Having round, well-formed, defined deltoid (shoulder) muscles is a arguably common desire of most men and women who lift weights. They really do provide a lovely shape to the upper body and back. While I don’t coach or often focus on aesthetics, this post may lean in that direction. But fear not. Building functional deltoids is a win for anyone. And that undoubtedly involves focusing on the rear delts.
You have three sections of the deltoid muscle – Anterior (front), medial or lateral (middle) and rear (posterior) deltoid. Today’s exercises focus in on taxing and recruiting the rear deltoid.
The rear delt connects from the spine of your scapula (shoulder blade), to the upper lateral portion of your humerus (upper arm). Deltoids as a unit are massively responsible for ABdcution (raising the arm away from the body) – Think lateral raise and overhead pressing movements (shoulder flexion). Extension and external rotation are rear delts bias/function.
The following three exercises can be used as singular exercises, in a superset with other exercises (same or opposing muscle groups) or as a tri-set. I’ve programmed them in Built By Annie as a tri-set.
3-5 sets depending on the volume you’re accustomed to, at 8-12 reps each. Tempo should generally be slower down than up. If you perform this entire tri-set, be sure to rest long enough between sets in order to work at a high output during working sets – maybe one minute at least.
The chest supported piece of this movement really encourages that recruitment of the upper back muscles and of course, the rear deltoids. You want to avoid over extending the low back here. Create space between the ears and shoulders and think about drawing the scapula (shoulder blades) inward towards the spine. This is that shoulder extension we talked about – pulling the upper arm back toward the body.
You can play with performing this movement palm down or with pinkies up and thumbs down. Some people feel the rear delt with pinkies up, while others feel it more with palms down. I have not personally done EMG testing to see which stimulates more muscle fiber recruitment of the rear delt. Do whatever gives you the best result. Both are fair game.
It’s common to feel the traps here, as they are also working. But really try and focus in on the rear delts at the top of the exercise. In the reverse fly, we also see extension + abduction (arm coming back and out) – A delt’s best friends.
Of any of these exercises that target your rear delts, this might be my personal favorite. Face pulls can be performed standing, sitting, or half kneeling. In any of these cases, we want to keep a few things in the front of our minds – keep the hands wide (don’t let the hands draw in, think external rotation) and elbows high. These will help ensure you’re really calling on those rear delts to help initiate the pull towards the face.
Again, these exercises were pulled straight from a tri-set in Built By Annie. Who loves a good rear delt pump!?
If you’d like to learn more about program design for strength, yes, and hypertrophy training over long term periodization, check out Pure PROgramming.
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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.
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