Barbell Rear Delt Row: Exercise, How-To, And Alternatives

Barbell Rear Delt Row: Exercise, How-To, And Alternatives

The rear delts, though unseen from a front view, are essential for the full, well rounded, complete appearance of the shoulders. Studies have shown us that exercises like the rear lateral raise are great for rear delt development. However there are still a few more exercises that can do the trick. Here we’ll discuss one such movement, the barbell rear delt row, and how it affects the development of the shoulders and other muscles of the back.

Muscles worked with Barbell Rear Delt Row

barbell rear delt row exercise


The trapezius is one of the many muscles that act on the shoulder girdle. Its primary purpose is to keep the scapula fixated to the body. The traps make it possible for the shoulder blades to perform many actions, especially during the rear delt row. As the barbell is rowed towards the body, the traps contract and pull the shoulder blades together towards the spine. It also helps stabilize the scapula in order to work synergistically with the rear delts. Performing The barbell row will help to develop thick muscular traps, and those traps will in turn help to develop a well rounded shoulder.

Rear Delts

Just from the name alone, it’s obvious this exercise works the rear delts. The rear delt finds its origins on the upper region of the shoulder blade and inserts onto the humerus. As mentioned before the trapezius fixes the shoulder blade in place and allows the rear delts to pull on the humerus. It is responsible for extending and laterally rotating the humerus. Developing the rear delts is important for crafting a round 3 dimensional shoulder. However functionally it plays a large role like many other muscle of the scapula in pulling the arms towards the body during back exercises. 

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi (or lats for short) is the largest muscle group of the back. It consists of a triangular body that originated from the mid to lower spine and inserts high on the humerus. The lats are the go-to muscle for both vertical and horizontal pulling exercises. You can imagine as the arms row the barbell towards the abdomen, the lats condense- pulling the humerus up and towards either side of the torso. As one of the largest muscles in the posterior chain, exercises like the barbell delt row will help in developing the size and strength of this important muscle.

Teres Major And Minor

Both of these muscles share the same name, however they serve their own distinct functions. The teres major starts from the lower medial portion of the shoulder blade and mainly works to internally rotate the humerus. The teres minor is a rotator cuff muscle that also finds it’s origins on the scapula. It along with the infraspinatus work together to stabilize the scapula by flattening it to the back. This then allows the humerus to externally rotate. These deep muscles of the back are worked well during the concentric phase of the delt row, creating powerful extensors of the arm.

How To Perform The Barbell Rear Delt Row

There are many different variations of the row, but to perform the barbell delt row, the attention is in the details. It’s about details in torso angle, grip, the line of pull, etc. These subtle differences can be the difference between you primarily working the lats or zeroing in on the the fine details of the rear delts. 

How to:

How To:

Get Into Position

  • in a standing, neutral position, begin hinging your hips backwards (like a deadlift) until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Your feet should be hip width apart with your knees slightly bent. From this bent-over position the barbell should be resting on the floor directly under the chest. 

Starting Position

  • as you bend down, reach for the barbell on the floor. Your hand placement should be a few inches wider than shoulder width apart (for reasons you’ll see later). If the hands are too close together you won’t be able to target the rear delts effectively. 
  • with the barbell in hand, pick it up off the floor and return to the hip-hinge position. Be sure that you engage your core and consciously avoid arching your lumbar spine. The goal is to align the lumbar spine, thoracic spine, and neck in a straight line. Also keep your arms un-bent from the starting position.

The Row

  • begin pulling the barbell towards the chest by bending your arms. Now to do this properly and engage the rear delts, think about right angles. Both arms should be aligned straight on either side of the shoulder, which means there should be a 90 degree angle in the gap between you’re arms and torso. When you row the barbell to the top of the movement there should also be a 90 degree angle between the elbows. This ensures that the rear delts are specifically activated while also promoting strict form. With such limited range of motion using the barbell, you’ll definitely be able to tell if you’re form is off by the angles of your arms. If you have difficulty hitting these angles, it maybe an indication that you need to come down in weight in order to control the bar effectively.
  • at the top of the movement the bar should be only a few inches below your chest. Hold it there briefly to squeeze the most out of the contraction. Also keep in mind that during your rowing process, you don’t just want the back to be straight, but rigid as will. Avoid using the momentum of the torso to help get the bar to your chest. You want the rear delts to do as much work as possible, meaning the rest of your body should be as still as possible.

