Ultimate Guide to Reach Your Rear Delt Genetic Potential (2016)

Ultimate Guide to Reach Your Rear Delt Genetic Potential (2016)

Ultimate Guide to Reach Your Rear Delt Genetic Potential

The rear delts are one of those muscles that are small, but still play a very huge role in improving your posture, giving you that V-taper look, upper back thickness and it also contributes to full back development. I was personally blessed with some good front and side delt genetics, but my rear delts always lagged behind no matter how much volume I hit them with.

Posterior delts are a muscle that have taken me several years to really understand because they are very stubborn for the most part and most people just can’t seem to get them to grow no matter what they do!

The rear delts are the small muscles in the back of the shoulders and for most people they can recover quickly. The rear delts are kind of like the traps in the way that they can take a lot of abuse. I rarely ever see people with very developed rear delts and in my opinion, they’re one of the hardest muscles to overtrain! My rear delts are nowhere near impressive, but it was only in the beginning of 2015 that they started getting bigger than they were before and it was because I made many changes to my program to really bring up that area. Most articles will tell you that to bring up the rear delts you just need to do more face pulls and more direct work for them with light 10lb dumbbells while you really feel the squeeze and this might be true to a certain extent, but I have talked to many coaches and there are many things that you should take into consideration when trying to build up those stubborn rear delts.

Its a shame because a lot of people have some pretty good front and side delts, but the fact that their rear delts are non-existent just makes their shoulders look very small as a whole. On the other hand, if you have somebody who has bad front delts and mediocre side delts, but has massive rear delts then his/her shoulders will look broad. Will it be optimal size? Of course not, but the person will definitely be considered broad because the rear delts are the meaty part of the shoulders that push the side delt out more which creates the illusion of size.

I don’t care how big your front and side delts are, if your rear delts are lagging then you have small shoulders, period.



Some people with crappy rear delt development and terrible posture seem to think that all of this will change if they just do some direct rear delt isolation work, but that is incorrect in most cases. Most gym rats do a lot of heavy bench pressing and are actually pretty decent at it too, but their pressing numbers are nowhere close to their rowing numbers because they haven’t built a strong back foundation. Some people can bench press 275×5 but can’t even Barbell Row, Pendlay Row or T-Bar Row 185lbs. Their pushing muscles are clearly stronger than their pulling muscles so there is clearly an imbalance there. These same people think that doing a few sets of rear delt flies with their little 10lb dumbbells is going to solve that problem, but it won’t. To make this even worse, most people actually train their chest more than they train their upper backs, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. These same people have terrible posture and their rear delts are literally non-existent.

Not only that, but the rear delts play a really important role in complementing your lats, upper back and traps so its a muscle that ties in very well with others and its a must-have on the list. You could still manage to look big without having big biceps or a big chest, but the rear delts are something that you can’t escape, it should be one of your main prioritizes for looking bigger and improving your posture.

So the point that I am trying to make here is that just because the rear delts are tiny muscles in back of the shoulders doesn’t mean that you can develop them by lifting soup cans (unless if you are on drugs). You will have to work very hard for them and lift heavy because the upper back and rear delts love and can tolerate heavier weights than you may think. The delts are already hard enough to build to an appreciable size as a drug-free lifter so you have to make sure that you are getting stronger at the given movements that I am going to give you below.

When it comes to building X muscle it is important to hit that muscle in a variety of different angles and rep ranges so that is what I am going to discuss below.

Also if you are a drug-free lifter then building your rear delts (and delts in general) is going to be an extremely hard task if you want them to get to a really large size so its important that you hammer this muscle group like you never have before with the methods that I am going to show you below.



“If you start with a 225-pound deadlift today and increase that over the next few years to a 500-pound deadlift I can guarantee you that your rear delts, rhomboids, lower and upper traps will be enormous… or at least far bigger than they are right now.”-Jason Ferruggia

We always hear the typical advice from people saying that if you want bigger rear delts then you have to do heavy deadlifts or rack pulls and this is true because if you are engaging your back properly in any of those movements then your rear delts will have no choice but to grow, the rear delts may be small but they love heavy weights. Right above I pasted a Jason Ferruggia quote where he says that you should basically try to double your deadlift numbers if you are a beginner and aim for a solid set of 500 and your rear delts will be a lot bigger and I definitely agree.

