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

Published by Debbie Luna
Last Updated: November 3, 2021

A variation on the commonly seen bent over dumbbell row, the dumbbell rear delt row is a compound exercise classified as a secondary or auxiliary movement owing to the fact that it presents a particular focus on only two primary muscle groups, removing it from the definition of isolation exercise.

The dumbbell rear delt row is a relatively easy to perform exercise with a low skill ceiling and an equipment requirement of only a single dumbbell and a flat surface to lean on in order to achieve the proper position.

Being a modified form of the dumbbell row, the dumbbell rear delt row is often prescribed by athletic coaches and physical therapists in order to aid in the training or rehabilitation of the posterior head of the deltoid muscle group, with its simplistic and low impact nature making it an excellent addition to any training program or physical rehabilitation plan.

What is the Dumbbell Rear Delt Row?

A closed kinetic chain exercise, the dumbbell rear delt row is a beginner level compound exercise primarily involving a single dumbbell of low weight used at high volume repetitions so as to reduce the chance of injury to the exerciser.

The dumbbell rear delt row primarily activates, fittingly, the rear or posterior head of the deltoid muscle group, but will also utilize the entirety of the deltoid muscle group as well as the trapezius muscles located behind and beside the neck.

dumbbell rear delt row

The dumbbell rear delt row is primarily seen at the end of an exercise routine owing to the fact that it specifically focuses on only one or two smaller muscle groups, making it best suited for “finishing off” these muscles after the heavier and more intense compound exercises have already been completed.

This is primarily done to increase the recovery or training potential of the total exercise regimen by inducing a small but final volume of training stimuli.

What is the Difference Between a Barbell and Dumbbell Rear Delt Row?

While both barbells and dumbbells present the same approximate mass and weight if loaded to the same degree, there are several differences in training stimuli and technique that may make one more effective over the other, depending on the exerciser’s goals and physiology.

The first and most obvious of these differences is the benefit of using dumbbells to correct muscular imbalances in the exerciser through the use of unilateral training stimuli. This is most practical in isolation exercises or compound exercises that only target a handful of muscle groups owing to the fact that each individual muscle will be loaded with the full weight of the dumbbells, unlike in the use of barbells.

To make up for this, however, barbells allow for some increased level of mechanical tension owing to the fact that the combination of both sides of the body’s musculature can create a compounding effect pertaining to the release of force. 

bent over row

This, roughly, equates to being able to place the muscles under a higher level of mechanical tension when using barbells for an exercise, therefore increasing the muscular hypertrophy accrued during said exercise.

In terms of barbell or dumbbell rear delt rows, the dumbbell is preferable if choosing to exercise only one side of the body at a time, as it allows the arm that is not in usage to act as a support for the torso, allowing a steeper angle of activation, targeting the anterior deltoid head more effectively.

This is exemplified by the fact that only activating one side of the muscle pair allows the exerciser to focus more intensely on said muscle, increasing its neuromuscular recruitment and ensuring that their form is up to standard.

Why is the Dumbbell Rear Delt Row Performed?

The dumbbell rear delt row is primarily added to exercise routines so as to activate the often neglected anterior or rear deltoid head, of which is only incrementally activated in most forms of common compound exercises.

In terms of athletic training, the dumbbell rear delt row aids in isolating the rear deltoid head without increasing the risk of injury or adding unnecessary strain to other muscle groups that may be required for other tasks. 

dumbbell rear delt row steps

Considering the fact that the rear deltoid head is partially responsible for the abduction of the humerus bone located in the upper portion of the arm, it is vitally important for nearly every sport on earth, from providing stabilization and force in boxing to throwing hail mary balls in football.

The dumbbell rear delt row is also performed in situations wherein the exerciser does not possess significant enough weight or the proper type of equipment for properly training the deltoids, as the level of resistance required to perform the dumbbell rear delt row is definitively less than that of other exercises that target these particular muscle groups.

In terms of physical rehabilitation, the dumbbell rear delt row is primarily used in order to rehabilitate the transverse extension function of the upper arm, of which may be affected by sprains and tears of the deltoid muscle group or the trapezius muscle, both types of muscles being responsible for said action.

In certain situations, the dumbbell rear delt row may also act as an exploratory exercise for minor damage to the rotator cuff or AC joint, though this may not be the most advisable course of action depending on the severity of the injury and the goals of the physical rehabilitation program.

What are the Benefits to the Dumbbell Rear Delt Row?

