Pull the handles apart, bringing them as far back as you can without rounding the shoulders forward
- Pause briefly, then slowly lower the weight back down, bringing the hands back to the front of the body
As with all rear delt training, focus on slow eccentric movements to maximize muscle growth.
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Rear Delt Exercises With No Equipment
Below is a short list of exercises you can do without quiement. It can be difficult to train the rear delts in a highly isolated manner without any equipment, however it can be done. That said, adding a resistance band to your home gym may be a good way to offer more training options.
13. Prone Reverse Flye
The prone reverse flye is done by lying prone on the floor or bench, with your hands extended out to your sides. Think about your head being 12 on a clock dial, and your arms extended out to 10 and 2. You can also do this standing and bent over at a 45 degree, and lifting your hands upwards.
By doing these off the floor, you increase the range of motion of the movement. Obviously, this will be an exercise that has no weights, so the rep count and rep speed will need to be slow to attempt to accumulate any amount of muscular stress.
That said, if you are looking to train the rear delts without weight, and can perform more than 30 slow and controlled repetitions without any weight, you will benefit more from doing banded work or pull ups than lifts.
How To Do It
- Start by lying prone on an elevated position like bench
- You can also do this in the bent over position (like you are doing a bent over row)
- With your arms extended towards the floor, and your thumbs pointing towards one another, lift the arms outwards on a slight angle forward, making sure to keep the elbows straight
- Hold the position at the top, then slowly lower down, and repeat for reps
Think about keeping your pinkies up towards the ceiling the entire set, and slowly raise and lower your arms to keep tension on the muscle.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your goals and the equipment you have access to. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
For targeted rear delt training, you can use dumbbells, cables, bands, and machines. Each option offers you a great way to train the muscle to muscular failure and isolate the rear delts as effectively as possible. With all rear delt exercises, it is key to control the eccentric phase.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.