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Barbell rear delt rows rugby image

Barbell Rear Delt Row: Videos & Variations

Want to know how to do a barbell rear delt row? You’re in the right place!

Here at OriGym, we have put together a full guide to performing barbell rear delt rows. 

Our guide includes an exercise tutorial video, advice about the common mistakes to avoid, and a breakdown of all of the benefits that this exercise has to offer!

So, what are you waiting for? Find out how to do this exercise and two brilliant shoulder building alternatives just below.

Before we get stuck in, have you ever thought about taking your passion for fitness to the next level? If you think you have what it takes to make a career in the fitness industry enquire about our Ofqual regulated personal training courses now.

Want more information on the range of courses that you can study with us here at OriGym? Download our free course prospectus for more information!

How To Do A Barbell Rear Delt Row

Set Up: To set up for this exercise you will need plenty of space and a loaded barbell.

If you haven’t tried this exercise before, load the barbell with a reasonable amount of weight, prioritising an amount that allows you to stick to proper form rather than trying to lift heavy.

As always, wipe down any shared equipment between uses.

Starting Position:

Barbell rear delt row starting image

  • Start with the barbell set on the floor just in front of your feet. 
  • Stand in a neutral position with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Pull your shoulders back and down, and hold your hands so that they are relaxed at your sides.
  • Bend forwards by hinging at your hips, being careful to keep both your back and your legs completely straight.
  • Reach out and grab the barbell with an overhand grip. 
  • Place your hands as wide apart as you can along the barbell.

Execution:

Barbell rear delt row execution image

  • Start this exercise by rowing the barbell towards the bottom of your torso.
  • Keep your back and your legs straight throughout the duration of this exercise and maintain a slight bend in your knees. 
  • Continue to row the barbell towards you, stopping when it is about two inches from your torso. 
  • To intensify this exercise you can either hold the bar in the peak position for a count that you extend incrementally, or you can add more weight. 
  • Slowly lower the barbell back into the starting position to complete a single rep of this exercise. 

Unsure how many reps and sets you should perform for this exercise? You can find our advice very soon! For now, here is a breakdown of the muscles worked by rear delt barbell rows.

Barbell Rear Delt Row Muscles Worked

Primary Movers: Deltoids (shoulders).

Secondary Muscles: Traps, Biceps, Rhomboids, Trapezius, and Forearms.

Common Problems Performing This Exercise

Before we get into discussing how barbell rear delt rows can benefit your progress in the gym, we thought we would quickly cover some common mistakes made with this exercise and explain exactly how you can avoid making them.

Once we're done here, why not give this full body kettlebell workout a try!

Maintain Good Form

barbell rear delt rows graphic

As with all exercises, getting the correct form when performing the barbell rear delt row is imperative. 

For this exercise, the main thing to look out for in terms of form is to ensure that your back and legs are straight throughout the duration of the exercise.

Your legs should stay as straight as they can be without should avoid locking out at your knees, and your back should remain flat.

Struggling to keep your back flat throughout your set? It helps if you brace your abdominal muscles. Find out how to engage your core here!

Don’t Use Too Much Weight

barbell rear delt row graphic

As we briefly mentioned when discussing how to set up for this exercise, one mistake that a lot of people make is loading the barbell with too much weight.

The first time you try this exercise, underestimating is better than overloading. Start with a reasonable weight and if you find it too easy, add another weight plate onto either end of the barbell.

The ideal weight to use with barbell rear delt rows will allow you to just about get through your full set with proper form. Going too heavy will make it hard to keep your back straight, something which is likely to result in a lower back injury!

Barbell Row For Rear Delt: The Benefits

Build Back Muscle

Barbell rear delt rows back muscles image

All too often people really concentrate their exercise goals around what is known as their ‘mirror muscles’, bulking up their chest and biceps so they look good in the mirror.

Neglecting the muscles in your back can cause a serious muscle imbalance which can affect your functional strength and cause an exercise-related injury over time.

This is why the rear delt barbell row benefits for building your back muscles is one of our favourite things about this exercise.

Using the wide hand-grip on the barbell really emphasises the benefits for the rear delts and your back, helping you to get stronger and resulting in significant improvements in muscle definition over time.

So if you want to avoid injuring yourself in the gym whilst working on your overall upper body strength at the same time, this exercise is definitely one to try.

Pair it with one of these brilliant tricep exercises to build the strength of your posterior muscles.  

Rear Delt Barbell Rows Help Improve Posture

Barbell rear delt rows postural benefits image

Another benefit of performing barbell rear delt rows is that it can actually improve your posture.

Thanks to the fact that this is a great back exercise, adding this exercise into your regular upper-body routine can help to correct postural issues.

