Rear Delt Raises (Why They’re Worth Doing)

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Are rear delt raises worth it?

Rear delt isolation exercises were non-existent in my workout program when I first started. I figured they would get plenty of stimulation in lat pulldowns, which led to significant underdevelopment.

Rear delt raises are worth doing because they isolate the posterior deltoids via transverse abduction. This shoulder movement is the muscle’s primary function and is accentuated with this exercise.

Compound exercises are great for the rear delts too. But only if they’re already developed. Otherwise, they won’t be properly engaged, leading to imbalances. Doing an exercise like the rear delt raise can help you build a solid foundation and here’s why.

The Reasons Why Rear Delt Raises Are Worth Doing

Rear delt raises, or rear delt lateral raises, primarily target the posterior deltoid. EMG activation of this muscle is highest in exercises that heavily abduct the shoulder through the horizontal plane.

Research has compared the activation of the rear delts among exercises involving shoulder extension as well, another function of this muscle. However, tried and true isolation via abduction still came out on top.

The multi-joint seated row was one of the compared exercises and usually involves shoulder extension and retraction, working multiple muscles.

Conversely, rear delt raises are single-joint and emphasize the posterior delts through horizontal, or transverse abduction. Your shoulders also perform adduction during the lowering phase, which stretches the posterior delts.

If you’re struggling to grow your rear delts, these raises are particularly useful not only to build them but also to develop a mind-muscle connection. This will strengthen them quickly and allow you to perform advanced exercises safely and more proficiently down the line.

This exercise also has high variability, meaning you can use cables, dumbbells, or even a barbell. You can also squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of each rep to engage the trapezius and rhomboids more.

On top of all that, horizontal abduction also strengthens the rotator cuffs. Specifically the infraspinatus and teres minor. When you develop these two muscles in conjunction with the rear delts your shoulders are less likely to misalign and your posture will improve.

Here’s How To Perform Rear Delt Raises Properly

Although rear delt raises are highly effective, they are a difficult move to master. This is because these muscles are so small and even under isolation, are hard to activate.

That makes this exercise even more important because if you can’t feel your rear delts with these, you shouldn’t be relying on rows to build them.

To perform rear delt raises with dumbbells:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in each hand with your thumbs pointing in.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  3. Hinge your hips to push your butt back and lean your upper body horizontally to the floor.
  4. Relax your arms beneath your chest.
  5. Inhale before swinging the dumbbells out and up toward the ceiling until your arms are in line with your shoulder blades. Exhale at the top.
  6. Arc them back toward the floor without losing control.


  • Bent-over with cables:
    • Set the cables to the lowest settings.
    • Grab the left handle in your right hand and the right one in your left.
    • Cables put constant tension on the rear delts.
  • Chest supported:
    • If you notice lower back strain from bending over try leaning your chest onto a high incline bench.
  • Seated:
    • Sit on the edge of the bench with your feet flat.
    • Lean your torso over your knees.
    • You’ll be forced to go lighter with this variation since you can’t rely on extra leg drive, which is good. It also reduces lower back strain.

Common Mistakes

  • Retracting the shoulder blades and bending the elbows to lift the weights straight up rather than out and up.
    • Doing this will put much more focus on the upper back muscles as it turns the movement into a row.
  • Tucking the chin.
    • You may do this by accident if you look at your feet during the exercise, which can put a strain on your neck.
      • Instead, look a few feet in front of you to help keep your neck slightly extended.
        • This also frees up your shoulder joints for a greater range of motion.

Form Tips

  • Rear delt activation may be higher when holding the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). However, this comes down to individual preference. Try an overhand and neutral grip to see which one helps you feel them the most.
    • I find using a neutral grip with my pinkies against the back of the handles fires up my rear delts the most.
  • Focus on horizontal shoulder abduction.
    • Pull the weights outwards and upwards rather than trying to lift them straight up.

Do Rear Delts Respond Better to High or Low Reps?

When training the rear delts many people get caught up in focusing on a singular rep range such as 15-20 or 10-12 and neglect the other one. You must account for the fact that they’re made up of two types of muscle fibers: fast twitch and slow twitch.

The rear delts respond better to high reps since they are a predominantly slow twitch muscle. However, just under half of their fiber orientation is fast twitch as well. Perform isolation exercises in the 10-20 rep ranges and compound exercises in the 6-12 rep ranges for optimal development.

You could do two pull workouts per week with one lightweight rear delt raise variation and one heavy compound exercise like bent-over rows. This will provide adequate stimulation for both fiber types.

Here’s how you could lay that out:

  • Day 1: Push
  • Day 2: Heavy Pull
    • Bent-over barbell row: 4 sets x 8 reps
    • Lat pulldowns: 4 x 10
    • Hammer curls: 2 x 12
  • Day 3: Legs
  • Day 4: Push
  • Day 5: Light Pull
    • Seated cable row: 3 x 12
    • Lat pulldown: 3 x 12
    • Rear delt raise: 3 x 15
  • Day 6: Legs
  • Day 7: Rest

This isn’t to say you cannot perform heavy rear delt raises for low reps. However, if your form starts to break down and you’re feeling it more in your upper back than your rear delts, lighten the weight.

Sample Workout With Rear Delt Raises

This workout includes the rear delt raises at the end as a burnout exercise using high reps. You’ll also notice I included a heavy bent-over row at the beginning for the best of both worlds when it comes to training the rear delt muscle fibers.

Back/Rear Delt Workout:

  1. Bent-over barbell rows: 3 x 10
  2. Lat pulldowns: 3 x 12
  3. Dumbbell Rear delt raises: 3 x 18
  4. Dumbbell Bicep Curls: 2 x 15

The sky is the limit for how you can program rear delt raises. They’re a great feeler exercise at the beginning of a back or shoulder workout in the 8-12 rep range or as a burner towards the end for higher reps of 15-20.

Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at!