10 of the Best Deltoid Exercises to Build Your Shoulders
10 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 (the part of your shoulder that bulges out), as they can completely transform the look of your upper body and give you something to show off in sleeveless shirts. But to really get 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.

Shoulder Muscle Anatomy

Your shoulder is made up of two parts: the deltoid and the rotator cuff. The deltoid muscle is the meaty part of the shoulder, responsible for giving your shoulder definition. The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder joint, which is extremely important as it’s the most mobile joint in your body. This mobility is great because it allows you to move your arm in many directions, but not so great because it makes it very susceptible to injury. That’s why it’s so important to strengthen these muscles.

What Are Your Delts?

“Your deltoids help to lift your arm in front of you, out to the side, overhead, and extend your arms behind you,” explains Cody Braun, Openfit fitness specialist.

While most people refer to “the deltoid” as one muscle, and it’s actually made up of three different parts, or heads: the front (anterior), middle (lateral), and back (posterior) heads. The three heads never work individually; however, certain exercises can emphasize which fibers will work more. But you want to make sure that you properly emphasize each head to create a well-rounded shoulder.

Both men and women 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. That’s why you should include targeted deltoid exercises into your workout routine.

What Are the Best Deltoid Exercises to Build Up Your Shoulders?

We rounded up 10 of the best deltoid exercises to help you strengthen and grow your shoulder muscles.

1. Anterior deltoid raise

Benefits: One of the best front deltoid exercises, this targets the anterior deltoid head. This helps to build the strength needed to lift objects in front of you, Braun says.

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

2. Callahan press

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. 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

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 face you. Repeat.

4. Jerk press

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 dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height, 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 the front foot back to the starting position, bringing the weights back to shoulder height. Repeat.

5. Hammer curl to press

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

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

6. Bent over lateral raise (reverse fly)

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 the rear delts. Be sure to maintain strict form to keep the rear delts engaged and the spine safe, forgoing the heavy weights if necessary.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your side.
  • Bend at the hips, keeping a flat back, and allowing your arms to hang straight down with your palms facing your body.
  • With elbows slightly bent, raise one arm out to the side until it is parallel with your back. Lower, and repeat with the other arm.

7. Sumo circle chop

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, holding one dumbbell with both hands. Bend your arms so you’re holding the dumbbell up to your chest. This is the starting position.
  • Push your hips back as you lower into a sumo squat, keeping your back straight .
  • Push through heels to straighten your legs.
  • Starting on the left, circle the dumbbell all the way around your head, rotating it around to the left.
  • As you bring the dumbbell around to the front, continue the motion and pivot both feet to the left.
  • Bend both knees into a lunge and straighten your arms to lower the dumbbell slowly 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 part of the deltoid, triceps, and the serratus anterior (the muscle under your shoulder blade covering 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 up overhead until your arms are straight.
  • Bring back down right below your chin. Repeat.

9. Upright row to hip fly

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

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging in front of your, palms facing your body.
  • Tilt the dumbbells 45 degrees, bringing them together so the ends touch, forming a triangle.
  • Keep your core tight and lift the triangled dumbbells into an upright row up to your chin, with your elbows pointing out to the side, but not coming above shoulder height. Do 12 reps.
  • Bring your arms down to your sides, bend your knees and fold into a flat back.
  • Let your arms hang straight with your palms facing back.
  • Keeping your shoulder blades pulled back and your abs pulled in, raise the dumbbells behind you to be parallel with your back, keeping your hands close to your hips.
  • Lower the arms and repeat 12 times.

10. Balanced side lunge with high pull

Benefits: Another total-body move, this works your middle deltoids, traps, biceps, quads, and glutes. “This one helps you build pulling strength, upper and lower body strength, and it strengthens the stabilizing muscles in the hip and ankle,” Braun says.

  • Stand with your feet together, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging at your sides.
  • Step out with your left leg, sit your hips back and bend your knee so your thigh is parallel with the ground. Frame your knee with the dumbbells while keeping your chest up.
  • Push off the left foot and raise your left knee 90 degrees, balancing on your right foot while pulling the dumbbells up to your chest in an upright row. Don’t let your elbows go above shoulder height.
  • Lower the left leg back down into the side lunge while you lower the dumbbells to fram your knee, and repeat.
  • Do equal reps on the opposite side.

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 Brooklyn-based health and fitness writer. She’s most passionate about running, traveling, mindfulness, cooking, and really, really good coffee.