Face pulls are a fantastic exercise for targeting the rear delts, as well as other muscles in your upper back, including your rhomboids and traps. They’re often performed with a cable machine, but you can also use resistance bands if you’re working out at home. Although face pulls are excellent for rear deltoid development, there are several other exercises that also target this muscle. Bent-over lateral raises, rows, and Y-raises also build your rear delts.
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Why is it Important to Work Your Rear Delts?
Exercises like overhead press, incline bench, and front raises result in increased muscle development in the front of your shoulder. If you don’t balance out this work by building your rear delts, your shoulders will be pulled forward and inward by overdeveloped anterior delts. This can negatively impact your posture, limit your mobility, and increase your injury risk. Face pulls are a great exercise to help build all-around strength in your shoulders.
- Create stronger shoulders.
- Prevent poor posture.
- Reduce injury risk.
- Improve your weightlifting form.
- Create a balanced, aesthetic physique.
Many common back exercises do not work your rear delts. In fact, you may be surprised to find out that pull-ups are not a great rear delt exercise. Because it’s easy to perform a back workout without targeting your rear delts, it’s essential to add face pulls or a similar exercise to your program. This way, you can reap the benefits of well-rounded shoulder development.
How to Build Your Rear Delts with Face Pulls
When you do face pulls correctly, you will primarily target the rear delts. However, improper form can reduce the benefits for this muscle. Here’s how to do face pulls:
- Set the pulley height of a cable machine to eye level.
- Attach a rope handle to the cable machine.
- Grab the handle with an overhand grip. Your palms should be facing the ground.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
- Pull the handle toward the bridge of your nose, keeping your elbows high.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you reach the end of the movement.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
- Perform 3–5 sets of 8–12 reps.
The key to making face pulls work your rear delts is to focus on keeping your elbows high and externally rotating your shoulders as you pull the handle toward your face. If you allow your elbows to move downward rather than outward, you will transfer the workload of the exercise to your lats, not your rear delts.
4 Complementary Exercises for Rear Delts
While face pulls are great for working your rear delts, it’s a good idea to include other exercises in your routine that target these muscles. Here are our favorite exercises that work your rear delts:
Bent-Over Lateral Raises
Bent-over lateral raises target the rear delts and can be performed with dumbbells or a cable machine. Here’s how:
- Sit on a chair or weightlifting bench.
- Bend forward at the hips until your chest is resting on your thighs.
- Keep your back straight and parallel to the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing inwards
- Let your arms hang down, with a slight bend in your elbows.
- Raise the dumbbells straight out to the sides. Keep your elbows slightly bent.
- Continue raising your arms until they are held straight out to your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Repeat for your desired sets and reps.
This exercise is a great choice for a home workout or if you don’t have access to a cable machine. You can even perform it with a resistance band. Just place the band under your feet, then grasp each end in one hand. Perform the exercise as described above, stretching the band as you raise your arms to the sides.
Reverse Pec Deck Flyes
If your gym has a pec deck machine, you can use it to build your rear delts. Just follow these steps for a great rear delt exercise:
- Adjust the pec deck machine so that your chest is against the pad and the handles are at shoulder height.
- Select an appropriate weight on the machine.
- Sit on the machine with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
- Grasp the handles with your palms facing inwards.
- Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout the movement.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and extend your arms out to the sides.
- Continue the movement until your arms are in line with your shoulders, or as far as comfortable.
- Slowly return to the starting position, allowing your shoulder blades to come apart.
- Repeat for additional reps.
Using reverse flyes to build your rear delts is a great tactic. For every chest workout that includes chest flyes, put a back workout with reverse flyes on your schedule.
It’s no secret that Pendlay rows are one of my favorite back exercises. I covered this row variation in depth in our Yates Row vs Pendlay Row article. One of my favorite aspects of the Pendlay row is that it targets the upper back and rear delts more effectively than other rows. Here’s how it’s done.
- Load a barbell with your desired weight and set it on the floor.
- Stand behind the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees slightly and hinge forward at your hips until your back is parallel with the floor.
- Keep your back straight.
- Grip the barbell with an overhand grip, with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your torso parallel to the floor and your head in a neutral position, looking slightly forward.
- Pull the barbell towards your lower chest, driving your elbows back and keeping them close to your body.
- Maintain a strong, stable core and avoid using momentum to lift the weight.
- Touch the barbell to your lower chest.
- Slowly lower the barbell back to the floor, fully extending your arms.
- Repeat for additional reps and sets.
Although keeping your elbows close to your sides moves some of the focus of the exercise to the lats, Pendlay rows will still provide a great rear delt exercise. Avoid flaring your elbows out, since this can cause injury. Instead, focus on pulling the barbell up to the point where your chest and abdomen meet. This position is great for rear delt activation without risking injury.
You can get a great rear delt workout with just an adjustable weightlifting bench and a pair of light dumbbells. Here’s how to use these tools to do incline Y-raises:
- Set your bench at a 30-degree angle.
- Hold a light dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing downward.
- Lie face down on the incline bench with your chest supported and feet flat on the ground.
- Position your arms down and slightly outward, forming a “Y” shape.
- Raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides, maintaining the “Y” shape of your arms.
- Lift the weights until they are in line with your shoulders. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
- Slowly lower your dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Be prepared to start with a light weight during this exercise. It’s a challenging rear delt workout that’s great if you have a home gym or a simple gym setup.
Do Face Pulls Build Upper Back Muscles?
Face pulls are excellent for developing upper back muscles. Here are the facts about this exercise:
- Face pulls primarily target the rear deltoids, but they also engage other muscles in the upper back region.
- Secondary muscles used during face pulls are the middle trapezius, rhomboids, and infraspinatus.
- Face pulls are an effective exercise for improving upper back strength and posture.
- Building your rear delts with face pulls promotes balanced shoulder development.
- Other great upper back exercises include bent-over lateral raises, Pendlay rows, Y-raises, and reverse flyes.
If you’re looking to build stronger, injury-resistant shoulders, face pulls are an excellent place to begin. They help create a foundation for building muscle and functional strength.