When developing the ideal physique, attention to detail is everything. For example, the refined details of the upper back require fully developed, well- rounded rear delts. One solid exercise for accomplishing this task is the reverse pec deck. In this article we’ll be exploring the reverse pec deck; the mechanics of the movement, the muscles it works, and some of the great alternatives that can be used to develop a beautiful back.
Reverse Pec Deck Machine
The reverse pec deck machine is a piece of equipment that’s found in most gyms. To be clear, the pec deck machine and the reverse peck deck machine are usually one and the same. It’s just a matter of whether you’re body is facing the seat (reverse) or your back is against the seat (standard). What defines this machine is its use of horizontal flyes which either targets the back and rear delts during the rear pec deck or the chest during the standard peck deck (chest fly).
When using the pec deck machine for reverse peck decks, remember:
- Adjust the handles to the furthest rear settings. At this position, both are nearly touching each other behind the seat. Having them this far back will create a deep stretch in the rear delts and provide full range of motion as you extend your arms.
- The seat’s height should allow your hands and shoulders to be level when gripping the handle. This will help strictly abduct the arms and target your rear delts specifically.
What Does The Reverse Pec Deck Work?
The reverse pec deck targets a variety of muscles in the shoulders and back responsible for external shoulder rotation; the middle and rear delts, infraspinatus, teres minor, and supraspinatus. When rotating the arms backwards, these muscles work together to retract the shoulder blades closer to the spine, creating a deep contraction and definition in the muscles of the upper back.
The deltoid is a large muscle that forms a cap that surrounds the shoulder. It has numerous functions depending on which head of the delts you’re looking at. The anterior (front) fibers raise and internally rotate the humerus. The rear delts on the other hand extend and horizontally rotate the humerus. The trapezius works to fix the shoulder blade as the delts pull on the humerus- so any any movement of the arm on the shoulder blade involves the delts to some degree.
The reverse pec deck is an excellent exercise for targeting and growing the rear delts specifically. It is an axe rise that uses pure horizontal abduction, which means the rear delts are going to do the majority of the work pulling your arms backwards.
The teres minor is a long slender muscle that stretches from the outer edge of the shoulder blade to the tip of the humerus. This muscle, along with a few others, is responsible for stabilizing the glenohumeral joint. Due to the mobility of the shoulder joint, the teres minor works to keep the ball of the humerus leveled and locked into the glenohumeral capsule during the peck deck.
The infraspinatus is a thick, triangular muscle that originates on top of the scapula and inserts on the greater tuberosity of the humerus. This muscle functions primarily as an external rotator of shoulder. Along with the aid of a few other fibers around the rotator cuff region, the infraspinatus provides stability to the shoulder complex.
It’s important to note that the reverse pec deck (and other exercises that use strict external rotation) doesn’t work each of these muscles equally. Some exercises like side-lying external rotation are better for activating the infraspinatus and teres minor. Regardless, using the reverse pec deck will help define these muscles and give the upper back a well-rounded appearance.
How To Perform The Reverse Pec Deck
There are far more complicated exercises than the RPD, but it is an exercise that is often done incorrectly. I would recommend either reading the below steps or taking some time to watch a tutorial on how it’s done properly.
- Adjust the handles to the furthest setting behind the seat.
- Set the seat’s height so that your mid chest rests comfortably against the cushion. Make sure that your collar bone and shoulders are at the same level as the handle.
- You can grip the handle whichever way feels comfortable, but to really engage the rear delt, I recommend using a neutral grip. As you grip the handle, keep your arms slightly bent and the muscles in your back engaged. Sit tall in the seat so your spine is as erect as possible.
- When ready begin extending your arms away from the body laterally. Continue to move them back until they are almost or just about aligned with your back. What’s important is that your shoulder blades glide closer together and you feel the contraction in your upper back.
- Don’t allow your arms to travel past your back. The key to this is to contract the lateral muscles of the back like the rear delts and infraspinatus. Extending your arms back too far will transfer the work to the medial muscles of the back that draw the shoulder blades closer to the spine such as the rhomboids.
- Hold the extended position briefly and slowly return the weight to the starting position. Keep the pace controlled, allowing the muscles in the upper back to stretch as the handles return to the midline of the body. Do not allow the weight to completely rest at the starting position. The goal is to keep constant tension on the muscles until the entire set is complete. Repeat this process for reps.
Does Hand Positioning Matter?
When it comes down to the small details of some exercises, hand positioning is always a point of contention. The reverse pec deck is definitely no exception. The theory is that changing ones hand position in turn alters shoulder joint rotation. This in turn not only changes the muscles of the shoulder and back worked, but also much they’re activated.
This is the thought process at least. But can it be proven?
Well, in one study researchers put this theory to the test. With a group of 19 resistance trained men, each participant grasped the machine with either a pronated grip or a neutral grip with repetitions to failure at a load of about 75% body weight. The results showed that electromyographic activity in the rear delts were significantly greater in the neutral position opposed to the pronated position. Similarly, there was also greater activity in the infraspinatus with a neutral grip compared to the pronated.
So long story short: use a neutral grip for greater activation of the rear delts (and infraspinatus if you’re really focused on details).
Reverse Pec Deck Alternatives
Bent-Over Lateral Raise
The bent over lateral raise is a classic exercise that’s great for anyone’s training arsenal. This lateral raise specifically doesn’t require a machine (only dumbbells), which means it can be done at the gym or at home. Like the reverse pec deck, the BOLR uses horizontal abduction- just performed on a horizontal plane. When doing this exercise I recommend using lighter weight and focusing on form. Without a machine to control the movement path of the arms, the body has a lot more freedom to move (properly or improperly). Focus on feeling the contraction of the rear delts at the top of the movement, and controlling the dumbbells on the way down.
- Start by choosing dumbbells for the exercise. Generally a lighter weight works well for performing a moderate number of reps with good form.
- Bend forward so that your torso is nearly parallel with the floor. Keep a slight bend in your knees and drive your hips backwards.
- As you grab the dumbbells, let your arms hang directly under your shoulders, maintaining a slight bend in the elbows.
- When ready, begin raising the dumbbells laterally on either side of the body. Squeeze the scapula together at the top of the movement. As the dumbbells travel higher, feel the contraction in your rear delts.
- Raise your hands until they are chest height. Hold this position briefly and then slowly lower your hands to either side of your legs. Don’t rest your arms at the bottom of the movement by straightening them. You want to keep constant tension on them by maintaining a bent arm and keeping your rear delts engaged at all times.
Cable Machine High Pull
If your goal is to refine the muscles of the upper back, the high pull is the exercise for you. It incorporates external rotation like the reverse pec deck, but instead of keeping the aligned with the shoulder the hands pull the cables above the shoulders. This alteration in form activates the traps in addition to the rear delts. I recommend performing this exercise slowly in order to really feel the contraction. It requires a very light amount of weight, so prioritizing form and technique will be more rewarding than simply lifting heavy.
- Find a rope attachment and connect it to the high pulley.
- Take hold of both ends of the rope and step back until your arms are fully extended. Set your feet a little narrower than shoulder width apart and allow your torso to lean back slightly.
- Keep your elbows high (a little higher than your shoulders) and pull the rope towards your face. Avoid pulling your arms too far back. Your arms should be aligned with your back at the furthest point.
- Hold this position briefly and slowly return the rope to the starting position