You might not think that poor posture is a problem for you, but if you spend an extended amount of time sitting behind a desk or slumped on the sofa, then it's more than likely that you have postural issues that you don't even know about. 

Working in an office is one of the most common reasons for poor posture and subsequent lower back pain. In a 2015 study, Nejati et al explained why poor posture among office workers is an increasing problem:

“The use of computers has increased dramatically over the past decade in various offices so that staff spend a lot of time sitting behind the computer. These rapid changes may be accompanied by increased prevalence of poor posture and resultant neck pain.” 

You can find their full study here.

Adding effective back exercises like the barbell rear delt row into your routine can help to reverse these effects and help you to build a stronger body overall.

Interested in other ways that you can reverse the effects of your 9-5 job on your posture? Check out the OriGym guide to office fitness! 

Develop Shoulder Definition 

Barbell row for rear delt shoulder benefits

Obviously, we couldn’t talk about the benefits of barbell rear delt rows without discussing how much this exercise helps you to develop definition in your shoulder muscles.

If strengthening and defining your shoulders is one of your exercise goals, then you’ll be happy to know that this exercise works the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoids making it an awesome shoulder building exercise that produces serious gains.

Looking for other exercises to build strength and muscle in your shoulders? Find out how to do lateral raises and 3 variations on our blog.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

So we’ve established that there are plenty of benefits of barbell rear delt rows, but how many reps or sets do you need to do to see these results for yourself?

Simply put, the number of reps and sets that you need to do completely depends on your individual exercise goals.

Want to build strength? You should follow the 5x5 rule. That means, 5 reps for 5 sets, with a relatively heavy weight.

If your goal is to build the size of your muscles then you will need to train in the hypertrophy zone. This involves grabbing a reasonable amount of weight and doing between 8 and 12 reps for 4 sets.

Finally, if you’re searching how to do rear delt barbell rows because you want to improve your muscular endurance, then you should perform 18-20 reps for 2-3 sets, using a relatively light amount of weight.

Barbell Rear Delt Row Variations

Now that you’ve mastered how to do the bent over barbell rear delt row, we thought we would include two additional guides explaining how to do some great alternative shoulder exercises.

Looking to balance out your workout with an exercise that isolates your biceps? Check out our guide to incline hammer curls and give them a try!

How To Do An Alternating Deltoid Raise 

Set Up: To set up for this one you will need two dumbbells and enough room to work out. 

If you are working out in the gym and sharing equipment be sure to wash it clean before and after you use it. 

Starting Position:

Barbell row for rear delt variation starting image

  • Stand upright in a relaxed position.
  • Bring your shoulders down and set your feet a hips-width apart. 
  • Pick up a dumbbell in each hand and hold your arms so that they are extended down in front of you.
  • Your palms should be facing the front of your thighs with your knuckles over the top of the handle.
  • Find a fixed spot to focus on in front of you and brace your core.

Execution:

Barbell row for rear delt variation execution image

  • To execute this lift, start by moving your arms to the side of your body and then lifting your arms up to your sides.
  • Lift the dumbbells until your arms are in line with your shoulders.

Rear delt barbell rows variation starting image

  • Pause briefly before lowering your arms back down to your sides.
  • Move the dumbbells so that they are in front of your thighs again and then raise the weights until your arms are straight out in front of you.

Rear delt barbell rows variation execution image

  • Hold this position for a moment and then lower your arms back down to the starting position. 
  • That’s one rep done!

Muscles Worked During Alternating Deltoid Raises

Primary Movers: Deltoids.

Secondary Muscles: Forearms, Biceps, Triceps, and Traps.

Common Problems With This Exercise

Locking Your Joints

Rear delt barbell rows variation image

One common problem with this exercise is that people tend to lock out at their joints, either their elbows or their knees, but sometimes both!

As you perform this exercise, your arms and legs should both be straight, but not to the extent that you lock your joints.

Unless you want to develop a nasty joint injury, there should be a really slight bend in your elbows and your knees throughout the entire duration of this exercise.

Benefits Of This Exercise

Barbell row for rear delt graphic

Before we move on to our next alternative to the barbell rear delt row, here are a couple of our favourite things about this exercise!

Need inspiration for your next chest day workout? Here are the 13 best push up variations that you need to try!

Shoulder-Strengthening

Similar to the barbell rear delt row, this is a brilliant exercise to improve the strength and size of the muscles in your shoulders.

Whether you want to work on your shoulders for aesthetics or functional strength, you’ll see serious benefits from this exercise. 

Can Change Up The Difficulty 

Another thing that we love about this exercise is that it's really easy to either make it easier or more difficult.

