Let’s be frank. A lot of us struggle with our rear delt development compared to the rest of our shoulder. Whether it be neglecting them in general or just inefficient training, if you want to build bigger rear delts and have that 3D shoulder look, the first step is to ditch the reverse dumbbell flys.
Function and Limitations
Think about it. Your rear delts helps with the horizontal range of motion of your arm. But your arm can actually move beyond that and go behind your body (and if you can’t, and don’t have an injury, it sounds like you need to increase flexibility and stretch). The thing about the reverse pec deck and rear delt flys is that with those exercise, its hard to get the full range of motion and extend your arm enough to effectively activate the rear delt muscle. The other thing is that with flys and pec dec, usually the weight has to be much lighter. So let’s take a look at what we can do instead.
To fully activate the rear delt, you have to go beyond the range of motion that reverse pec deck and reverse dumbbell flys offer. By switching up the activities you do, you’ll be able to handle larger loads as well. The rear delt muscle consists about 50/50 type 1 and type 2 muscle fibers, so to get maximum gains, you’ll want to do a mix of both heavy weight/low reps and moderate weight/high reps.
It can be hard to isolate rear delts without activating your traps or other back muscles, which is why some of these exercises have modifications.
Barbell High Row
This exercise will mainly target your rear delts, with some activation of biceps as well. While at first glance it may seem the same as a normal barbell row, the difference is having a wide grip and where you will lift the bar to. You’ll want to bring the bar to your chest, not your core. To do this:
1. Get into position like how you would for a normal barbell row
2. Grab the bar with a wide grip at about 45 degrees from your sides
3. Slightly bend your knees
4. Hinge at the hips so that your back is almost parallel to the ground
5. Rotate your firsts to be aimed towards the floor
6. Protract your shoulder blades to prevent traps from being activated
7. Lift the weight towards your upper chest while keeping elbows high
8. Drive the elbows up and back behind the body as much as possible
9. Contract the delts and pause at the top
For this exercise, use a heavy weight with between 6-12 rep range. If you’re reaching 12 reps easy, time to increase the weight slightly. And be sure to not rely on momentum.
Alternatively, you can perform the same motion these three ways:
1. Seated cable row with wide bar attachment
2. Standing cables, one leg propped against the bar for stability, wide bar
3. Seated row machine with horizontal bars
Whichever you choose, remember the key here is the movement range. Focus on driving your elbows as far back as possible.
Dumbbell Incline Row
To get started, set up a bench at a 30-degree angle. If its too low, you won’t be able to get a full range of motion. If its too high, your back muscles and side delts will get activated.
Get some heavy (for you) dumbbells and rest the front of your body against the bench. Feet planted firmly on the floor. And get ready to do 6-12 reps.
1. Angle your elbows away from your sides (don’t tuck them in)
2. Pull the dumbbell toward you
3. As you pull, externally rotate your shoulder (turn your wrists outward during each rep)
4. Drive the elbows up and behind the body
5. Hold the top position and contract the rear delts
Again, don’t rely on momentum.
Modified Rope Face Pull
Since face pulls are an upright exercise, along with your rear delts, your postural muscles work, and that means your traps. So to combat this, we’re going to modify the traditional rope face pull to eliminate gravity by laying on your back instead.
On a cable, use a rope attachment and set the height to around shoulder height. Lower the rope with you and lay on your back with your knees bent.
Pull your elbows back until they touch the ground. At the same time, externally rotate your shoulder so that your hands almost touch the ground.
Still, think about driving the elbows up and behind your body.
For this exercise, you can use a lighter weight and higher rep range of 10-15 reps.
Rear Delt Cable Pull
So for this cable exercise, we’re actually not going to use an attachment, and instead just use the ball of the cable. Set the height to about face level. We’re going to bring the arm into hyperextension behind the body. This activates the rear delts more than other muscle groups. Keep in mind that triceps may be activated to an extent, but the main worker is the rear delts.
With a very slight bend in your arm, bring the weight down and back behind your body at about 45 degrees away from your side. Keep your elbow locked and externally rotate your shoulder by twisting your arm and hand outwards as you bring the weight down.
Experiment with different arm angles to see which angle you feel the strongest connection to your delt with. For this exercise, use a lighter weight with higher reps, about 15-20 reps.
It’s often that key muscle groups that are the most overlooked. However, neglecting them or inefficient training can affect your appearance greatly as well as potentially causing muscle imbalances. So, start to implement some of these exercises into your routine if you’ve been struggling with your rear delts. Of course, nobody wants to have a full day of only rear delts, so what I suggest is trying them all out, then picking 1 heavy type and 1 lighter type and incorporate them into your existing workouts. To maximize growth, add more weekly volume to your rear delts by adding 2 exercises into your shoulder workout and 2 exercises into your back workout.