Your Guide to the Best Deltoid Workouts and Exercises
When you start going to the gym, you quickly get acquainted with "core day," "arm day," or the oft-dreaded "leg day." What you don't often hear is "shoulder day."
Even though deltoid workouts don't sound like the most exciting thing in the gym, they are important and should be included in every well-rounded workout routine.
Deltoid exercises will not only help you achieve that coveted V-shape you've been working so hard to develop, but also give you the strength to perform a ton of different exercises. Not to mention, stronger shoulder muscles help prevent injuries and improve posture.
So if this bit of info has piqued your interest in these upper-body muscles and you want to learn how to strengthen them, keep reading.
This article will explore the anatomy of the deltoid muscles, why these shoulder muscles matter, and challenges that you may encounter during shoulder workouts.
More importantly, you'll find a list of the eight best deltoid exercises for toning, shaping, and developing stronger shoulders so you can perform your best and achieve the body of your dreams.
What Are Deltoid Muscles?
Deltoids — or delts — are the large muscles that wrap around your shoulder joints and cover your upper arms, giving them their round, triangular shape. They’re attached by tendons to three skeletal structures: the collarbone (clavicle), the upper-arm bone (humerus), and the shoulder blade (scapula).
The deltoids consist of three sets of fibers called the "heads of the deltoids." These include the anterior deltoid, middle deltoid (or lateral deltoid), and posterior deltoid, commonly known as the front, side, and rear delts, respectively.
Though at first sight it may resemble one single muscle, a study published in the Journal of Anatomy found that deltoids actually consist of seven anatomical elements with distinct tendon origination points, notably intersecting with the trapezius, rotator cuff muscles, and teres major.
Why Deltoid Workouts Are Important
Even though your delts are activated as secondary muscles during upper body exercises — especially chest and back exercises — deltoid-specific workouts should be an essential part of your training program.
While the front deltoids are frequently and naturally used in everyday life — e.g. lifting heavy shopping bags, furniture, or other bulky objects — your side and rear delts remain relatively inactive.
Therefore, it is essential to include specific shoulder exercises to strengthen these two areas and develop a sturdy,optimally functioning deltoid muscle group. Here’s how strong deltoids will help you.
If you've been training for a while, you're probably aware that one of the areas of your body that is more prone to injury is your shoulders. Weak shoulders that don't properly support your shoulder joints can quickly turn into bone, joint, and even muscle problems.
In fact, shoulder exercises have been shown to be beneficial in cases of pain and discomfort from rotator cuff injuries.
According to research in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, individuals saw significant improvements in soreness and range of motion after just three weeks of daily shoulder training.
By strengthening your shoulder muscles, you can better avoid injuries inside and outside the gym.
Better Posture and a Positive Mindset
As you include movements that target your posterior deltoid muscles, you're spontaneously activating your trapezius by joining the shoulder blades. This leads to improved posture, a stronger core, and a more robust back.
As a result, you will look taller and slimmer, giving you an extra boost of confidence. As a matter of fact, research published in the Journal of Cognition and Emotion found that better posture is linked with positive mood, enhanced focus, and fewer negative thoughts.
So the next time you get hit by the blues, a good shoulder workout might help you beat the funk, spark your motivation, and achieve your fitness goals.
Widen Your Training Horizons
Raise your hand if pull-ups are your nemesis.
Weak deltoid muscles might be the reason why.
When you think about it, all upper body and core exercises involve your shoulder muscles, particularly your delts.
By adding specific training to strengthen this muscle group, you'll develop the natural ability and stamina to successfully complete different types of exercises you couldn't before.
You may be the king of "leg day," but when it comes to the upper body, strong shoulders open up a whole new world of workouts, movements, and muscles you didn't even know existed.
The Challenges of Deltoid Workouts
Your shoulder joints are sensitive areas that don't like to be pushed to their limit. The ball of your upper arm is precariously held in your shoulder socket, and it can easily become dislodged as a result of intense training.
So when you're working out to strengthen these muscles, take care not to end up with the opposite result. The risk of injury is higher than usual. Easy does it.
While other muscles can sustain powerful and explosive exercises, shoulder muscles are not among them.
When you start deltoid-targeted training, you'll realize that fatigue and soreness kick in pretty quickly. If this happens, don't push it. Either take some time to rest or swap with movements that target other muscle groups, especially those in the lower body.
Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to shoulder workouts.
The good news is that if you weren't previously focusing your fitness routine on this area of your body, you'll be able to see significant results regarding muscle growth and definition.
How To Include Deltoid Exercises In Your Fitness Program
When it comes to training delts, isolation exercises are the best course of action. And dedicating one of your weekly training sessions to them would be ideal, as you'd have the stamina to lift more.
