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5 Reverse Fly Alternatives to Target the Rear Delts

For decades, the reverse fly has been the go-to gym exercise to target the posterior, or rear deltoid, head. Secondary muscles engaged are the trapezius, rhomboids, teres minor, and infraspinatus.

The exercise is most often done in a bent over position with dumbbells. Yet, despite its status as a no-brainer rear delt move, this exercise might not be the ideal move to engage and activate the posterior deltoids.

With 35 years in the trenches as a gym owner and personal trainer, I’m uniquely qualified to chip in here. I’ve been programming the reverse fly and the reverse fly alternatives I’m about to cover, to hundreds of bodybuilders and general fitness enthusiasts, and have been able to compare and analyze their effects in terms of both muscle and strength gains.

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Rear Deltoid Anatomy

The deltoids are a rather unique muscle group in that each of the three ‘heads’ have different origin and insertion points. This is different to muscles like the triceps, biceps or hamstrings. It means that you need to do different exercises to maximally work each of the three deltoid heads. 

The three deltoid heads are:

  • Anterior (front)
  • Lateral (side)
  • Posterior (back)
Shoulder Muscles Simplified (5 muscles)

Our focus here is on the posterior deltoid head (back shoulder). This muscle originates on the upper ridge of the scapula and inserts on the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus (upper arm). The fibers of the muscle run diagonally from origin to insertion.

reverse fly muscles used

The main function of the rear deltoid is to pull the upper arm back and down. It also assists in the external rotation of the humerus.

From this anatomical information, we can work out the ideal exercise movement to develop the rear delts. To do this, by imagining lines being drawn from the muscles insertion point to its origin.

These lines represent the planes through which the resistance that you are using should travel.


What’s Wrong With the Rear Delt Raise?

The bent over rear deltoid dumbbell raise is not an ideal rear delt exercise. As we have already identified, the ideal rear delt movement is down and back.

Yet, the rear delt raise is an example of an up-and-out exercise, so it is not stimulating the natural movement of the muscle fibers – something that is critical for optimal muscle activation. 

There are other problems with the rear deltoid dumbbell raise. The bent over position of the exercise places a lot of load on the erector spinae muscles of the lower back.

In fact, there is more load on the erector spinae than on the actual rear delts! 

This is also an example of a late phase loaded exercise. That means that there is very little resistance in the first half of the exercise. Yet this is where the posterior delts are strongest and where early phase loading would be most beneficial. 

If you have ever done the bent over rear delt dumbbell raise, you will also know that is a pretty uncomfortable, unnatural movement. Fortunately, there are far better options. 

Alternatives to reverse flys – what I’ve considered

You’ll find a lot of rear delt alternative articles that list a dozen or more exercises that are, basically, a waste of time. The writer hasn’t taken biomechanics, movement patterns, or strength curves into account at all and simply created a list of common movements for roughly the same part of the body.

That’s not how we roll here at Strong Home Gym. Our mission is go beyond the fluff to provide our readers with real meaningful content that they can actually use in the gym.

When it comes to reverse fly alternatives, I’m thinking about exercises that follow the natural range of movement of the rear delt muscle fibers, which is down and out.

The five exercises are on my list because …

  • They follow the down and out direction of the muscle fibers.
  • They are early phase loaded, with the hardest part at the beginning of the movement.
  • They do not put excess stress on the lower back.
  • They are easy to progress and regress.

If a rear delt exercise isn’t on this list, refer to these criteria and then think about why it hasn’t made the grade.


5 Reverse Fly Alternatives That Target the Rear Delts

Reverse fly alternative infographic

Equipment Needed

To perform the very best rear delt exercises that exist, you will need:

The cable machine is arguably the most important piece of equipment here, but I know not every home gym will have access to one. That means either going to a gym or investing in a home cable pulley system.

I strongly recommend the latter if your budget allows it. A cable machine adds a ton of versatility (note – it’s possible to add on a cable attachment to many good power racks now, so check out our best squat rack article too).

A cable pulley machine will allow you to do virtually every movement you can do in a commercial gym. 

If you don’t have access to a cable pulley machine, you can still do the exercises with a resistance band.

And the last two exercises are dumbbell-only moves (the last one is arguably the best alternative if you only have dumbbells).

