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These Are The Best Rear Delt Exercises For Sculpted Shoulders, According To A Trainer

This muscle group does way more than you think.

Headshot of Andi BreitowichBy Andi Breitowich

I love an upper-body workout. I'm all about biceps and triceps exercises, and maybe some back moves. But my go-to arm routine was missing a major muscle group that (unfortunately) often goes unnoticed: rear deltoids. You may not see them, but the back of your shoulders deserve some love.

“The rear delts (known as the posterior deltoids) are the muscles on the backside of the shoulders,” says Macy Pruett, CPT, a certified personal trainer and the founder of Fittest Core. “They sit on the back part of each shoulder muscle and begin on the spine of the shoulder blade and insert on the humerus, or upper arm bone.”

Meet the expert: Macy Pruett, CPT, is a certified personal trainer and the founder of Fittest Core. Kelly Bryant, CPT, RYT, is a certified personal trainer and registered yoga teacher who is a coach on training app Future.

You can consider rear delts the best supporting actor of the upper bod. First and foremost, the rear delts help stabilize the shoulders and are key players in *all* shoulder movement. "The rear delt is an important and multifaceted muscle that plays a few roles," says Kelly Bryant, CPT, RYT, Future training app coach. "It helps to lift the arm out, to externally rotate, and to stabilize the movement of other muscles of the arm and back."

For example, rear delts help lift the arm when doing a lateral raise or a jumping jack and it helps pin the upper arm in place when doing a bicep curl, according to Bryant. "Most of all, it plays a big supporting role in all upper body pulling exercises, like rows," says Bryant. "We need it for functional movements like yanking on the dog leash or picking up our kids. Without strong rear delts, we can see a lot more wear and tear on the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff."

And, this muscle is working when you're just sitting around. “Rear delts help you maintain proper posture by working alongside the muscles in the back to prevent the shoulders from hunching, while also assisting in extending and externally rotating the shoulders,” says Pruett. “It’s important to strengthen the rear delts to maintain good posture, which directly impacts the body’s overall health.” I don't know about you, but I just sat up a bit straighter.

Tips For Strengthening The Rear Delts

Start with the most effective rear delt exercises (coming up in a sec). Then, follow these trainer tips to get the most out of the moves:

  • Keep your mind on the muscles. "It's important to understand with most muscles, but especially those of the shoulder and upper back, our awareness and intention plays a big role in what muscles are most activated," says Bryant. "For example, when doing a row or a back fly, you can focus more on the muscles of the back of the shoulder (like the rear delt) or you can focus more on the muscles between the shoulder blade and the spine. Bring your attention to using whichever muscle you want to target."
  • Feel them out. If you can, try to touch the rear delt with the opposite arm while it's working. "You should feel the muscles flex on the back of the shoulder," says Bryant. That's when you know you're on target.
  • Opt for lighter weights. "Keep in mind that the heavier you're working, the more you will need to use the large muscles like the rhomboids and traps," says Bryant. "When working lighter or with bands, you'll be able to target the rear delt more."
  • Work them two to three times a week. If you want to build muscle, include rear delt exercises three times a week. Training the rear delts twice a week is sufficient for maintaining strength.

8 Best Rear Delt Exercises

Time: 15 minutes | Equipment: dumbbells, resistance band | Good for: rear delts, shoulders, upper back

Instructions: Choose four moves below. For each exercise, do the designated reps and continue to the next move. Repeat for three rounds total.


Rear Delt Fly

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Why it rocks: “This is a great exercise because it can be done bilaterally or unilaterally and it targets the upper back and rear delts,” says Pruett. As an added bonus, engage your abdominals to maintain a straight back for a little core workout.

How to:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and microbend in knees.
  2. With a neutral spine, engage your core, hinge the hips back, and let your arms hang down in front of your body with a slight bend in the elbows, and palms facing each other.
  3. Exhale as you squeeze the shoulder blades together and lift arms up and to the side until they reach shoulder height.
  4. Pause at the top, then inhale and lower your arms back down to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Do 10 to 12 reps.

Seated Bent-Over Row

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Why it rocks: “This is a great rear delt move because it can be done bilaterally or unilaterally, and can be done with heavier weights,” says Pruett. That said, if you’re a beginner, start with light to medium weights (think 10 to 20 pounds) to nail form and get comfortable in the movement pattern before you level-up.

