Wherever you are in your fitness journey, at some point, you'll recognize the need to strengthen your shoulders. The shoulder muscles play an integral role in lifting, pushing, and general mobility. The rear deltoids, in particular, are involved in pulling movements but often get short shrift. Below, we outline exercises you can use to sculpt your rear delts for balanced, injury-resistant shoulders. Please consult your doctor or a qualified health and fitness professional to get the green light before starting a strength training fitness routine, especially if you currently experience back or shoulder pain.

Anatomy of the shoulder

The deltoids, or delts for short, are just one of the muscle groups that make up the shoulder, along with the rotator cuffs and scapular muscles like the traps. If you get an injection in your shoulder, it goes into the delts, and if you injure your rotator cuff, the deltoids pick up the slack. Each deltoid has three parts: anterior, lateral, and posterior.

Together, they form a triangular shape like an upside-down version of the Greek letter delta, hence the name. The posterior or rear deltoid sits on the back of your shoulder. It assists with moving the arm backward when walking, throwing, or pulling, for example.

muscle anatomy drawn into shoulder


Benefits of strengthening the rear delts

The rear delts stabilize the shoulder joints, the most mobile joint in the body. They prevent the shoulders from slumping forward, so you can improve your posture if you strengthen them. While the anterior or front delts are dominant in many functional movements, it's worth paying attention to the rear delts, too, even if you can't see them.

Bodybuilders target the rear delts for well-rounded, wide shoulders, but if you don't have aesthetic goals, stronger rear delts can prevent injuries during sports or daily activities.

Asian woman with poor and good posture on white background


Key exercises for rear delts

You don't need to go to the gym to start working your rear delts. Add reverse flys to your fitness routine if you've got a pair of dumbbells and are new to shoulder workouts.

Here's how to do a bent-over reverse fly.

Hold a dumbbell in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hinge your hips until your trunk is almost parallel to the floor. Bend your knees a little. Your arms should be extended with the dumbbells below your chest. Now, from this starting position, raise the dumbbells outwards and up to shoulder height like you're flying. Then, lower your arms back to the starting position.

Do at least 8 to 12 reps.

handsome young african descent mixed race man doing Seated Bent Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly workout in gym


Bodyweight and minimal equipment exercises

No dumbbells? Rear delt exercises using just your body weight include back planks, T's, and crab walks.

To do a reverse plank, sit with your legs straight in front of you and put your hands on the floor behind you with your fingers facing toward your toes. Engage your core and raise your hips up high, extending your arms. Your body should form a straight upward line from your heels to your ears. Hold this position for as long as you can.

This movement is more difficult than it looks, but as you build upper body strength and shoulder mobility, it'll get easier.

woman holding a plank position


Integrating rear delt exercises into your routine

You can do an upper body workout or back workout as part of a well-rounded strength training program for your overall mobility, or you can work just the shoulders, including the rear delts, with a focus on postural improvement. Whichever you opt for, avoid training the same set of muscles on consecutive days because they need time to recover.

If you're a newbie, try and focus on form and perfecting two different rear delt exercises, and if you're further along your fitness journey, you can do up to four rear delt-focused movements in a session. Change the order in which you do your delt exercises to challenge the muscles in different ways.

Fitness woman working out with kettlebell on orange background. Athletic girl doing exercise for delt


Advanced variations

Face pulls are an excellent exercise to target rear delts. You can head to your preferred fitness center to do cable face pulls. If you'd like to incorporate a face pull variation at home, you can use a kettlebell and a towel in a bent-over movement.

For many of the upper body exercises in your fitness routine, a progressive overload is important to advance and prevent plateauing. That could mean switching to a higher weight or doing more reps (up to 20 in a set) at a lower weight. Never move to a higher weight too quickly, or consider whether you're using momentum to complete a movement. Your rear delts are a smaller muscle group, so start lighter than you might for other muscles and focus on your form to prevent strains.

Portrait of young fit woman pulling up on gymnastic rings at gym. Muscular woman exercising with rings at health club.


Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Be sure to research the proper form for any exercise you wish to do by sourcing information from qualified health and fitness professionals. For example, with a reverse plank, avoid shrugging your shoulders, or you'll put unnecessary stress on your joints and stop as soon as your hips start sagging.

As a rule of thumb, it's essential to warm up before working out. This could mean dynamic stretching, jogging for 5 to 10 minutes, or doing aerobic exercises like jumping jacks. It's also crucial that you listen to your body's signals. There's a difference between fatigue from working hard and pain, and you should never push through the latter.

Senior man suffering with shoulder pain during workout Sneksy/ Getty Images


Tracking progress and adjusting workouts

You may realize you have weak rear delts if you're muscle-building and look at your body from the side. Do you notice that your shoulders bend forward slightly? If the answer is yes, it's likely because there's a muscle imbalance, and the rear delts have been neglected in favor of presses that work the front delts.

You might also experience shoulder discomfort. After strengthening the rear delts for a few weeks with a slow increase in intensity or volume, you might start to notice better posture and less tightness and soreness in the shoulders. You'll also find it easier to do pushups and other compound movements that may be important to your goals.

tracking progress


Expert insights

In addition to the reverse fly, resistance band pull-aparts and dumbbell or barbell rows are key rear delt exercises that can be done at home in a basic gym set up.

Focus on quality over quantity, and ensure you make a mind-muscle connection. Know where the muscles you're targeting are (in this case, the back of your shoulders), and as you perform relevant exercises, focus on engaging them during each rep.

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The bottom line

It may take longer for your rear delts to look noticeably different than it takes to achieve gains in other areas of the body. Instead of growth within 6 weeks, visible results could take 3 months or longer. But your work in the form of reverse flys, back planks, face pulls, band pull aparts, or rear delt rows is not in vain. Stronger rear delts reinforce your upper body strength and stability and should keep niggly shoulders at bay.

Physical therapist gives resistance band exercises. About the arms and shoulders of male office workers, office syndrome, male patient. Physiotherapy concept.


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