Rows have a tricky relationship with rear delt activation. Here are the facts:
- Almost all types of rows activate your rear delts somewhat.
- Most common types of rows (such as seated cable rows) only engage the rear delts as a secondary muscle.
- Specialized row variations provide a much better rear delt workout.
- Wide-grip rows with a cable machine or free weights increase rear delt activation.
- Inverted rows are a great bodyweight exercise for building your rear delts.
- Face pulls are one of the best rear delt exercises you can do.
- Make sure to work your rear delts as often as you exercise your front and side delts.
By consistently training each muscle group—including the ones you can’t see in the mirror—you will build a physique that is impressive from every angle. By working out your rear delts as frequently as your other shoulder muscles, you’ll improve your posture and reduce your risk of injury.
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Why is it Important to Work Your Rear Delts?
The deltoid muscle is a large, triangular muscle that covers the shoulder joint. It is divided into three distinct parts, or heads: the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids. Although many weightlifters perform several exercises that target the front and side delts, the rear delts are typically the most neglected of the three. This leads to muscle imbalance, slumped posture, and even shoulder injury.
- Build a symmetrical, aesthetic physique.
- Prevent injury.
- Build proper posture and prevent inwardly slumped shoulders.
- Create functional strength for a variety of lifts.
The primary function of the rear deltoid is to move the arm backward, a movement known as shoulder extension. Additionally, the rear delts assist in externally rotating the shoulder and stabilizing the shoulder joint during upper body exercises. Due to their location and function, the rear delts play a crucial role in building the strength needed for compound lifts that will vastly improve your fitness and strength.
The Row and Rear Delt Connection
Rows are a compound exercise that primarily targets your back muscles, mostly the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and trapezius. However, due to the nature of the movement, rows also engage the rear delts to a certain extent. In most cases, rows only activate rear delts as a secondary muscle, but in this article, we’ll discuss row variations that primarily build your rear delts.
- Most standard rows primarily activate back muscles.
- Rear delts are used in rows, but are often only activated as a secondary muscle.
- Specialized types of rows offer much more rear delt activation.
When performing a row, the shoulder joint moves through a range of motion that includes shoulder extension and horizontal abduction. As mentioned earlier, shoulder extension is one of the main functions of the rear deltoid. So, rows do work the rear delts, but only a few types of rows give them a targeted workout.
3 Best Row Variations for Rear Delt Activation
There are several row variations that can specifically target the rear delts more effectively. By altering your grip, body position, or the type of row you perform, you can maximize rear delt activation during your workout. Some row variations that are particularly useful for engaging the rear delts include:
Wide Grip Rows
By using a wider grip during rows, you can place more emphasis on the rear delts. A wide grip encourages greater shoulder extension and horizontal abduction, which engages the rear delts more than a standard row. This variation can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or on a cable machine. One type of row that utilizes a wide grip and improves rear deltoid activation is the Pendlay row.
Inverted rows are a bodyweight exercise that targets the upper back and rear delts. To perform this exercise, set up a bar at waist height. To do this, set the bar up on a squat rack or Smith machine. Next, lie down underneath the bar so you are looking toward the ceiling. Grasp the bar with a wide grip, and pull your chest towards the bar while keeping your body in a straight line. The movement pattern closely resembles a standard row but places more emphasis on the rear delts due to the body position and angle of the pull.
While not a traditional row, face pulls are an excellent exercise for targeting the rear delts. This exercise is performed on a cable machine with a rope attachment. Stand facing the machine and grasp the rope with both hands. Pull the rope towards your face, focusing on squeezing your shoulder blades together and driving your elbows out to the sides. This movement primarily activates your rear deltoids. It is the number one rear delt exercise I recommend.
Tips for Incorporating Rows into Your Workout Routine
Now that you know rows can work the rear delts and have a few row variations to choose from, let’s discuss some tips for incorporating rows into your workout routine effectively.
Balance Your Training
One common mistake that many people make is neglecting their rear delts in favor of the more visible anterior and lateral deltoids. This can lead to muscle imbalances and increased risk of injury. To prevent this, ensure that your training program includes a balance of exercises that target all three heads of the deltoid.
Focus on Technique
Proper form is essential when performing rows to ensure that you’re effectively engaging the rear delts. Make sure to maintain a neutral spine, engage your core, and pull your shoulder blades together as you row. Avoid using momentum or jerking movements. This can reduce the effectiveness of the exercise and increase your risk of injury.
Vary Your Rep Ranges
To optimize muscle growth and strength, it’s important to vary your rep ranges when performing row exercises. Incorporate a mix of heavy, low-rep sets (4–6 reps) for strength development and lighter, high-rep sets (10–15 reps) for muscle growth and endurance.
Prioritize Rear Delt Exercises
If your primary goal is to build and strengthen your rear delts, consider prioritizing rear delt-focused exercises, like face pulls and wide grip rows, early in your workout when you’re fresh and have more energy. This will allow you to put maximum effort into these exercises. The muscles you work out first during each gym session will experience the most development.
Consistency is Key
As with any muscle group, consistency is crucial for seeing results. Make sure to include rear delt exercises in your regular training routine and progressively increase the weight, sets, or reps over time to continuously challenge your muscles and promote growth.
Are Rows Good for Building Your Rear Delts?
Rows do work the rear delts, but their activation depends on the specific row variation and technique used. Wide-grip rows, inverted rows, and face pulls are the best row variations for targeting your rear delts. Close-grip rows minimize rear delt engagement and focus on the back muscles. Perform both wide-grip and close-grip row variations to evenly build muscles throughout your back and the rear of your shoulders.