For most people, the advice that Jason Ferruggia is pretty much all you need for bigger rear delts, but for the strong dead lifters who still have stubborn rear delts, you will have to take it a step further. Snatch Grip Rack pulls are one of the best exercises you can do for your rear delts and upper back because they allow you to lift heavier weights to overload the rear delts due to the hand placement and elevated pins. The Snatch Grip Rack Pull also takes the legs out of the equation so you are able to overload your upper back even more.

Clean Grip High pulls are great for improving your snatch and getting big traps but most people get shoulder pain from them and they don’t engage the rear delts and upper back as much as the snatch grip high pull. The Snatch Grip High Pull is an explosive lift that I like to do for 5 reps or lower that works the whole upper back in an explosive fashion and done correctly it can grow your rear delts and make them sore like never before.

Another great option would be the Snatch Grip RDL.

How wide exactly?

All of our bodies are made differently so there isn’t one width that will be appropriate for everybody, but start with a bit outside of shoulder width and gradually go a bit wider each workout until you have found the widest grip you can do while still being able to use decent weights and perform the exercise correctly.

Why use a snatch grip over a regular shoulder width overhand grip?

The standard grip is great and might help you engage the lats even more and might even be better for lat development, but the snatch grip puts a lot more emphasis on the upper back and rear delts. Don’t believe me? Try to take a broomstick or an empty bar with a snatch grip while standing tall with your chest up and pull the bar into you. You while most likely feel your rear delts working harder than they would if your hands were closer in.

To strap or not to strap?

If you have very good grip strength then strapping might not be necessary but if you feel like you can lift more weight properly with straps then go ahead. No point in focusing on your grip strength when you are trying to build bigger rear delts and a thicker upper back so just do grip work after.

How high do you set the pins on the snatch grip rack pulls?

I like to place the pins slightly above the knees on the snatch grip rack pulls in order to take the lower body out of the movement as much as possible and also to overload the upper back as much as possible too. These may look a bit like an ego lift, but they work and your upper back will feel a soreness like never before.

Although there are many different pin heights that you could play around with such as the mid thigh for extreme overload, but I personally found that I got the most gains when I did and when I do my snatch grip rack pulls from slightly above the kneecap.



Yes its true that snatch grip rack pulls will pack some size on those rear delts by overloading them, but you also need some heavy rowing in your program as well for more overall development. If you want to put more emphasis on your upper back and rear delts then you have to start doing your rows with a wider grip! The narrow and close grip are great for different areas of the back such as the lats, but if you really want to bring up the upper back then snatch grip pendlay rows MUST be at an exercise that should be at the top of the list in your program.

I don’t care about how much you love your pull-ups and bench presses, if you want bigger rear delts then you have to treat the snatch grip pendlay row (SGPR) as if it were a competition lift. I used to do a lot of pendlay rows (and I still do), but I was doing them with my elbow pretty tucked in for the most part and although this did allow me to lift more weight, my rear delts were not getting bigger.

Its funny because most people don’t include any wide grip rowing variations in their programs. In fact, the most that most people do will probably be a half-assed wide grip cable row at the end of their back workout which obviously isn’t going to do much. Should you still incorporate any wide grip cable rows? Of course, but I will get to that in later tips!

You want to make sure that your elbows are really flared out on the SGPR’s because that will really stretch out that upper back and hit those rear delts like they have never been hit before.

As far as my standards are concerned, I think that a good goal is to try to eventually get to a 365lb x 5 SGPR.



Here is a video of my buddy Eric Bugenhagen doing some heavy snatch grip pendlay rows for high reps. This is a perfect example of what hard work looks like and his upper back/rear delts are insane!

I just want you to remember that it will be tempting to start tucking in your elbows in order to lift more weight, but you have to leave your ego at the door while continuing to try to get stronger at pulling in this fashion.



We discussed how you need some overloading movements and heavy wide grip rowing movements to bring up your rear delts, but another very important factor to bringing up any muscle groups is unilateral work. Unilateral movements allow you to dedicate all of your attention to one side at a time and if you are doing one arm rows with your elbow flared out then it could be a great way to build up those delts.