The dumbbell rear delt row, much like most forms of weighted resistance exercise, presents significant benefits, both to the general health of the exerciser as well as their athletic performance and function. 

This occurs in a variety of ways, from simple muscular tissue repair to as of yet unknown pathways of increased neurotransmitter production, making the dumbbell rear delt row an excellent exercise for a variety of people.

Specifically, to the dumbbell rear delt row, however, there are certain benefits that only exercises of this type may provide, owing to the unique form of training stimuli it imparts to certain areas of the body’s muscular and connective tissues.

Posture Benefits

Perhaps one of the most unique benefits from performing the dumbbell rear delt row is the fact that it may significantly improve the exerciser’s posture by strengthening the trapezius, of which is responsible for stabilizing the cervical portion of the spine, as well as the anterior deltoid head, which aids in scapular retraction and humeral extension.

This is noticeable in untrained or physically unbalanced individuals who develop rounded and slumped shoulders as their default posture, with the posterior deltoid being unable to fully support the weight of their upper body and as such creating this postural appearance.

Bone Benefits

Though not exactly unique to the dumbbell rear delt row, the majority of weighted resistance exercises are reported to have significant positive effects for the exerciser’s bone density and bone structure, with moderate loads of weight being placed on the musculoskeletal system triggering the production of anabolic hormones that both reinforce and repair said system’s tissues.

While this effect is not as noticeable in weighted resistance exercises that utilize lower amounts of weight such as the dumbbell rear delt row, the unique angle at which this exercise is performed allows it to reinforce the small bones throughout the upper portion of the torso somewhat, with mechanical stress being placed on the osteocytes, osteoblasts and osteoclasts causing them to trigger cell propagation and reinforcement.

Organ System and Hormone Benefits

The benefits provided to the exerciser as they perform weighted resistance exercises are far too numerous to name without creating an entirely separate article devoted to the topic, and as such only the most significant hormonal and organ changes that said exerciser will undergo are listed here

Primarily, a noticeable increase in the anabolic hormones of insulin-like growth factor-1 and the human growth hormone can occur both during and after the exercise session. These hormones are one of the primary motivators behind the regeneration and growth of musculoskeletal tissues that are damaged after performing the exercise.

Additionally, in male exercises, performing weighted resistance exercise such as the dumbbell rear delt row can increase testosterone levels during and after exercise, especially in cases wherein repeated exercise sessions are done.

Athletic Benefits

As mentioned briefly in this article, the dumbbell rear delt row is primarily added to athletic training regimens in order to augment the athlete’s ability to perform movements involving the abduction of the arm as well as movements involving the trapezius and posterior deltoid head as stabilizer muscles.

Additionally, the dumbbell rear delt row may be used as a supplementary exercise for powerlifting athletes so as to improve their general stability and control while performing the barbell row, of which is somewhat related in form and musculature recruitment to that of the dumbbell rear delt row.

Who can Perform the Dumbbell Rear Delt Row?

The dumbbell rear delt row, being a relatively easy and simplistic exercise often performed with low levels of weight, is an easily accessible movement that may be performed by nearly every member of the population with access to a single light weight dumbbell and a flat surface.

However, there are certain instances wherein performing the dumbbell rear delt row is an inadvisable choice, such as in the case of individuals with a history of shoulder dislocations or rotator cuff injuries, both of which will be exacerbated by the angle and stress placed upon the joint in the shoulder while performing this exercise.

By extension, individuals with ulnar nerve impingement or similar injuries in the elbow or clavicles may find that this exercise causes these injuries to worsen owing to the stretching factor involved while performing the eccentric portion of the exercise.

As always, it is best to consult a certified athletic professional such as a physical therapist or qualified coach prior to performing weighted resistance exercises, especially if you have certain medical conditions or injuries.

References

1. Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, et al. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020;75:5-14. Published 2020 Oct 31. doi:10.2478/hukin-2020-0033

2. Schory A, Bidinger E, Wolf J, Murray L. A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF THE EXERCISES THAT PRODUCE OPTIMAL MUSCLE RATIOS OF THE SCAPULAR STABILIZERS IN NORMAL SHOULDERS. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2016;11(3):321-336.

3. Lars L Andersen, Michael Kjær, Christoffer H Andersen, Peter B Hansen, Mette K Zebis, Klaus Hansen, Gisela Sjøgaard, Muscle Activation During Selected Strength Exercises, Physical Therapy, Volume 88, Issue 6, 1 June 2008

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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