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Lateral shoulder exercises are some the best movements to build wider, stronger and more rounded shoulders.
The deltoid muscles are divided into three different sets of muscle fibers; the anterior deltoid (front delts), the posterior deltoid (rear delts) and the lateral deltoids (side delts).
They work together to raise or extend your arms and help to stabilize the shoulder joint.
As the shoulder is considered the most mobile joint in the entire body, it’s important to strengthen the surrounding muscles to improve shoulder mobility and help to prevent shoulder injuries.
If you want to build capped shoulders and create the illusion of a smaller waist, then you’ll want to focus on lateral shoulder exercises.
The lateral delts, also known as the medial deltoid, side deltoids or middle delts, are the outermost head of the deltoid muscle giving the shoulders their rounded appearance and shape.
In this article we’re going to recommend some of the best side delts exercises.
Effective Lateral Shoulder Exercises
In strength training it’s common to focus on specific shoulder isolation exercises that involve pressing and raising movements to target the side delts.
This is because performing compound exercises aren’t very effective at honing in on this particular muscle.
Without further ado, let’s jump to the best lateral deltoid exercises to shape and build those shoulders.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
The dumbbell lateral raise, sometimes called the side lateral raise, is one of the best lateral delt exercises to build strength and muscle mass to the middle deltoids.
If you don’t have access to free weights, you can replace these with a resistance band.
A common mistake with this exercise is to keep your arms locked out at the elbows. Always keep a slight bend to your arms to minimise stress on the joints.
How To Perform A Lateral Raise:
- Start by standing or sitting with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip, keeping them down at your sides.
- Engage your core and keep your chest and head up.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and maintain a slight bend to your knees.
- From here raise your arms up and out until your hands are just above shoulder level.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement before using control to lower the dumbbells back to the start.
- Complete 3 sets of between 8 and 12 reps.
Standing T Raise
The standing T raise is a functional exercise that’s good for promoting shoulder mobility. If you use heavier weights, it also helps to build your core muscles.
How To Do The Standing T Raise:
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip. Keep your arms relaxed and hold them in front of you. This is your starting position.
- Keeping your elbows slightly bent raise both arms straight out in front of you until parallel to the ground.
- Pause for a second before rotating your shoulders outwards so that both arms are now out to your sides.
- Now bring the dumbbells back together so they’re out in front of you.
- Slowly lower them back down to the start.
- Repeat for 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps.
Dumbbell Around the World
There are several variations of the ‘around the world’ exercise and it can be performed either standing, seated, or even lying on the ground or a bench.
It moves the shoulder joint through its full range of motion whilst engaging the target muscle being the lateral head of the shoulder.
How To Do The Seated Around The World:
- Set the back rest of an adjustable bench so that it’s set to around 80 to 85 degrees.
- Take a seat and ensure your upper back is fully supported.
- Start by holding a dumbbell in each and keep your arms relaxed and down by your sides. Your palms should be facing forwards.
- Using shoulder abduction move the dumbbells in a circular motion up and outwards until they are above your head.
- Keeping a slight bend in your elbow so as not to stress the joints.
- Slowly and with control lower the dumbbells back down using the same circular movement until they are back down by your sides.
- The rep range should be between 8 and 12 reps of 2 to 3 sets.
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Dumbbell shoulder overhead presses will work all heads of the deltoid along with your triceps.
Using dumbbells instead of a shoulder press machine or a loaded barbell will put much less pressure on the shoulders and allow for a more natural arm path.
If you don’t have a pair of dumbbells to hand you could use a band instead.
How To Do The Dumbbell Shoulder Press:
- Stand with your feet hip width apart and flex at your knees and hips to pick up your dumbbells.
- Straighten out your knees and raise the dumbbell so they’re above shoulder height.
- Your elbows should be bent to around 90 degrees with your palms facing forwards.
- Tighten your core muscles and then drive the dumbbells upwards and overhead.
- At the top of the movement your arms should be close to your ears and the dumbbells parallel to the floor.
- Aim to complete 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.
Cable Y Raise
A standing Y raise, also called the cable diagonal raise, is an effective strength-building exercise that targets the medial delts, upper back muscles and abdominals.
Avoid using too much weight to start with as proper form is vital to engage the correct muscles.
This movement is usually performed on either a dual adjustable pulley or cable crossover.
However, it can also be executed using a couple of resistance bands which can be anchored to the bottom of a door.
How To Do The Cable Y Raise:
- Set the pulleys to the lowest setting on your machine, do this one both sides and ensure they’re of equal height.
- Attach a D ring handle or similar to each pulley and choose your desired weight load.
- Take hold of the left sided handle using your right hand and vice versa.
- Take a step back from the cable machine to create some resistance in the cables.
- Keeping your back straight and core engaged, slowly raise your arms up and out so that your body and arms form a ‘Y’ position.
- Hold this position briefly before lowering back to the start and repeating.
Unilateral Crossbody Raise
The unilateral raise will allow you to work each side in isolation giving you a bit more variety within your shoulder training.
The cable pulley will keep the resistance on the delts throughout the movement helping you to build stronger shoulders.
How To Do The Unilateral Crossbody Raise:
- Start by setting the pulley to the lowest setting and attach a D ring attachment or similar.
- Choose a light weight to start with as this will ensure you execute the movement with good form.
- Stand side on to the machine and take hold of the attachment with the hand furthest away.
- Lean your torso forwards slightly and engage your abs.
- From here, raise your working arm up and out until it’s around shoulder height.
- Hold at the top then lower all the way back down across the front of the body.
- Repeat for 2 sets of 10 reps and then switch sides.
