The rear delt row is an upper-body exercise that primarily trains your upper back and shoulder muscles.

In particular, it trains your rear delts, which are small muscles on the back of your shoulders that aren’t trained well by many upper-body exercises. 

In this article, you’ll learn what the rear delt row is, why it’s beneficial, how to perform it with proper form, the best rear delt row alternatives, and more.


What Is the Rear Delt Row?

The rear delt row is a shoulder exercise that primarily trains the posterior deltoids, or “rear delts,” which are the portions of your shoulder muscles located behind your shoulder joints on your upper back.

There are several names for the rear delt row, including the barbell rear delt row, standing rear delt row, and bent-over rear delt row, but all of them refer to bending over at the waist while holding a barbell, letting your arms hang straight down toward the floor, and then pulling the barbell straight up toward your torso.

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Rear Delt Row: Benefits

If you follow a halfway decent strength training routine with plenty of pushing exercises, then your front and side delts will generally have no trouble growing bigger and stronger. 

That said, the rear delts are often neglected, which is why it’s worth training them with additional exercises if you want them to grow.

The rear delt row effectively trains the rear delts (hence the name), which makes it ideal for ensuring your shoulders develop proportionally.

Training your rear delts isn’t only necessary for aesthetic purposes, though—it’s integral for shoulder health and stability, too.

Many weightlifters spend more time training their front and side delts with pushing exercises than their rear delts with pulling exercises.

Over time this can cause a strength imbalance between your rear delts and your front and side delts, which may increase your risk of injury.

The rear delt row is an excellent exercise for strengthening your rear delts, making it ideal for fixing this imbalance and building stable, robust shoulders, which is why I like to include it in my own training and my fitness programs for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger

(And if you’d like more specific advice about what exercises to include in your training program to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Strength Training Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know the perfect strength training program for you. Click here to check it out.)

Rear Delt Row: Muscles Worked

The main muscles worked by the rear delt row are the . . .

Here’s how those muscle look on your body:

Rear Lateral Raise

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How to Do the Rear Delt Row

The best way to learn proper rear delt row form is to break the exercise up into three parts: set up, row, and descend.

Barbell Rear Delt Row

1. Set Up

Load a barbell on the floor in front of you, bend over at the waist, and grab the bar with an overhand (palms facing you) grip a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Position your feet about shoulder-width apart, flatten your back so that it’s parallel to the floor, and let your arms hang straight down.

2. Row

Pull the bar straight up until it touches your mid-chest, keeping your spine straight and back parallel to the floor. Allow your elbows to flare at about a 60-degree angle relative to your torso.

3. Descend

Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. This is a mirror image of what you did during the row.

Don’t let the barbell fall back to the starting position or try to lower it slowly—the entire descent should be controlled but only take about a second.

Here’s how it should look when you put it all together:

rear-delt-row gif

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The Best Rear Delt Row Alternatives

1. Chest-Supported Rear Delt Row

The chest-supported rear delt row prevents you from using momentum to “cheat” the weight up, which means your rear delts and upper back muscles do all of the work. Due to the way the bench is set up, it also forces you to pull at a slightly different angle than the regular rear delt row, which trains your back muscles in a slightly different way than the regular rear delt row.

2. Cable Rear Delt Row

The main benefit of the cable rear delt row is that by using a cable, there’s constant tension on your rear delts throughout each rep. This taxes your rear delts and upper back slightly differently than the regular rear delt row.

3. Dumbbell Rear Delt Row

For the dumbbell rear delt row, you use dumbbells instead of a barbell. This is beneficial because it allows you to train through a slightly longer range of motion, which is generally better for muscle and strength gain. It also trains each side of your body independently, which helps you identify and correct muscle and strength imbalances.

That said, the dumbbell rear delt row requires more coordination and balance than the barbell version, so it might not be as suitable for beginners. Most people also find they can’t lift quite as much weight using dumbbells as a barbell, which is typically worse for muscle growth.