Rear Delt Row, How To, Benefits, And Variations To Help Build Strong Shoulders

Adding this exercise to your upper body training regimen can help build and strengthen your shoulders

man doing rear delt row exercises with a dumbbell - image 02

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Rear Delt Row – A great exercise for targeting your shoulder muscles

The Rear Delt Row is a strength training exercise that targets the posterior deltoid muscles on the backside of the shoulders. It also works the upper back.

Rear Dealt Row – Targeted Muscles

dumbbell lat exercises - dumbbell rear delt row-image 01

While the Rear Delt Row targets the posterior deltoids, it also engages several other muscles to a lesser extent.

The following are the principal muscles the rear delts target and engage.

Note that the extent of involvement may vary depending on the specific technique, grip, and execution of the exercise.

  • Rear Deltoids
    The rear deltoids or rear delts are the principal focus of the exercise.
    The posterior delts are responsible for shoulder extension and external rotation.
  • Rhomboids
    The rhomboids lie between the shoulder blades.
    They assist in retracting and stabilizing the scapulae or shoulder blades during the rowing motion.
  • Middle Trapezius
    The middle trapezius lies between the shoulder blades and spans the upper back.
    It helps with scapular retraction and stabilization during the rear delt row movement.
  • Posterior Rotator Cuff
    The rotator cuff muscles, specifically the infraspinatus and teres minor, assist in the external rotation of the shoulder during the rowing motion.
  • Biceps Brachii
    The biceps brachii in the upper arm is not the primary target, but it acts as a secondary mover during the rowing motion. It assists in elbow flexion.

Rear Dealt Row Benefits

woman doing rear delt row exercises

The Rear Delt Row offers several benefits for your upper body and shoulder development. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Strengthening the Posterior Delts
    The main benefit of the rear delt row is the targeted strengthening of the posterior deltoid muscles.
    Developing strong rear delts helps to improve shoulder strength and stability.
    It can also help promote balanced muscle development in the shoulder area.
  • Improved Shoulder Posture
    By strengthening the rear delts and the surrounding muscles, such as the rhomboids and middle trapezius, the rear delt row can help improve shoulder posture.
    The exercise can counteract the effects of rounded shoulders and forward head posture experienced by many in today’s sedentary lifestyle.
  • Enhanced Upper Back Development
    The exercise engages the upper back muscles.
    That can help develop and well-rounded upper back, helping to improve upper body aesthetics.
  • Improved Shoulder Function
    Strengthened rear delt and upper back muscles can help with shoulder stability and function.
    Thus rear delt rows can enhance the function of the shoulders and reduce the risk of injuries in the region during other exercises or daily activities.
  • Enhanced Pulling Strength
    The Rear Delt Row is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscles in the upper body as secondary movers.
    That can improve pulling strength, which can help with such activities like weightlifting, sports, and daily tasks that involve pulling motions.
  • Versatility and Accessibility
    You can perform rear delt rows with dumbbells, barbells, or other resistance training equipment, making it accessible to several exercisers in various fitness settings. Thus you can do the exercises in your home gym or commercial gyms.
    You can incorporate the exercises into upper body workouts or as part of a comprehensive strength training regimen.

Rear Dealt Row – The Exercise

rear delr rows - dumbbell bent over T bar row alternative and lower back dumbbell exercises

The best equipment for the rear delt row exercises is a pair of dumbells of appropriate weight.

You can also perform the movement as a unilateral exercise or with both hands and with or without a weight bench.

Below are the steps to follow to perform the rear delt row exercise.

  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip, palms facing your body. You can also use a barbell or a cable machine with appropriate attachments.
  • Stand with your feet at shoulder-width and slightly bend your knees.
  • Hinge forward at the hips and maintain a neutral spine.
  • Lean forward until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, and engage your core.
  • Let your arms hang straight down in front of you, fully extended.
  • Bend your elbows slightly and retract your shoulder blades to initiate the movement.
  • Pull the dumbbells up and out to the sides, leading with your elbows.
  • Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull the weights upward and outward.
  • As you pull, lead with your elbows rather than your hands. Keep your wrists neutral, avoiding excessive wrist flexion or extension.
  • Continue pulling until your upper arms and the floor are parallel, and your elbows are at approximately 90 degrees. That is the fully contracted position, and you should feel an intense contraction in your rear deltoids.
  • Hold the contracted position briefly and focus on maintaining tension in the posterior delts.
  • Slowly lower the weights back to your starting position, fully extending your arms and allowing your shoulder blades to protract.
  • Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 set in a session


  • Avoid using momentum or swinging your body to lift the weights. Focus on controlled movements and engaging the targeted muscles.
  • Keep your neck in a neutral position, aligning it with your spine. Avoid excessive neck flexion or extension.
  • Breathe naturally throughout the exercise, exhaling during the lifting phase and inhaling during the lowering phase.
  • Newbies should start with lighter weights to ensure proper form and gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable and proficient with the exercise.

