What are Rear Delt Rows? (A guide to a bigger back)

What are rear delt rows?

What are rear delt rows?

The rear delt row can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, cables, or kettlebells. In this article, we will explore the options available as well as the benefits of each one. But first, what is a rear delt row?

The rear delt row is a resistance exercise that is used to increase size and strength in the posterior deltoid at the rear of the shoulder. It is popular with both bodybuilders seeking hypertrophy as well as strength trainers who want to improve their deadlifts and other pulling movements. 

Which muscles are targeted by rear delt rows?

The rear delt row brings a lot of muscles into action, but the main target is the posterior deltoid. This is the muscle at the rear of the shoulder that aids in pulling movements and rows

Rear delt row muscles worked

It is not really possible to target the rear deltoid muscle without bringing other back muscles in as assisters. Rear delt rows will hit the lats, traps, and rhomboids. Your biceps will chip in to assist with elbow flexion and your lateral delts will stabilize your shoulders. 

 If you do not use a bench for stability, you will be activating your lower back muscles and core as stabilisers. 

How do I perform a Rear Delt Row?

There are a few different variations of rear delt rows that use barbells, dumbbells, cables, machines, kettlebells, bands, or even just your own bodyweight. 

Here we will look at the different row variations, the methods of performing that variation, and the benefits. 

The bent-over rear delt barbell row is a great compound exercise that targets the rear delts as well as nearly all muscles in the back. It is similar to a bent-over row that you may use for your back workout except that you will use a wider grip and flare the elbow outwards instead of keeping them at your side.
How do I do a rear delt barbell row
  1. Add your desired plates to your straight barbell bar. It is advisable to start with a light weight and work your way up to working sets. 
  2. Stand with your feet at shoulder width, hinge at the hips, and bend over the bar with a straight spine.
  3. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, palms facing towards you, placed wider than shoulder-width on the bar. 
  4. Bend your knees slightly for stability, take a deep breath, and upon exhaling, row the bar towards your lower chest. 
  5. Make sure that your elbows flare outwards over the top of the bar, your back stays straight and your legs are locked into position. 
  6. lower bar to within a couple of inches of the floor before beginning the movement again for the required number of reps and sets. 
You can use a belt for lower back support and wrist straps to improve grip if required. You may also find it useful to rest your forehead on the back of an incline dumbbell bench. This provides extra stability and takes some of the pressure away from the lower back, allowing you to focus on the rear deltoids. 

Make sure that you do not have a curved spine and that you are not jerking the weight up with assistance from the legs. This is a concentrated exercise that should be performed with a slow, controlled motion. 

If you can not lift the weight without assistance, you are lifting too heavy. When performed correctly, you will feel the connection to the rear delt muscle and be able to feel that it is being targeted. 

How do I perform a dumbbell rear delt row?

This is probably the most popular row for rear delt development. All you need is a dumbbell and a support such as a dumbbell bench or flat bench. 

The exercise is similar to a bent-over dumbbell row that you would use to target your lats, but instead of keeping your elbows tucked in, you need to flare them out to the side.
How do I do a rear delt dumbbell row
  1. Find a flat bench and select your dumbbell. Go with a lighter weight than you would use for a standard bent-over dumbbell row. 
  2. Place one hand and one knee on the bench and bend over it with a straight spine. The dumbbell should be hanging by your standing knee.
  3. Without moving your legs or back, row the dumbbell upwards with your elbow flared out. 
  4. Once the weight is in line with your chest, slowly lower it back to the starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the required number of reps and sets.
The bent-over rear delt dumbbell row will activate your lateral delts, lats and biceps, but the support of the bench means that all core stabilising muscles are taken out of the movement.

How do I perform a lying rear delt row?

The lying rear delt row is fairly similar to the dumbbell rear delt row above, but it allows you to work both sides at the same time. 
How to do a lying rear delt row
You will need to set the bench to an incline position and lie on it facing down. Keep your legs straddled on either side of the bench with your feet on the ground for stability. 

Hold your selected dumbbells with an overhand grip and let them hang from your shoulders. With a slow, controlled movement, flare your elbows out and row the dumbbells in an upright position. 

At the top of the movement, squeeze the rear delts for a second or two before slowly lowering to the starting position. 

Repeat for the required number of sets and reps.

As with the other rear delt exercises, this one brings your lats, anterior deltoids, and biceps in as assisters. If you are at a steep incline, your traps will also be activated. 

If you use a manageable weight and controlled movement, you should be able to feel the connection with the rear deltoid and make sure that it is doing the majority of the work. 

How do I perform a cable rear delt row?

Cable rear delt rows can be performed on dedicated machines with footplates or just a standard, multi-use cable station. It can also be performed while seated or standing up. 

The move is essentially the same as a barbell or dumbbell rear delt row. You will be pulling the attachment backwards with your elbows flared out to target those rear delts. 

How do I do a seated rear delt cable row

The seated rear delt row is probably the most popular as it allows you to maintain a rigid posture. A dedicated row machine will have a seat and a footplate for extra stability, but if you do not have this you can use a normal cable station. 

Simply place the cable pin at the lowest setting and sit on the floor with your feet against the base of the machine. 

The movement is the same as previous rear delt exercises. You will need a wide grip straight bar or EZ bar attachment on the end of your cable. Using an overhand, wide grip, row the cable towards you and upwards to your upper chest. 

Make sure your back stays straight and that your elbows are flared out to target those rear delts. 

How do I do a standing rear delt cable row
The same movement can be performed while standing, but you do not have the extra stability of being seated with a foot stop. If you go too heavy with a standing movement, your lower back will be stopping you from leaning forward on the negative part of the movement. This can take a lot of strain and focus away from the target muscles.

How do I perform a bodyweight rear delt row?

You can use your body weight to develop your rear delts, but the lack of resistance means that growth will be limited. Bodyweight rear delt rows are great for beginners or as a warm-up to a back or shoulder training session and can be performed in a lot of ways. 

If your gym has a rack, you can support a barbell bar across it as your pull-up bar. You can also use the bar of a smith machine or TRX bands if you have them in your gym. 

Bodyweight rows

The basic principles are the same. Perform a row movement with a straight back and your elbows flared out. Keeping your elbows tucked in is classed as a standard row and, although it is great for developing your lats, does not place as much emphasis on the rear delts. 

What are rear delt rows alternatives?

Rear delt fly

Face pulls

upright rows

Shoulder press


Rear delt rows area  great way to develop the upper back including the backs of your shoulders as they allow you to train the with a heavy load. Although rear delt flys are great for getting a good stretch and contraction, you are limited to the amount of weight that you can use. 

The best way to develop the rear delts is with a combination of heavy rows and rear delt flys. If you are regularly performing other rows for your lats and trap on top of these, you should see your rear deltoids explode giving you a fuller, rounder shoulder. 

Gymenix offers a selection of free training programs to suit all abilities and goals. Click on the links below for FREE access. 

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