Deltoid Exercises: Achieve the Maximum Development!

Deltoid Exercises: Achieve the Maximum Development!

Today, we are going to talk about some of the best shoulder exercises to develop the deltoid muscle as much as possible.

When we want to improve our physique, there is a muscle group that becomes more important than the others: that is the group of muscles that surrounds the shoulder joint.

What are the muscles of the shoulder?

There are two big muscle groups that could be called “shoulder muscles”:

  1. The muscles that made up the rotator cuff: these help to stabilize the joint and allow us to rotate the humerus.
  2. The deltoid muscle: this one is responsible for the round aspect of our shoulders. Above all, it is in charge of the flexion, abduction and extension movements of the joint.

The truth is that having big arms or toned abs is visually attractive, but they cannot compare to the aspect of big and round deltoid muscle.

Shoulders like cannonballs!

Do you want to know the secrets to develop your shoulders? Then stay, because I am going to tell you what are the best exercises.

Deltoid Muscle

Before anything, do you know where is the deltoid muscle?

Here it is:

Deltoid Muscle

Figure I. Anatomical representation of the deltoid muscle, side view.

The deltoid is just one muscle, not three like many people actually believe. Moreover, it is not a muscle “divided” in three “sub-muscles”. It is just a big muscle that belongs to the shoulder girdle. This area includes both the clavicles and the scapula, while the deltoid fills the space between this two points.

Therefore, the different “sections” of the muscle will perform different tasks on the joint.

The deltoid tendon travels the external surface of the humerus (arm bone) in the deltoid tuberosity.

Three muscle portions

The three portions that have been traditionally defined are due to the different movements by the deltoid muscle, which are:

  • Anterior: shoulder flexion (moving the arms forward).
  • Medium: shoulder abduction (opening the arms to the sides).
  • Posterior: shoulder extension (moving the arms backwards).

Shoulder movement

Figure II. Anatomical representation of the function of the anterior fibers (1st image), medium fibers (2nd image) and posterior fibers (3rd image) of the deltoid muscle. Source:

Why is this important? Because we need to know all its functions in order to know what are the best exercises to develop our deltoid muscle.

We bring you the best deltoid exercises!

Military Press

This exercise is the base to work our deltoid muscle, specially the anterior area.

The initial position consists of holding the weight at the same height as our clavicles and raise the bar over the head. This will involve a flexion-abduction movement of our shoulder and the extension of the elbow.

You can do it standing or sitting, with dumbbells or a bar. Moreover, you can take the bar past or behind the frontal plane of the body, with an open or close grip… But, which one is the best?.

Several studies have concluded that the electrical activation of the anterior muscle part of the deltoid is higher when the bar goes past the body (Bull et al., 2011). However, the medium area activates when we take it behind (Boeckh-Behrens and Buskies, 2000).

The deltoid muscle activation is higher when we do an exercise that requires more stabilization, that is, standing and with dumbbells (Saeterbakken and Fimland, 2013).


We suggest using a grip that is more or less at the same height as our acromion (the end of our clavicle). Otherwise, increasing the width of the grip will rotate the shoulder internally and increase the tension on the joint capsule, causing discomfort and injuries.


  • The press over the head is an exercise that allows us to use a lot of weight. Consequently, it activates the deltoid muscle considerably, specially the anterior area.
  • If you are doing less than 8 reps, use a bar.
  • But, if you are doing more than 12 reps, use dumbbells.
  • The muscle activation is higher when standing, but the weight we can lift is higher while sitting. Combine both exercises to strengthen your deltoid muscle!
  • Take the bar behind the frontal place only if you do not feel discomfort and as long as you are comfortable. There are no harmful exercises, only exercises that are not properly adapted to the individual structure of a person.
We have prepared the Best Guide about Military Press. If you want to find out more, click here.

Lateral raises

The lateral raises are the best exercise for the medium deltoid muscle. In fact, it produces the highest activation from all the exercises assessed by Boeckh-Behrens and Buskies, (2000).

The exercise starts by holding a dumbbell in each hand and close to the body, with a neutral grip (hammer style).