The question is, what unilateral exercise should we do?

I have tried dozens and dozens of one arm rowing variations, but nothing in my opinion has felt better for my rear delts than meadow rows. The meadow row is an exercise invented by John Meadows himself (in the picture above) and he used this as one of his back exercises to help build his back. The fact that this exercise is done with a landmine or a barbel in the corner allows a unique contraction in the rear delts that cannot be duplicated with other methods.

The Meadow row done on a chest supported T-Bar row apparatus is also a great movement as well for hitting the rear delts so its another meadow row variation that you could add into the mix in order to spice things up a bit.

The reason why these are such an effective rear delt builder is similar to the way the snatch grip Pendlay row is an effective rear delt builder: it takes more lats out of the equation. This is the reason why you might be able lift more weight on the one arm T-Bar row (photo below) because the lats are very strong muscles.

On the other hand, you will still be surprised on how the loading potential on meadow rows is still decent. As far as the goals are concerned, I think that a 185lb meadow row (four 45lb plates) for a set of 10 is a good goal to shoot for.


man-doing-reverse-fly1 79_2

Direct rear delt exercises are great because they give us the opportunity to work our rear delts without too much bicep involvement so we can really isolate what we are trying to focus on. As for my favorite direct rear delt exercises, I like Band Facepull/BPA (Band pull-apart) combos where you pull the band to your face while you are pulling it apart. This is a special exercise that I got from my buddy Alphadestiny and it works like a charm.

Another exercise that I like a lot is the reverse pec deck with bands because it accommodates the resistance at the top which makes the contraction that much better. Last but not least I like some basic dumbell or cable rear delt flies done while sitting in a bent over position so you can take your lower back out of the equation.

One of the most common mistakes with people ho do direct rear delt work is that they tend to shrug a lot which takes the tension off of the rear delts which is something that we don’t want. So this is why you want to make sure that you constantly trying to keep your traps out of the movement as much as possible.

What are the best rep ranges for direct rear delt work?

This is a very good question because the rear delts tend to respond very well to high reps when they get hit directly but how high exactly? I like reps of 10-50 but there is no reason why you can’t do sets of 100 at the end of a workout to really finish off the rear delts even more.

What about drop sets?

Drop sets work incredibly well for the rear delts and if you have stubborn rear delts like me then I would highly recommend that you do some drop sets to get more volume in. Drop sets are also very good if you are somebody who is pressed for time and wants to get more reps in.

Another way to hit the rear delts in a pretty unique way is simply by using bodyweight movements with a TRX or rings. The same way pull-ups are effective for the lats is the same way that bodyweight rear delt work is effective for the rear delts.

My favorite bodyweight exercises for the rear delts are Ring Facepulls and Rear Delt Ring Reverse Fly’es. Progressing on these movements is easy because all you have to do is put your feet more forward in front of you. If you eventually get to the point to where you are doing these movements with your back parallel to the floor for high reps (10+) then you know that you are doing a good job.

Another way to finish off the rear delts (with the help of a partner) is by getting some manual resistance work. When trying to bring up a muscle you want to make sure that you are hitting it with a variety of different ways and manual resistance in my opinion is a very unique way to finally toast those rear delts for good at the end of a session.



One of the mistakes that people make when trying to bring up their rear delts is that they will incorporate way too many vertical pulling exercises in their program. You have to prioritize certain muscle groups over others so choose upper back/rear delts or lats because you can’t put 100% of your focus in both of them, you have to choose.

If you really have to have vertical pulls in your program then make sure that you incorporate wide grip pull-ups because those will target your upper back more than a closegrip which will give your rear delts a bit of indirect stimulation.

My rear delts are bigger than they have ever been and I credit that to putting a lot of my vertical pulls not the back burner while mostly focusing on heavy rowing variations in a variety of different rep ranges with my elbows flared out.

Its still good to incorporate rows with your elbows tucked in because that will improve your numbers on your wide grip rows too so don’t think that I always perform my rows in this fashion.