The Descent

  • after pausing at the top of the move, begin lowering the barbell slowly back to the starting position. Pace yourself and allow your body to feel the full effect of the stretch in your arms and back. Refrain from shrugging your shoulders at any point of the exercise. When the arms are straight and can’t extend any further, consider this the end of the first rep. Remember, avoid using the momentum of the barbell’s vertical movement to get you through the set. At the end of the rep, move right into the next one by controlling the weight back up with the strength of your arms and back. Again if you feel that you can’t do an adequate amount of reps with proper form, feel free to choose a lighter barbell.

Tips For Success

Pull with your elbows: when it comes to the barbell rear delt row, and most rowing back exercises, it is important to row with your elbows and not your arms. You may be wondering what the difference is? This is perfectly understandable considering the difference between the two in terms of form are nearly identical. 

The difference is that when you row with your elbows you are taking the work off of your arms and relying on the muscles of the back (in this case the delts) to extend the elbow upward. 

Focus on the mind-muscle connection you have with your rear delts. When your elbows are traveling upwards, if you focus solely on the contraction of your rear delts, you’ll work the rear delts that much more. Remember, simply pull the elbows vertically and feel the contraction in the rear delts.

Advantages To The Barbell Rear Delt Row

Heavy Focus On The Rear Delts

The rear delts are an important muscle group to be sure, but they are also a tricky one to train as well. Some people neglect it all together because they can’t tell the difference between the numerous muscles of the back and how to target the rear delts directly. Fortunately the rear delt row takes a lot of the guess work out of the equation. It manages to create a clear, strict movement pattern with the use of the barbell and the angles of the arms. Both leave little room for improper form or technique, which as a result helps isolate the rear delts powerfully.

Rows are some of the most effective back exercises around, but the sometimes lack variety. When I say variety I don’t mean in terms of variations- there are plenty of different types of rows. However the angle of the arms  rarely deviate from being a few degrees away from the body during the row. The rear delt row however is literally 90 degrees from the torso, adding a new angle to target the lats and other muscles of the back.

Doesn’t Require A Lot Of Weight

Often times with major muscle groups like the chest or quadriceps, very heavy loads are necessary for stimulating muscle growth. This is definitely not the case with the rear delts. When performing the barbell rear delt row, in order to do each rep properly, the barbell itself is more than likely pretty light. This lighter weight allows for greater focus on form and contraction in the rear delts. All of this helps to grow the targeted muscles properly and fine tune the details of the back.

Barbell Rear Delt Row Alternatives

The Yates Row

The Yates row was made popular by the legendary Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates. As far as exercises are concerned, the Yates row and rear delt row have a lot in common. Both utilize the barbell, they’re both standing exercises, both require a hip-hinged starting positions, and on and on..But keep in mind there  are also a few important differences that will aid in technique.

 For starters the Yates row is performed with a much shallower forward lean. Honestly during this exercise, you’re only bending forward about 30 degrees, mainly because the line of pull is different. This form difference also allows you to lift heavier, taking a lot off the lower back. Yates rows are also done with a supinated (underhand) grip, pulling the bar towards your abdomen to the point that your elbows travel far past the torso. 

As you can see there are a few form and technique differences, but it works many of the same muscles as the barbell rear delt row, including the lats and rear delts. 

How To Perform:

  • begin by hinging your hips backwards so that your torso leans forward slightly. Bend your knees slightly as well (about twenty degrees) and keep your feet hip width apart.
  • hold the barbell with a reverse (supinated grip) a few inches wider than shoulder width. It’s important that you keep your back straight and chest up throughout the movement. 
  • pull the barbell to the base of your abdomen by bending your elbows and guiding them past your torso. Avoid jerking the weight back by using the movement of your upper body. Keep your torso stationary so that the only body part moving is your arms. 
  • slowly lower the weight back to the starting position by extending your arms.

Rear Delt Fly

The rear delt fly is not a row, or even a conventional pull (back) exercise. However as it’s name suggests, this exercise is excellent for working the rear delts. There are several techniques for this exercise, but the gist is to extend the arms upward while your torso is facing the floor horizontally. Regardless of how you perform it, I think the best advice for the rear delt fly: control the dumbbells. You will feel the contraction in your rear delts much more if every rep (in both the upward and downward phase) are steady, slowed, and intentional. 

How To Perform:

  • either in a seated or standing position, lean forward so that your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Your rear delts should be facing the ceiling, and your legs should be tucked beneath your core.
  • place both dumbbells on either side of your feet, or if your standing, hold them on either side of your knees. This will be your starting position.
  • with a neutral grip, raise the dumbbells up towards your back by extending your arms laterally. Focus on the contraction in your rear delts as you keep your arms slightly bent. 
  • slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Don’t rely on gravity to relieve the tension- control the negative as it returns to either side of your legs. Repeat for as many reps are necessary.

For more exercises like these, feel free to check out our training archive!


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