As a personal trainer, I’ve witnessed a common oversight in many workout routines – neglecting the rear delts. Often overlooked by workouts that focus on more attractive muscle groups, the rear deltoids at the back of the shoulders play an essential role in achieving a balanced and healthy shoulder build.
In this guide, I aim to highlight the significance of rear delt training, particularly by incorporating practical cable exercises. With their constant tension and variable resistance, cable exercises offer an excellent means to see real rear delt growth.
Table of Contents
- The Best Cable Rear Delt Exercises
- Cable Wide-Grip Row
- Reverse Cable Crossover
- Single-Arm Bent-Over Cable Rear Delt Fly
- Cable External Rotation
- Cable Face Pulls
- Cable Rear Delt Workout
- Rear Delt Cable Exercise Muscles Worked
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Best Cable Rear Delt Exercises
When building solid and healthy rear delts, focusing on cable exercises offers a unique and effective way to target and develop these crucial muscles, providing benefits beyond aesthetics.
1. Cable Wide-Grip Row
The cable wide-grip row, while primarily targeting the mid-back and lats, significantly engages the rear delts. This exercise’s controlled, sweeping motion promotes rear delt development and enhances overall upper back strength and stability.
Incorporating the rear delts into this compound movement creates a solid foundation for improved posture and a more sculpted shoulder profile.
How to perform:
- Stand facing the cable setup with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the cable rope attachment with an overhand grip, hands placed wider than shoulder-width.
- Keep your chest up, shoulders back, and core engaged.
- Pull the cable towards your chest by retracting your shoulder blades.
- Pause at the movement’s peak, feeling the contraction in your rear delts.
- Slowly return to the starting position, making sure to maintain control throughout the motion.
2. Reverse Cable Crossover
The reverse cable crossover (also called the Cable Rear Delt Fly) takes the cake in isolating the rear delts, offering a focused mind-muscle connection and intense contraction. By working against the constant tension of the cable, this exercise not only enhances shoulder definition but also helps correct imbalances between the front and rear deltoids.
Improved balance in shoulder development enhances joint stability and reduces the risk of injuries.
How to perform:
- Set the cable machine at chest height.
- Stand in the center, holding a cable attachment in each hand.
- Begin with arms crossed in front of you, palms facing down.
- Keep a slight bend in your elbows and open your arms to the sides (shoulder height), squeezing your rear delts.
- Pause at the fully contracted position, then return to the starting position.
3. Single-Arm Bent-Over Cable Rear Delt Fly
The single-arm bent-over cable rear delt fly introduces unilateral movement, which provides several benefits beyond rear delt development. This exercise demands the core and lower back for stabilization, helping to promote overall functional strength.
Additionally, its unilateral nature helps address strength imbalances between the left and right rear deltoids.
How to perform:
- Set the functional trainer or cable machine to the lowest height setting.
- Stand with your left side facing the cable setup.
- Grab the handle with your right hand and bend at the waist, keeping your back straight.
- Keep a slight bend in the elbow and lift your arm to the side, focusing on the rear delt contraction.
- Lower the weight at a controlled tempo and repeat for the desired reps before switching to the other side.
4. Cable External Rotation
Cable external rotation might seem like a subtle exercise, but its benefits extend beyond the rear delts to the intricate muscles of the rotator cuff and is one of the most used exercises in rotator cuff rehab work. This exercise also enhances shoulder joint stability by promoting external rotation, a critical factor in preventing injuries.
It complements the overall development of the rear delts by strengthening the more minor, supporting muscles around the shoulder joint.
How to perform:
- Set the cable machine at waist height.
- Stand perpendicular to the machine with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Hold the cable handle with the hand closest to the machine.
- Rotate your arm outward against the resistance, feeling the activation in the rear delt and rotator cuff.
- Return to the starting position and repeat before switching to the opposite side.
5. Cable Face Pulls
Cable face pulls are an incredibly versatile rear delt exercise that also targets the upper traps and rhomboids. This movement helps improve posture, strengthen the upper back, and improve shoulder stability. If you’re looking for more options, you can check out our Face Pull Variations.
How to perform:
- Set the cable machine at upper chest height.
- Attach a rope handle to the cable and grasp it with an overhand grip.
- Step back to create tension in the cable and position yourself with a stable stance.
- Pull the rope towards your face, keeping your upper arms parallel to the ground.
- Squeeze your rear delts at the movement’s peak, then return to the starting position.
Cable Rear Delt Workout
Now that we’ve explored the individual shoulder exercises, let’s put them together in an effective cable rear delt workout routine. This routine can be performed as a standalone shoulder workout or incorporated into your existing training split.
