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Posterior Shoulder Exercises

author image Eric Bach
Eric Bach is a personal trainer, author of The Power Primer, and fitness business consultant in Denver, Colorado. His passion is simplifying fitness, helping clients get great results through the ruthless execution of the basics. Find out more on his website Bach Performance, or hang out on Facebook.
Posterior Shoulder Exercises
Posterior Shoulder Exercises Photo Credit Ibrakovic/iStock/Getty Images

Your shoulder muscles, known as the deltoids, are made up of three different muscles: the anterior (front), the middle, and the posterior (rear) deltoid. The latter is one of the most overlooked and under trained muscles in the body.

The posterior deltoid, or rear delts, are crucial to stable and healthy shoulders. Weak rear delts lengthen and weaken. Under-performing rear delts prevent you from gaining strength with overhead pressing and bench pressing and can affect your posture.

The Most Well-Known Rear Deltoid Exercise

The most common rear delt exercise you’ll see is the bent-over rear delt raise. To execute rear delt raises, grab a pair of dumbbells, hinge at your hips, making sure that your back is parallel to the ground, then raise your arms to the side until your arms are parallel to your shoulders.

Tip: You don’t need to go heavy here. Keep weight light to moderate and focus on the muscles you’re moving.

If you don't have access to light dumbbells, another option is the reverse fly machine. During machine reverse flyes, sit down facing the machine, grasp each handle with your arm -- keeping a slight bend in your elbows -- and extend the handles until, like the dumbbell version, your arms are parallel to your shoulders.

Read More: Rear Delt Exercises for Women

The Best Rear Delt Exercise for Size and Strength

Face pulls are the best exercise for building stronger and bigger rear delts. They’re also one of the best exercises to help improve posture and overall shoulder health. Our modern jobs require many of us to sit at a desk all day. And that keeps our shoulders internally rotated and is what creates that “rounded shoulder” posture.

Face pulls will help you improve your posture, and when correctly trained, they’ll add more size to your shoulders and help you increase strength.

To perform Face Pulls:

1. Grab a rope attachment and set the pulley machine to just under chin height

2) Grip the rope from underneath with a neutral hammer-style grip.

3) Maintain a high chest, pushing your shoulders back, and slightly retract (pull back) your shoulder blades.

4) Pull the rope back towards your face, trying to touch the inside of the rope to your nose.

5) Take a brief pause at the end of your motion and feel the squeeze in your rear delts.

One way to challenge and isolate your rear delts more is to perform Face Pulls in the supine position (on your back).


Another great posterior shoulder exercise is the Cable Rear Delt Fly.

1. Start by adjusting the cable machine to a height just above your head; keep the weight low.

2. With your right hand, grab the left pulley. And with your left hand, grab the right pulley. Then cross the cables in front of you; this is your starting position.

3. Move your arms back and outward, while maintaining straight arms throughout your movement.

4. At the end of the motion, pause for one second, and then slowly return to the starting position.

Read More: Muscles That Get Stronger from Boxing

How and When to Train Your Rear Delts

You don’t need to go heavy when training your rear delts. A moderate or lower weight is all you need. The ideal rep range for training your rear delts is between 8 to 20 reps per set. 2-4 sets per exercise are all you need for optimal rear delt training.

To produce more growth from your rear delts, make sure to train them in more than one rep range multiple times per week.

For instance, the best days to train your rear delts are on chest, shoulder, or back days. Your rear delts assist in all pulling motions such as pull-ups, cable rows, or dumbbell rows. Adding a set or two of Bent-over Rear Delt Flys at the end of your workout will go a long way in improving your back strength as well as posture.

As I mentioned above, your rear delts are crucial to your bench press. As you lower the barbell to your chest, your rear deltoids support your pecs and triceps. But they also aid in helping you push the bar off your chest.

So if your rear delts are too weak, you won’t get the bar up. For chest day, choose a moderate weight and start with 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of supine face pulls. Later, at the end of your workout perform 2-3 sets of 12-16 reps of machine reverse flys at a much lighter weight.

Anytime you work your shoulders, make sure you’re giving attention to your rear delts and not just the front and lateral deltoids. For each overhead pressing movement you make, you should also have 1-2 rear delt movements you’re adding in as well. Bent-over Rear Delt Raises or cable rear delt flys are the two best exercises for shoulder days.

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