If you’re wondering about just what gear you need in your home gym, check out our comprehensive guide on how to build a home gym.

1. Rear Delt Cable Crossover

Equipment needed for the rear delt cable crossover:

Dual Cable Pulley machine or resistance band.

How to do the rear delt cable crossover:

  1. Set the pulleys on a dual cable pulley machine at their highest position. If the pulley can be adjusted horizontally, set them about a foot wider than shoulder width apart. Remove the handles from the pulleys to allow you to grab the cable ends.
  2. Stand about four feet in front of the machine, facing it. Reach up to grab the opposite cable ends in each hand, so that the cables cross over each other.
  3. Maintaining a neutral spine position, bring the cables down and back in an upside down ‘V’ action. The hands should end up at hip level about a foot out from the body. 
  4. Control the reverse movement as the cables come back to the height of your sternum. 

Resistance Band Variation:

  1. Loop two bands around secure anchor points situated about a foot above your head and about a food apart. 
  2. Stand about four feet in front of the resistance bands, facing them. Reach up to grab the opposite band ends in each hand, so that the bands cross over each other.
  3. Bring the bands down and back in an upside down ‘V’ action. The hands should end up at hip level about a foot out from the body. 
  4. Control the reverse movement as the bands come back to the height of your sternum. 

Training Notes:

  1. Use relatively light resistance bands to allow you to keep the focus on the small rear delt muscles and not use momentum to move the resistance. 
  2. On both versions of this exercise, I recommend a relatively high rep range. My clients and I have had a lot of success with the following rep scheme, which involves increasing the weight slightly on each set:

           Set One: 30 reps / Set Two: 25 reps / Set Three: 20 reps / Set four: 15 reps

Rear Delt Cable Crossover muscles worked:

  • Rear deltoids
  • Front deltoids
  • Lateral deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  • Trapezius

Force USA G15 Machine

Force USA G15 All-In-One Trainer
Read our best all in one home gym guide here

The Force USA G15 combines a Smith machine, a squat rack, and a pulley system in one compact machine.

The G15 pulley cables have a 2-to-1 and a 4-to-1 ratio allowing you to perform any movement on it. The cable length is longer than a 1-to-1 ratio and allows you to lift lighter weight, ideal for lat raises etc.

Add a leg press and lat pull-down attachment to make it become a true all-in-one home gym machine.

After comparing over 100 machines the G15 came out on top for quality, versatility, and nothing competes at this price point.

2. Lying Supine Cable Crossover

Equipment needed for the lying supine cable crossover:

Dual Cable Pulley machine or resistance band, flat bench

How to do the lying supine cable crossover:

  1. Set the pulleys on a dual cable pulley machine at shoulder height. Place a flat bench in the middle of the machine between the two pulleys. Grab each pulley with the opposite hand and then lie flat on the bench with your arms extended above your sternum so that the cables cross over each other.
  2. Bring your arms downward and backward diagonally so that they end up at hip level about a foot from your hip bone.
  3. Reverse the motion under control to return to the start position with your hands directly above your sternum.

Resistance band variation:

  1. Secure two resistance bands around anchor points that are set at shoulder height and a distance of around 6 feet apart. Place a bench between these two anchor points.
  2. Grab each resistance band end with the opposite hand and then lie flat on the bench with your arms extended above your sternum so that the bands cross over each other.
  3. Bring your arms downward and backward diagonally so that they end up at hip level about a foot from your hip bone.
  4. Reverse the motion under control to return to the start position with your hands directly above your sternum.

Training Notes:

  1. Use a relatively light weight on both the cable and resistance band versions of this exercise. Your goal is to isolate the rear deltoid so that the anterior and lateral doubts do not help it out.
  2. Keep the elbow locked so as to avoid bringing momentum or arm strength into the movement.
  3. Use a similar rep scheme as in the previous exercise. 

