Rear Deltoid Exercises

Karen Frazier
Woman doing rear deltoid exercises

Performing rear deltoid exercises can be an important part of your strength training workout. This is a largely ignored part of the deltoid, and not exercising it can lead to strength imbalances in your shoulders. Read on to learn how to exercise this important part of your shoulder musculature.

All About the Deltoids

Your deltoids are the muscles in your shoulders. Each deltoid covers the surface of the shoulder from front to back and has three heads: the front, the medial and the rear. Each head of the deltoid is responsible for different movements. The front deltoid head is responsible for front shoulder flexion - that is, raising your arms to the front. The medial deltoid head is responsible for lateral shoulder flexion (raising the shoulders to the side) and shoulder extension (pressing something up above your head). The rear deltoids are responsible for the flexion of the shoulders at the shoulder blades in the back.

Why It Is Important to Exercise Your Rear Deltoids

The rear head of the deltoid is the most often neglected of the deltoids. Most exercises focus on the front and medial of the deltoid heads. The rear deltoids do get some exercise in overall shoulder exercises such as the military press; however, in order to be properly worked they require isolation exercises.

It is important to perform rear deltoid exercises in order to maintain a balance throughout all of the heads of the deltoids. If balance isn't maintained, you will be more prone to shoulder and rotator cuff injuries.

Rear Deltoid Exercises

These exercises should be performed when you are doing exercises that also isolate the front and medial heads of the deltoids. If all you are doing is an overall deltoid exercise like a dumbbell shoulder press, then you don't need to perform exercises for the rear deltoids until you also begin to do exercises that isolate the front and medial heads of the deltoid. Here are a few different exercises for the rear deltoids that you can try. Typically, you will only need to perform one of these exercises in a workout. Work your way up to three sets of eight to ten repetitions to failure.

Other tips for all of the exercises include:

  • Never swing the weights or rely on momentum. This not only fails to strengthen and grow your muscles, but it can also lead to injury.
  • Always move the weights in a slow, steady fashion both when lifting and lowering the weight. Both parts (lifting and lowering) are equally important in building strength in your muscles.
  • Lift a weight that is heavy enough that you can use proper form and don't need to arch your back or swing the weight.
  • When you start out, select a weight that you can do 12 to 15 repetitions to failure for two to three sets. Once you can do three sets of 15, then increase your weight by about two to five pounds. Ultimately, you will want to select weights that you can do about eight to ten repetitions for three sets. The weights you use for your rear deltoids will likely be lighter than those you can do for other parts of the deltoid.
  • Never "rest" by holding the weight at the top or the bottom of the exercise. Instead, keep the weight moving steadily throughout your repetitions.

Seated Bent Over Lateral Raise

This is an excellent exercise for the rear deltoids that protects your lower back from injury. To perform seated bent over lateral raises:

  1. Sit on the end of a bench and bend forward at the waist.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand.
  3. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side in an arc using the rear of your shoulders to perform the lift.
  4. Raise the weights to a point where you can raise them no more (slightly below shoulder height) and then lower to the starting position.

Flat Bench Lateral Raise

This exercise utilizes the same motion as the bent over lateral. It is performed lying face down on a bench.

  1. Lie lengthwise on a bench, face down with your arms hanging to the sides.
  2. Keeping your elbows slightly bent, raise your arms to the side in a semi-circular arch using the backs of your shoulders to raise the weights.
  3. Return the weights to the starting position and repeat.
  4. Keep your head down throughout the lift. If you are lifting your neck, then the weight is too heavy.

There are a number of variations on the above exercises that you can perform just by changing your position. For instance, the bench raises can be done lying face down on an incline bench with your feet on the floor, and the seated bent over laterals can be done standing bent over. All of these exercises can help you to strengthen this frequently ignored muscle group.

Rear Deltoid Exercises