How to:

  1. Sit with your spine straight and tall and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other.
  3. Hinge forward at the hips so your back is flat and parallel to the ground (or as close to parallel as possible).
  4. Extend your arms toward the ground without touching it and hold the dumbbells near your ankles.
  5. Row the dumbbells toward the sides of your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Make sure you don’t arch your back and keep your neck aligned with your back.Hold at the top for one second.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. That's 1 rep. Complete 10-12 reps.

Renegade Row

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Why it rocks: This challenging move works the rear delts along with many other muscles. Renegade rows are great to include because the rear delts act as stabilizer muscles.

How to:

  1. Set up your base by dropping down into a high plank position with feet wider that shoulders for more stability and a dumbbell in each hand (this is easier with hexagonal dumbbells).
  2. Keeping your core tight and hips square, exhale and row up with your right arm, keeping your elbow in close to your ribs and to full range of motion.
  3. Inhale and lower the weight back to the ground.
  4. Repeat with the left arm. That's 1 rep. Complete 10 to 16 reps.
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Seated Arnold Press

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Why it rocks: This is a great exercise because you can lift heavier weights as you build strength and it will target and tone your delts, says Pruett. And, because this move involves multiple planes of motion, you’ll get the benefits of targeting several muscles at one time (traps, shoulders, and back).

How to:

  1. Sit on a stable surface with your spine straight and tall and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at chest level with your palms facing you.
  2. Press the dumbbells overhead while rotating your hands 180 degrees until your palms are facing forward.
  3. Pause when you have straight arms with biceps by the ears.
  4. Lower with control as you reverse the movement back to starting position. That's 1 rep. Complete 8 to 10 reps.

Pro tip: If you need a modification, lift one arm at a time and do 5 reps on each side.


Upright Row

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Why it rocks: This exercise is great because it trains the delts and traps, and the time under tension helps build muscle, says Pruett. “It’s also great for muscle hypertrophy (growth), as you can focus on the eccentric (lowering) phase by going down really slowly,” she adds.

How to:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your body, palms facing thighs.
  2. Engage your core and exhale as you lift your elbows up and flare them out to the side. Make sure your elbows stay above your wrists at all times.L
  3. Pause when the weights reach the highest, most comfortable level, or until they are just below your chin, and keep elbows pointed out to the sides.
  4. Inhale and slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Complete 10 to 12 reps.

Banded Pull-Apart

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Why it rocks: This is a fantastic exercise that really targets the rear delts. It's essentially a standing rear delt fly with straight arms The pull-apart can also help to stabilize the scapular muscles.

How to:

  1. Start standing with feet hips-width apart and holding a resistance band with palms facing down. Start with hands shoulder-width apart and fully extended in front of you, maintaining tension in the band. (The more slack, the easier the exercise).
  2. Maintaining good posture, a tight core, and a sturdy stance with shoulders pulled back, pull the band laterally apart. Keep your elbows straight.
  3. Pause when the band touches your chest or you can't pull your hands any further apart. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  4. Inhale, and slowly reverse the movement, returning hands to shoulder-width starting position. That's 1 rep. Complete 10 reps.
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Banded Lateral Raise

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Why it rocks: Using a band instead of dumbbells creates more tension at the top of the rep, making this variation even more effective.

How to:

  1. Start standing with a staggered stance and a resistance band looped under your left foot. Hold the ends of the band in each hand.
  2. Maintain a microbend in your elbows and raise both arms out to the sides.
  3. Pause when your hands reach shoulder height and arms are parallel to the floor.
  4. Lower back to start with control. That's 1 rep. Complete 10 to 12 reps.

Superman Banded Lat Pulldown

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Why it rocks: This superhero move can be done by anyone, anywhere. Plus, it engages stabilizer muscles (rear delts included) all over the bod.

How to:

  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms holding a resistance band and legs fully extended while keeping your head relaxed and spine neutral by looking at the floor in front of you.
  2. Contract your core muscles to stabilize your spine, while simultaneously raising both your legs and straight arms a few inches off the ground, keeping your head and neck neutral.
  3. Keep arms and legs elevated, and bend elbows to pull the resistance band to chest. That's 1 rep.
  4. Complete 10 reps, then gently lower yourself back to the starting position.
Headshot of Andi Breitowich
Andi Breitowich

Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.  

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