Lying supine cable crossover muscles worked:

  • Rear deltoids
  • Front deltoids
  • Lateral deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  • Trapezius

3. Bent Over One Arm Cable Rear Delt Raise

Equipment needed for bent over one arm cable rear delt raise:

  • Single cable pulley machine or resistance band

How to do the bent over one arm cable rear delt raise:

  1. Set the pulley on a single cable pulling machine to its lowest setting. Stand side on to the pulley with your closest foot about 12 inches from it.
  2. Bend at the waist, being sure to maintain a neutral spine position, and reach across with your outside hand to grab the pulley.
  3. From a starting position with your knees slightly bent, your spine in a neutral position and your core engaged, bring the cable up and out to the side in an arcing motion. Your hand should stop when it is parallel to your shoulder.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

Resistance Band Variation:

  1. Secure a resistance band to a low point on a secure anchor. Stand side on to the band with your closest foot about 12 inches from it.
  2. Bend at the waist, being sure to maintain a neutral spine position, and reach across with your outside hand to grab the end of the band.
  3. From a starting position with your knees slightly bent, your spine in a neutral position, and your core engaged, bring the band up and out to the side in an arcing motion. Your hand should stop when it is parallel to your shoulder.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

Training Notes:

  1. Because this exercise is done with a cable, it has a completely different resistance curve to the dumbbell rear delt raise. In this case, the exercise is hardest during the first third of the movement, which perfectly mimics the resistance curve of the rear delts. This makes it a far better exercise than the dumbbell version.
  2. Use light weights on this exercise, with rep ranges between 15 and 30. I have had an engineering friend make some micro plates that I can add to my home cable weight stack to allow for small weight adjustments. This allows me to increase the resistance in smaller increments than is normally allowed on a cable pulley machine. 

Bent over one arm cable rear delt raise muscles worked:

  • Rear delts

4. Lying One Arm Dumbbell Rear Delt Raise

Equipment needed for the one arm dumbbell rear delt raise:

How to do the one arm dumbbell rear delt raise:

  1. Lie on the floor on your side, with your left shoulder on the ground and your feet stacked on top of each other. Hold a light dumbbell at your side in your right hand. Extend your left arm on the floor at about a 45° angle.
  2. Bring the right arm across the body so that the dumbbell rests on the floor on one end directly in front of your sternum. The arm should be straight.
  3. Bring the right arm up on a diagonal without bending the elbow. In the top position, the dumbbell should be in line with your hips.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

One arm dumbbell rear delt raise muscles worked:

  • Rear deltoids
  • Front deltoids
  • Lateral deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  • Trapezius

Training Notes:

  1. With this exercise, it is impossible to completely isolate the rear delts. That is why the anterior and lateral delts are listed as muscles that are worked. Even though that is not ideal, this is the best option to work your rear delts if you only have a dumbbell available.

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

5. Rear Delt Row

Watch the video from 14:45 to see good form for this exercise…

Equipment needed for the rear delt row:

How to do the rear delt row:

  1. Sit on the end of a bench with a pair of dumbbells in your hands.
  2. Lean your body down to a 45-degree angle, with your lower back pulled in and arms hanging down (check out our deadlift alternatives to ensure you have good lower back strength).
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you brown the dumbbells up to your shoulders.
  4. Supinate the hand so the palm is facing up in the top position.
  5. Slowly lower and repeat.

Rear Delt row muscles worked:

  • Rear deltoids
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius
  • Teres major

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.


Bottom Line

We’ve seen throughout the course of this article that the reverse fly, and its close cousin the dumbbell rear delt raise, do not effectively target the rear deltoid.

I’ve provided you with four far better options. These reverse fly alternatives have been listed in order of their effectiveness, so if you have access to a double cable pulley machine, I strongly suggest that you start doing the rear delt cable crossover as your main rear delt exercise.

As you do these exercises, take note of the feeling in the muscle. Compare that rear delt isolation to what you feel when you are doing the reverse fly or the dumbbell rear delt raise, and you will immediately notice the difference. 

Now that you’re up to speed on the best way to train your rear delts, check out our top shoulder exercises here.

Want to Improve Your Own Home Gym?

Check out our guide on how to build a home gym for any budget.

Our team of fitness experts has spent thousands of hours testing and researching equipment. It’s all compiled in one place with the essential items your gym needs to see results.

Photo of author
Hi, I'm Steve. I'm a personal trainer, current home gym owner, former gym owner, and copywriter. I joined my first gym at age 15 and, five years later, I was managing my own studio. In 1987, I became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand. My work has been featured on Muscle and Brawn, Gymaholic, Fitness Volt, and many other places.

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