On shoulder day, many lifters rely on old classics to develop the cannonballs. This is all fine and dandy, but too often we see developed physiques that lack the development of the rear deltoid, simply because those big moves don’t zero in on them quite enough. Doing a shoulder press, upright row, and lateral raise are all good choices, given your shoulders are stable enough to handle it. The problem is, the rear deltoids only get half the stimulation for these lifts since the mid and front deltoids tend to take over such lifts. Let’s make some tweaks to some old classics to make them hit harder.
Exercise 1: Snatch grip behind the neck push press
If you’re looking at an article all about developing your rear delts in specificity, we’re trusting that you’re no beginner to weight training. If you are, then rest assured—you have bigger fish to fry in the weight room first. With that said, the behind the neck aspect of this lift seems daunting to shoulder health, but the situation is ameliorated since the hand position is out wide, snatch grip style. This allows the shoulders for much more ease of getting into position. Use the legs to drive the weight up overhead, and squeeze outward on the bar during the lowering phase, absorbing the impact once again by bending the knees on contact. Focusing on sets of 3-5 reps is the smart way to go here. Remember to tuck the elbows under the bar to incorporate the rear delts the most. You’ll feel them work.
Exercise 2: Resisted scapular slides
This is a great hybrid between a face pull and a wall slide, and what makes it such an underrated challenging exercise is the fact that the constant tension the load provides comes from the front, and not from gravity. The rotational aspect the rear deltoids are responsible for isn’t challenged by much weight—and it won’t take a lot to make them work overtime here. Sitting tall on a bench, be sure to pull the ropes right back to your ears, and then simply maintain a straight vertical plane above your head, as though you were doing a neutral grip press. The challenge will be in disallowing your arms from drifting forward toward the pulley (see video), and it will do a number on your upper back—most specifically your rear deltoids.
Exercise 3: Bent-over reverse flyes
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Most people have reverse flyes all wrong.
That’s a bold statement, but a combination of too much weight and a poor starting position makes for a lift that doesn’t do well to target the rear deltoids (or any of the upper back) at all. As a result, the shoulder migrates forward, killing a lifter’s starting posture, and the mid deltoid begins to take over the lift. Turning the hands around so the palms face forward immediately cleans up the mechanics of a reverse fly, and allows the weight to remain congruent to the shoulder for the entire range of motion, enforcing the proper force angle. The end result is a direct hit for the rear deltoids, and everything else in between. Again, it doesn’t take much weight to hit it hard once you’re doing it right.
Exercise 4: Blackburns
If you’re looking for something that provides a bonus in being a total body challenge, then use the Blackburn. If you’re fortunate enough to belong to a gym that has a glute hamstring raise machine, then take advantage of it by setting up horizontally, and bracing your entire posterior chain while performing a prone version of the resisted scapular slide exercise above. Since your body is straight, it creates more of a need to avoid overarching the low back as the arms travel far above the head. Be sure to keep the head “through the window” you create with your arms, and avoid letting the hands or body fall toward the floor. Focusing on sets of 10-12 reps with a slow tempo will be all you need.
Don’t go overboard. Train smart and focused. In each case above, the weight being lifted could easily be surpassed by someone trying to be a hero, but then the message would be lost. Put these moves to use and check your ego at the door, and it won’t be long until you see your shoulders fill out in a much more complete way.