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 seven of the best rear delt exercises to incorporate into your routine.
7 of the Best Rear Delt Exercises for Size and Strength
To offset any weakness in the backs of your shoulders — and develop those enviable shoulder caps — Openfit fitness expert Cody Braun recommends following a program with a 2:1 ratio of pulling to pushing exercises. Start by adding some of the following moves to your training.
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. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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).