Rear Deal Row Common Mistakes

woman doing rear delt row exercises with a dumbbell

Many exercisers may not find it challenging to perform rear delt row. Yet it is vital to take note of common mistakes to ensure correct form and maximize the effectiveness of the exercise.

  • Using Excessive Momentum
    One common mistake is using momentum to lift the weight rather than relying on the targeted muscles.
    Avoid jerking or swinging your body during the rowing motion.
    Instead, focus on controlled movements, emphasizing the contraction of the posterior deltoids throughout the exercise.
  • Rounded Upper Back
    Letting your upper back round or hunch forward during the exercise can shift the emphasis away from the posterior deltoids and increase the risk of injury.
    Maintain a neutral spine and keep your chest up throughout the movement to ensure proper alignment.
  • Shrugging your Shoulders
    Avoid shrugging your shoulders or tensing your traps excessively during the row.
    That can shift the emphasis from the posterior deltoids and engage the wrong muscles. Instead, keep your shoulders down and focus on initiating the movement from your rear delts.
  • Incorrect Grip
    Using an improper grip can impact the effectiveness of the exercise and strain the wrists.
    Ensure your grip is secure and comfortable, with your palms facing your body or each other, depending on the equipment used.
  • Lifting Too Heavy
    Using (excessively) heavy weights can compromise your form and increase the risk of injury.
    Choose a weight that allows you to maintain proper form throughout the exercise.
    Gradually increase the weight as your strength and technique improve.
  • Neglecting Scapular Retraction
    Proper scapular retraction, which involves squeezing your shoulder blades together, is essential for engaging the rear deltoids effectively.
    Neglecting that movement can reduce the activation of the target muscles.
    Focus on retracting your shoulder blades during the rowing portion of the exercise to ensure proper muscle engagement.
  • Not Getting the Correct Range of Motion
    Avoid overextending or hyperextending your shoulders at the bottom of the movement.
    That can strain the shoulder joint and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
    Instead, maintain control and stop the movement once your arms are parallel to the floor, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.

Rear Dealt Row – Limitations

The Rear Delt Row is a valuable exercise for targeting the posterior deltoids and upper back muscles, but it has some limitations.

  • Form and Technique
    Performing the Rear Delt Row with incorrect form or technique can increase the risk of injury, particularly to the lower back.
    Ensure you maintain proper posture. Avoid excessive spinal flexion or rounding and use controlled movements throughout. Seek guidance from a qualified fitness professional if you are not confident about the form and technique.
  • Weight and Progression
    The Rear Delt Row relies on the strength of the posterior deltoid and upper back muscles. Using heavy weights could make the movement challenging compared to exercises that involve larger muscle groups like the chest or legs.
    Thus, do not use excessive weight that compromises your form or places strain on the muscles and joints.
  • Equipment Availability
    The Rear Delt Row requires one or two dumbbells, a loaded barbell, or a cable machine to perform.
    You cannot perform the exercise effectively if you don’t have access to these types of equipment.
    However, rear delt row alternative exercises with your body weight or resistance bands can help target the posterior deltoids without specialized equipment.
  • Muscle Imbalances
    While the Rear Delt Rows are exercises that target the posterior deltoids effectively, it’s crucial to maintain balance in your shoulder muscle development.
    Neglecting the front and middle deltoids can create muscle imbalances and potentially affect shoulder joint stability.
    Incorporate several exercises that target all aspects of the deltoid muscles into your training regimen to promote balanced development.
  • Individual Variations
    As with any exercise, individual factors such as mobility, flexibility, and injury history can affect your ability to perform the rear delt rows.
    Always listen to your body, make appropriate modifications if needed, and consult with a healthcare professional or fitness expert if you have any concerns or specific conditions.

Rear Dealt Row – Variations

Rear delt row variations can provide different angles of stimulation and target the rear deltoids in slightly different ways.

Incorporate some into your training regimen to help you achieve better results.

Wide-Grip Rear Delt Row

Perform the rear delt row with a barbell, holding the bar with a wider grip than shoulder-width apart.
The variation emphasizes the outer portion of the posterior deltoids and engages the upper back muscles to a greater extent.

Prone Rear Delt Row

incline dumbbell lateral row - lat pull down alternative exercise and best dumbbell lat exercises

Instead of standing, lie face down on an incline bench set to a low angle of around 30-45 degrees.

Hold the dumbbells in your hands with your arms extended toward the floor.

Perform the rowing motion by pulling the dumbbells up and back, focusing on squeezing your rear delts.

The variation isolates the posterior deltoids and minimizes involvement from other muscle groups.

