Although performing pull-ups will build some strength and muscle in your rear delts, you’re better off performing targeted exercises for this muscle group. Row variations, rear lateral raises, Y-raises, and face-pulls all offer a better workout for your rear deltoids. Pull-ups work your posterior deltoids (aka rear delts) as a secondary muscle group. However, pull-ups primarily target the lats instead of the deltoids. So, do not rely on pull-ups for your rear deltoid development.
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What Muscles Do Pull-Ups Work?
The primary muscles worked by wide-grip pull-ups are the lats and the biceps. The lats are a major muscle in your back. They run from your armpit to the top of your hips, making up a lot of the muscle of the mid-back. As you probably know, your biceps are the muscle on the front portion of your upper arm. When performed correctly, pull-ups will target these two muscles the most. This means pull-ups are reliable for building mid-back and arm strength.
- Pull-ups primarily work your lats and biceps.
- Your rear delts, traps, rhomboids, triceps, and forearms are worked as secondary muscles during pull-ups.
- Pull-ups will provide some exercise for your rear delts, but not a lot.
Several muscles are used as secondary muscles during wide-grip pull-ups. These muscles include the rear delts, the trapezius, the rhomboids, the triceps, and the forearms. These muscles in your upper back and arms will get a decent workout from pull-ups, but they won’t be targeted specifically. This means you’ll see fewer advances in strength, tone, or size from these muscle groups compared to the primary muscles used during pull-ups.
Why Are Pull-Ups Not a Good Rear Delt Exercise?
Pull-ups are not the ideal exercise for building your rear delts because other muscles will be exhausted by pull-ups before your rear deltoids get a full workout. The primary muscles used during pull-ups (lats and biceps) do the brunt of the work. By the time these muscles are so tired you can’t do any more pull-ups with proper form without swinging, your rear delts will only have received a minor workout.
- Pull-ups work the lats and biceps harder than they work the rear delts.
- By the time your lats and biceps get a full workout from pull-ups, your rear delts will only have gotten a minor workout.
- If you do not include other exercises in your routine, a lack of rear delt workouts can lead to muscle imbalance and injury.
You will see small improvements in the strength, size, and muscle tone of your rear delts if you do pull-ups. However, if you don’t target your rear delts with other workouts, they will lag behind your other muscles. This will lead to muscle imbalances and possibly even injury. So, it’s essential to include deltoid-targeting exercises as part of your routine.
5 Exercises to Target Your Rear Delts
The range of motion required by pull-ups does not target the rear delts specifically. In order to build the muscles on the rear of your shoulders, incorporate one or more of the following exercises into your routine.
The seated row is a great way to activate and build rear deltoid muscle. If your gym has a cable machine, you can start doing these today. In order to do this exercise:
- Attach a V-grip to a low-pulley cable machine.
- Sit down on the seat at the cable machine.
- Place your feet on the platform just below the handle.
- Grip the handle with both hands, with your palms facing inward, toward each other.
- Extend your legs until they are only slightly bent.
- Sit with your back upright and shoulders retracted—the weight should be lifted slightly off the stack of weights in this ready position.
- Pull your elbows straight back until the V-grip handle touches your chest just below your sternum.
- Slowly straighten your arms.
- Repeat for the desired sets and reps.
By keeping your back straight and not bending forward or backward during seated rows, you will target your rear delts, as well as your triceps muscles. This exercise is one of the first rear delt exercises beginners should learn.
Rear Lateral Raises
The rear lateral raise is an excellent rear deltoid isolation exercise. In order to perform this lift, follow these steps:
- Sit on the end of a bench or on a chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground.
- Bend over until your chest is resting on your knees.
- Grip a dumbbell in each hand. At this point, the dumbbells should be just behind your heels.
- Keeping your arms straight, raise them straight outward until they are parallel to the ground.
- Slowly lower your arms back to starting position and repeat.
Make sure to keep your back straight and shoulder blades retracted throughout this exercise. You will get an incredible rear deltoid workout this way and build essential upper back muscles.
Pendlay rows are an incredible rear delt exercise. If you enjoy compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts, this is the rear delt workout for you. To perform this lift:
- Set a loaded barbell on a mat or lifting platform.
- Stand in front of the barbell with your feet a little more than hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at the hips until your back is parallel to the floor.
- Keep your back straight and shoulder blades retracted.
- Grip the barbell overhand with your arms just outside your legs.
- Without levering your back upward, pull the bar up from the ground until it touches your chest.
- Lower the bar back to the ground.
Because Pendlay rows put your back parallel to the ground, they target the rear delts extremely well. For more information on why this exercise is one of our favorites, check out our head-to-head comparison of Yates rows vs. Pendlay rows.
Y-raises work several muscles in the back and shoulders, but are a great way of activating the rear deltoids. For this exercise.
- Angle a bench upward at 30–45 degrees.
- Lay face-down on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Retract your shoulder blades
- Tighten your abdominal and glute muscles.
- Raise your arms up in a Y-shape with your thumbs pointing toward the ceiling.
- Hold this pose at the top for 1 second.
- Slowly lower your arms.
- Repeat for your desired sets and reps.
This simple upper body exercise helps with shoulder mobility and strength. It’s a great exercise to use as a warm-up, or at the end of a workout that has several heavy shoulder exercises.
Standing Face Pulls
Face pulls are not as scary as they may sound. This simple exercise can be performed on the cable machines at any standard gym. To perform this exercise:
- Attach a rope handle to a cable machine.
- Set the cable pulley at eye level or higher.
- Grip the rope with both hands, using an overhand grip with palms facing the ground.
- Step back from the machine until your arms are extended and the weight is lifted 1 inch (2.5 cm) off its resting position.
- Pull the rope toward the bridge of your nose until your arms are bent 90 degrees.
- Point your elbows outward as you pull.
- Once you pull the rope close to your face, slowly return it to the starting position.
- Repeat for your desired sets and reps.
This exercise specifically targets the upper back, including the trapezius and rear deltoids. You’ll get an incredible workout with this one.
Do Pull-Ups Work the Back of Your Shoulders?
Pull-ups are not the best exercise for working the posterior deltoid muscles on the back of your shoulders. When working to build your rear delts, keep these facts in mind:
- Pull-ups primarily work the lats and biceps.
- Your rear deltoids (the back of your shoulders) are only worked as a secondary muscle during pull-ups.
- When you do pull-ups, your lats and biceps will be exhausted but your rear delts will receive only a small workout.
- Perform rows, rear lateral raises, Y-raises, and/or face pulls to target your rear deltoids.
Although pull-ups are an incredible exercise, they are not the best choice for developing strong, toned rear delts. Make sure to include exercises that target muscles throughout your back and shoulders to build an injury-resistant physique.