Renaissance Periodization Blog

Rear/Side Delt Tips for Hypertrophy

By: Dr. Mike Israetel

Here are some helpful tips for your rear and side delt training. Please note that these are averages based on my experience working with lots of clients and my own training. The recommendations here should be food for thought or places to start, not dogmatic scriptures to follow to the letter.

If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the Training Volume Landmarks for Muscle Growth article. It discusses the theoretical and practical bases on which the upcoming recommendations are made. And if you love this info but want a bit of help in building your own workouts from the expert scientists at RP, check out the super popular Male Physique or Female Physique Templates.

I’ve grouped rear and side delts together because they are both involved in so many of the same exercises and also have many of the same training recommendations.


The rear delts can actually be sustained with no direct work so long as pulling work for the back is still done. But the side delts need at least about 6 sets per week of direct work to keep their size in most intermediate or advanced lifters.


Most intermediate-advanced lifters need at least 8 sets of direct rear and side delt work per week to make gains. To be more specific, that’s at least 6 sets of each if doing VERY isolation exercises that don’t cross-target between rear and side delts and only 8 sets total if the exercise hits both adequately.


Most people respond best to between 16 and 22 weekly sets on average.


Most people seem to encounter recovery problems above 26 sets per week. In reality, there will be a minority (but a substantial one) that can train with much higher volumes than this and still recover.


We’ve split the exercises by side and rear delt focus between the two, but please note that there is a LOT of overlap. For example, barbell face pulls tax the side delts considerably, and thumbs down lateral raises target the rear delts considerably.

Rear Delts:

Barbell Facepull
Dumbbell Facepull
Cable Facepull
Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise


Side Delts:

Barbell Upright Row
Dumbbell Upright Row
Cable Upright Row
Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise
Thumbs Down Lateral Raise



2-6 times per week.

Just like the biceps, the rear and side delts are so poorly leveraged to be exposed mechanical damage, produce so little force, and are comparatively so small that they can recover from limited volumes in a VERY short time; often as little as a day. Of course, the emphasis here is on limited volumes, so you can’t expect to do 8 sets of side laterals and be recovered to repeat that a day later. However, if you do only 3 side or rear delt sets per day, you can easily recover by the next day if you’re adjusted to that kind of workload. And if you do that every day for 6 days, that’s 18 sets a week and well within most individuals’ MRVs. So IF you do choose the high-frequency approach to rear and side delts, make sure your weekly volume is still within MRV and you should recover fine.

Intensity (Loading):

Both likely because of fiber type and because of safety issues, I’ve found nothing to work worse or be such a poor use of time as heavy shoulder (side and rear delt) training. 8 reps is the lowest I’ll ever go or advise anyone to go, and to be honest, I think most of the action is at 10-12 reps and all the way up to 20 or more per set. And much lighter metabolite work is a godsend for shoulders.


Especially to accommodate the higher frequencies of side and rear delt training, there are three different kinds of within-the-microcycle variation that it pays to address:


Exercise Variation:


Using the same exercises back to back to back might cause some localized wear and tear and lead to nagging injuries (with shoulder pain a VERY common issue from overuse). A cool way around this problem is to use 2-4 different exercises for delts within one microcycle (and mesocycle for that matter). By interspersing different exercises, you both get a more complete development of the muscle and reduce excessive localized fatigue accumulation.


If BOTH rear and side delts are your priorities, another great exercise variation technique is to alternate side delt moves with rear delt moves, which is a more extreme version of same-bodypart exercise variation.


Loading Variation:


Along with exercise variation, loading variation can improve fatigue management and thus results. For example, if you train delts twice in a row with two different movements, the first workout with a movement might be with sets of 10, but the next workout might be for sets of 20. This lets you still hammer the movement twice and still provide an overload both times, but it actually reduces the peak forces experienced on the second workout and minimizes the chances of injury. If you do it the other way around, some micro tears you caused in the first (lighter) workout might now be presented with the kinds of higher forces in the second workout that could cause injury.


