Arnold Back

A lot of people treat their rear deltoids as an afterthought. After all, compared to many other, much larger muscles (especially chest, back and quads), the rear delts are relatively small. Over the years, I’ve seen rear delt training completely neglected, and I’ve also observed many individuals hitting this portion of their shoulder musculature ineffectively.

It can be difficult and awkward to isolate the rear delts. Pressing movements rely more on the front and middle delts, while bent-over lateral raises require extreme focus so momentum or your back muscles don’t take over. Another key is not using too much weight — the rear delts are so small that you have to keep the resistance light or your body will inevitably involve other, larger muscles to help perform the lift. 

You can train your rear delts with dumbbells, cables or machines, and I believe you should use each of these pieces of equipment. That said, here are three of my favorite rear delt isolation exercises.


To target the rear delts with dumbbells, start the lift bent over with your torso very close to parallel to the floor. I always preferred to do this sitting on the end of a bench; former Mr. Olympia Lee Haney did this move bending over while standing up. Either way is fine as long as you’re able to isolate the stress on the rear delts.


This is simply the cable version of the previous exercise; it was always one of my favorite rear delt moves because of the constant tension cables provide. Stand between two lowpulley cables, grasping the opposite handles so the cables cross in front of you. Bend over until your torso is almost parallel to the floor and lift the handles out to your sides, elbows bent slightly, starting with your palms facing in and pronating your wrists during the movement to further isolate the rear delts.


There are rear delt machines in many gyms, and some pec decks can be used to hit the rear delts if you sit facing  the machine rather than putting your back against the pad. Once you’ve learned to train the rear deltoids with dumbbells and cables, you should know what it feels like to hit these muscles in isolation. Just make sure you get that same feeling when using a machine. – FLEX