The pec deck is arguably one of the most popular pieces of equipment in most commercial gyms and you’ll find yourself waiting just as long to use this as you would a power rack or lat pulldown. While it’s primarily used for a chest fly, most pec decks have the functionality to operate as a reverse pec deck.
This allows you to perform a rear delt fly in a comfortable and advantageous position allowing you to use significantly more weight (and potentially better form) than you would when performing a standard bent over rear delt fly.
While it’s a popular machine, you’ll find that you either need to wait to use it or that the pec deck machine in your gym does not have a reverse functionality. Therefore, it’s useful to have some alternatives to this exercise in order to still get a good rear delt workout.
Reverse pec deck alternatives? The best alternative for a reverse pec deck is to set up a bench at a 90-degree incline and position it in front of a cable pulley machine or fixed structure that you can attach resistance bands to. Once in position, you’ll sit with your chest against the bench and perform a rear delt fly.
I previously covered how the reverse pec deck fly is one of the best exercises (if not the best exercise) for bringing up underdeveloped rear delts. In this article, I’ll cover some of the best reverse pec deck alternatives and exercises to ensure you still train the rear delts effectively without this machine.
The 5 best reverse pec deck alternatives are:
- Reverse Cable Fly
- Incline Bench Reverse Dumbbell Fly
- Bent Over Rear Lateral Raise
- Cable Face Pull
- Barbell Rear Delt Row
What Is a Reverse Pec Deck Machine
As mentioned earlier, the reverse pec deck is not a rear delt specific machine but rather a chest machine that has been adjusted to allow for rear delt and upper back training. Due to the movement pattern of a chest fly, the machine can easily be designed to allow you to work the same movement in reverse for a rear delt fly.
This is usually done by simply adjusting the position of the handles and is a straightforward and quick adjustment. The only exception is where you have a pec deck machine that has pads below the handles to rest your forearms.
This is a more specific variant of pec deck designed only to target the chest through chest flys. This means that even if your gym has a pec deck, it might not be one that supports and rear delt work.
What Muscle Does the Reverse Pec Deck Work
The reverse pec deck primarily works the rear delt, medial delt, lower/mid traps, and the rhomboids. The extent to which it hits other muscle groups will depend entirely on hand and elbow position (bent elbow, how far back you extend), seat height, and scapular retraction.
These are factors often overlooked when it comes to utilizing the reverse pec deck and a failure to fully retract your scapula (squeeze your shoulder blades together) may isolate the rear delt more but you also won’t be able to get it into a fully contracted position.
How To Do a Reverse Pec Deck Without a Machine
The reason a reverse pec deck machine is good for a rear delt fly is that it allows you to lift more weight.
Lifting more weight is not always the only answer when it comes to building muscle or stimulating a muscle group but if you do a similar movement and one allows you to lift more weight, chances are it will also build more muscle.
The reason you can lift more weight when using a rear delt machine than some of the alternatives I’ll list later on is that you are locked into a fixed position and can generate more force. If you look at powerlifters when they bench press, their legs are tucked or placed with a wide stance.
The reason is to apply tension with your legs and generate force. Similarly, it’s advised that instead of pushing the bar you should instead press backward into the bench (as though you are trying to push yourself through it rather than push the bar forward). This again generates more force and tension.
You can lift more weight on a lat pulldown when you are locked into position underneath a leg support than you can with pull ups lacking this tension. You can row more with a chest supported pad than without.
There will be some exceptions but generally, when you can push against an object, you can generate more tension which is key for muscle growth, and also lift more weight.
If you want to do a reverse pec deck without a machine, you need to brace your chest against a bench and then mimic the movement with either bands or cables. I’ll cover this in more detail later but you don’t need a reverse pec deck as long as you have a regular, adjustable bench.
Reverse Pec Deck Alternatives
The below are what I consider to be some of the best reverse pec deck alternatives so that you can continue to train and grow your rear delts even if you don’t have access to this specific machine. All exercises have instructional videos included so I’ll just list the benefits and key points for each one.
Just keep in mind that my number one alternative would be the one I listed earlier which is an upright bench utilizing cables or resistance bands.
1. Reverse Cable Fly
The reverse cable fly allows you to target the rear delt whilst keeping constant tension throughout the full range of motion. The height at which you set the cables will dictate how many other muscle groups will be activated.
Setting them at mid-chest to head height will allow for more scapular retraction and rhomboid engagement whereas an above head height starting position will bring the lower traps into engagement more.
The key point with this movement is to not overly round your shoulders or upper back which can be an issue when not using a bench to support the chest. This will shift tension away from the rear delts and make for a more ineffective set.
2. Incline Bench Reverse Dumbbell Fly
The incline bench reverse dumbbell fly is a good alternative to the reverse pec deck when training rear delts because it simulates the movement quite well. The only difference being you can’t generate as much force or lift as much weight.
Setting the bench at a 30-45 degree angle offers the best position to target the rear delts without bringing in too much medial delt. After 45 degrees, the movement will start to become more of a lateral side raise and much less beneficial for rear delt development.
3. Bent Over Rear Lateral Raise
The bent over rear lateral raise is the exact same movement as the one above but the only difference being you no longer have the bench to support your chest during the exercise.
Personally, I don’t think this is a great movement because you are severely limited by the amount of weight you can use with this exercise and it’s very easy to perform this exercise with poor and ineffective form.
When bent over, you need to keep your spine neutral, core tight and most importantly avoid raising your upper body to “cheat” the reps up. As an isolation exercise, you’ll find it’s difficult to truly isolate the rear delts because you need to spend so much time keeping the rest of your body tight and locked in.
Therefore, I’d only really recommend this alternative when you are really short on equipment as this would be one of the few exercises you can do to target the rear delts with minimal equipment.
4. Cable Face Pull
One of the best exercises for posture correction and rear delt/upper back training is the cable face pull (using a rope). This exercise takes the shoulder joint through a comfortable range of motion that strengthens the rotator cuff and smaller stabilizing muscles of the upper back.
You shouldn’t try to go heavy on this exercise at all and it’s used as an exercise to strengthen the smaller stabilizing muscle. What you will notice though is that a solid contraction and stretch really fires up the rear delts as a result of the constant tension that the cables provide.
You should be including this exercise in your shoulder or upper back session regardless of whether or not you also do a reverse pec deck fly.
5. Barbell Rear Delt Row
I’ve listed the barbell rear delt row last on this list because it’s on that allows you to use a bit more weight when training the rear delts but it’s also very tricky to use good form and isolate the rear delts. Most people attempting this exercise will find they are using their upper back to do most of the work.
A tip to utilize is to pull with the elbows (using a wider than shoulder-width grip) and think ‘high and out elbows’. This exercise takes a lot of mind-muscle connection to properly execute and you should start off with minimal weight in order to learn the movement pattern and keep it different from a standard bent over barbell row.
It can be very easy to let your upper back take over the set when your rear delts fatigue so keep the weight low and try to only lift with the rear delts. The other alternatives are much easier to get to grips with than this exercise.
Rear delt training is something a lot of people struggle with and you’ll find that most people who lift weights will have a more developed front delt in comparison to the rear delt. In my opinion, the reverse pec deck is the best machine to use in order to rectify this.
It allows you to lift optimal weight for the rear delts, take it through a full range of motion, and is easy for beginners to maintain good form. When this machine is not available though, there are certainly reverse pec deck alternatives that will still develop your rear delts.
Reverse cable fly, cable face pull, and any variation of a dumbbell rear delt fly will still allow you to train the movement and can be considered a good reverse pec deck alternative.
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