Cable Rear Delt Row: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 30, 2022

The deltoid muscle is composed of three heads, namely the anterior, lateral, and posterior heads. The posterior head is also referred to as the rear delt, a muscle often neglected during workouts. This muscle is said to assist in moving the arm backward and retracting the scapula. Exercises that strengthen the rear delts include the cable rear delt row.

The cable rear delt row is a dynamic resistance exercise that primarily works the rear deltoids while also targeting the traps, rhomboids, and biceps. Performing this exercise is beneficial in increasing muscle size, improving shoulder definition, and enhancing shoulder stability.

While the cable rear delt row is performed using a cable machine, there are other alternatives that may be used when a machine is not available. These alternatives include the barbell row and the bent over rows.

What is a Cable Rear Delt Row?

The cable rear delt row, as its name suggests, is an upper-body compound exercise as it engages multiple muscles at once but is primarily meant to target the rear or posterior deltoids with the use of a cable machine.

cable rear delt row

It is an excellent workout that builds size and definition in the shoulders, traps, and upper back as well as encourages shoulder health and balanced development. 

How to Perform a Cable Rear Delt Row

To perform the cable rear delt row, attach a close grip bar or a rope handle on the machine to allow the hands to be kept close together when gripping it. Then stand in front of the machine with the feet shoulder-width apart and the knees slightly bent. Grab the handles wherein both palms are facing each other, then take a step back until the arms are stretched out straight in front.  

Assure that the shoulders are down and the chest is out. Pull the handles by bending the elbow until the arms are positioned beside the body then hold this position briefly. In a controlled manner slowly return the arms to an extended position. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a single set. 

Muscles Worked by the Cable Rear Delt Row

The cable rear delt row is meant to primarily target the posterior deltoids. However, this exercise also engages other shoulder muscles such as the infraspinatus, teres minor, lateral deltoid, middle and lower trapezius, and rhomboids, and arm muscles such as the brachialis and brachioradialis as synergists to the movement. The biceps brachii acts as a dynamic stabilizer together with the rotator cuff muscles. 

cable rear delt row muscles

Furthermore, the muscles that are involved in gripping are activated, and thus strengthened as well. These muscles include both intrinsic and extrinsic finger flexors and wrist extensors.

Benefits of the Cable Rear Delt Row

Most workout routines often include pushing exercises that target the anterior and lateral delts, thus improving shoulder definition and muscle size in the front and side areas of the shoulder. Because of this, the posterior portion of the shoulder is often left out leading to muscle imbalance.

The cable rear delt row makes use of a cable that is pulled toward the chest in order to activate the rear delts. According to a systematic review published in 2019, resistance training, such as the cable rear delt row, increases both strength and muscle hypertrophy. By increasing deltoid muscle size, the definition is enhanced in the shoulder area.

Muscle imbalance is also addressed by the cable rear delt row by focusing on an often neglected area. While this workout is a compound workout, it focuses more on the rear delts which are not activated by the more common pushing exercises such as the bench press. Because muscle imbalance is addressed, muscle stability is thus improved by this exercise.

Alternative Exercises to the Cable Rear Delt Row

1. Barbell Upright Row

The lateral deltoids and the trapezius muscles are both built up with the use of the barbell upright row. There are two variations of the barbell upright row that may be carried out, depending on whether the grip is tight or broad. The tight grasp puts more emphasis on the trapezius, whereas the broader grip places more emphasis on the whole shoulder.

barbell upright row standing

To begin the exercise, the individual stands with the feet spaced shoulder-width apart. Hang a barbell in front of the body while grabbing it with an overhand grip that is set wide apart. Then, using the arms to assist and raise the shoulders, elevate the barbell until it is almost touching the chin. 

It is important to keep in mind that while lifting weights, there should be no jump in order to avoid getting momentum from the legs. After the lift, return the barbell to its starting position in a controlled manner; this will count as one repetition.

2. Bent Over Rows

One of the most beneficial workouts for the back is the bent-over row; however, it is also one of the most challenging. This exercise will focus on strengthening the latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, scapular retractors, and trapezius muscles—specifically the lower and middle trapezius—as well as the rhomboids.

barbell bent over row

Position behind the barbell while using a smith machine to do this exercise. Holding the barbell with the palms towards the body and standing with feet spaced shoulder-width apart is a good starting position. Maintaining a straight arm position while gripping the barbell is required. First, get into a kneeling position by bending the knees slightly, and then bend the upper body until it is parallel to the floor.

Raise the barbell by bending at the elbows, making sure that the elbows remain in a position that is always relatively near to the torso. After the barbell has been raised to its maximum height, contract the muscles in the back and maintain that posture for a moment before beginning the process of decreasing the weight.

Final Thoughts

The posterior deltoid is one of those muscles that are nearly impossible to isolate because numerous other muscles work to achieve the same action it produces. However, even as a compound exercise, the cable rear delt row targets the posterior deltoid and may be the closest thing to an isolation exercise for this muscle.

As a dynamic resistance exercise that targets the traps, rhomboids, and biceps in addition to the rear deltoids, this exercise is helpful for growing muscle, boosting shoulder definition, and promoting shoulder stability.

References

1. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(24):4897. Published 2019 Dec 4. doi:10.3390/ijerph16244897

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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