Volume and Relative Intensity Variation:


If you train rear and side delts very often, you might not be able to bring your a-game overload every single one of those times, especially if some of the movements you use (barbell upright rows) are pretty challenging and best done a bit fresher than other moves (dumbbell rear lateral raises) that can be trained when you’re not at your strongest. So, you might want to hammer in the big moves a ton and go easy on the less disruptive moves by lowering their total volume. This allows you to still benefit from very frequent training but keeps your cumulative fatigue in check so that you can be freshest for the exercises on which you need to be most prepared. In just the same way as reducing the volume, you can also (or instead) reduce the relative intensity of certain workouts to make sure you heal up for the more important work the next day. So instead of going 1/fail on your rear laterals like you do on your barbell upright rows that week, you can keep the rear laterals 3/fail and really heal up for barbell upright rows.


Here’s a sample of what using exercise, loading, and volume/relative intensity variation can look like in a 6 day rear/side delt split:


Monday: 4 sets of 10 barbell upright rows 1/failure

Tuesday: 4 sets of 16 barbell upright rows 1/failure

Wednesday: 2 sets of 10 cable face pulls 3/failure

Monday: 4 sets of 12 barbell face pulls 1/failure

Tuesday: 4 sets of 20 barbell face pulls 1/failure

Wednesday: 2 sets of 10 cable face pulls 3/failure


Range of Motion:

We’ve already preached ROM here enough, so I’ll spare you the sermon. However, it’s worth noting that there can be TOO much ROM on shoulder moves, especially laterals and upright rows. How high should you pull the weights? Well, as high as you can with NO PAIN. If it hurts, don’t pull as high or play with your grip to find a way to pull your highest without sacrificing your joint safety.

Special Metabolite Techniques:

Oh man, so the usual suspects of giant sets, drop sets, and supersets can be used on the side and rear delts, but the real fun is with the supersets. The easiest superset is to take an isolation move (a side or rear lateral raise) and superset it with a compound move (an upright row or face pull of some kind).


Just like with most bodyparts, your first mesocycle should be moderate weights and reps. The next mesocycle can be more of the same with perhaps slightly different rep ranges and exercises, OR it can be a higher volume block that incorporates lighter weights (closer to the 60%1RM mark) and higher reps, as well as metabolite work. After that meso, a shorter (3-4 weeks) mesocycle of strength training (70-85%1RM) with lower volumes is likely a good idea to resensitize your muscles for more growth, at which point you repeat the process.

If you train your rear and side delts for high frequencies, you might want to take the low volume block as an opportunity to reduce delt frequency (maybe to as low as 2 exercises per week) as well and really give your shoulders and their connective tissues a chance to fully heal for the next macrocycle of gains.

Sample Programming:

Special Notes:

It’s easy to get carried away with big weights and let your technique degrade in rear and side delt training. When you’re actually using good technique, the weights can often seem incredibly light and kind of embarrassing at face value. But you’ve gotta do what it takes to grow, not to impress yourself or others with how your weights look. A very related concern is on the speed of progression through the weights. For example, if I said that it would take you a year from squatting 3 plates regularly to squatting 4 plates for the same reps, you’d probably say that’s one hell of a speed of progress. But if I saw you using the 30’s for upright rows and told you it would be at least a year before you could handle the 40s comparably, you might get super discouraged because for Christ’s sake that’s only 10lbs! Yes, but remember that relative loading is what matters… cause to your side delts, 10lbs is like 100lbs to your quads and glutes combined!


23 thoughts on “Rear/Side Delt Tips for Hypertrophy”

  1. Andrew says:

    Just have a quick question, 16 to 22 sets on average per week does this mean 16 to 22 sets each for side and rear delts, or a total of that amount?

    1. admin says:

      Dr. Mike would likely respond on his personal FB page (he doesn’t check on here) or you can try his weekly webinars in RP+


    2. Mike says:

      Is the 16-22 sets for lateral and rear delts combined, or is it 16-22 for lateral and 16-22 sets for rear in a week?

      1. admin says:

        Total for shoulders in general.

  2. Alejandro says:

    Really solid advice here. I usually try to gather as much info as possible to better my workout routine and I really enjoyed this read! Thanks for posting!


  3. Kipp clayton says:

    Could someone suggest to me what would be a template program for me to design my own programming? I am a bodybuilder that is looking to program my training with an accumilation type program. I work on a 5 to 6 day split and like the idea of having and exercise bank with the option of adding sets to each exercises for up to 4 to 6 weeks. Then Deload or start over with less total volume. I suppose I am looking for the template that best fits my programing thoughts. I usually perform a max number of exercises 6 per workout. Thanks for your time and suggestions.

