Rear Delt Training for Strong, Sexy Shoulders

Rear DeltsWhen we think of a cut, attractive physique, we think of a V-shaped upper body with defined shoulders and upper back. But even if you have lovely back and arm muscles, if your rear delts aren’t sufficiently developed it will look like something’s “missing.”

But there are plenty of reasons to train your rear delts, and train them correctly:

  • Counteract tight chest muscles and rounded shoulders (poor posture)
  • Help protect your shoulders and rotator cuffs from injuries
  • Increase your strength for bench pressing
  • And of course, contribute to an appealing and symmetrical upper body

Tips for Training Rear Delts

The rear delts are challenging to isolate. The bigger back muscles and anterior/lateral deltoids try to take over, making it hard to feel the rear delts contracting. But as you’ll see in a moment, you can learn to isolate these small muscles, and once you do, you’ll see pleasing results. First a few general tips.

  • Warm up your rear delts by doing a set of high reps and light resistance first.
  • Use lighter weight with rear delts. These are small muscles and you don’t want to risk overworking them.
  • Keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
  • Focus on feeling the rear delt muscle working.

Ok, that last tip is easier said than done, but that’s what I’m going to help you with here.

The Rear Lateral Raise

You can target your rear delts most effectively with the rear lateral raise (standing, seated, or on an incline). The best tip I’ve ever heard for isolating the muscles during the rear lateral raise came courtesy of Mike Mcerlane, as described in his Workout Trainer video:

Instead of bringing the dumbbells straight back, palm down, keep them in slightly front of you more while turning the palms upwards at the top.

It’s when I started doing rear lateral raises this way over a year ago that I started finally feeling this muscle – and seeing better results. This method prevents synergist muscles from assisting as you bring the weights back and allows the rear delts to do the work. Notice that in this picture my palms are facing behind me at the top. In most instructions, you’ll see the palms facing down.

rear delts 2

To perform the standing rear lateral raise:

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  2. Bend forward at the waist and keep your back straight near parallel to the floor.
  3. Hold a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing in and elbows slightly bent.
  4. Keep your knees bent and back flat, inhale and raise the dumbbells out to your sides until your upper arms are slightly higher than your shoulders.
    This is where you will turn the dumbbells slightly upward, palms up, before lowering them. Keep your arms slightly in front of you instead of bringing them behind you.
  5. Exhale as you lower the weights to complete the movement.
  6. Repeat for reps.

I would suggest rotating between two or three variations of this exercise for 4 weeks and then changing the exercises (I’ve listed variations below). Please note, none of these (except the first and the last ones) shows the hands-turning-out method.

Rear Lateral Raise Variations

More Rear Delt Exercises

You can use these exercises occasionally too.

Target your rear delts with the same vigor you train your lateral and anterior delts and you’ll be pleased with your improved strength, performance, and aesthetics.


16 thoughts on “Rear Delt Training for Strong, Sexy Shoulders

  1. Excellent description of a new-to-me version of this move!

    I think this one was in the shoulders program you sent me to look at, but I didn’t visualize it from the words alone.

    And yes, you have lovely rear delts, my dear!


  2. LOVE!!! I do them along with a rear delt row w/DBs. I have a post going up Friday with delts in it so hooking up your post to it since you found better links! 🙂 I so do all the different varieties even that one you showed first! 🙂 Yes, sistas from afar! I love working them & work them hard – no forgetting those babies like some do! 😉

    GREAT POST!!!!!!!!


  3. I didn’t know that about turning your palms upwards. I need to make some adjustments on this move (which I am already doing in my workouts) to target my rear delts. You have a nice back btw! 🙂


    • Thanks Josie. Nah. It’s just not in my make up to obsess about what I eat (I’ve seen others compete and it’s not pretty!). Maybe if I’d discovered competing earlier in life my answer would be different, but at this point I’m happy the way I am and don’t have the need to meet a particular ideal.


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