For example, when I was pendlay rowing 315×5 with my elbows tucked, I was able to do wide grip pendlay rows with about 275-295×5, but when I improved my pendlay with elbows tucked my wide grip row flew up too (and vice versa).



So far we’ve discussed partial overloading movements, heavy rowing exercises, unilateral benefits and programming tips, but now its time to talk about another tool that you could and should use in order to build bigger rear delts: isometric holds and paused reps.

SGPR’s are amazing for the rear delts, but you also need some movements where you are holding a pause at the top. For example, I find that wide neutral grip cable rows are a great movement for building up the rear delts when they are done with the elbows flared out for high reps a 3 second hold at the peak contraction.

Another way that I like to bring up stubborn rear delts is by simply incorporating static hold exercises like crucifix holds except they will be done in a bent over position in order to hit the rear delts. The crucifix hold is a staple among strongman lifters and they have some of the biggest side delts on the planet so I decided to implement their philosophy and add the modification to it for the sake of this tip.

Most programs fail to explore the world of pause, statics and holds except for when they do ab work like planks, but they could be a solid tool for bringing up the rear delts, but of course these alone won’t perform miracles either and you have to get strong at the movements that I’ve listed above for most of your rear delt gains.



If you are a beginner then regular rear delt flies are great, but if you are a bit more advanced then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t incorporate some cheat rear delt flies. The same thing is done with biceps for lifters who want to take their development to the next level, they will go from the strict curls to eventually incorporating cheat curls in order to overload their arms a bit more.



In the video above you can see Matt Kroc doing rear delt flies with some cheat/swinging at the beginning just to train the rear delts in an overloading fashion and then he continues to drop the weight until the reps start to get a bit stricter. I actually like to do these on an incline bench because it literally takes your lower back, abs and a lot of other muscles such as your legs out of the equation which allows you to focus 110% on those rear delts. This is arguably one of the best “killer” sets to help you annihilate those rear delts and will definitely spark some growth in them.

As far as the way that I like to do my swinging/cheat reps is concerned, I like to take 15-20lb jumps in weight on warm-ups and drop-sets. For example, if my top end set is with 60lb with rear delt swings for 25 reps then I might start off with 15lb for 25 reps then 30lb for 25 reps then followed by 45lb for 25 reps and then I will be at 60lb.

Also on my last set of 60lb x 25 I will usually do a drop set and reverse my warm-up sets in order to get 100 total reps in one set.

Another note to remember is that even though these are done in a cheating/swinging motion, you still want to make sure that you are swinging the weight with your rear delts (if that makes sense).

I got this exercise from the legendary John Meadows who also goes by the name of Mountain Dog. if you don’t already know John then he is basically one of the bodybuilders out there who had the worst shoulder genetics imaginable. He had a 21 inch neck, narrow clavicles, wide hips, huge legs, short arms, big traps and the list goes on. John made it a point to go on a mission to try to fix this problem so he tried countless exercises and the rear delt swings were really one of the movements that brought up his rear delts to a tremendous degree.

When looking for exercises and when trying to improve your programming you always want to learn from the best and you also want to learn from those who had piss poor genetics but still managed to get their weak points to eventually becoming their strong points.

Besides, the majority of people who do regular rear delt flies with soup cans have small rear delts for the most part, what makes you think that your results will be any different? You need to up the intensity, up the weight and start taking your rear delts more seriously!



band02 band-pull-apart

If you’re very serious about getting bigger rear delts then a good idea would be to include band work such as band pull-aparts throughout the week during your warm-ups before your workout and on off days to get more total rear delt workload in. Remember that the rear delts can most likely handle more work than you think and on top of that bands are easy on the joints which means that you can use them often and it won’t tap into your recovery too much either.

I personally keep a band in my closet so that I could do some band facepull/BPA combos whenever I open my closet just to start off my day.



This is a little tip that I got from Nick Tumminello and it works like a charm. All you have to do is grip the dumbell on the pinky side during your raises because that will force the rear delt to work harder in order to prevent internal rotation. You will notice that you will get much better pumps when doing your rear delt work in this fashion and it may no the the biggest tip on this list, but its still important for getting better contractions and it can go a long way.



