T Nation

Rear Delts-Training and Isolation


Hello fellow T-Nation posters,
I recently started working rear delts again after shoulder issues had me leaving them alone for a long time. In retrospect, my shoulder issues were probably due to training front and medial delts and very rarely training rear delts.

However, my questions are as follows:

What exercises does everyone do for rear delts?
The only exercises I know and do are bent over laterals and face pulls.

How do you avoid your traps doing the brunt of the work?
Every time I do face pulls or bent over laterals I feel most of the contraction in my traps. Is there anything to do to avoid the traps doing all the work? Maybe pre-exhaust them?

Thoughts? Thanks in advance.


My fav is 1 arm bent over laterals from a low pulley. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down and just move your arm, that will take the traps out of it (use less weight).

I think rear delts just take a while to get a good mind muscle connection for most people.
Train in a singlet and flex between sets (I know you might feel stupid but it works). If you dont know how to flex your rear delts than that is where you need to start.
I think it is sometimes beneficial when trying to isolate a muscle to absolutley smash it so that it gets sore. After that you know wat that muscle feels like and wat movements work it.
Hope that helps


Im guessing its how you pull the weight up. Try doing bent over db raises with your palms facing in, bend your arms a bit, and laterally raise, concentrating on your rear delts. Youll get the trap involvement if you pull towards yourself, rather than lifting laterally.


I've been doing face-pulls standing at the lat-pulldown station. I concentrate on pulling my elbows as far apart as possible, rather than pulling the bar towards me.


Same here. Face pulls work better than any other exercise for me. After face pulls my rear delts are pumped and ready to do the brunt of the work on machine reverse flyes.

Also, OP I don't think pre-exhausting the traps will take them out of your rear delt exercises. In my experience pre-exhaust makes me feel it better in the muscle I exhausted first.

Maybe when you're doing bent over flyes or machine reverse flyes, focus more on completing the first two thirds of the movement. When I can't do the full movement I usually crank out a few extra 2/3's of the flyes as that the part that I find hits my rear delts the most anyway. You could also try to avoid retracting your shoulders too much when you're doing the flyes, which would lessen your traps taking over.

EDIT: 2/3's is probably a bit small, what I mean is go as far as you can go before your shoulders naturally retract to get the DBs higher. What works for me.


exactly, avoid scapular retraction = avoid trap involvement.


Those aren't the only 2 exercises for rear delts although they are the most common. Any type of row with a wide grip will hit the rear delt's nicely too. Ex. seated cable row with a lat pulldown bar.

I found this on youtube:


Hammer Strength rows are as good as anything.


Hmm. I'll have to try those, and I realize that I do probably need to improve my mind-muscle connection.

Hmm. I haven't noticed pulling towards myself on the laterals, but i'll pay more attention to it next shoulder session. Thanks.

Bjack and LarryDavid, I'll try the standing lat pulldown face pulls. I've just been doing them at a high pulley with a rope attatchment.

belligerent, I do hammer strength rows on back day, but I never really feel it in my rear delts, I usually work up to a top set of 3 plates and a quarter per side for six reps going one arm at a time. Maybe I'm doing too few reps to really feel it in my rear delts, idk.


Agree with face-pulls, I try to go as heavy as possible on them, and include a scap retraction with every rep. I found a gym with a good rear-delt/pec deck machine, and I like using that when I can.

One thing that works well for me (and is invaluable as a rehab tool) is band pull-aparts. I do 20-30 reps before I train shoulders to help me focus on the rear delt contraction. Good as a finisher too.


Pullups and various row work do the job well enough to keep my rear delts on par with anterior and medial delts.


Could also do incline DB cleans, I like to superset these with rear delt raises


I admit that a good deal of my rear delt development comes from years of doing barbell rows, but I've found that by focusing on a couple of very subtle things, I've been able to really make mine pop.

Bent laterals while facing down on an incline bench... simply, but make sure:

1-Keep your thumbs angled DOWN the entire time,. I see too many people with palms down, and while it works to some degree, your medial head will do the brunt of the work... thumbs down, pinkies UP through the entire ROM!

2- Abreviated ROM. Allowing your arms to go all the way down will actually allow the rear head to relax. Going all the way up (even with perfect form) will tempt the lower traps to assist. Find the middle 2/3 of the motion and keep the weight moving in a controlled, pumping (albeit slow) fashion.

3- Don't rush to crank up the weights. I typically use 25 lb DBs, but always warm up with 15s to ensure that just the rear head is doing the work. I've gone as heavy as 35's, but I just feel it better (more isolated stress where I want it) with more of a TUT approach.



this might help...



Hey. Out of my preetty shitty shoulders, rear delts are the least shity part. I noticed they respond well to an isometric contraction at the top of the concentric phase.

As far as how to stop (upper) traps taking over, that's easy: visualise kind of pulling your triceps/elbows/rear delts down towards your arse. That will not allow upper traps to upwardly shrug. Hope that little bit is of use to someone


I think it would be pretty hard to relax your traps and not retract your scapula if you are doing the exercise correctly. Thats why I sugested keeping them retracted through the entire movement. This is what I do, although your traps are still working isometrically they are not creating momentum and taking away from the work of the delts.


I agree with this. I think a lot of my rear delt development is because of back exercises. You have to be using a full RMO though. I feel my rear delts working most on back exercises which your elbows are flared out so I agree wide grip is a good idea.


Yes, any rowing movement with flared elbows will hit the rear delts hard!


I had to isolate my rear delts to get them to actually POP. (Not that they are super huge, but in the right light :wink: they look hella better than before I was doing direct work.)

I found rear cable fly type things really took my traps out of it, and now if I end up cheating it is with my tris...

Also, my shoulders used to ache all the time, until I made my rear delts significantly stronger by isolating them. I was Rowing well over the 100lbs DB's at the time, so it wasn't like I was bitching out on my back work.

I'm a firm believer, at this time, that direct work such as rear raises, reverse pec deck, reverse flies, face pulls, etc are necessary for both aesthetics and shoulder health. (One or two will do I suppose, no need to do every rear delt lift known to man 3 times a week.)


I've actually been doing between 2-5 sets of rear delts 3X per week for a few months, it's working lovely so far.
I do 4 sets in 15-20 rep range, then 4 sets in 8-12 range, and on the last day I do bungee cord face pulls for a few sets of super high reps (40-50) with loads of isometric and TUT.

It's worked well for me, from a shoulder health, and aesthetic-of-the-rear-delt-area POV.