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The rear shoulder muscles, or the posterior deltoids, are one of the three heads comprising of the deltoid muscle group. Posterior deltoids are the muscles to the back of your shoulders, extending between your shoulder blade and the humerus, which is the upper arm bone. The rear delts are responsible for extension, rotating your arm behind you.
Collectively, these deltoid muscles are responsible for extension, horizontal abduction, and external rotation. It’s important to work these muscles regularly to ensure stability and mobility. Improving their strength also helps to protect the ball and socket shoulder joint.
Weak deltoids are a reason for muscle imbalance which can cause shoulder impingement and pain. Typically, any shoulder weakness tends to be due to underdeveloped rear delts. They are often overlooked during training as they are a small muscle. However, a proper rear shoulder workout can increase muscle growth, providing better stability to the joints which can even lead to an improved posture.
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In this article, we look at some of the best shoulder exercises that you can add to your rear shoulder workout.
9 Exercises For Your Rear Shoulder Workout
Below is the list of exercises to target the rear deltoids with an explanation as to how to perform them.
Incline Dumbbell Y-Raises
The incline dumbbell Y-raise is a great way to build flexibility and strength in your rear deltoid muscles. It also targets your chest muscles and forearms, helping you develop overall strength to the upper body. Aside from activating the rear shoulders, this exercise will also target the middle deltoids and lower traps.
How To Perform The Incline Dumbbell Y Raise:
- Set the back pad of an adjustable bench at 45 degrees.
- Position yourself so your chest is resting on the back pad.
- Extend your legs out behind you and rest on your toes.
- Take hold of a dumbbell in each hand. Keep you arms hanging down towards the ground. This is your starting position.
- Start by squeezing your lats, this should retract your shoulders.
- From here, raise the dumbbells up and out so that your arms form a Y shape.
- Pause in the Y position briefly and go back to the starting position. Repeat the desired number of reps
T-bar rows are a great exercise to build back strength and work your latissimus dorsi along with the rear deltoid muscles. The T-Bar row exercise can be performed in a dedicated machine, by using a landmine attachment or by simply positioning a barbell into the corner of a room.
If using a barbell, a good tip is to use smaller weight plates as this will increase your range of motion for better muscle activation.
How To Perform A T Bar Row:
- Start by positioning a barbell into the corner of a room, ensure it’s stable enough so it doesn’t move around during the exercise.
- Load up the other end of the bar with your weight plates. Start with a lighter weight for good form.
- Take a V grip attachment and position it under the bar just in front of the plates. This is so you have something to hold onto whilst pulling the weight upwards.
- Stand astride the barbell and adopt and wide stance.
- Now hinge forward at the hips and aim to get your chest parallel to the floor. The plates should be directly underneath your chest.
- Take hold of the V grip attachment with both hands and slowly pull the weight towards your chest.
- Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine throughout.
- Take a brief pause when the plate touches your chest and slowly lower the weight back down before repeating.
Dumbbell Reverse Fly
The dumbbell reverse fly is a resistance based exercise that activates the rear delts and other major upper back muscle groups. Incorporating this exercise into your workout routine will minimize the risk of muscle imbalance and improve your overall shoulder health.
There are several variations of the dumbbell reverse fly, such as the standing cable reverse fly, bent-over rear lateral raises, and the seated dumbbell rear fly.
How To Do The Dumbbell Reverse Fly:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells.
- Keeping your spine in a neutral position, hinge forward at your hips and move your torso forward to form a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Let your arms hand down towards the ground with palms facing each other.
- Now, raise both arms up and out while keeping your elbows slightly bent. At the top of the movement your palms should be facing towards the floor.
- Pause for a second or two, then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Cable Face Pull
The cable face pull activates the traps as well as the rear shoulders. It also strengthens the rotator cuffs, teres major and teres minor muscles. If you don’t have access to a cable machine, you can perform this exercise at home with a resistance band by anchoring it to a door at chest height.
How To Do A Cable Face Pull:
- Set the pulley to around chest height and clip on a rope attachment.
- Choose the desired weight load on the stack. Don’t be tempted to go too heavy as this can affect form.
- Take an overhand grip on the rope and keep your shoulders down.
- Step back from the pulley to create resistance and so your arms are fully extended.
- Stand with your feet shoulder with apart with a slight bend to the knees. This is your starting position.
