The 10 Best Rear Delt Exercises for Muscle & Strength

Your posterior deltoids, or rear delts, are the muscles on the back of your shoulders.

The rear delts are often neglected in training yet contribute to a muscular upper back and broad, powerful shoulders. In pulling and rowing movements, strong rear delts help your lats pull your upper arm back.

In this article, we’ll review ten of the best rear delt exercises you can do to round out your upper back musculature and build bigger, stronger shoulders.

Rear Deltoid Anatomy

To understand which exercises best work your rear delt muscles, it’s important to have a basic understanding of their anatomy.

Rear delt muscle

Your rear delt is one of the three segments of your shoulder muscles, the other two being your front delts and side delts. Together, these three muscles stabilize and work on your shoulder joint.

The rear delt originates from what is called the spine of your shoulder blade, and inserts on the outside of your upper arm bone.

When your rear delt contracts, it pulls your upper arm back relative to your shoulder blade like in a rowing motion, also called shoulder extension. It can also externally rotate your upper arm.

Your rear delt is a synergist to your lat muscle in movements where you pull your arm back, and a synergist to your rotator cuff in external shoulder rotation.

This means that the best rear delt exercises are the ones where you pull your upper arm back, or rotate it outwards.

Let’s take a look at our top picks of rear delt exercises!

1. Barbell Rear Delt Row

The barbell rear delt row is one of the best rear deltoid exercises you can do. In addition to the rear deltoids, the rear delt row works your upper trapezius and rhomboids.

What differentiates this rowing variation from the regular bent-over row is that you pull with your upper arms straight out to your sides, like a T-shape. This makes the barbell hit high up on your chest, and focuses the work on your rear deltoids instead of turning it into a lat exercise.

Use a light barbell in this exercise, and strive for good form where you don’t use momentum from your hips to lift the bar.

How to Do Barbell Rear Delt Row

  1. Grip the bar with a wide overhand grip, and lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  2. Inhale and pull the bar high on your chest, with your upper arms pointing straight out to the sides.
  3. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

2. Dumbbell Rear Delt Row

The dumbbell rear delt row is the dumbbell version of the previous exercise.

Because of the free motion of the dumbbells, you might be able to get a slightly longer range of motion with dumbbells compared to a barbell.

Overall, they are likely equally effective for working your rear delts, and whichever you do is a personal choice.

How to Do Dumbbell Rear Delt Row

  1. Lean forward with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Inhale and make a wide rowing motion, where you let your upper arms go out towards the sides.
  3. With control, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

3. Reverse Dumbbell Fly

The reverse dumbbell fly is another excellent rear delt exercise. This exercise eliminates the rowing portion of the previous two exercises and focuses fully on pulling your arms back and shoulder blades together.

The reverse fly is a great isolation exercise for your rear delts, trapezius, and rhomboids, and all you need is a pair of light dumbbells, making it ideal for home shoulder workouts.

How to Do Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells, lean forward, and let your arms hang towards the floor.
  2. With almost straight arms (just a slight bend at the elbow), slowly lift the dumbbells by raising your arms out to the sides.
  3. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

4. Reverse Machine Fly

This is the machine variation of the rear delt fly. A benefit of machines is that you can get constant tension on your muscles, and not just in the top position like in the dumbbell rear delt fly.

The machine also eliminates the need for balancing and simplifies the technique, leaving you able to focus fully on your muscles and shoulder blades.

How to Do Reverse Machine Flyes

  1. Adjust the chest support and handles so that you can grip the handles at shoulder height and get a full range of motion.
  2. With just a slight bend in the arms, pull the handles backward by bringing your arms out to the sides.
  3. Reverse the movement and let the handles go back to the starting position.

5. Face Pull

The face pull is a classic rear delt and rotator cuff exercise, and one of the most popular exercises for working the back of the shoulders among the users of our workout app.

The key to the face pull is to keep your elbows high, and rotate your arms up so that you pull the cable toward your face (like the name suggests).

This way, you’re working both the pulling and external rotation functions of the rear delts for a double win!

Note that the cable machine can also be used to perform cable rear delt rows, which is not the same exercise as face pulls.

How to Do Face Pulls

  1. Fasten a rope handle in a high position on a cable pulley. Grip the ropes with an overhand grip, and take a step or two back.
  2. With elbows held high, pull the rope towards you by letting your upper arms move straight out towards your sides, while simultaneously rotating your forearms up.
  3. Return with control to the starting position, by letting your arms move forward again.

6. Barbell Row

The barbell row is not an isolation exercise for your rear delts, but it is one of the best back exercises you can do.

The bent-over barbell row works your lats, traps, rear delts, and biceps, to name the larger muscle groups.

This type of general rowing exercise might not be the best exercise for the rear delt specifically, but from a practical standpoint, they are very time-efficient as you work so many of your back muscles at the same time.

How to Do Barbell Rows With Proper Form

  1. Grip the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Lean forward with the bar hanging from straight arms.
  3. Inhale and pull the bar towards you.
  4. Pull the bar as high as you can so that it touches your abs or chest, if possible.
  5. With control, lower the bar back to the starting position.

7. Cable Wide Grip Seated Row

Similar to the barbell row, the seated cable row is a great exercise for your back muscles in general, including your rear deltoid muscles.

To increase the emphasis on your rear deltoids, use a wide grip and keep your arms out to your sides.

How to Do Cable Wide Grip Seated Rows

  1. Grip a bar slightly wider than shoulder width and assume the starting position.
  2. Inhale and pull the handle towards your abdomen, while leaning back slightly.
  3. Exhale and slowly return to the starting position by extending your arms and leaning forward.

