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Trust me when I say that building the rear delts with or without equipment is no easy task. It’s especially difficult when you’re restricted to bodyweight-only exercises, however, it’s not impossible.
To hit the rear delts with body weight, perform exercises that involve shoulder extension, external rotation, or horizontal abduction such as reverse iron crosses. By laying on your back or leaning against a wall you’ll be using the force of gravity and your body weight as resistance.
You’ll also be stimulating the rear delts with these anatomical motions by manipulating arm positioning. I’ll cover four ways to do this below.
Table of Contents
1. Warm-Up With External Shoulder Rotation
An example of external shoulder rotations is when your front delt rotates outward, causing your arm to flair away from your torso. This contracts the posterior deltoid and rotator cuff muscles.
Performing this will get the blood flowing into your rear delts, making it easier to activate them later.
To perform external rotation:
- Begin with your upper arm at your side, forearm in front of your body, and elbow bent at 90 degrees.
- Make a tight fist with your hand.
- Rotate your hand outwards while also straightening your entire arm.
- Rotate as far as your shoulder mobility allows.
- Do 10-15 reps and switch arms.
- Tuck your upper arm tight to the side of your torso.
- Focus on rotating your forearm outwards without straightening the entire arm.
- Lay on your nonworking side as you perform the exercise.
- This makes your working arm fight harder against gravity.
2. Perform Prone Rear Delt Flies
This exercise challenges your rear delts via horizontal abduction, or lifting your arms out the sides and pushing them backwards.
To perform prone rear delt flies:
- Lay flat on your stomach.
- Fully extend your elbows.
- Raise your arms out to the sides, in line with your shoulders.
- Point your thumbs upward.
- Lift your arms off the ground like you’re trying to touch your thumbs to the ceiling.
- Don’t allow your chest to leave the ground.
- Return your arms to the floor and repeat.
- Standing upright will reduce the force from gravity.
- Point your thumbs back instead of up.
3. Do Standing Reverse Flies Against a Wall
Standing reverse flies utilize horizontal abduction and external rotation.
These functions activate as you lift your butt away from the wall while digging your fists into the wall.
To do the standing reverse fly:
- Stand with your back against a wall.
- Raise your arms out the sides so there’s a 90-degree gap between your upper arm and waist.
- With your palms facing the floor, straighten your elbows and make fists with your hands.
- Press your fists into the wall and drive your hips forward by squeezing your glutes.
- Stop once your rear delts are fully engaged.
- Reverse under control until your butt touches the wall.
- Stand completely vertical or with your heels only a few inches from the wall.
- Move your feet further away from the wall.
4. Try Reverse Iron Crosses While Lying Faceup
Yet again, the next exercise activates the rear delts by moving the arms behind the body, accomplished through horizontal shoulder abduction.
I’m sure you’re noticing a theme by now.
Try the reverse iron cross by:
- Laying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Move your arms out to the sides so they’re in line with your shoulders.
- Straighten your arms, press your pinkies into the ground, and make tight fists.
- Push through your fists to raise your upper back off the ground.
- Stop and squeeze once your elbows leave the floor.
- Slowly lower your head and upper back to the start and repeat.
Tips for Doing Rear Delt Bodyweight Exercises
- Go slow and squeeze through the muscle.
- Follow the steps thoroughly for each exercise and focus on the position of your arms and hands.
- Lead the movements through your hands to avoid overretracting the scapula.
- Too much scapular retraction (squeezing of the shoulder blades) shifts the emphasis onto the traps and rhomboids.
- Combine external rotation with extension or horizontal abduction.
- No matter what rear delt movement you perform, keeping your hands semi-pronated or supinated helps maximize the contractions.
Bodyweight Workout To Hit Rear Delts
This workout is designed to accentuate the rear delts. However, I did include one exercise not listed above.
This is because it’s still good to work on other areas of the posterior chain to keep everything balanced.
Plus, reacher rows still require the rear delts for stabilization and slight external shoulder rotation.
- External rotation (warm-up)
- Sets: 1
- Reps: 12 each arm
- Reverse iron cross
- Sets: 5
- Reps: 10-12
- Rest: 45 seconds
- Reacher row
- Sets: 5
- Reps: 8-10
- Rest: 45 seconds
- Prone rear delt fly
- Sets: 5
- Reps: 15-20
- Rest: 30 seconds
Notice how I included a high rep and a low rep rear delt exercise? See the reason for this below.
Do Rear Delts Need Heavy Weight To Grow?
I’ve always had trouble progressively overloading my rear delts without losing the mind-muscle connection. They’re such small muscles, which makes heavy isolation exercises hard to do without the upper back muscles taking over.
Train rear delts with heavy and light weights for reps of 10 upwards of 20 with good form. Consider prioritizing lighter weights for higher reps (12+) since the rear delts have a slightly higher percentage of slow-twitch fibers.
As I’ve gained more experience, I’ve found that using heavy weights relative to my ability to focus on the rear delts is best. I’ll typically reserve isolated training for the end of my workouts after they’re pre-exhausted.
This gives me a better connection without needing to tack on extra weight to get them firing.
For instance, I may do rows, lat pulldowns, etc., and then end with bent-over lateral raises.
However, I won’t necessarily try to increase the weight from one workout to the other. I base it on how I’m feeling after doing compound exercises on that specific day.
Some days I can smash rear delts with 10 LB sets of 15-20. On other days I have to keep the loads lighter since they’re already exhausted and I don’t want my traps taking over the movement.
That’s not to say I never train rear delts at the start of a workout either, but when I do, I stick to heavier weights and lower reps to get that connection.
This combination helps hit those fast and slow twitch fibers.
In terms of using bodyweight exercises, they’re a great tool to have in your arsenal at the end of a heavy back day.
Even if you don’t have access to weights, do the 4 above after pull-ups or other multi-joint body weight pulling movements, and your rear delts will be pumped.