Shoulders are one of the most sought-after muscle groups to build and can cap off a well-defined physique. Targeting your deltoids with specific workouts will assist in building bigger and stronger shoulders, which can also improve total body strength. We’re going to discuss the best deltoid exercises, to help you achieve the coveted V-shape you’ve been wanting to develop.
What Are Deltoid Muscles
The deltoids or delts, are composed of three primary muscle groups (the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid) which embody your shoulders, giving them the rounded triangular shape. Your shoulders are attached by tendons to three other skeletal structures: the collarbone or (clavicle), the upper arm bone (humerus), and the shoulder blade (scapula).
The deltoids are activated as a secondary muscle group, during chest and back exercises, therefore it’s crucial to designate deltoid-specific exercises to your training protocol.
Deltoid Muscle Anatomy
To fully understand how to build your shoulders and deltoid muscles, you need a basic understanding of the anatomy.
1. Anterior (Front)
Your anterior deltoids are positioned at the front of the shoulder. Also called front deltoids, most movements that stimulate this muscle group will be placed pushing weight above overhead, or in front of the body.
2. Lateral (Medial)
Lateral deltoids are located at the middle of the shoulder, also known as medial deltoids.
Medial delts are the biggest of all three deltoid heads and can be activated with a variety of different shoulder workouts and exercises, yet are targeted most effectively with side or lateral raises.
3. Posterior (Rear)
Posterior Deltoids or rear delts are located at the back of the shoulder. Any movement which pushes weight behind you, such as cable crossover, or exercises that are positioned in a bent-over position uses gravity against the posterior muscles to build bigger and more defined rear delt muscles.
The 5 Best Deltoid Exercises
Muscle activation studies have shown that deltoid-specific workouts significantly activate the front, medial, and rear deltoids more so, as compared to compound movements, which include the deltoids as a secondary muscle group [R]. We’ve included the best deltoid exercises according to activation below.
1. Shoulder Press
The shoulder press, or commonly known as the overhead press or military press, is one of the best deltoid exercises, that significantly activates the front (anterior) and medial deltoid [R]. There are many variations of the shoulder press, based upon factors such as exercise tempo, single arm variations, and of course different training implements, such as kettlebells, dumbbells, and barbells. More effective muscle activation will help you build more shoulder strength, improve posture, and help prevent injuries.
- Seated or standing shoulder width apart, start with your arms bent at 90 digress palms facing out in front of you.
- Push the weight or press above the head, bring your arms close together, pause, then return to starting position at 90 degrees, with your elbows bent.
2. Arnold Press
Arnold press is a more comprehensive deltoid workout, that traditionally uses dumbbells in a seated position. The Arnold press is so effective because it activates all three muscles in your shoulders, with more emphasis on the medial deltoid.
- Seated, lift a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with your arms bent and palms facing the body
- In one fluid motion, bring your elbows out wide, while rotating your hands so your palms face forward, pressing the dumbbells overhead until your biceps are by your ears, and your arms are straight.
- Pause, then reverse the movement back to starting position.
3. Lateral Raise
Lateral raise targets the medial and front deltoids. It’s a simple yet effective exercise, that should be included on your arm day, or shoulder day training split, for bigger and stronger shoulders.
- Sitting or standing, start with your feet shoulder width. Grab pair of dumbbells one in each hand, palms facing in.
- From your sides, raise each dumbbell to 90 degrees parallel to the ground simultaneously, or alternating.
- Pause at the top of the movement, for a brief moment then release and come back to starting position
4. Front Raise
The front raise is going to be very similar to the lateral raise, however, it will target the front deltoid, as opposed to the medial or rear delts.
- Standing, or sitting, pick up your dumbbells, one in each hand. With your chest out and feet shoulder-width apart, lift the dumbbells out in front of you, palms facing down, to eye level.
- Once you reach the top of the movement, pause, then lower back to starting position, and repeat.
5. Bent Over Lateral Raise (Reverse Dumbbell Fly)
The bent-over lateral raise, or reverse fly, will target the rear delts effectively, building the back taper or cut for the coveted V-shape.
- Sitting on the end of a bench, bend forward nearly 45 degrees and keep your hands to your sides in a neutral position with the dumbbells hanging.
- Keeping your back straight and your arms slightly bent, lift the dumbbells straight out to your sides, palms facing the floor, hold, then bring back to starting position.
Best Deltoid Exercises: Takeaway
Deltoids need to be stimulated with isolation movements, if you want bigger and stronger shoulders. Compound and functional strength exercises will also help develop and build your shoulders, however, if your goal is a well-defined physique, with a balanced posture, add some of these deltoid exercises into your training split or upper body workout.
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Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, Oliveira JLD, Hernández-Mosqueira C, da Silva SF, Marchetti PH. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct 31;75:5-14. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2020-0033. PMID: 33312291; PMCID: PMC7706677.