However, keep in mind that an adequate deltoid workout time ranges from 20 to 35 minutes. This may sound like a short period, but with the correct exercises, it will be enough to stimulate all three deltoid areas without the risk of over-exerting them.
If you're not willing to spend a whole session dedicated to this group of muscles, then a good compromise would be to alternate deltoids with quad and calves exercises.
This prevents your delts from becoming tired too quickly, which would probably happen if you had previously focused on other upper body areas.
If you do end up training your shoulder muscles with another muscle group, make an effort to prioritize your delts at the start of the workout. This means all that energy you have when you're still fresh goes into those guys.
If you feel like the other group of muscles is equally important, alternate the muscle group you start with. For example, one week you can opt for deltoids first. The week after, your back takes center stage.
The great thing about shoulder workouts is that an exercise as basic and targeted as a shoulder press or incline barbell bench press will not only activate your delts, it will also stimulate your biceps, triceps, core, and back.
The 8 Best Deltoid Exercises
Now that you know the tremendous benefits of deltoid training, it's time to learn about the best shoulder exercises to include in your next gym session.
Like all training programs, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to deltoid training. Everyone has their unique needs, body, and goals, so the best way to assess what suits you is to try all the options on this list. See how your body feels and what it likes.
Remember to rest between reps — ideally for between 30 seconds to 1 minute — to support muscle growth. And remember to go for lightweights, at least in the beginning stages.
So, without further ado, here are the best deltoid exercises and how to do them.
1. Arnold Press
Start this v-shaping exercise in a standing or sitting position, with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, at shoulder height, in front of your torso. Make sure your palms face your body.
Push the dumbbells above your head, externally rotating your wrists. Once you reach the top, check that your palms are facing forward. Lower back into the starting position.
Start this classic bodyweight exercise from a standing position. Drop your hands onto the ground while kicking your feet back into a push-up position.
Lower your chest and thighs to the floor. Push up and jump your feet toward your hands. Press your palms into the ground to get back to your starting position.
Immediately jump upward and clap your hands overhead.
3. Dumbbell Upright Row
Start this front delt exercise by holding a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. Rest them in front of your thighs with a neutral grip.
Bend your elbows and lift both dumbbells at the same time, vertically, until they’re in front of your collarbones. Ensure your elbows point toward the ceiling.
Lower the dumbbells back down to their starting position.
4. Dumbbell Lateral Raise
For a dumbbell lateral raise, begin in a standing position, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand. Let them rest against your sides with your palms facing inward.
Slightly bend in your elbows and raise your arms straight out toward your sides, until they’re at the level of your shoulders. The goal is to create a T shape with your body.
Pause, then return to your original position.
5. Dumbbell Shoulder Press (Overhead Press/Military Press)
For this classic deltoid exercise, start in a standing upright position. Make sure your back is straight.
Hold one dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbow, and lift your hands at shoulder level. Check for overhand grip and that your thumbs are on the inside with your knuckles facing upward.
Press the dumbbells above your head, stretching your arms until your elbows are nearly straight. Stay there for a few moments and then return to the starting position.
6. Face Pull
For this exercise, you'll need a cable machine. Start in a kneeling position, with your right or left foot forward in front of the equipment.
Grab the handles of the machine, ensuring your palms are facing inward. Pull them toward your face. As you do, draw your hands apart, toward the sides next to your ears. Squeeze and hold the contraction before slowly extending your arms back to the starting position.
7. Rear Delt Fly
For this exercise, start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward. Let the dumbbells hang straight down from your shoulders.
Bend your hips forward until your chest is almost parallel to the ground. Keep your back flat and your elbows slightly bent.
Raise your arms straight out toward the side, until they’re aligned with your body. Pause, then return back to the starting position.
Note: As an alternative, you can do this exercise using an incline bench. In this case, it's called the bent-over reverse fly.
8. T Push-Up
Start this exercise in a high push-up position. Lower your body until your chest almost reaches the ground.
Push back up and, at the same time, rotate one side of your body upward. Raise your arm toward the ceiling.
Stay there for a couple of seconds, and then return to your original position. Alternate sides with each repetition.
Strengthen Your Upper Body and Prevent Injuries
Even if deltoids haven’t previously been a priority in your gym time, now is the time to consider adding them to your fitness routine.
If your goal is to build a V-shape and bulk up your shoulder area, then deltoid training is the way to go.
Whether you dedicate a weekly session to them or simply mix them up with your leg day, you can rest assured that you're strengthening your body to reach your physique goals and make it more resilient to injury.