If you really want to get bigger rear delts then you have to gain some weight, no questions asked! If you are competing in a show and you have to be at a lower bodyfat percentage then discard this tip completely. Although if you are not competing in a show and you just want your rear delts to be A LOT bigger then being at a very low bodyfat percentage is not going to help you. If you are complaining about your rear delt size and you are at 7% bodyfat then that is your problem right there, you are at 7% bodyfat!

My suggestion would be to bump up your bodyfat percentage to atleast 15% and then your rear delts along with all of your other bodypart measurements will dramatically go up. If you think that you will be fat in that range then you are probably brainwashed by these super lean YouTubers on drugs because if you look at the chart above then you could clearly see that you will still have abs and definition at 15%. Heck, you will even look better in my opinion at the 16-19% bodytfat percentage and no its not unhealthy because a lot of elite level athletes are in this range as well and there is no doctor out there that will tell you that being at 16% bodyfat is unhealthy.

If you have already put on your first 20lb of muscle then you will definitely look impressive with that extra layer of cushion.

If you have been blasting your upper back and rear delts for years but they still haven’t been growing that much then chances are that its not a training related issue, chances are that its a kitchen rated issue because of the fact that you aren’t eating enough to grow!



Another important factor when trying to build big rear delts is that you have to train them first when you are fresh because that will give you the edge of lifting more weight as opposed to hitting your rear delts at the end of the workout when you are drenched.

This is why I personally started doing my snatch grip pendlay rows and snatch grip rack pulling variations before any vertical pressing variations because my rear delts were number 1 on the priority list and they should be for you too!

If your rear delts are a muscle that you want to bring up for the long haul over your lifting career then you should always place your rear delt related movements at the beginning of your workout because that will give you that edge.

For example, armwrestlers have some of the biggest forearms on the planet and trust me when I say that they don’t train their forearms last. If you are training a muscle group last in your workout in a tired state with half-assed intensity then it will show in your strength for that muscle and in your development as well..

This is why I mentioned earlier that if you want bigger rear delts then put the overhead press and bench press along with vertical pulls on hold for the beginning of your workout and start with some of the heavy movements that I Mentioned first in this ultimate article.



If there is one VERY important thing that I have learned on my journey to getting bigger and stronger it is that you have to attack weaknesses and you can’t always work on what you are good at. For example, if you are trying to get your Snatch Grip Pendlay Row to 405 for reps but you notice that your lower back is the limiting factor because it is fatiguing and giving out way before your upper back and grip then chances are that you might need to fix that issue.

I can personally tell you from my experience that this issue happened to me on rows and when I started taking my barbel back extensions seriously (with the intention of getting a stronger lower back) I started to break through plateaus like nothing because I was strengthening all of my weak links! After a while my lower back barely felt anything during these movements because it was so strong and that’s when the magic started to happen.

Another perfect example of an area of the body that is usually weak on most people and it impacts your rear delt progress is your core because if you have weak abs and weak obliques then you won’t be as strong as you could be on rows, rack pulls and other lifts of that nature. It may be and sound boring, but it won’t be boring when you are rowing 405 for reps!

The point that I am trying to make with this tip is that although you may think that something like the lower back may not have much to do with the rear delts, its all connected. Weaknesses are weaknesses and a weak lower back may actually be an example of something that might be limiting your rear delt progress!

So next time you plateau or think that you are going to plateau on a given lift, start hammering your weak points like there’s no tomorrow and watch as your strength starts to improve before your very eyes.




I was just speaking about lower back training above so I decided to elaborate more on the lower back with this tip. Frequency is a very important factor when trying to bring up any muscle because you obviously can’t just train a muscle once per week and get optimal results. Muscles recover fast and can be trained more often that we think. Also remember how I said that the rear delts and upper back could tolerate a lot of volume and abuse? Well this is still true and it means that you can start getting your rear delts involved in other exercises when trying to bring them up!

One of my favorite ways to get the rear delts involved in my lower back work is simply by doing Barbel Snatch Grip Back Extensions for low or high reps. You will notice that the rear delts are working extremely hard during this movement and this is especially true when you start working up to heavy weights. For example, when you get to 315lb+ for reps then you will notice that your rear delts will be getting the stimulation and attention that they really deserve because with all of these tips they will be getting engaged in so many different exercises and will have no choice but to grow and adapt!



