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When training rear delts, specifically at home, it can be a struggle to find exercises that engage them thoroughly. They’re tiny muscle heads so ultra-focus is often required when working them with minimal or no equipment.
There are three great exercises to work your rear delts: dual external rotations, doorway face pulls, and banded pull-aparts. They engage them through a combination of shoulder motions using body weight, a standard house door, and one low-cost item.
Below I’ll show you how to get maximal rear delt activation using these aforementioned exercises.
Table of Contents
1. Perform Dual External Rotations
EMG analysis shows the rear delts are more active than the surrounding infraspinatus muscle during open kinetic chain exercises like this one.
I added the word “dual” to convey that you’ll be performing the motion with both arms simultaneously.
- Stand or sit upright with your arms resting naturally at your sides.
- Form tight fists with your hands.
- Slowly rotate your forearms outwards and extend your elbows.
- Stop once your forearms are rotated outwards as much as your range of motion allows.
- Slowly return your arms to their naturally relaxed position.
- Rounding the shoulders forward.
- This limits tension and activation of the rear delts since there’s no external resistance.
- Not getting full rotations.
- Try to rotate your arms so that your palms face outward and your thumbs face backward. It may take a deep rotation before you begin to feel the rear delts working.
- Slightly retract your shoulder blades and lock them in place throughout each rotation.
- Don’t squeeze them too tight as this engages the traps and rhomboids more, removing isolation from the rear delts.
- Tighten your hands as much as possible while keeping your wrists in line with your forearms.
- Try to keep the spacing between your upper arms and the sides of your waist under 15 degrees while rotating.
2. Do the Door Way Face Pull
Doorway face pulls combine external rotation and horizontal abduction.
- Stand with your feet inside the doorway.
- Place the front of your hands against the edges of the door frame with your fingers pointing up.
- Lean your upper body backward to about 70 degrees to the floor.
- Press through your hands to lift your body through the door.
- Stop when your upper arms are in line with your shoulders.
- Reverse and repeat.
- Swaying the butt back and forth (not keeping a neutral body position).
- This exercise can easily turn into a vertical hip thrust if you’re not intentional about keeping your entire body in a straight line.
- Squeeze your glutes to help keep your body neutral throughout the movement.
- Allow your shoulder blades to protract, or pull forward when lowering yourself into the doorway.
- This eccentrically stretches the rear delts under the load of your body weight, allowing for better concentric contractions.
- Move your feet further forward to increase the difficulty.
3. Execute Resistance Band Pull Aparts
An EMG analysis showed that single-joint, horizontal abduction-focused movements are effective for posterior deltoid recruitment.
Although the study tested the reverse pec deck and not the band pull-apart, these movements use the same biomechanics.
I agree 100% with Ryan Humiston on this one. If you’re mind-muscle-connection in the rears is terrible, I’d highly recommend this as a priming exercise.
The resistance band keeps constant tension on those little guys so you can fill them with blood and feel the burn.
- Squeezing the shoulder blades while pulling.
- There’s conflicting information on whether or not you should retract your scapula during the concentric phase.
- Again, doing so will activate the traps and rhomboids.
- Although this isn’t technically a mistake it doesn’t focus on horizontal abduction, which is the main mover of the rear delts.
- Point your thumbs toward the ceiling for greater rear delt activation via external rotation.
- As the name suggests, focus on pulling the band apart rather than back.
- This reduces the likelihood of over-retracting the scapula.
At-Home Rear Delt Workout
This workout combines the exercises above, ordered in a way that makes sense for optimal rear delt activation.
Take breaks less than a minute long to fill the muscles with as much blood as possible.
- Banded Pull-Aparts
- Sets: 2
- Reps: 25
- Doorway Face Pulls
- Sets: 4
- Reps: 8-10
- Dual External Rotations
- Sets: 12
- Reps: 2
Use Dumbbells To Work Your Rear Delts At-Home
I didn’t put this next exercise in the main list in case you don’t have access to dumbbells at your house, so consider it an honorable mention. If you do have a pair, then I’d highly recommend trying it out.
The dumbbell reverse fly works the rear delts through horizontal abduction. Using a neutral grip will activate them even more by externally rotating the shoulders. Perform lightweight sets for 10-20 reps.
Here are the steps to perform it:
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with your thumbs pointing forward.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Position your upper body horizontally to the ground by bending through your hips. Maintain a slight bend in your knees.
- Relax your arms toward the floor, underneath your chest.
- Sweep your hands out and up toward the ceiling until your arms are horizontal to the ground and in line with your shoulders.
- Lower the dumbbells under control back below your chest. To keep constant tension, avoid letting them touch at the bottom.
Do Push-Ups Activate Rear Delts?
Push-ups are a tried and true exercise that can be performed pretty much anywhere. Many people do them excessively and build massive chest and front delts, but fail to incorporate rear delt and upper back movements as well.
The rear delts are involved in the lowering phase of regular push-ups to stabilize the shoulder joint as it performs horizontal abduction. However, they aren’t actively working, so muscle growth isn’t possible.
This neglection of posterior chain strengthening creates forward rounded shoulders leading to all sorts of issues like:
- Hip flexor tightness, and back or neck pain caused by slouched forward posture.
- Unproportional physical appearance, particularly in the shoulder, upper back, and chest areas.
- Subacromial impingement issues such as a torn bicep tendon.
Some variations of push-ups that sort of target the rear delts are:
- Reverse push-ups facing the ceiling.
- Supinated grip push-ups with hands shoulder-width apart.
- Full-body reverse push-ups.
At the end of the day, nothing beats exercises that actively resist the rear delts as they perform their anatomical motions.
Don’t overcomplicate things with the fancy types of push-ups or other weird movements you see on TikTok that claim to “smoke” your rear delts. Do what works.