  4. Bowen says:

    NICE Article, exactly what I need.
    Is there a tricep tip for hypertrophy article upcoming? Looking forward to it.

    1. admin says:

      yep, the last few should be out in the next month or so.

  5. Randy says:

    What is meant by 1/fail or 3/fail? Failing by the third rep?

    1. Randy says:

      oops not failing by the third rep I meant failing with 3 reps remaining example 10 reps and failing by the 7th?

      1. admin says:

        yeah, if 10 is true failure then you stop at 7 or so.

  6. Anthony says:

    Thanks for tghis article!!!
    Inspires me to keep my training fresh for delts and setting new goals since my delts are my weakest point (strength and size).

    Again, thanks!

  7. Miguel Trinidad says:

    May I ask why you do not recommend military or press behind the neck for compound shoulder work?

    1. admin says:

      Likely just an unnecessary risk for the shoulder.

  8. Dennis Fenrick says:

    I’m not sure if this is a typo or not, but I’ve noticed what appears to be an “error” on this page as well as the biceps page. I haven’t gotten through all the tips yet, so there may be more.

    Just above the Range of Motion section, there is an example of a 6 day split that shows 6 days split over two weeks. A little further up the page it sounds like up to 6 days a week are OK as long as the total volume respects weekly MRV. Should the six day split be labelled Monday – Saturday, or am I missing something?

    Great articles. I appreciate the obvious knowledge combined with Dr. Mike’s humble attitude. He seems perfectly OK with saying “I’m not really sure, but this is what I think.”


  9. Dennis Fenrick says:

    Great article. Thanks!

    Just a clarification…. in the example above…

    Here’s a sample of what using exercise, loading, and volume/relative intensity variation can look like in a 6 day rear/side delt split:

    Monday: 4 sets of 10 barbell upright rows 1/failure

    Tuesday: 4 sets of 16 barbell upright rows 1/failure

    Wednesday: 2 sets of 10 cable face pulls 3/failure

    Monday: 4 sets of 12 barbell face pulls 1/failure

    Tuesday: 4 sets of 20 barbell face pulls 1/failure

    Wednesday: 2 sets of 10 cable face pulls 3/failure

    Should the days be Monday through Saturday?

    1. Nick Shaw says:

      Hi Dennis, try engaging with Dr. Mike on his personal FB page where he answers a lot of questions there. Thanks!

      1. Dennis Fenrick says:

        Thanks. Sorry for the double post…. I thought I may have messed up with my initial question.

    2. Brandon Coyle says:

      I didn’t understand that either. However earlier to that previous to that sample plan he did say
      “However, if you do only 3 side or rear delt sets per day, you can easily recover by the next day if you’re adjusted to that kind of workload. And if you do that every day for 6 days, that’s 18 sets a week and well within most individuals’ MRVs.”

      The key words here are the fact that he mentioned “18 sets a week” .

      Interesting, because training the rear/side delts Monday , Tuesday, Wednesday and the waiting a couple of days later to the ,as it mentions , train them again on Monday , Tuesday and Wednesday the following week – we’ll, this isn’t a week so I do believe that it is just only a typo and that , in my opinion at least , you should train Rear / Side Delts Monday to Saturday.

  10. Musharraf Salimi says:

    for MEV it says at least 8 sets of rear and side delt work to make gains. Total for them both combined or each? Thanks! Love this work!

  11. Shane says:

    I’m really loving these articles, guys. Best on the internet.

    Huh, I didn’t realize that face pulls were such a key exercise for the rear delts. Stoked to add them to my routine 🙂

  12. Mark says:

    Hi Dr. Mike, I’m wondering if it’s to be expected that the side delts get stubborn after years of training them? I never get DOMS in them anymore and I don’t (seem to) feel overtrained even by 30+ sets per week of lateral raise variations of 10-15 reps and include db’s, cables, bands, supersets and drop sets. I usually train them twice per week. I’d love my side delts to be more eye catching than the other heads, like Vince Carter’s for instance (!) Don’t know if that’s just due to his genetics or his way of isolating them.. Would my side delt in your opinion likely be stubborn or maybe I’ve just consistantly overtrained them? I can get sore just about everywhere else on my body with about half the amount of volume on a weekly basis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with RP

Select a Language