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Trainees often struggle to engage and develop their rear delts with isolation exercises alone. Even hitting them hard on a shoulder day may not breed massive growth since they need so much volume. In this case, you may want to consider combining them with your back workouts too.
As a general rule, you should do rear delts at the end of back day since many rowing exercises work them indirectly. This will provide a better mind-to-muscle connection compared to reserving them for shoulder day, which won’t elicit as much pre-activation.
The reps, sets, and intensity you use will vary depending on which specific day you train them. Here’s a look at why spreading your weekly rear delt training across both back and shoulder days is optimal.
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Why You Can Do Rear Delts With Shoulders and Back
When it comes to large muscle groups like the back or shoulders many people fear overtraining. The thing to keep in mind is that these are broad terms and each muscle group has individual muscles.
In the case of the rear delts, they are a muscle within the shoulder family but there’s no reason to reserve training them on shoulder day. They are extremely small and can handle a lot of volume, which makes including them on back day acceptable and preferable.
Primarily because they consist of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are designed to handle prolonged periods of contracting. They also have fast-twitch fibers geared towards heavy, quick movements.
Most back workouts utilize a few moderately heavy movements that activate the fast twitch fibers such as rows and deadlifts. These won’t target the rear delts specifically, but indirectly. Regardless, following them with one or two high-rep rear delt exercises can give you a better connection.
Here are some common back exercises that engage the rear delts:
- Bent-over barbell rows
- Lat pulldowns
- One-arm rows
On the other hand, shoulder-focused workouts typically consist of higher volume. This would be the perfect time to include both low and high rep, or fast and slow twitch, rear delt-specific work.
If your rear delts are underdeveloped I’d suggest hitting them with a low rep-heavy weight (8-12 reps) exercise first and then one high rep light weight exercise (12-20 reps). This will allow you to stimulate the fast twitch fibers and maximize strength potential without being fatigued from starting with high reps.
The downside is that without a pre-exhaustion exercise, you may find it harder to activate them with heavier weights right off the bat. If this is the case consider doing the high-rep exercise before the low-rep one.
The rear delts should be trained before the front and side delts in a shoulder workout as they tend to be the most underdeveloped. Conversely, work them after the main rowing exercises if you’re doing them with the back.
Furthermore, exercise science expert Jeff Nippard recommends an average of 15 sets for the rear delts per week.
Your rear delts are going to be a lot more stimulated with back exercises compared to shoulder exercises. For instance, EMG data shows the rear delts being more active during incline rows than with shoulder press and upright rows.
So if you can only workout three days per week, it’s a wise choice to train your rear delts with back instead of shoulders. In this case, aim for the lower end of Jeff’s recommendations and shoot for 8 sets. Count the bleed-over volume from the back exercises toward the 8 sets.
This is because trying to fit 8-15 rear-focused sets in a single session on top of the back exercises would likely cause overtraining. However, if you’re working out four to six times per week you can spread those sets across two or three sessions.
For example, you could do two rear delt exercises on shoulder day with 7 sets between the two. Then on the back day perform 8 sets with two exercises again.
This is how you could lay a program to train your rear delts twice per week with back and shoulders:
- Day 1: Chest, Triceps, and Side and Front Delts
- Day 2: Back, Biceps, and Rear Delts
- Day 3: Legs
- Day 4: Shoulders (Rear, Side, and Front Delts)
- Day 5-7: Active Rest
You’ll notice I included side and front delt exercises on chest day. If you’re curious about that, check out my article on determining when to do shoulders with chest or back.
Here are a few rear delt isolation exercises to include on back and shoulder day:
- Reverse pec deck fly
- Rear delt raises
- Rear delt rows
- High to low-face pulls
- Band pull-aparts
Many of these exercises also work the traps. If you’re not sure why, check out my article explaining how the reverse fly targets the upper back and shoulders.
Oftentimes the rear delts are categorized as back muscles, however, this is not the case. Although they aren’t a primary mover in common shoulder exercises like overhead presses they do provide security to the main movers.
The rear delts can be a part of shoulder day since they are one of three deltoid heads, which is a shoulder muscle. This rear head stabilizes the glenohumeral joint during side and front delt exercises.
As I touched on earlier, performing heavier rear delt exercises in the 8-12 rep range is well suited for shoulder day. Consider working your rear delts first on this day. That way they’ll be fresh and ready to move heavier weights compared to doing them at the end of a back workout.
Just keep in mind that when I say heavy I mean relative to the rear delts. They are small muscles so they can’t effectively lift very much weight without the upper back taking over.
Sample Rear Delt Workout on Back Day
This workout is focused on moderate rep back exercises with one high rep isolation exercise for the rear delts. The intention is to recruit their fast twitch fibers with the back movements and their slow twitch fibers with the bent-over lateral raises.
- Lat pulldowns: 4 sets x 12 reps
- Bent-over rows: 3 x 8
- Lat pullovers: 3 x 12
- Bent-over lateral raises to isolate the rear delts: 3 x 20
- Dumbbell bicep curls: 2 x 15
Sample Rear Delt Workout on Shoulder Day
Keep in mind that the front delts get a lot of stimulation from chest day pressing movements. This tends to cause the fronts to be overdeveloped in comparison to the sides and rears.
That’s why I designed this shoulder workout to target the fast and slow twitch rear delt fibers at the beginning. This will focus your effort on this head to prevent imbalances.
- Shoulder height face pulls for rear and side delts: 4 x 12
- Bent-over lateral raises: 3 x 15
- Upright rows for side delts: 3 x 12
- Standing dumbbell press: 3 x 15
There are endless ways to include rear delts in your training program. By following these guidelines you can be more strategic on how you incorporate them into yours.
Just remember, training them after back helps maximize the mind-muscle connection with subsequent isolation exercises. Conversely, doing them with shoulders improves strength capabilities since they’ll be less taxed.
Concerned about shoulder health, not just size? You should visit my article about the differences in muscle and joint functions between rear delt flys and face pulls.