Mirror muscles: they’re the muscles you see when you stand shirtless in front of the mirror. These include your biceps, triceps, pecs and shoulders. These are the muscle groups you’ll see trained the most often by men and are the muscles that are deemed aesthetically pleasing.
But upper body muscles are also one of the most commonly injured areas for those who exercise -- particularly, those who lift weights.
Many of these injuries happen along, or near, the shoulder joint. This can come from performing too many pressing movements, like bench pressing or overhead pressing, and a lack of pulling motions like rows. The shoulder is a very mobile joint, and if there is any bit of instability along the surrounding musculature, injury can occur. One muscle that is often overlooked is your posterior (or rear) deltoids. These muscles play a vital role in your overall strength, posture, and most importantly, shoulder health. Face Pulls isolate and train the rear delts better than any other exercise.
Where the Problem Begins
The group of muscles that stabilize and move the shoulder joint, known as the rotator cuff, are where most shoulder injuries occur. This happens for two reasons: first, too many lifters focus only on “mirror muscles” and do not exercise their supporting or stabilizer muscles; second, our modern society keeps many of us hunched over a computer all day, and this destroys our posture. Rounded shoulders lengthen and weaken our upper back muscles (rhomboids and trapezius) as well as our posterior deltoids, which help keep our shoulders pulled back.
When those muscles weaken and lengthen, the muscles of our chest shorten, and this pulls on our shoulder joint, preventing our shoulders from maintaining a healthy range of motion.
Why the Rear Delts Matter
Your posterior, or rear delts, have a few different important functions:
- Shoulder extension (pushing your arms behind your body)
- External shoulder rotation (think rotating your shoulder back as if you were throwing a ball)
- Transverse extension (think ripping apart a phone book)
- Transverse abduction (think hugging)
Anytime you perform a one arm dumbbell row, seated cable row, bench press or dumbbell fly, your rear delts assist the movement of your shoulder. And, if you spend more time hunched over at a desk all day with terrible posture, you’ll be putting your shoulder joint in a more precarious position.
Performing the Face Pull
The best way to train your rear delts and maintain healthy shoulders is to perform an exercise known as the face pull. This exercise not only focuses on your shoulders, but it also targets and strengthens the muscles responsible for moving your shoulder blades.
Attach the rope attachment to a pulley station and stand in front of a pulley station with the cable high above your head.
Grab the rope with your palms facing each other and take a couple of steps back. Place your feet in a staggered stance with your arms extended out in front of you; this is your starting position.
Pull the rope toward your face, rotating your arms up and letting your elbows flare out to the side. Once you’ve pulled as far as you can and feel the squeeze in your rear delts, slowly extend your arms back to the starting position.
Perform three sets of 15 to 20 reps with a light weight, focusing on the squeeze of your muscles each time.
Other Rear Delt Shoulder Exercises
If you can’t find a rope attachment or they’re all being used, there are a few other exercises you can perform. For example, the pec fly machine also doubles as a rear delt fly machine, and you can use this machine to isolate and target your rear delts.
Or, you can grab a light pair of dumbbells and perform bent over rear delt raises.
Grab two light dumbbells, anywhere from 2-15 pounds is all you need. Bend your knees and hinge at your hips, maintaining a flat back.
Keep a slight bend in your elbows and face your palms toward each other.
Raise your upper arms out to the sides, keeping the bend in your elbows until they're at shoulder height. Your arms will be perpendicular to your torso. Pause for 1 second and then slowly lower the dumbbells back to your side.
Perform three sets of 10 to 12 reps