The execution involves the abduction of the shoulder (opening the arms away from the body). Here, the first question everyone asks is: how far should I go?

The activation is similar with a degree of abduction around 70-90º.

However, the passive structures of the shoulder undergo a tension that increases drastically. That is why the best thing would be not reaching the same height as your shoulders and finishing the movement sooner.

Another piece of advice

Some people flex the elbows in order to increase the weight of deltoid exercises. You have probably seen someone lifting a lot of weight with the elbows flexed at 90º…

This is a MISTAKE: it reduces the momentum and muscle activation up to a half.


  • So, use a moderate weight and do between 10-15 reps, so that there will be a good effort/fatigue ratio.
  • Do the movement in the frontal plane of the body (just on the sides).
  • Make sure to rotate the shoulder externally at all times (do not let the palms of your hands looking backwards).
  • Flex the elbows slightly, 15º do not affect the activation and can help to relieve some of the tension on the joint.
  • Raise your arms up to 70-75º, do not make a right angle between the arm and the body. Above all, do not raise your arms over the line of the shoulder.
  • Moreover, you can do this deltoid exercise at home! 😉

Bent Over Dumbbell Raises

The shoulder extension exercises are the best exercises for the posterior deltoid area.

The most classic example of this movement are the bent over dumbbell raises.

First of all, hold a dumbbell in each hand and make sure that your upper body is parallel to the ground. You can do this standing and flexing your hips, or lying face down on a bench. The movement consists of extending the arms (taking the arms back).

Usually, people tend to ask the following question:

In order to exercise the deltoid, how do I have to hold the dumbbells?

  1. Neutral position (hammer).
  2. Internal rotation (palms towards the outside).
  3. External rotation (palms towards the inside).
The activation increases when we internally rotate the shoulder (Boeckh-Behrens and Buskies, 2000). It is hard to experience shoulder discomfort since the weight is always projected downwards.


The activation of the posterior deltoid muscle is 5.38 times higher when our arms are at a 90º of abduction.


  • Use a low weight and a lot of repetitions, it is the perfect exercise for high intensity techniques such as the myo-reps, drop-sets or rest-pause!
  • Flex the elbows sightly in order to relieve the tension on the joint.
  • Keep the arms rotated internally at all times (your palms should be looking downwards).
  • 90º shoulder abduction at all times, the reverse pec deck fly is a great exercise for this!


Here you have the ultimate routine to strengthen and grow your deltoid muscles!

Deltoid Routine
  • Frontal raises: 2 sets x 10 reps.
  • Seated Barbell Military Press: 4 sets x 8 reps
  • Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 3 sets x 12 reps
  • Standing Dumbbell Military Press: 3 sets x 15 reps
  • Bent Over Dumbbell Raises: 4 sets x 20 reps + [4x (Myo-Reps x4)]


  1. Alizadehkhaiyat, O., Hawkes, D. H., Kemp, G. J., & Frostick, S. P. (2015). ELECTROMYOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS OF SHOULDER GIRDLE MUSCLES DURING COMMON INTERNAL ROTATION EXERCISES. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(5), 645–654.
  2. Boeckh-Behrens, W. U., & Buskies, W. (2000). Gesundheitsorientiertes Fitnesstraining. 1. Fitnessgrundlagen, Krafttraining, Beweglichkeitstraining.
  3. Bull, M. L., Ferreira, M. I., & Vitti, M. (2011). Electromyographic validation of the deltoid (anterior portion) and pectoralis major (clavicular portion) in military press exercises with open and middle grips. 28, 287–289.
  4. Saeterbakken, A. H., & Fimland, M. S. (2013). Effects of body position and loading modality on muscle activity and strength in shoulder presses. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(7), 1824–1831.

Related Entries

  • IF you want to know even more, take a look at this article: Top 10 Shoulder Exercises.
  • Do your shoulders hurt when you do exercise? Keep reading to find out why…
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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
A specialist in Pathophysiology and biomolecular effects on nutrition and sportive activity who will show you the elaborate world of sports nutrition in his articles, employing a simple and critical writing.
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