Many athletes in all sports will tell you that doing the extra work on the little things is what makes the difference between being great and being average. Those that make those commitments in the form of time and proper effort will be well rewarded.
When it comes to sports like bodybuilding and powerlifting, this means paying attention to details and focusing on smaller areas that may not be as exciting as those beach muscles like arms or chest. It also means doing exercises that aren’t as intense like squats, bench, and deadlifts. One of those areas that can always use more work is the rear delts.
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About the Muscles
The rear delts, also known as the posterior head of the deltoid muscles, are small in size but big in importance when it comes to training. For bodybuilding, the rear delts complete the physique and make the entire shoulder area appear rounder and bigger from any position you’re standing onstage. For powerlifting, they are vital in stabilizing the shoulders for bench, supporting the bar on your shoulders when squatting, and can be a factor when you’re pulling on the deadlift platform.
The fibers of the rear delts run from the scapula to the humerus and are heavily involved in transverse extension. If you hold your arm straight out in front of you so it’s parallel with the floor and then move your arm out to the side while maintaining that horizontal plane, you’ll feel the rear delts working. If you hold your arm back out in front of you and then bend your elbow to pull your arm straight back, you’ll once again feel your rear delts contract.
If you bend yourself over, allow your arms to go straight down to the floor, you can feel your rear delts working again. Just take your straight arms and lift them out to your side while staying bent over. Return to your starting position and then pull your elbows back without allowing them to drop into your sides. In both motions, you’ll feel them contracting and relaxing.
The rear delts help the latissimus dorsi (aka lats) in any pulling motion. While they’re strongest horizontally, they are also involved in vertical pulling. Since neither the lats or pecs go beyond the shoulder, that makes the rear delts your major shoulder hyperextensor.
Training the Rear Deltoids
Now that you know what the rear delts do and how they work, how do you train them? Obviously it’s best to train them in the same motions that they’re meant to function. It’s pretty much impossible to completely isolate a specific muscle group but you can perform exercises that place a majority of the emphasis on that area.
You can train the rear delts however you like but the two most popular ways are either as part of a complete shoulder workout or as part of a “pull” day which can involve the back or even the entire posterior chain.
The workouts below will range from beginner to advanced and will even involve some home training options if you don’t have access to a commercial gym. If you don’t have access to the specific exercises listed here, use whatever equipment you are able to use. The M&S Exercise Guide section has a lot of options for you to choose from.
Beginner/At Home Workout Routine
If you’re an iron rookie then you will likely just want to start with training one exercise for each area of the shoulders. Your goal at this stage should simply be to feel the muscles working and leave the weight room knowing you trained them effectively.
A move as simple as a band pull-apart will be a good choice for you. You should choose a band that makes you work to stretch it out but not so much that you have to give it your 100% effort. Resistance bands are not only affordable but can be stored anywhere without taking much space so they’re a great home training option.
When you stretch your band, hold the stretch position for a count of one-thousand one, one-thousand two, and then slowly release the stretch of the band until it’s almost completely loose. Then repeat for your desired repetitions. Use this exercise as a part of this basic shoulder workout.
|Seated Shoulder Press||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
|Standing Lateral Raise||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
|Band Pull-Apart||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
Intermediate Workout Routine
If you’re someone who has put in about six months of solid training, then you’re ready to take the training to another level. You should have an understanding about controlling the weight and performing negatives on exercises to feel the muscles working harder and to help you get stronger.
The rear lateral raise with dumbbells is a very effective exercise that not only can help you improve your rear delt development but also force the entire shoulder area to stabilize the weight. That means the effort you put in with this movement can transfer to other pulling motions as well as help your shoulders stay solid when performing other shoulder exercises.
By this stage of the game you should be able to tell what areas of your physique need extra attention. If you feel the rear delts are coming along nicely then you can stick with performing the exercise later in the workout.
If you feel you need to work on those rear delts then you should do rear lateral raises first in the workout. You should also commit a second exercise to your routine – face pulls.
Face pulls are an exercise that calls for you to pull the elbows back while maintaining that horizontal plane that was mentioned earlier. You take either a rope on a cable attachment or a band that is wrapped around a pole or rack, hold an end in each hand, and pull straight back to either lift the weight or stretch the band. Once you feel the rear delts contract, let your arms return to the starting position.
Cables on this would be better because of the constant tension that cables provide but if you only have bands in your home gym, you can make those work as well.
This workout has you start with the rear lateral raise and finish with the face pulls. Even though you’ll be tired at the end of your session, make sure you commit to performing good reps so you can reap the most benefits.
|Rear Lateral Raise||3||12, 10, 8||1min|
|Seated Dumbbell Press||3||12, 10, 8||1min|
|Single Arm Lateral Raise||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
|Face Pulls||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
Advanced Workout Routine
If you’re an advanced level athlete and feel your rear delts are a strong part of your physique, then you can likely stick to those workouts above. However, there are many people who still have trouble making those rear delts look and feel proper even at the advanced stages. We all have our weaknesses but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it.
The advanced level lifters can devote two workouts a week to their rear delts. One can be with shoulders like the intermediate workout above and the other can be a part of their back routine.
If you decide to train rear delts with back, then do them first when you have the most energy and can provide the most focus to that area. As long as you train them correctly, it shouldn’t affect the rest of your back training.
Something else you can do is train each side individually. Figure out which shoulder is weaker and train it first followed by the other. One exercise that is very popular to perform in this manner is the single arm standing cable reverse fly.
This one involves a high cable pulley or a band secured around the top of a rack or a solid object if you don’t have access to cables. Grab the end of the band or cable with the arm that is away from the handle. Pull it across your body while keeping your arm as straight and parallel to the floor as possible. Feel the rear delt contract and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired reps and switch sides.
The sample back workout below includes this exercise first. Not only will you train the rear delts properly, you can also use this as a warm-up or pre-exhaust for the rest of your upper back session.
|Single Arm Standing Cable Reverse Fly||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
|Pullups||3||12, 12, 12||90s|
|One Arm Row||3||12, 10, 8||1min|
|High Seated Row||3||12, 12, 12||1min|
|Wide Grip Lat Pulldown||3||12, 12, 12||1min|