6 Staple Movements For Bigger, Healthier Shoulders

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Intelligently Build Your Shoulders To Get Out of Pain

If you want shoulders that aren’t chronically broken down and pissed off, you better hammer the backsides of your shoulders with concentrated volume and emphasis every day you walk into the gym. Think of building a thick upper back and big, round shoulders as your “prehab” work because it truly is one of the best things you can do for long term pain-free shoulder function.

The posterior deltoid and the surrounding musculature hold the magic key to shoulder health for many lifters, but often times it doesn’t get trained correctly, or at all for that matter. And if you struggle with chronic shoulder pain and piss-poor posture, placing an emphasis on training these muscles correctly is an absolute game changer.

These specific muscles, along with the rest of the posterior shoulder girdle muscles regionally, are considered postural stabilizers, meaning they respond extremely well to high volumes, frequencies and intensities of training.

What does that mean? If you want healthy shoulders that look as good as they feel and function, intelligently hammering the rear delt fly movement pattern with high metabolic stress and tension based pump work will revolutionize the way you train forever.

I failed to mention one pivotal detail about optimal rear delt training; this type of direct shoulder work will that elicit one of the nastiest pumps of your life when executed correctly, so that’s exactly what we are going to do, build your form and technique from the ground up.

Here are the 6 most effective ways to hammer the rear delts that you can literally plug and play into your training every single day. These movements are complete with videos, coaching notes and the tools you need to perfect your form, improve your function and get out of shoulder pain once and for all.

#1 Bent Over Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly

The traditional bent over rear delt fly may be the single most popular way to train the posterior shoulder directly. This is due to it’s simple equipment requirements utilizing only dumbbells. But don’t be fooled, it’s also one of the most effective ways to functionally hammer the shoulders due to the static hold of the standing hip hinge position that requires loads of core, hip and shoulder stability. Here’s how to execute this staple perfectly:

Coaching Notes

  • Place your feet shoulder width apart and toes facing forward.
  • Hinge your hips back maintaining a neutral spine with your chest facing the ground.
  • Grab dumbbells in each hand with a neutral grip (palms facing one another).
  • Start with the dumbbells at your side and your arms vertical to the ground.
  • Engage the upper back and drive the dumbbells up smoothly.
  • Raise strongly until the upper arms are about parallel with the floor.
  • Squeeze hard and flex your shoulders at the top of each rep.
  • Control the dumbbells down slowly, again keeping the hinged position throughout.

Programming

  • Sets: 2-6
  • Reps: 12-20
  • Rest: 30-60 seconds
  • Loading: Moderate

#2 Prone Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly

Remember, intelligently adding volume and intensity to the posterior deltoid and shoulder region is all about maximizing the muscular response to training while minimizing unwanted joint stress. The prone dumbbell rear delt raise utilizes a fully supported spinal position to work from, minimizing poor core positions and maximizing a brutally awesome way to ramp up intensity to this movement pattern using methods like traditional drop sets. Here’s how to use the incline bench to perform this rear delt raise with clean and crisp technique:

Coaching Notes

  • Incline the adjustable bench to around 45 degrees (or two notches up).
  • Place your chest supported on the bench with your sternum at the head.
  • Ensure that your legs are straight, hips extended and glutes squeezed throughout.
  • Grab the dumbbells in each hand with a neutral grip.
  • Start with the dumbbells at your side and your arms vertical to the ground.
  • Engage the upper back and drive the dumbbells up smoothly.
  • Raise strongly until the upper arms are about parallel with the floor.
  • Squeeze hard and flex your shoulders at the top of each rep.
  • Control the dumbbells down slowly, again keeping the hinged position throughout.
  • Maintain tension through the shoulders at the bottom range of motion.

Programming

  • Sets: 3-8
  • Reps: 15-25
  • Rest: 30-60 seconds
  • Loading: Light

#3 Seated Bent Over Dumbbell Rear Delt Fly

One of the only times that I prescribe a rounded back position in training is to get the torso into a bent over angle out of the seated position in this rear delt variation. This dumbbell movement works extremely well to get into a more supported position at the tail end of hard and heavy training days without placing stress through the lower spine. Check out the coaching note below to get the most out of this seated variation:

Coaching Notes

  • Sit on a standard bench with feet symmetrical and driving into the ground.
  • Hinge forward at the torso bringing your chest facing down towards the ground.
  • A slight flexed position at the lower back is fine here.
  • Stabilize your core position by flexing your glutes and core throughout.
  • Grab the dumbbells in each hand with a neutral grip.
  • Start with the dumbbells at your side and your arms vertical to the ground.
  • Engage the upper back and drive the dumbbells up smoothly.
  • Raise strongly until the upper arms are about parallel with the floor.
  • Squeeze hard and flex your shoulders at the top of each rep.
  • Control the dumbbells down slowly, again keeping the hinged position throughout.
  • Pulse each rep with a little faster of a tempo and key in on the quality of the squeeze.