8. Dumbbell Row

The dumbbell row is another one of those great back exercises that works your posterior deltoid muscles along with many other back muscles.

Because of how you pull your arm close to your body in the dumbbell row, it is probably not as effective for working the rear delts as, for example, the dumbbell rear delt row is, but once again: what it lacks in rear delt effectiveness it makes up for in effectiveness for working your back muscles in general.

How to Do Dumbbell Rows

  1. Start by placing a dumbbell on the floor beside a bench or chair. Stand facing the bench or chair and place your left hand and left knee on top of it.
  2. Keep your back flat and parallel to the ground, with a slight bend in the standing leg. Grip the dumbbell with your right hand.
  3. Inhale and pull the dumbbell by driving the elbow toward the ceiling.
  4. With control, lower the dumbbell back to the starting position while exhaling.
  5. Complete desired reps on one side, then switch to the opposite arm and leg.

9. Lying Dumbbell External Shoulder Rotation

Finally, let’s hone in on the external shoulder rotation function of the rear deltoid.

The lying dumbbell external shoulder rotation is a simple but effective exercise for working not only your rear deltoids but also your posterior rotator cuff muscles, mainly infraspinatus.

Use a very light weight in this exercise and focus on form and muscle contact.

How to Do Lying Dumbbell External Shoulder Rotations

  1. Lie down on your side, with your upper arm close to your side, and your elbow bent to 90 degrees.
  2. Grab a dumbbell and rotate your arm externally (upwards) against the direction of resistance, as far as possible.
  3. Reverse the movement, and repeat for reps.

10. Dumbbell Horizontal External Shoulder Rotation

An alternative to doing the lying dumbbell external rotation is to stand up and use a barbell or something similar to prop your upper arm up.

Again, use very light weights in this exercise and a slow and controlled tempo.

How to Do Dumbbell Horizontal External Shoulder Rotations

  1. Stand sideways to a barbell, set slightly below your shoulder height, so that your upper arm is horizontal when you are resting it on the bar.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in your hand, and bend your elbow to 90 degrees.
  3. Rotate your arm externally (upwards) against the direction of resistance, as far as possible.
  4. Reverse the movement, and repeat for reps.

How Many Rear Delt Exercises Should You Do?

How many rear delt exercises you should do depends on how much time you want to invest and how important it is to get optimal rear delt development compared to “just” good rear delt development.

Let’s look at two different fitness goals, with the first one being a minimalist approach with a lot of bang for your buck and the second one aiming for optimal rear deltoid muscle development.

The Minimalist Approach

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing different exercises and want the most bang for your training buck, I suggest you pick just one or two good rowing compound exercises for your back, train them hard with progressive overload, and let them serve as your rear delt training as well.

Examples are the barbell row, seated row, or dumbbell row.

These exercises alone will probably not give you optimal rear delt development, but they will develop all of your back muscles in general and give you a muscled upper back.

The Optimal Rear Deltoid Muscle Growth Approach

For optimal rear delt growth, I suggest you incorporate three types of exercises into your rear delt workouts:

  1. General row. Examples: barbell row, seated row, dumbbell row.
  2. Rear delt row or fly. Examples: barbell rear delt row, dumbbell rear delt row, reverse dumbbell fly, reverse machine fly.
  3. External rotation. Examples: face pull, lying dumbbell external shoulder rotation, dumbbell horizontal external shoulder rotation.

Pick one exercise from each category and train them hard, and that should result in optimal rear deltoid muscle growth.

You don’t have to perform all exercises in the same workout, but can spread them out over the week. For instance, you might do some of the exercises in a back and biceps workout and the rest in a chest, shoulders, and triceps workout.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do of Each Rear Delt Exercise?

Depending on if muscle hypertrophy or strength gain is your number one priority, you should adjust the weights you use and how many reps you do per set accordingly.

While there is considerable overlap between the two, here is how each goal is generally best achieved:

  • Strength is best gained from heavy weights and a low rep range, around 1–6 reps per set.
  • Muscle growth is best attained from medium weights and a moderate-to-high rep range, around 6–15 reps per set or up to 20 reps per set.

The back-focused rowing exercises like the barbell row or dumbbell row lend themselves better to a low-to-medium rep range, while rear delt isolation exercises like the face pull or rear delt fly is more suited to the medium-to-high rep range.

You can mix both high and low reps, like we do in our rear delt workout.

The number of sets you do of each exercise has a large effect on your muscle growth and strength gain, where more sets lead to greater gains, up to at least ten sets per muscle per week for beginners.1

Keep in mind that if you already do a lot of rowing exercises, you might already be working your rear deltoids quite a bit.

Rear Delt Workouts for Muscle & Strength Gains

Don’t want to design your own rear delt workouts?

Then follow one of ours!

Below are some of our most popular shoulder and rear delt workouts.

They are all available in our free workout log app, although some workouts require a premium subscription.

Rear Delt & General Shoulder Workouts:

To download our app StrengthLog and follow these workout routines, use the buttons below.

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

I hope you learned something from this list of the best rear delt exercises, and wish you good luck with your shoulder training!


  1. J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
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Daniel Richter

Daniel has a decade of experience in powerlifting, is a certified personal trainer, and has a Master of Science degree in engineering. Besides competing in powerlifting himself, he coaches both beginners and international-level lifters. Daniel regularly shares tips about strength training on Instagram, and you can follow him here.