I’ve given you a lot of tips on how to hit your rear delts hard with some direct work, but I would be a fool if I told you that indirect work didn’t contribute to results as well because even though they may not be as important, its still some indirect work that contributes to the main result.

My recommendation for you is that you do more vertical pressing and less horizontal pressing because vertical pressing involves the rear delts a lot more than horizontal pressing does. A lot of people think that vertical pressing only hits the front and side delts, but its not true because the rear delts still get a bit of stimulation. Remember that when you are trying to reach your genetic potential in a given muscle group more stimulation is better than less so you want to get the most rear delt stimulation from as many movements as possible.



This is hands down one of the most important tips in this whole article because I know that some of you were probably thinking: “I have been training 5-10+ years while following the advice above but yet my rear delts still aren’t at an elite level yet?” and to that I would answer that if you have milked the information above but still want to take your rear delts to the next level then there is a special tool that will be ESSENTIAL for your progress:


What bands do is that they basically accommodate resistance at a particular given part of the lift. For example, if you were to do snatch grip rack.pulls with x amount of weight then you could loop bands under the barbel which will make the lift a lot heavier at the top so you will get even more overload. Its crazy because you already get a lot of rear delt overload with snatch grip rack pulls, but the bands will take it to a whole other level that will completely revolutionize your training forever.

Do I use bands? Personally no I don’t use them yet because I am still milking the information above for all that it is worth, but you could best believe that when I really start to plateau in the future then I will start incorporating bands into all of my rows, rack pulls and other lifts of that nature.



One of the biggest problems with most programs is that a lot of lifters only focus on exercises in the 1-20 rep range. Do you want to spend a lot of time in this range? Of course, but there is still room for more rep ranges in your program than that and you shouldn’t limit yourself to 1-20. I’ve learned after a lot of trial and error that the rear delts respond very well to higher reps (not just 8-12).

If you want to take your rear delts to the next level then try doing those lying incline rear delt raises for sets of 50 and try to constantly hit PR’s, think outside the box. Anybody could do a set of rear delt flies for 10 reps that lasts 30 seconds, there isn’t much pain in that because the set is pretty short for the most part.

When you are done your sets of rear delt flies your rear delts should be burning as if you just did a set of 20 rep squats. If you could still put your hands up and if you aren’t shaking a bit after your set then chances are that your rear delts aren’t going to grow that well and that you didn’t give it your all. Do you have to go so hard that you pass out? Of course not, but you do have to up the intensity and up the reps because most advice you get on rear delt training isn’t going to cut it.

Remember that the fact that an exercise is considered to be an isolation lift doesn’t mean that you should use sub-par intensity.



One of the most important things that lifters (especially drug-free lifters) need to understand is that big changes in body composition take a lot of time so if you think that you will reach your rear delt genetic potential in a year then you are at the wrong place. I would personally say that once you know all of the stuff that I’ve mentioned above then it will take about 5+ years from there and that’s not even an exaggeration.

People have to stop rushing so much because it is going to take time so you might a swell just enjoy the process. Try your best to stay injury free for as long as possible while getting stronger and stronger and you will see the results appear overtime.



So there you have it, now there are no more excuses for small rear delts. Follow the different forms of exercises listed above several times per week while focusing on setting PR’s without breaking too much form and you should see bigger rear delts within the next few months.

I can’t promise you a lot of things, but if there is one thing that I can promise its that if you get strong on the exercises below then your delts will be A LOT bigger than they are now.

Here is a reminder of what some good standards are for building massive rear delts:

Snatch Grip Rack Pull: 600lb – 700lb+ x 5

Snatch Grip Pendlay Row: 365lb x 5

Meadow Row: 4 Plates x 10

Wide Neutral Grip Cable Row: full stack x 10 (with 3 second isometric holds at the top of each repetition)

Now you know exactly what you need to do in order to build bigger rear delts, you will thank me later! Hopefully there are not many complications anymore on how to build up this stubborn muscle group because I just went over over a dozen very simple ways on how to tackle this muscle and force it to grow!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.