6 Best Lateral Deltoid Exercises for Huge Shoulders!

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 6, 2022

The lateral deltoid is the largest and most prominent muscle of the shoulder complex. This muscle helps to move objects in an upward direction, as well as stabilize the shoulder joint during movements like lifting heavy objects or throwing a football or baseball.

Strengthening the lateral deltoid can help prevent shoulder injuries and improve posture, which is especially important for athletes. Exercises to isolate and strengthen the lateral deltoid include barbell overhead presses, barbell upright rows, and dumbbell lateral raises, among others.

The Lateral Deltoid: Anatomy and Function

The lateral deltoid, also known as the outermost of the three parts of the deltoid, is a large, flat muscle that extends from just below the collarbone to just above the elbow. It helps to abduct and laterally rotate the arm, which means it enables moving the arm laterally away from the body.

lateral deltoid

The lateral deltoid is involved in many activities such as throwing, swinging, reaching, and pushing open doors or objects with both hands while keeping them steady on their hinges. It also helps stabilize shoulder joint movements when lifting heavy objects overhead.

How to Target the Lateral Deltoid

The lateral deltoid can be isolated by using a cable crossover machine or a simple lateral raise with dumbbells can target this muscle alone. When wanting to target the lateral deltoid, the individual must take note that they have to focus on contracting the biceps and brachialis muscles as well. This ensures that the individual gets an effective workout for this muscle.

Benefits of Strengthening the Lateral Deltoid

The shoulders are one of the most noticeable parts of the body of an individual, especially with one that has a good body build. Building on the shoulders to gain that full and round shape of it requires knowledge, thus doing random exercises for the shoulders will not give that result. Incorporating the right exercises for the lateral deltoids in the shoulder routine is beneficial in multiple ways. 

Injury Prevention

The shoulder joint has the largest range of motion in a human’s body. This also carries with it the fact that the shoulder joint is very unstable and may be prone to injury. It is often injured during sports, especially those that involve throwing or catching a ball or bat.

Strengthening of the lateral deltoids will assist in increasing the stability of the shoulder joint and prevent injuries such as popping out of the shoulder from the socket etc. It's also important to strengthen this muscle because it can help prevent injury to other parts of the body.

Increased Range of Motion

As mentioned above, strengthening the lateral deltoids will provide stability to the shoulders. With that stability, the individual can then perform higher ranges of motion without the fear of injury or pain during the movement. 

Improve Lifts

When the lateral deltoids are strengthened to a point this will act as an assistant for other lifts to be performed. A strengthened lateral deltoid will assist in stabilizing the weights being carried, especially in lifts such as the bench press and overhead press. 

Aesthetics and Posture

As mentioned above, one of the most prominent body parts of a human is the shoulders. Building on those and gaining those wide-toned shoulders helps improve the overall aesthetic and definition of one’s body shape. The lateral deltoids are positioned outside of the body, so working on this muscle will give the individual a wider frame. 

Strengthening the lateral portion of the upper arms balances out the tension in the shoulders and upper back muscles, thus also improving posture.

Exercises to Target the Lateral Deltoid

To build a stronger lateral deltoid, the individual will need to work both sides of the muscle evenly. To do this, the individual needs to perform multiple exercises with a barbell, dumbbell, or any weight available. The individual can perform the exercises listed below to strengthen and develop the lateral deltoid.

1. Barbell Overhead Press

The barbell overhead press is known to be the best shoulder mass gainer exercise. This is known to build the muscles fast due to the power it requires to be performed. There are different positions that the barbell overhead press could be done in but sitting on a bench is the best way so that it prevents the individual from using momentum from the legs. 

seated overhead press

To perform this exercise the individual sits on the bench (or stands) wherein the bench is between the legs of the individual. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip and place it in front just on top of the chests. Press the barbell straight upward until the arms are fully extended. Take note that the arms must not be locked to avoid injury.

To finish the rep slowly bring the arms back down where the barbell returns just on top of the chests.

2. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row works on the individual’s lateral deltoids and trapezius muscle. Barbell upright rows can be done in two variations depending on the grip whether it's narrow or wide. The narrow grip targets the trapezius while the wider grip on the entire shoulder.

barbell upright row standing

To perform the individual stands with feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp a barbell with a wide overhand grip and let it hang in front of the body. Then lift the barbell until it reaches near the chin using the arms and elevating the shoulders.

Take note that the individual should avoid getting momentum from the legs by trying to hop to lift the weights. Then slowly lower the barbell back to its original position, this is 1 rep. 

3. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The dumbbell lateral raise is a great way to work the shoulders and arm muscles. It's usually done with dumbbells but can also be done using resistance bands or elastic bands.

dumbbell lateral raise

It’s also an easy way to train the trapezius and supraspinatus altogether. This exercise is also known to be an efficient way to burn calories as it works multiple muscles at once.

To perform first stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold one dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells are positioned at the individual’s sides, slightly bend the elbow and then lift the dumbbells up and out to the side until it is just beyond shoulder height, then lower them back down to where the dumbbells started.

Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps to complete a set. 

4. One Arm Dumbbell Upright Row

The one-arm dumbbell row is a great exercise for strengthening the lateral deltoids. This exercise allows the individual to focus on form as it is a unilateral type of exercise, while the other limb works to stabilize the body. 

one arm dumbbell upright row

To perform this exercise the individual stands with feet shoulder-width apart, then the individual grabs a dumbbell in one hand with a preferred weight.  Slowly shrug the shoulder up towards the ear. At the top of the shrug, the individual stops and holds that position and contracts the muscles to lift the weight until it reaches chest height.

Slowly lower the weight back to the sides and repeat for the desired number of reps then repeat to the other limb to complete a set.

5. Lying Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The lying dumbbell lateral raise is a high-intensity exercise that works on the shoulders and upper back of the individual. The performance of this exercise emphasizes the lateral deltoid. 

lying dumbbell lateral raise

To perform this exercise the individual lies on a bench sideways with 1 foot on the floor and the other straight on the bench. Hold a dumbbell in one hand on the hand that is opposite to the foot that is on the floor.

The dumbbell rests sideways on the individual’s upper thigh, then the individual slowly lifts the dumbbell up and out to the side of the individual’s body.

When the shoulder joint is at a 90-degree elevation, the individual stops for a moment before lowering the weight back down to the upper thigh. Repeat this motion for the desired amount of repetitions to finish a set.

6. One-arm Cable Lateral Raise

The one-arm cable lateral raise is similar to a dumbbell lateral raise, but with the resistance provided by a cable machine. The cable machine will help isolate this muscle by allowing it to focus on only one side at a time.

To perform this exercise, the lifter positions themselves standing with the feet shoulder-width apart, and the cable machine either at the left or right side.

cable one arm lateral raise

A single handle is attached to the cable which is placed at the lowest position it can go. The handle is grasped in a neutral grip by reaching across the body. Then lift laterally by pulling the handle across the body while keeping the elbow slightly bent.

When the arm is raised at shoulder height, the position is held for a second before slowly lowering the handle to return to the starting position. When the set is completed, repeat on the other side by facing the other way.

Final Thoughts

Although they're not the simplest muscles to strengthen, the lateral deltoids aid to define the upper body appearance and attain broad shoulders. The lateral raise is one of the best exercises for building strength and size in this area.

Incorporating any or all of the exercises mentioned above into the shoulder routine will aid in increasing the size and improving the strength of the lateral deltoids. The choice of exercise and equipment to utilize greatly depends on individual preference. The main point is to make sure not to go too heavy to avoid straining tendons and ligaments or causing serious injury.

References

1. Campos YAC, Vianna JM, Guimarães MP, et al. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals. J Hum Kinet. 2020;75:5-14. Published 2020 Oct 31. doi:10.2478/hukin-2020-0033

2. Sweeney S. ELECTROMYOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS OF THE DELTOID MUSCLE DURING VARIOUS SHOULDER EXERCISES. May 2014.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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