Single-Arm Rear Delt Row

single arm row - dumbbell back exercises

You can perform the rear delt row with one arm at a time instead of using both arms simultaneously.

The variation allows for greater focus and isolation of each posterior deltoid.

It can also help you correct any imbalance to help build a more symmetrical upper body.

You can use a dumbbell or a cable machine for this exercise. You may need a weight bench as well.

Chest Supported T-Bar Row

chest supported t-bar row - image-01
  • Set up a T-bar row machine with a chest pad or support.
  • Position your chest against the pad and grasp the handles or bar.
  • Perform the rowing motion, pulling the weight towards your torso while keeping your back flat and engaging your posterior deltoids.

The variation provides stability and support, allowing you to focus on targeting the rear deltoids.

Inverted Row

man doing the inverted row - t bar row alternative exercise
  • Set up a bar at waist height or use a Smith machine with a low bar position.
  • Lie on your back underneath the bar and grab it with an overhand grip, palms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your body straight and aligned from head to heels.
  • Pull your chest towards the bar, squeezing your shoulder blades together and engaging your posterior deltoids.

The inverted row targets the upper back muscles, including the rear deltoids.

It also engages the biceps and core muscles.

Rear Dealt Row – Alternatives

Rear delt row alternative exercises allow you to target the posterior deltoids from different angles and with movement patterns compared to the rear delt row.

Incorporating several exercises into your training regimen can provide a more comprehensive stimulus to the muscles and those in the region, promoting balanced development and preventing muscle imbalances.

Including these alternatives in your training regimen will allow you to target the posterior deltoids from different angles.

They can provide a more comprehensive stimulus to the muscles and those in the region, promoting balanced development and preventing muscle imbalances.

Constantly challenging your muscles with new exercises can help prevent adaptation and plateauing. They can keep your workouts fresh and stimulating, encouraging continuous muscle growth and progress.

Varying your exercises reduces the repetitive stress on specific joints and muscles. Different movements can help maintain joint health, reduce the risk of overuse injuries, and target muscle fibers from different angles.

While the rear delt row targets the posterior deltoids, alternative exercises can engage other muscles in the shoulder complex, including the middle deltoids, rotator cuff muscles, and upper back muscles.
That can help build your shoulders and strengthen and stabilize them.

Bent-Over Dumbbell Reverse Fly

Reverse Fly aka rear delt fly - best rhomboid exercises
  • Grasp a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other.
  • Stand with feet at shoulder-width and slightly bend your knees.
  • Hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back straight.
  • Lift the dumbbells out to the sides, leading with your elbows, until your arms and floor are parallel to the ground. Lower the weights back down with control. This exercise isolates the rear deltoids effectively.

Face Pulls

  • Set up a cable machine with a rope attachment at chest height.
  • Stand facing the machine and grasp the rope with an overhand grip.
  • Step back, keeping tension on the cable.
  • Pull the rope towards your face, aiming for the sides of your head.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause briefly before returning to your starting position.

Face pulls target the rear deltoids and engages the upper back and rotator cuff muscles.

Seated Cable Rows with Wide Grip

  • Sit at a cable row machine and grab the handle with a wide overhand grip.
  • Sit upright with your legs extended and your feet against the footrests.
  • Pull the handle towards your torso, retracting your shoulder blades and squeezing your rear delts.
  • Slowly return to the starting position with control.

The exercise targets the upper back muscles but also engages the rear deltoids.

Reverse Pec Deck or Rear Delt Machine

The machine allows you to isolate and target the rear deltoids.

  • Adjust the seat and handles to your desired position.
  • Sit with your chest against the pad and grab the handles with your palms facing inwards.
  • With a slight bend in your elbows, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the handles back.
  • Return to your starting position under control.

Band Pull-Aparts

pull apart with resistance band

You will need a resistance band for the exercise.

  • Stand with your feet at shoulder-width, holding a resistance band in front of you with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • With your arms straight, pull the band apart by moving your hands out to the sides, focusing on squeezing your rear delts.
  • Return to your starting position under control. Adjust the tension of the band to challenge yourself appropriately.

Final words from LiveLIfe

The rear delt row is one of the best exercises for targeting and building the posterior deltoid muscles.

The movement is not challenging to master, is versatile, and requires not too expensive equipment.

The exercise may seem simple, but not getting the form correct can affect your health. It can also impede the benefits.

Master the technique and proper form of the rear delt row if building and strengthening your shoulders is one of your goals, and incorporate the exercise into your training regimen to help target and build your shoulder and upper body muscles.

  1. Elzanie A., Varacallo M. 2023. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle. National Library of Medicine
  2. Schory A, Bidinger E, Wolf J, Murray L. A systematic review of the exercises that produce optimal muscle ratios of the scapular stabilizers in normal shoulders. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2016;11(3):321–336.

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