Pushups are an effective strength-training exercise for building strength in an array of muscles in your upper body. Even though they simply use your own body weight for resistance, they’re often plenty challenging and they can easily be modified to be more difficult as you build strength. While pushups do recruit your major shoulder muscle, they don’t work the rear delts.
The rear delt, which is anatomically referred to as the posterior deltoid, is located at the back of your upper shoulders. It originates at your scapula and then runs out toward your shoulders, where it inserts at the top of your upper arm bone. The muscle is primarily responsible for extending your arms back behind you, both when your arms are down by your torso and when they’re held up to your sides.
Pushups are primarily a chest exercise. Your pectoralis major in your chest produces most of the force as you push your body up and away from the floor. However, your shoulders also contribute to the movement at your shoulder joints. The front of your deltoid, which is tagged the anterior deltoid, flexes your shoulders, meaning they raise your arms up toward your face as you push yourself up. Also contributing to the exercise is your triceps, which straightens your elbows, and muscles in your core, which hold your torso in a straight position and prevent it from collapsing to the floor. The posterior section of the deltoid isn’t recruited during pushups because your shoulders are not performing shoulder extension against resistance.
Rear Delt Exercises
If you’re looking to target your posterior deltoid, incorporate the rear delt raise and lying rear delt row. Rear delt raise is done from a standing position. Hold a barbell under your hips with your arms extended, your hands set at shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away from you. Bend your elbows and keep them pointed straight back to pull the barbell up over the height of your hips, and then lower the bar to starting position. The lying rear delt row is performed while lying on your stomach on a flat bench. Grip a dumbbell in each hand and allow your arms to hang down toward the floor with your palms facing your feet. Pull the dumbbells up toward your shoulders by driving your elbows up toward the ceiling and allowing them to flare out to your sides. Control the weights to starting position.
Scheduling Rear Delt Exercises
Just because pushups don’t work your rear delts doesn’t mean that they can’t be scheduled alongside your posterior deltoid exercises. If you’re targeting all of the major muscle groups in your strength-training workouts, pushups, rear delt raises and lying rear delt rows can be completed within the same workout. However, if you split your muscle groups into separate workouts, schedule your rear delt exercises with your back exercises. Many back exercises, such as lat pulldown and seated row, also recruit your posterior deltoid.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.