Programming

  • Sets: 3-5
  • Reps: 25-50
  • Rest: 30-45 seconds
  • Loading: Light

#4 Bent Over Single Arm Landmine Rear Delt Fly

One of the more novel rear delt fly variations, the landmine setup provides a useful change in the strength curve to challenge the posterior shoulder while helping peak activation at the top of this movement. If you are new to the landmine setup, check out the detailed coaching notes and setup recommendations below to get the very most out of this movement:

Coaching Notes

  • Position the end of the barbell in a corner of a room, or in a landmine support setup.
  • Step to the side of the barbell with your feet approximately in line with the end of the barbell.
  • Place your feet shoulder width apart and toes facing forward.
  • Hinge your hips back maintaining a neutral spine with your chest facing the ground.
  • Support your spinal position by placing the opposite elbow onto the thigh.
  • Grab the end of the barbell with a neutral grip (palms facing back towards you).
  • Drive the barbell up hard, accelerating it explosively.
  • Due to the altered strength curve, the top range of motion will provide more loading.
  • Squeeze the top of the range for a split second, initiating a hard flex of the delts.
  • Control the barbell down slowly, accentuating the eccentric lowering.
  • Maintain optimal supported spinal position throughout.
  • Execute all reps on one side before moving to the opposite side. Then take the rest period.

Programming

  • Sets: 4-6
  • Reps: 8-12
  • Rest: 45-60 seconds
  • Loading: Moderate-Heavy

#5 Dual Cable Rear Delt Fly

The dual cable rear delt fly is one of my favorite ways to train the posterior shoulders and generate a huge pump and training effect with fine tuned angles and peak contractions. The only limitation to this awesome movement is the fact that not everyone has access to functional training units or cable setups. If this is something that your gym offers, train this exact exercise for one of the best pumps of your life that will improve posture and decrease chronic shoulder pain, while locking in your form with the notes below:

Coaching Notes

  • Set the cables to a height between your shoulders and head (can alter for different training stimulus).
  • Take two steps back from the cable setup and position your feet and body in an athletic stance.
  • Engage the glutes, hips and core with full body tension.
  • Grab the ends of the cables without attachments across your body, creating an “X” with the cables.
  • Start with your elbows straightened and arms elevated out in front of the body.
  • You’ll notice that one arm will go above the other crossing over the front. Alternate each set.
  • Drive the cables apart from one another, bringing your hands out to the sides of your body.
  • Drive “apart” and slightly down to initiate a quality rear delt contraction.
  • Experiment with the exact angle of pull that you can “feel” the contraction the most.
  • Pause for a second at the end range of motion, flexing hard.
  • Slowly bring the hands and arms back to the start position.
  • Note that you will have to go EXTREMELY light here to get a quality contraction.

Programming

  • Sets: 4-6
  • Reps: 12-20
  • Rest: 45-60 seconds
  • Loading: Moderate

#6 Machine Rear Delt Fly

I know what you are thinking… “machine training isn’t functional” and should NOT be part of pain-free programming. But simply put, this machine rear delt fly is one of the single most effective machines out there to train the shoulders in a pain-free manner due to the seated setup and loading that this type of machine offers. Here’s how to setup optimally to make this machine a staple in your training:

Coaching Notes

  • The seat height should be positioned to have the shoulders slightly higher than the handles.
  • Place your feet symmetrical on the floor with knees bent and glutes engaged.
  • The chest should be placed directly on the pad with full support.
  • If your machine has different hand placements, utilize them all.
  • Ensure that your hands are relaxed and placed up against the machine handle.
  • Bend your elbows slightly and engage full body tension before the reps start.
  • Drive your elbows and hands back under control with a smooth contraction.
  • Peak the contraction with a hard flex at the end range of motion.
  • Control your hands back to the starting position keeping tension through the shoulders.
  • Avoid using momentum or cheating the movement with core or leg involvement.
  • Load this movement to the “feel” of maximal tension, not to overload it.

Programming

  • Sets: 2-4
  • Reps: 20-50
  • Rest: 45-60 seconds
  • Loading: Light-Moderate

About The Author

Dr. John Rusin

Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and writer, whose published over 300 articles in some of the most widely regarded media outlets in the industry like Men’s FitnessTestosterone NationMountain Dog DietBodybuilding.com, and Muscle and Strength, to name a few.

Along with an impressive laundry list of publications, Dr. John works with some of the world’s most elite athletes, including Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pro Quarterbacks, MLB All-Star Pitchers, Professional Bodybuilders and World Class IronMan Triathletes.

He takes pride in offering uniquely customized programming to clients of all walks of life in the exact same detail and passion as the Pros! Dr. John’s 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program is now available to you.

THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
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5 Comments

  1. CHRIS BAIATA February 2, 2017 at 5:37 am - Reply

    Great information man. Some good variations for people to use when training their rear delts. On bent over rear dumbbell flyes tend to point the dumbbell up towards the sky(the back part of my hand) to help activate them when they are stubborn some days.

  2. kyle barichello February 12, 2017 at 6:15 am - Reply

    I always appreciate how clean and crisp your site looks. The information is laid out very simply. The videos are short and descriptive. The exercises in here have definitely helped me. I feel that i am front delt dominant from all my years of bench press and incline. Im curious to hear your thoughts on whether to focus more on rear delt movements as opposed to front. Or even military press. Maybe behind the back? Thanks!

  3. […] Variaties: Staple movements for bigger healthier shoulders […]

  4. Dipesh November 1, 2018 at 8:55 am - Reply

    Hey John

    Would I be doing all of these in one training session called lets say “Shoulder Health Day” or could I one exercise to the back of every training day I have.

    Thanks!!

  5. Kevin Bron February 17, 2019 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    Hi Dr. Rusin, I was wondering what your thoughts are on shrugs for building traps/shoulders. Is this a beneficial exercise? Or are farmer carries more practical and functional? Thanks!

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THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
GET STARTED FOR FREE NOW

THE PAIN-FREE STRENGTH SERIES

Instantly Break Pain-Free PR's in Your Bench, Squat and Deadlift.
GET STARTED FOR FREE NOW