You need strong shoulders to be able to lift, push, and pull without injury.
Gaining shoulder strength requires working many different muscles from different angles. The front of your shoulders, the front deltoid muscles, tend to be somewhat dominant in a lot of exercise movements. But strengthening the partnering middle and rear deltoids is important, too.
These muscles all work together to keep our shoulders stable. But the rear deltoids can be tricky to target.
These five moves will help you gain rear deltoid strength and stronger shoulders overall. Try adding a couple of these exercises into your regular strength workout each week.
1. Single Arm Bent Over Rows
The day(s) of the week you work out your shoulders and back is the perfect time to add this move. Try to finish off back day with this multi-joint movement that will help you gain rear deltoid strength.
Equipment needed: dumbbell and a bench
Muscles worked: posterior deltoids, back, biceps, and transverse abdominals
- Place your left knee and left hand on the bench.
- Extend the opposite leg slightly behind you on the floor for support.
- Hold a heavy dumbbell in your right hand, with your arm extended toward the floor.
- Pull the weight up toward your ribcage.
- Squeeze your shoulders together at the top of your repetition.
- Lower the weight with control.
- Repeat on 1 side for 10 to 12 reps. Then switch to the other arm, working up to 3 sets.
2. Standing Bent Over Lateral Raises
When doing a long arm lateral movement, you want to start with lighter weight. You can work up to a heavier weight as you get stronger. Starting a move like this with heavy weight can set you up for injury. A lighter weight will still provide a safe way to build strength.
Equipment needed: a pair of light to medium dumbbells
Muscles worked: shoulder girdle, posterior, and middle deltoids
- Hold a pair of dumbbells, keeping your palms facing each other.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, soften the knees, and bend forward at the waist. Elbows are soft and weights should be together in line with your chest.
- Raise your arms up and out, like spreading your wings, until they are parallel to the floor.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the move.
- Lower back to starting position slowly and with control.
- Weights should be light enough to do 10 to 12 repetitions. Work up to 2 to 3 sets.
3. Cable Machine High Pull with Ropes
This move is a great way to mix up your shoulder training, but it does require the use of some gym equipment. Changing the angles of your muscle training can really target your deltoids in a way they aren’t used to. This will help you gain strength.
Equipment needed: cable machine with a double handle rope attachment
Muscles worked: rear and middle deltoids
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Adjust the cable attachment height to about chest high, then attach the rope handle to it.
- Stand with feet hip-with apart and step back so that your arms are extended in front of you.
- Pull the ropes toward you and pull apart as you go. Elbows should stay up high to help target those deltoids.
- Slowly and with control, extend the arms back out to the starting position.
- Weight should be light enough to perform 10 to 12 repetitions. Work up to 2 to 3 sets.
4. Rear Deltoid Machine
There’s actually a machine designed to work the rear deltoid muscles at your local gym. This really makes it easy to isolate those muscles safely and in a challenging way.
Equipment needed: a read deltoid machine
Muscles worked: rear delts, trapezius infraspinatus teres or “traps”
- Sit on the machine facing the pad. You will appear to be sitting on it backward, but you aren’t for this exercise. Adjust the seat height so that the handles in front of you are level with your shoulders.
- Holding the handles, press your arms back, keeping them straight.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, like a set of elevator doors.
- Hold here for 2 seconds, then return to the start position with your hands in front of you. Do this slowly and with control.
- Perform 10 to 12 repetitions.
5. Assisted Pullups
Pullups are a very effective exercise movement. But typically, most people don’t have the upper body strength to perform one without a little help. This move not only works your back, but your shoulders, rear deltoids, and biceps.
Equipment needed: assisted pullup machine
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi and shoulders, including the rear deltoids
- Adjust the weight deduction on the side of the machine. Choose the correct amount and set.
- Climb on to the kneepad and push it down until it’s low enough for you to place both knees on.
- Knees should be hip-width distance apart.
- Hold the outer handles above you, keeping your palms facing away from the center.
- Extend your arms and lower yourself to the starting position.
- Pull your body up until your chin is level or above the handles.
- Hold the position for a few seconds, then lower yourself down with control.
- Focus on keeping your shoulder blades engaged. They should be pressed back and down.
- Start with 6 to 8 reps, work up to 10 to 12.
Note: As you get stronger, you can slowly reduce the assisted weight amount to challenge yourself.
These five exercises are designed to target one general muscle area. If you’re working on developing your shoulders in a balanced way, adding these moves to your regular shoulder workout will help balance out the heavier, front-loaded movements.
As with any exercise routine, it’s smart to check with a doctor first for approval. It’s also a good idea to work with a qualified trainer to make sure you are safely utilizing the machines to your benefit.