Struggling to get through your full set? All you need to do is grab a lighter set of dumbbells.

If you want to truly challenge yourself, combine this exercise with the cable chest press as part of a superset.  

Dumbbell Incline Shoulder Raise 

Looking for another exercise that works your shoulders just as much as a barbell rear delt row? Check out how to do dumbbell incline shoulder raises just below!

Set Up: For this exercise you will need a bench that has been set at an incline and two dumbbells. 

Since this is a shoulder isolation exercise you should use around 30% less weight than you would for a compound exercise like the clean and press. 

Starting Position:

Bent over barbell rear delt row variation image

  • Start by sitting on the inclined bench, ensuring that your back is flat against the padding on the back of the bench and that you are sitting firmly on the chair. 
  • From here, make sure your feet are flat on the ground and that your toes and knees are pointing in the same direction.
  • Bring the two dumbbells up to your shoulders, then straighten your arms out fully while the dumbbells are above your head up in the air.
  • This is the starting position for the dumbbell incline shoulder raise exercise, so let's get started!

Execution:

Bent over barbell rear delt row variation execution image

  • Start by raising the weights up, shrugging your shoulders to fully extend your arms and move the dumbbells higher. 
  • To make this happen, you are going to have to raise the shoulders up into their highest possible position. 
  • This should make the weights rise in the air by around four inches. 
  • Move your shoulders down so that they are touching the bench again, that's one rep done!

Muscles Worked

Primary Movers: Deltoids.

Secondary Muscles: Triceps, serratus anterior, & pectoralis major.

Common Mistakes Made With This Exercise 

Don’t Overload With Weight 

Barbell row for rear delt variation image

One problem with this exercise is that it is really easy to injure yourself.

Because you are required to put your shoulders in a pretty unnatural position, there is a risk that you’ll injure your shoulder joints if you overload with too much weight.

To avoid this we recommend using a lighter weight whilst you’re getting used to this range of motion and slowly adding more weight once you have perfected your form. 

Want to take your passion for health and fitness to the next level? See if you have what it takes to become a certified sports nutritionist.

Keep Your Form

If you want to get the most out of this exercise, one thing to remember is to keep your feet firmly on the ground throughout the full movement.

You’ll also need to keep your back flat against the back of the bench, paying extra attention to avoid curving your spine and moving away from the bench.

Just like with the barbell row for rear delt muscles, bracing your core during this exercise will help you to keep the correct form.

We can’t stress enough just how important this point is! Failing to keep this form will compromise the benefits of the exercise by taking away the stress of the move off the shoulders and onto your lower back.

Exercise Benefits 

Shoulder Isolation

Barbell rear delt rows rugby image

The best thing about this exercise is that it truly isolates your shoulder muscles. Whilst the muscles in your arms and chest are somewhat involved, this exercise requires a lot of effort from your shoulder muscles.

In turn, this means significant results for sculpting your shoulders. Especially if you incorporate this exercise in your routine alongside a set of rear delt barbell rows!

Not only do strong shoulders look good, but the benefits of building strength in this area transfer to tons of daily activities like lifting heavy objects, and improve your ability to throw, a real advantage if you play a sport like rugby or american football.

Improved Flexibility

Finally, one other advantage of this bent over barbell rear delt row variation is that it can help to improve shoulder mobility.

Because this movement uses shoulder muscles that you are not used to using in everyday activities and it requires you to move your shoulders in an unusual range of motion, this exercise is actually a great way of improving flexibility and mobility in your shoulders. 

Before You Go!

We hope that our guide has helped you to master the barbell rear delt row. Looking for more upper body exercises? Why not check out the OriGym guide to the face pull right here.

If you think that you have what it takes to make a career out of your passion for fitness, you can enquire about our range of personal training courses here.

Alternatively, you can check out our full course prospectus to find out more information on the range of courses and qualifications that you can study with us here at OriGym!

References

Nejati, P., Lotfian, S., Moezy, A., & Nejati, M. (2015). The study of correlation between forward head posture and neck pain in Iranian office workers. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health. doi:10.13075/ijomeh.1896.00352

Written by Abbie Watkins

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Abbie on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Holding an MA Marketing Communications and Branding as well as a BSc Psychology from the University of Liverpool, Abbie’s experience encompasses the retail, hospitality and fitness industries. Since joining OriGym, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and gone on to complete a specialist qualification in advanced Sports Nutrition. Abbie’s main focuses cover staying up to speed with YouTube fitness influencers, identifying successful and innovative content formats. She has contributed to various publications, including the Daily Express. Beyond OriGym, she describes herself as a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ type going on scenic runs and upbeat exercise classes, and often found on the front row of a Saturday morning spin class. 

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