- From here, pull the rope towards your face, squeezing the shoulder blades together and engaging the core. Be sure to always keep your elbows higher than your wrists.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat steps 6 to 7.
Whilst traditionally a back exercise, the Meadows row will also give the rear delts an effective workout increasing muscle mass and strength. Essentially a single arm pronated row, the name of this movement is taken after it’s developer, the late John Meadows, a renowned bodybuilder and strength coach. The set up for this exercise is similar to that of the T bar row.
How To Do The Meadows Row Exercise:
- Start by setting the end of a barbell into the corner of a room or landmine attachment.
- Load the opposite end of the bar with some weight plates. Use smaller plates to allow for a greater range of motion.
- Stand side on at the loaded end of the barbell and adopt a split stance.
- Using your inner hand, take hold of the end of the bar with an overhand grip.
- Rest the elbow of your resting arm on your inner thigh. This is your start position.
- Keeping your torso stationary, start to row the weight up towards you.
- Pause briefly before lowering the weight back down. You should feel a stretch to your mid back muscles.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps before switching sides.
Lying Rear Delt Circles
If you want to engage your posterior delts and back muscles at the same time, then lying rear delt circles is a good option. This exercise can also improve your shoulder joint mobility leading to better shoulder health. As the name suggests, this exercise is performed in a prone position using a pair of dumbbells.
How To Do Lying Rear Delt Circles:
- Lie chest down on a flat weights bench. Your body should be fully supported and in line.
- Take hold of a dumbbell in each hand using a pronated grip.
- Raise the dumbbells off the ground, bringing them to either side of your hips.
- Keeping a slight bend to the elbows, make a ‘delt circle’ by bringing the dumbbells forward.
- After a short pause, follow the same movement path and take the dumbbells back towards your hips.
Wide Grip Inverted Rows
The wide grip inverted row will target the lats, traps and rear delts making is a great upper back and shoulder exercise. You’ll likely need to perform this exercise in the gym as you’ll need access to a power rack or squat rack to hold a barbell.
How To Do Wide Grip Inverted Rows:
- Start by positioning a barbell on the weight rack at around waist height.
- Lie on the ground face up. Position yourself so the barbell is directly above your upper chest.
- Take hold of the bar with both hands so they are just beyond shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip.
- Pull your body towards the bar while contracting your core muscles.
- Pause when your chest touches the bar and lower yourself back to the ground.
- Keep your body in a straight line during this movement and ensure you have full control over your motion to prevent injury.
The ball cobra is an effective bodyweight exercise that helps strengthen and stretch your rear delts, abdominals and lower back muscles. When performed regularly, this exercise can help to improve posture and alleviate lower back pain. You can perform this movement either at home or in the gym with just a stability ball.
How To Do The Ball Cobra:
- Lie across a stability ball so that your mid section is fully supported.
- Extend your legs outside behind you and rest your weight on your toes with feet just beyond shoulder width apart.
- Take your arms out in front of you so that your body forms a Y shape. Your palms should be facing the floor. This is your starting position.
- From here, sweep your arms down and behind you in an arc plane of motion.
- You want to rotate your shoulders so that your thumbs point towards the ceiling.
- Squeeze your glutes and raise your torso as high as you can.
- Hold this highest position for a count of 3 and then return to the starting position.
Cable Upright Row
The cable upright row is a good upper-body exercise to target the muscles of your upper back, upper arms and medial and anterior deltoid. You’ll need to perform this movement on a cable machine with a rope attachment. Whilst you can use a straight bar attachment, you’ll have a limited range of motion.
How To Do A Cable Upright Row:
- Set the pulley of a cable machine at it’s lowest height then clip on your chosen attachment.
- Take hold of the attachment with both hands using a pronated grip.
- Take a step back from the pulley to create some resistance.
- From here, drive the elbows up whilst keeping them close to the body.
- Pull the ropes apart as you raise the elbows and be sure to keep your elbows above your wrists throughout.
- Pause at the top of the movement before slowly lowering back down.
Whether you have poor posture or weakened back muscles, by focussing on improving strength and mobility to the rear shoulders can help to rectify some of these issues.
What’s more, increasing muscle mass can help to better protect the very mobile shoulder joint, helping to prevent common shoulder conditions such as tendinitis and bursitis.