- Cable Wide-Grip Row: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
- Reverse Cable Crossover: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
- Single-Arm Bent-Over Cable Rear Delt Fly: 3 sets x 12-15 reps per arm
- Cable External Rotation: 3 sets x 15-20 reps per arm
- Cable Face Pulls: 3 sets x 12-15 reps
Note:Adjust the weight to your fitness level, ensuring proper form and control throughout each exercise.
Rear Delt Cable Exercise Muscles Worked
1. Posterior Deltoid Muscle (Rear)
Situated at the back of the shoulder, this muscle is the primary focus during movements like reverse cable crossovers, single-arm bent-over cable rear delt fly, and cable face pulls. Targeting the posterior deltoids improves symmetry, creating a well-defined and sculpted appearance in the rear shoulder region.
Strengthening the rear deltoid muscle enhances aesthetics and supports overall shoulder function, health, and stability.
If you liked this list, you should read our Best Dumbbell Rear Delt Exercises article.
2. Anterior Deltoid Muscle (Front)
In contrast to the rear delt, the anterior deltoid is positioned at the front of the shoulder. While cable rear delt exercises don’t directly target the anterior delt, their contribution to overall shoulder development should not be overlooked.
The engagement of the rear delt muscles indirectly complements the anterior deltoid, promoting balanced aesthetics across the entire shoulder region.
To learn how to pack on the mass, check out the Best Front Delt Exercises.
3. Lateral Deltoid Muscle (Medial)
The lateral deltoid, situated on the side of the shoulder, actively engages during specific cable exercises, such as cable wide-grip rows and cable face pulls. These movements contribute to lateral delt development, emphasizing the shoulder’s width and definition.
The lateral deltoid development helps in achieving a broad and powerful shoulder appearance.
You can find our article on the Best Lateral Delt Exercises here.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often can you train the rear delts?
Like any other muscle group, the ideal training frequency for the rear delts depends on various factors, including your overall training program, recovery capacity, and individual goals. However, I generally recommend training the rear delts by including specific exercises targeting this muscle group at least 1-2 times per week.
Here are some considerations to help determine the ideal training frequency for your rear delts:
Overall Training Split:
If you follow a traditional split routine (e.g., push, pull, legs), incorporating rear delt exercises into your “pull” day is common. This ensures that your rear delts receive attention alongside other back muscles.
Volume and Intensity:
Consider the volume and intensity of your rear delt workouts. If you’re incorporating high-intensity exercises with moderate to high volume, allowing sufficient recovery time between sessions is crucial.
Everyone’s recovery capacity varies. If your rear delts recover quickly, you may be able to train them more frequently. Conversely, if you experience persistent soreness or fatigue, you might need more time between sessions.
Are cable rows enough for rear delts?
Cable rows are exceptional for targeting the mid-back and lats, providing a decent engagement for the rear delts. However, to get the most development and optimal growth of the rear delts, I’d recommend including specific exercises that isolate and intensively focus on this muscle group.
Movements like reverse cable crossovers, single-arm bent-over cable rear delt fly, and cable face pull into your routine provides a much better approach to targeting the rear delts.
Do pull-ups work rear delts?
Pull-ups predominantly target the lats and upper back muscles. While there is some engagement of the rear delts during pull-ups, I don’t believe they are the best option for focusing on rear delt development.
Is rear delt shoulder or back?
The rear delt, short for rear deltoid, is part of the shoulder muscle group. Positioned at the back of the shoulder, it contributes significantly to the overall shape of the shoulder region and maintains shoulder health.
While the rear delts are situated at the back, they are more widely considered part of the broader shoulder complex rather than exclusively belonging to the back muscles.
What is the best exercise for rear delts?
The best exercise for rear delts depends on individual preferences and goals. However, cable rear delt exercises such as the reverse cable crossover, single-arm bent-over cable rear delt fly, and cable face pull efficiently isolate and target the rear delts to maximize muscle growth.
Prioritizing the development of your rear delts is essential for achieving a well-balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique. Incorporating cable exercises into your shoulder training routine can especially contribute to the isolation and activation of the rear delts.
Following the outlined cable rear delt workout and understanding the muscles worked, you can embark on a journey to sculpted and powerful shoulders. Remember, consistency and proper form are crucial to unlocking the full potential of your rear deltoid muscles.
If you’re looking for more insights into achieving the ultimate shoulders, check out The Ultimate Shoulder Routine, which provides a fantastic guide to sculpting all aspects of your shoulders, from the front to the sides and, of course, the often-neglected rear delts.
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