The Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise is an extremely popular supplemental exercise for shoulder development. It’s easy to learn, beginner-friendly and is one of the most effective exercises for focusing on the rear deltoids.
However, sometimes you may need an alternative for Rear Delt Raises.
Maybe you don’t have dumbbells or maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your workouts.
Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an exercise to substitute for Rear Delt Raises then you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you 11 of my favorite dumbbell rear delt raise alternatives including a few different variations and lifts using different equipment.
Alternatives for Rear Delt Raises
I’m going to start with a few variations that are only slight tweaks to the Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise itself. They’re all great options to hit the rear delts and will help to change up your upper body workout if it’s gotten a bit stale.
Seated Rear Delt Raise
Personally, I’ve used the Seated Rear Delt Raise quite a bit with athletes who are recovering from a lower-body injury and may still be on crutches.
The movement itself stays relatively unchanged and it’s going to hit the rear delts the same. It’s really just a change in the starting position. Sometimes a small tweak is all that’s needed to keep your program fresh.
You can use a flat bench or an incline bench, it doesn’t make a difference. Just slide to the edge of the bench so that there is room between your calves and the bench itself. This will give space for the dumbbells at the bottom of each rep.
Single Arm Rear Delt Raise
Another simple variation is to go with a Single Arm version of Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises. Same starting position, same movement, same emphasis on the rear deltoids – just with one dumbbell at a time.
This variation actually does come with a few added benefits.
First, going one arm at a time allows you to really focus on each arm individually. And, two, the core becomes way more involved because it has to stabilize the torso to keep it from rotating as you work with one dumbbell at a time.
Tempo Rear Delt Raises
Another way to vary how you work your rear deltoids is to alter the tempo. Tempo Rear Delt Raises control the tempo, or speed, of each part of the lift – the concentric, eccentric and the pause at the top of the movement.
For example, a 1:1:3 tempo would mean rowing the dumbbells back at a normal rate of speed, then pausing the contraction for 1 second and then lowering the dumbbells back to the starting position in 3 seconds.
Using tempo in this way adds what is referred to as ‘time under tension’, meaning how long the muscle is having to work over the course of a set. Adding time under tension increases muscle recruitment and ultimately mass. What you’ll notice when doing them is that they will absolutely light your rear delts on fire.
Single Arm Cable Rear Delt Fly
Now let’s get into a couple of rear deltoid exercises that incorporate different pieces of equipment. They all can work as a good substitution if you need an exercise for the rear delts, but you don’t have a set of dumbbells.
If you have access to a cable machine, you can try Single Arm Cable Rear Delt Fly.
Lower a cable machine pin down to the floor and attach a single handle attachment. Now, stand perpendicular to the machine and grab the handle with the hand furthest away from the machine. Hinge at the waist with good posture (flat back) until your torso is roughly parallel to the floor.
Row by pulling the cable across your body, keeping your core braced and a slight bend in your elbow.
Band Rear Delt Fly
Band Rear Delt Fly works very similarly to the cable variation we just discussed. The only real difference is that you’re substituting the cable out for a resistance band instead.
For those of us that work out in a garage gym, it’s way more likely that we’re going to have a few resistance bands to work with as opposed to a cable machine.
Use a squat rack, or something similarly sturdy, and loop your resistance band (ideally a thin one) around the rack. Then, assume the same position as with Cable Rear Delt Flys and row.
Band Tears / Band Pull Aparts
Another resistance band exercise that is very effective at targeting the rear delts is the Band Tear, or Band Pull Apart. They’re so simple and easy to do that they find their way into my warm-ups quite frequently.
Simply grab a band (again, ideally a thinner one) with one hand on each end of the band. Arms should be straight out in front of you. Now, keeping your arms straight, row your hands straight out to your sides which will stretch the band and bring it toward your chest.
The motion is as if you’re trying to tear, or pull apart, the band – hence the name.
Band Face Pulls
Band Face Pulls are the third alternative for the rear delts that you can do with a resistance band.
For this exercise, loop a resistance band around a squat rack at about shoulder height. Now grab the band with an overhand grip, just inside shoulder width apart. Finally, stand tall and, as the name says, pull the band towards your face keeping your elbows high and out to the side as you do.
The key to Band Face Pulls is finding the correct distance to stand away from the rack so that you can achieve the proper amount of resistance as you row.
Scap Pushups (Scap being short for Scapula) are one of my all-time favorite warm-up exercises and one that targets the posterior deltoids.
Assume a pushup position, but instead of bending your elbows to do a full pushup, you’re only going to be protracting and retracting your shoulder blades. This short, abbreviated movement is great to work on shoulder stability and warming the shoulders up for an upper-body pressing day.
I usually like to immediately follow Scap Pushups with a set of regular Pushups within a warm-up routine.
A, Y, Ts
A, Y, Ts is a shoulder prehab movement that puts a heavy emphasis on the rear delts.
Set up an adjustable bench up to a 30-degree angle. Lay on your stomach with your head hanging off the top. Use light weight, typically 5 or even 2.5-pound plates. Start by rowing straight up overhead, keeping the arms straight – basically making the letter A with your arms. Plates should come as close to touching as your shoulder mobility will allow.
Next, perform Ys by raising the arms at a 45-degree angle, focusing on squeezing back the shoulder blades on each rep.
Finally, Ts are done by raising the arms straight out the side, thumbs pointing up towards the ceiling.
A, Y, Ts can work great either as part of a warm-up at the start of a workout or as a shoulder ‘finisher’ at the end of a workout.
The Big 30 is one of my favorite shoulder complexes. It’s easy to learn, extremely efficient and, most importantly, will absolutely light your shoulders on fire.
The Big 30 is a giant set of Dumbbell Front Raises, Lateral Raises and Rear Delt Raises.
Each of the three lifts focuses on a different part of the deltoid muscle:
- Front Raise – Anterior Deltoid
- Lateral Raise – Lateral Deltoid
- Rear Delt Raise – Rear Deltoid
Grab a lighter weight than you would normally use for lateral raises. Start with 10 Dumbbell Front Raises, followed immediately by 10 Lateral Raises and then finish with 10 Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises. The key to the Big 30 is doing all three exercises back-to-back-to-back with no rest in between and without setting the dumbbells down in between each lift.
Big 30s are outstanding toward the end of a workout as a shoulder finisher to torch your shoulders, including your rear delts.
Rear Delt Fly (machine)
The last time I did a Rear Delt Fly on a Pec Dec Machine was in Daytona Beach, Florida on a universal machine in a hotel gym. The universal machine was easily 30 years old and was one of two pieces of equipment in the hotel gym, the other being a stationary bike that was equally as old.
The moral of the story is, sometimes you’re going to need an alternative for some of the exercises you want to do and the good part is, if you’re resourceful enough, there is almost always an option waiting for you to take advantage of.
You never know when that option is doing Rear Delt Flys on a machine that should have been thrown in a scrapyard a decade ago.
The Rear Delt Raise is an excellent exercise for targeting the rear delts, but sometimes they just aren’t an option. You may not have the proper equipment available to you or at other times you might just be looking to add some variety to your shoulder routine.
In these situations, you’ll need a Rear Delt Raise alternative and I hope that one of the exercises I’ve listed here fits what you were looking for.