9 of the Best Deltoid Exercises to Build Your Shoulders

9 of the Best Deltoid Exercises to Build Your Shoulders

Odds are that your workout schedule includes a day or two dedicated to your upper body. You hit your biceps, triceps, and of course your shoulders, right? You definitely don’t want to forget about your delts, each of which actually consists of three distinct heads: the anterior (frontal), lateral (side), and posterior (rear).

Men and women both tend to have developed front deltoid muscles by doing everyday activities, like lifting and pressing objects. But most people have pretty weak middle and back deltoids, since we rarely lift objects to the side or behind us in daily life, explains Jamie Logie, personal trainer, nutrition and wellness specialist.

So, to build fully defined shoulders, you want to include some targeted deltoid exercises in your workout routine. Here are some of the best shoulder exercises to help you get bigger and stronger.

1. Anterior Deltoid Raise

anterior deltoid raise | shoulder exercises | deltoid exercises

Benefits: One of the best front deltoid exercises, this targets the muscle’s anterior (frontal) head. This helps to build the strength needed to lift objects in front of you, says Openfit fitness expert Cody Braun.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.
  • Keeping your arms straight, slowly lift the weights up directly in front of you to shoulder height with your palms facing each other.
  • Lower back down to the starting position and repeat.

2. Callahan Press

callahan press | deltoid workouts | shoulder workouts

Benefits: “Since it hits all three heads of the delts, a Callahan press helps with full-shoulder development,” Logie says.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms out to your sides with your elbows bent at 90 degrees (a.k.a. goalpost or cactus). Your upper arms should be in line with your shoulders, and your hands should point toward the ceiling. This is the starting position.
  • Bring your forearms in front of you and turn your palms in toward your face. Then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
  • Press the weights directly above your shoulders, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.

3. Standing Arnold Press

standing arnold press shoulder workouts

Benefits: This move targets all three heads of the deltoid muscle, and it recruits the triceps during the pressing motion, Logie says.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand just under your chin, palms facing you.
  • Press the dumbbells overhead as you rotate your palms out until they are facing away from you.
  • Pause at the top, then lower dumbbells back down to start, rotating your palms back toward you. Repeat.

4. Jerk Press

jerk press | deltoid exercises

Benefits: “The jerk press helps build power and strength, and you use the delts along with your traps and triceps,” Logie says.

  • Start with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells in front of your shoulders, palms facing each other. This is the starting position.
  • In one explosive motion, press the weights overhead while jumping one foot forward, and one foot back so you land in high lunge.
  • Step your front foot back to the starting position, bringing the weights back to shoulder height. Repeat.

5. Hammer Curl to Press

hammer curl to press | deltoid exercises

Benefits: Not only does this combination movement work your delts, it also works many other muscles in your upper body, including your biceps, forearms, and triceps, Logie says.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides, palms facing each other.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, curl dumbbells up to your shoulders without moving your upper arms.
  • Press the dumbbells above your head until your arms are straight, keeping your palms facing each other.
  • Lower the weights back down to your shoulders, then lower your arms all the way straight down to your sides. Repeat.

6. Bent Over Lateral Raise (Reverse Fly)

standing reverse fly | bent-over rear delt fly | deltoid exercises

Benefits: “Even though the rear delts get employed during back exercises, they tend to be one of the least developed muscles on the body because people don’t target them specifically enough,” Logie says. This move is one of the best to target your rear delts. Be sure to maintain strict form to keep them engaged and keep your spine safe, forgoing heavy weights if necessary.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  • Hinge at your hips, keeping your back flat, and allowing your arms to hang straight down with your palms facing each other.
  • With elbows slightly bent, raise your arms out to the sides until they are parallel with your back. Slowly lower the weights and repeat.

7. Sumo Circle Chop

sumo squat around the world wood chop | deltoid exercises

Benefits: This total-body move employs your quads, glutes, all three parts of your deltoid muscles, and your obliques. Braun loves that it utilizes many different muscle groups in the upper and lower body, and that it builds rotational strength in the core.

  • Stand with your legs wide, toes turned out 45 degrees, holding one dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest. This is the starting position.
  • Push your hips back as you slowly lower into a sumo squat, keeping your back straight .
  • Push through your heels to straighten your legs.
  • Starting on the left, circle the dumbbell all the way around your head, rotating it around and back to the left.
  • As you bring the dumbbell around to the front, continue the motion and pivot both feet to your left.
  • Bend both knees into a lunge and straighten your arms to slowly lower the dumbbell in front of your front knee.
  • Straighten your legs and pivot back to the staring position, bringing the dumbbell back in front of your chest. Repeat on other side.

8. Seated EZ Bar Underhand Press

Benefits: This move may seem simple, but you’re working the front head of your deltoid, your triceps, and your serratus anterior (the muscle under your shoulder blade that covers your ribs), all to build strength in and increase shoulder stability, Braun says.

  • Adjust an incline bench so the back is vertical and sit on the seat.
  • Load an EZ Bar and grab it in the middle with an underhand grip. Bend your arms to bring the bar underneath your chin.
  • Press the bar directly overhead until your arms are straight.
  • Slowly bring the bar back down right below your chin, and repeat.

9. Upright Row to Hip Fly

upright row to hip fly | deltoid exercises

Benefits: This two-part move targets the middle heads of your deltoids, your traps, and your biceps, all which help build pulling strength, Braun says.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbell in front of your thighs, palms facing you.
  • Keeping your chest up and core engaged, lift the dumbbells up to your chin in an upright row. Make sure not to raise your elbows above shoulder height.
  • Bring your arms down to your sides, bend your knees, push your hips back, and hinge forward into a flat back.
  • Let your arms hang straight with your palms facing back.
  • Keeping your arms straight and shoulder blades pulled back, raise the dumbbells behind you.
  • Lower your arms and repeat.

What to Eat to Develop Your Delts

When you’re doing any kind of strength training, what you eat is just as important as what you lift. Your muscles need the right kind of nutrition in order to get bigger and stronger.

After you exercise, a great way to refuel your body is with a post-workout supplement like Openfit Recovery. It has 20 grams of whey protein to help repair your muscles, and pomegranate extract to help reduce muscle soreness.

About

Rachael Schultz is a Colorado-based writer who focuses primarily on why our bodies and brains work the way they do, and how we can optimize both. Previously a staff editor at Shape, she writes regularly for a slew of national health and fitness publications, including Men's Health, Men's Journal, Women's Health, and Furthermore x Equinox. She’s most passionate about hiking, traveling, mindfulness, cooking, and really, really good coffee.