Your deltoids are a group of thick, triangular muscles forming your shoulders. You need strong deltoids to push, pull, or lift things above your head. Plus, aesthetically they make you look good — allowing you to have a strong, confident posture.
Deltoid exercises help build strong shoulders and should hold a place in your upper body workouts. However, targeting your deltoid muscles can be tricky. In order to get the most from your workouts, you need to work your deltoids from every angle, strengthening your front, middle, and rear deltoids.
Below, I walk you through various shoulder exercises to help build stronger deltoids. Plus, I offer modifications for each exercise to match your fitness level and the equipment available to you.
6 Deltoid Exercises To Include in Your Upper Body Workouts
Looking to build stronger deltoids? These are the best exercises to train your shoulders from every angle — working your front, side, and rear delts.
1. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
To perform a lateral raise, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your arms at your sides. Hold a dumbbell in each hand (you will need a fairly light dumbbell — roughly half the weight you use in a bicep curl). Roll your shoulders back and down, and squeeze your abs.
On an inhale, bring both arms straight out from your sides, so they are parallel to the ground (your upper body should form the letter "T"). As you raise your arms, think about squeezing your shoulder blades together, so you work your posterior deltoid and lateral deltoids. Return to your starting position.
Modification: If you don't have dumbbells, stand on a resistance band, gripping the sides of the band in each hand. Then, raise your arms as described above (if your band is too tight, you can "stand" on the resistance band with your knees).
2. Upright Row
To perform a dumbbell upright row, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, a light dumbbell in each hand. Rest your arms at your sides, roll your shoulders back and down, and squeeze your abs.
On an inhale, raise your dumbbells to chest height with your elbows pointed outward (your wrists should be roughly 2 inches below your elbows). Squeeze your shoulder muscles together, keeping your chest proud (not hunched over). Return to your starting position.
Modification: Stand in the center of a resistance band, gripping both sides of the band in each hand. From there, raise your wrists toward your chest, sticking your elbows out (as described above).
3. Barbell Military Press (Shoulder Press)
If this is your first time doing a barbell military press, I recommend using the bar only (no weights). Rack the bar at shoulder height, so you don't have to clean the bar up from your waist. (A barbell clean is a fairly technical move and can easily lead to injury if done incorrectly.)
Roll your shoulders back and down, squeeze your core, and approach the bar. The bar will rest on the front of your shoulders and your palms (facing up). Keep your elbows tucked in near your sides, and lift the bar off the rack. Take a step back so you're a comfortable distance from the rack (roughly one stride length).
On an inhale, lift the bar straight overhead. Your arms should be straight, but don't lock your elbows. Return to your starting position.
Modification: Stand in the center of a resistance band with the top of the resistance band resting on your palms (facing up, near your shoulders). On an inhale, lift the band straight overhead.
4. Dumbbell Front Raise
To perform a front raise, grab a pair of dumbbells (the dumbbells should be fairly light — roughly half of what you use in a bicep curl). Standing with your feet hip-width apart, roll your shoulders back and down, and squeeze your core. Rather than resting your arms directly at your sides, allow the dumbbells to rest on the front of your thighs.
On an inhale, raise your arms straight in front of you so they are parallel to the ground (keep your arms straight as you raise, with a slight bend in your elbow). Squeeze your shoulder blades together, targeting the muscle groups in your back and shoulders. Once your arms reach shoulder level, return to your starting position.
Modifications: To perform a front raise with a resistance band, step into the center of a resistance band, gripping both sides of the band with each hand. From there, raise your arms straight in front of you, following the cues described above.
5. Dumbbell Reverse Fly
To perform a dumbbell reverse fly, start in a bent-over position (as though you were going to do a bent-over row). Your torso should form a 45-degree angle from your lower body and your glutes, and your core should be engaged.
Allow your arms to hang directly toward the ground, but do not hunch over (squeeze your shoulder blades together to prevent this from happening). On an inhale, raise your arms straight out from your sides, just as you did in the lateral raise. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, and return to your starting position.
Modifications: I find it difficult to perform a resistance band reverse fly from a bent-over position. Therefore, I recommend standing straight up, holding the center of the band with both hands (the closer your hands are together, the more difficult the exercise). On an inhale, bring both arms straight out beside you, keeping your arms straight (your upper body should form the letter "T"). Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and return to a starting position.
6. Dumbbell Arnold Press
The Arnold press can be a bit tricky. Because you are rotating your shoulder blades, you cannot do this movement with a barbell, Smith machine, or resistance bands. I only recommend using a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells.
Take a seat on an incline bench. Rest the dumbbells near your shoulders, with your elbows tucked in near your sides. Here's the tricky part: You need to take an underhand grip on the dumbbells, as though you were about to do a chin-up (i.e., your palms are facing away from your face).
On an inhale, rotate your arms out to your side, so they form 90-degree angles (your upper body should form the letter "U"). Your biceps should be parallel to the ground, while your forearms should extend overhead. Squeeze your shoulders together, and keep your chest proud.
From here, your wrists are now in an overhand grip (as though you were about to do a pullup). Now, simply do a dumbbell shoulder press, extending both arms straight overhead. Once you reach the end of your range of motion, return to your prior position (the "U" shape). Finally, rotate your shoulder joints inward, and return to your starting position.
Perform These Deltoid Exercises in Your Shoulder Workouts
Strong posterior deltoids, medial deltoids, and anterior deltoids are essential to everyday life. You need strong delts to perform common strength training exercises (like pushups) and everyday tasks (like opening a car door, pushing the refrigerator door shut, and lifting a laundry basket overhead).
Above, I shared six of the best deltoid exercises to work into your upper body workouts. Plus, you can perform these exercises at home (with resistance bands) or at the gym (with weights).
When training your delts, keep all four pillars of 4 Legs Fitness in mind: strength, cardio, nutrition, and recovery. Deltoid exercises hardly ever have a cardio component, so integrate these exercises on your strength training days. After your workout, consume a high-quality protein source to aid in recovery. Lastly, I recommend taking a lacrosse ball or foam roller to your back and shoulder muscles, helping to break up any knotted tissue.
Your workouts should always follow a well-balanced, integrated program designed by a personal trainer. For a complete, well-rounded approach to wellness, try our Build Bullet-Proof Health program.
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