It’s no secret that a lot of people suffer from the rolled shoulders look, too much pressing and not enough pulling leads to some noticeable imbalances when it comes to the delts and the most common case is underdeveloped rear delts.
The muscles on the back side always tend to be those that are most underdeveloped, particularly for beginners who focus on the mirror muscle that they can see (biceps, chest, abs, quads, shoulders) but neglect those that they can’t see very easily (back, hamstring, triceps, rear delts).
There are such a range of common factors that go into a lack of rear delt development that it’s arguably one of, if not the most underdeveloped muscle group for most people.
Underdeveloped rear delts? Underdeveloped rear delts are common for those that spend more time pressing in their workouts than they do pulling (the ratio should be a minimum of 1:1 but a more favorable split would be 2:1 for pulling to pushing) and also don’t give the rear delts much direct training.
I’d say that rear delts are also a muscle group that people don’t necessarily dislike to train and if you are going to do a seated lateral raise then there is not much effort in leaning forward and doing a rear delt lateral raise, the issue is just that people don’t tend to pay them as much attention as they do to other muscle groups.
Underdeveloped Rear Delts
Well developed rear delts will really help to enhance your physique and give your shoulders the rounded and powerful look that comes with a set of well developed rear delts.
Underdeveloped rear delts give the illusion of a rounded upper body and appear to be a sign of bad posture and more often than not the two are very closely related. When you focus on pressing more than pulling then you tend to not only overdevelop your front facing muscles but also cause muscle tightness in the chest and upper back.
This is amplified by those that work a desk job and spend the day hunched over which is why I stated earlier that a 2:1 ratio of pulling exercises to pushing exercises would be best for most people. Unfortunately it’s usually the reverse ratio for a lot of people who hit the bench press with freakish regularity!
How to Make Your Rear Delts Bigger
If you are wondering how to bring up your rear delts and make them bigger then there are a few strategies that you can implement to start to see immediate results.
The first and most important factor that you need to change is your training frequency and quantity of direct rear delt work that you currently do. 3 sets of rear delt raises at the end of a workout once per week is not enough to stimulate sufficient muscle hypertrophy.
If you want to see progress and get bigger rear delts then you need to make training them a priority. As with any muscle group that you want to bring up, frequency, volume and direct training will be key.
Therefore I recommend training rear delts anywhere from 2-4 days per week but you will need to manage total weekly volume.
If you wanted to train twice per week then two different exercises spaced out over the two sessions will provide adequate and sufficient stimulus for growth. If you wanted to train them four times per week however then I’d recommend doing only one exercise for each of these sessions.
Either approach will see an increase in frequency whilst also managing overall weekly volume to reduce fatigue.
The direct work should speak for itself, if you want to grow a muscle then you will need to target it directly and I’ll cover this in more detail a bit later on when I list some of the best rear delt exercises for bringing up lagging rear delts.
Another important point to note is that studies show that the rear delts have a muscle fibre makeup that is roughly 50/50 in terms of type I and type II muscle fibres. This means that in order to maximally fatigue and grow the rear delts you will need to vary your loads and reps.
A combination of heavy weight for low reps and moderate weight for high reps is the way to go for maximal rear delt development. Notice I don’t specify light weight with high reps and that is because it’s very hard to judge a light weight that will provide sufficient stimulus.
Many will train in the 8-12 rep range and therefore you will only need to reduce the weight you would use here to then look to get into the 15-25 range.
With the heavier weight it’s worth keeping in mind that the rear delts are only a small muscle group, therefore don’t pick weights that will see you swinging the weight up to complete a rep and bring the upper traps into the movement (a common issue for people with underdeveloped rear delts).
Should You Train Rear Delt With Back or Shoulders
I’ve said you need to give the rear delts some direct work and frequency to force growth but something many struggle with is deciding when they should train the rear delts because there is a carryover to both back and shoulder sessions.
Rear delts can be trained with either back or shoulders, there isn’t an optimal day to train them but the best approach is to train them at a time when fatigue wouldn’t affect your following workout.
If you train shoulders on a Tuesday followed by back on a Wednesday then adding them into the shoulder session will mean your back day suffers due to the rear delts being a secondary muscle group for most heavy pulling movements.
Therefore you need to let your training split dictate which day would be best to commit you rear delt sessions to.
Best Rear Delt Exercises
Below are some of the best exercises that you can do to bring up your rear delt development. The rear delts are only a small muscle group so you don’t need to get too fancy with them and know that your strength levels will be rather limited.
A focus should be on a good contraction and making sure you fully isolate the muscle without bringing the upper traps and upper back into the movement. If you are going up the weights quickly then I would re-assess and make sure that you are not using other larger muscle groups to do the majority of the work.
