The back of your body deserves just as much, if not more, attention than the front. That includes your shoulders, so strengthen your rear delts with these key exercises.
You’re not wrong if you think your upper body is made up of your shoulders, chest and back. But within those key body parts lie lots of different muscle groups – all of which need strengthening and stretching.
Take your shoulders, for instance. Within this group, there are three key muscles: the anterior delt, at the front of your shoulders; your lateral delt, on the side; and your rear delt, at the back. Typical shoulder exercises, such as overhead press and lat raises, tend to prioritise the front and side of our shoulders – definitely important, but leaving your back neglected.
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It’s not just what we do (or don’t do) in the gym that makes these muscles weak, either. Our day-to-day posture, which is typically bent over a desk, means that we rarely activate our rear delts. “Typically, we are stronger at the front of the body,” explains osteopath Anisha Joshi, founder of Osteoallies. “It’s really important to strengthen the rear delt, as this attaches to the spine of the scapula [a bone at the top of your shoulder blade] and encourages your shoulders to pull backwards.”
Essentially, if you’ve been dealing with slouching shoulders or back or shoulder pain, it could be because you’re forgetting to build strength in the back of your shoulders. These three exercises come recommended by Joshi and the Strong Women team.
How to engage your rear delts
Focus on rolling your shoulders down and back: squeezing your shoulder blades together encourages the mind to muscle connection.
Go slow: reducing momentum means you work the intended muscles, as opposed to flying through the exercise and letting your stronger muscles take over.
Engage the lats: “The lats stabilise the rear delt, so doing exercises that build the lats further encourages the activation of the posterior muscles on the shoulder blades,” says Joshi.
3 of the best rear delt exercises
Single-arm bent-over rows
- Stand to the side of a bench, chair or box and hold a dumbbell in your opposite hand.
- Place your knee, calf and hand onto your raised surface, with your wrist underneath your shoulder and knee underneath your hip. The other foot should remain on the floor, a step away from the bench, and your arm elongated down towards the floor.
- Roll your shoulders back and down and row the dumbbell back, bringing your elbow past the ribs and towards the ceiling.
- Slowly lower back down and complete all the reps on one side before swapping sides.
- These can be done standing or seated depending on how much stability you need. For the seated version, sit on the end of a bench, box or chair with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Lower your chest forwards by hinging at the hips – don’t arch the spine but keep the ribs and pelvis drawing into each other.
- Place your hands in front of your knees with your knuckles facing away from your body.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades together to pull the dumbbells up towards the ceiling, keeping your arms straight.
- Slowly lower back down.
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- These can be done with a resistance band tied around a sturdy surface or with a rope on a cable machine. Set either option so that the band or rope are fixed around your eye line.
- Take either end of the rope in your hands, with knuckles facing towards the ceiling. Take a step back so that there is some resistance on the cable.
- Roll your shoulders back and, pulling from the back of your shoulders, bring the rope towards your face.
- Squeeze at the end and slowly lower back.
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