Dumbbell Arnold Press
The Arnold press recruits all three deltoid heads by allowing your shoulders to move through a range of motion.
These planes of motion result in more under-tension time, stimulating muscle growth. The exercise also stabilizes your muscles to work harder.
How To Do The Dumbbell Arnold Press:
- Sit on the edge of a bench and hold two dumbbells in front of you with a neutral grip.
- Rotate your wrists inwards so that your palms face towards you.
- Bring the dumbbells up just in front of your shoulders.
- Press the weights up and directly above your head.
- Simultaneously rotate them outward so that your palms face forward at the top of the exercise.
- Squeeze the shoulder muscles and pause briefly.
- Lower the weights back down to your starting position and repeat for desired reps.
EZ Bar Front Twist
The ez barbell is a good option for this exercise as it can help to minimise stress placed on the wrist joints by keeping them in a more neutral position.
It’s a great isolation movement for the lateral shoulder and ensures a fixed plane of motion throughout.
How To Do The EZ Bar Front Twist:
- Stand upright with feet shoulder width apart whilst hold an ez bar with both hands.
- Keeping the bar down in front of you with elbows slightly bent
- Raise one arm straight up and out until parallel to the ground.
- Lower back down and repeat with the other arm.
- Continue alternating in this way ensuring you complete equal reps on both sides.
Steering Wheel Shoulder Exercise
If you’re looking for an isometric exercise that targets your lateral and anterior deltoids, this is it.
The steering wheel exercise is also a great way of strengthening the rotator cuff and improving mobility.
How To Do The Steering Wheel Exercise:
- Hold a weight plate in both hands with an overhand grip.
- Keep one hand in the 3 o’clock position and the other in the 9 o’clock position.
- Extend your arms out in front of you so that you hold the plate at shoulder level.
- Keeping a slight bend to your elbows, begin to rotate your arms so the plate moves in a circular motion, keeping them extended and controlled.
- Stop when your hands are positioned at the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions.
- Continue moving the plate clockwise then anti clockwise until your arms and shoulders begin to fatigue.
Barbell Upright Rows
The barbell upright row is a compound exercise which will strengthen the back, shoulder, and arm muscles. When performed regularly it can help to create broader and more defined shoulders.
You can make the exercise more challenging by adding a couple of plates to the bar.
If you find it a bit to hard on the joints, you could swap out the bar for a couple of dumbbells as this will allow you to move in a more natural way for the mechanics of your body.
How To Do The Barbell Upright Row:
- In a standing position take hold of a barbell with an overhand position so that your palms face your body. Keep your hands just inside of shoulder width apart.
- Start by holding the bar in front of your thighs keeping your arms relaxed. This is your starting position.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together and begin to raise the barbell up towards your chin keeping the bar close to your body throughout.
- Ensure that your elbows always remain above your hands.
- Once the bar is around chin height, pause and then return back to the start.
- Complete 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
Sideways Incline Lateral Raise
The incline bench lateral raise is a variation of the standing dumbbell lateral raise exercise.
The main difference is that the range of motion is altered slightly potentially allowing for a greater muscle stimulus.
It also limits the momentum that can be generated whilst standing making the incline lateral raise more challenging with less chance of cheating. The lower you set your bench, the more difficult the movement.
How To Perform The Incline Bench Lateral Raise:
- Begin by setting an incline bench to an angle of around 30 to 45 degrees.
- Lie on your side on the bench keeping one foot flat on the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell down by your side, don’t allow it to rest on your thigh as you want to keep the tension constant.
- From here, raise the dumbbell up towards the ceiling until it’s just past your shoulder.
- Don’t raise it too high as this will remove tension to the shoulder muscles.
- Lower back down and repeat for 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.
Dumbbell Crucifix Hold
The dumbbell crucifix hold is an isometric exercise that can help to build shoulder strength and muscle mass.
Although it’s typically a part of Strongman competitions where special apparatus is used, you can replicate this exercise in your gym or at home with kettlebells or dumbbells.
Aside from engaging the medial delt, it also activates the upper back and arm muscles. Whilst this movement is low impact, we recommend starting with a lighter weight, so you don’t overly stress the joints.
How To Perform The Dumbbell Crucifix Hold:
- Take hold of a dumbbell in each hand with an underhand grip and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Extend your arms out to your sides until they’re parallel to the floor.
- Your palms should be facing down, and you should maintain a bend to the elbows.
- Tighten your core and keep your shoulders down.
- Breathe naturally and hold this position for between 10 to 60 seconds.
- You should feel tension to your shoulders, upper back, and abdominals.
Battle Rope Waves
If you want to work your arms, pecs, and delts in the same workout, then the battle rope fly whip is the perfect exercise to incorporate into your shoulder workouts.
It combines the power of a battle rope workout with traditional flys to provide you with a powerful, full-body workout that also improves cardiovascular strength.
How To Do Battle Rope Waves:
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart holding either end of the battle ropes, your palms should be facing inwards.
- Push your hips back slightly and bend your knees a little, this will help with balance.
- Explosively raise both arms at the same time raising the ropes to around shoulder height.
- Then create a wave-like motion by quickly bring the ropes back down and together. This should result in a whip effect in the ropes.
- Continue with this continuous movement for as long as possible.
Before You Leave
Working your shoulder muscles is important to keep your arms and shoulders healthy, strong, and functioning properly.
Regularly stretching your shoulders will help you reduce pain, improve your range of motion, whilst keeping your risk of injury to a minimum.
However, it’s important to target all the deltoid heads for balanced strength and muscle gains.
On that note, why not head on over to our other article ‘8 Best Front Delt Dumbbell Exercises‘ to help you activate those anterior shoulder muscles.