What Compound Exercises Work Rear Delts
As mentioned the rear delts are a small muscle group and compound exercises by nature are those that utilize multiple muscle groups and joints, therefore many will look for a compound movement for the rear delts but the truth is that there isn’t really a compound movement for the delts.
The reverse pec deck is the only rear delt exercise where you could argue that you can move a good amount of weight however this is often heavily supported by the upper back and upper traps.
It’s a movement that is easy to generate force and tension due to the fact that you can brace yourself against the pad but these bigger muscle groups will take over once you go too heavy.
Therefore when it comes to rear delt development you want to make sure you are focusing on tension and isolation. The rear delts are a secondary muscle group to a number of heavy compound movements like the barbell row, pull up and deadlift (provided you are doing these) and therefore you can be sure you are working it sufficiently as a secondary muscle group.
To really fatigue the muscle fibres though you will need to do direct work through isolation movements. It’s a rare occurrence for me to recommend this because I’m of the firm belief that getting stronger in basic compound lifts over time will develop the majority of your muscle groups.
The exception being of courses muscle groups that get neglected just like the rear delts.
Reverse Pec Deck Fly
The reverse pec deck is arguably the best exercise for the rear delts in terms of potential for strength progression (a key factor in muscle hypertrophy).
Even smaller muscle groups need the potential for steady progression over your training months and years and as long as you have some technique/form awareness and can minimize the involvement of your traps and back then the reverse pec deck ticks all the boxes.
Being able to push into the pad with your chest will allow you to create force and tension that are crucial for loading a muscle group and creating mechanical tension. It’s why you can do a lat pulldown with a set amount of weight underneath a pad but as soon as you remove this then you can’t generate the same amount of tension and basically do a pull up lifting yourself off of the bench.
That’s a more extreme example but the key takeaway is that the reverse pec deck should be a staple exercise in your rear delt workouts.
Underhand Rear Delt Dumbbell Raise
This exercise is best done seated on a bench leaning forward though you can also put the bench to a 45 degree incline and lie flat on it.
This is the same movement as a side dumbbell lateral raise however there is one key twist and that is taking an underhand grip (palms facing forwards).
You will see very few people use this grip but it’s not a fancy technique that I want you to do for no reason. With an overhand grip you will have a tendency to bring your elbows back when the reps get difficult and this will cause you to move all tension away from the rear delts.
By keeping an underhand grip your arms will come up in line with your shoulders and you’ll find it’s very hard to break form using this grip. This is great because you’ll need to choose a weight that you can actually handle, you’ll better isolate the rear delts and your shoulder will stay in a stable position throughout the movement.
Lying Face Pulls
I mentioned this earlier but one of the key issues with rear delt exercises is that your upper traps will assist the movement, particularly if you have overactive traps which a lot of people do.
Therefore we need to use movements that again might restrict the total amount of weight you can use but will allow you to better isolate the rear delts during a rear delt workout.
Lying face pulls are an exercise that does just that. You will still use a high cable pulley machine with a rope attachment and bring your arms either side of your head but by lying down you will heavily restrict and almost eliminate and trap involvement.
This video below will demonstrate the best form to use for lying face pulls.
Dumbbell or Barbell Rear Delt Row
This movement is going to be similar to a face pull and that is the movement pattern that you want to imitate, it’s a row/face pull hybrid.
I also need to admit that the more I think about this exercise the more it could be argued that it has compound movement like potential, the only issue being of course the level of involvement for the upper back and biceps.
A dumbbell or barbell (my preference) rear delt row is an exact imitation of a barbell row but with a few minor adjustments. With this exercise you will take a wide grip to reduce upper back involvement and instead of rowing to your stomach or sternum you will row with the bar lined up to your forehead.
This high row is what best imitates the face pull movement of a cable machine but offers a different type of training stimulus and again there is a video below to demonstrate the best form to use.
Cable Rear Delt Pull
The final exercise to help bring up an underdeveloped rear delt is a cable rear delt pull. This is a very non technical exercise and one that many might not even consider due to its simplicity. Make no mistake though this is an exercise that you can really make use of to fatigue your rear delts.
A rear delt pull starts on a high pulley cable system with your arms by your side or slightly in front of you holding the handle. All you do for this movement is bring your arm as far back behind you as possible without bending at the elbow or wrist.
To make sure you do this exercise correctly you need to minimize any lat involvement (bring the arm behind you is a function of the lat) and therefore a concentrated effort needs to be placed on the rear delt to make sure it’s the prime mover.
As you can see there are numerous exercises that you can add into your routine in order to bring up your rear delts. The crucial thing however is actually programming some direct rear delt work into your routine and hitting them with some frequency and volume.
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