Strength Training | Training Tips

6 Solid Deltoid Exercises for Strong Shoulders

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Bodybuilding, 6 Solid Deltoid Exercises for Strong Shoulders

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Strong, shapely shoulders are a desire of many clients. Shoulder mobility, stability, and balanced strength are priorities for many trainers. Well-rounded shoulders are not only aesthetically pleasing but also help reduce shoulder injuries. They are important muscles involved in many daily movements and essential for athletic performance.

In the following article, we explore six exercises you can easily implement in your clients’ routines. The exercises focus on the front, middle, and back portions of the deltoid, so, you can help your clients build the shapely shoulders they want with the balance and mobility they need. 

Deltoid Anatomy

The deltoid muscle is triangular-shaped with three different heads. The heads vary slightly in function because of their origin but they all come together and insert in the deltoid tuberosity. 

  • Anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder)
    • Origin: Clavicle
    • Function: Flexion 
  • Medial deltoid (middle of the shoulder)
    • Origin: Acromion of the scapula
    • Function: Abduction (past 15 degrees) and shoulder stabilization
  • Posterior deltoid (back of the shoulder)
    • Origin: Spine of the scapula
    • Function: Extension (1)

Once you understand the primary function of each head, it’s easy to determine which movements emphasize which head of the deltoid. 

6 Highly Effective Deltoid Exercises

When programming for your clients’ shoulder workout, it’s important to include deltoid exercises that emphasize each of the heads of the deltoid. And, as always, appropriate weight and proper form are essential to ensure the correct muscles are engaged. The following is a collection of six of our favorite deltoid exercises. Together, they engage all three heads. 

1. Bent Arm Lateral Raise

A lateral raise is a common shoulder exercise. The bent arm variation is executed similarly to a lateral raise, but the elbows are bent throughout the movement. 

How to do it: With the feet shoulder-width apart and the core engaged, the client will grip the dumbbells with the palms facing toward the body. They will flex their elbows (to about 90 degrees) and ensure their head and neck are in alignment with their spine. The client will roll their shoulders down and back before simultaneously lifting both elbows out to the sides. The client will stop when their elbows reach shoulder height and slowly lower back down to the starting position. 

2. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The dumbbell shoulder press is often executed in a seated position but can also be done standing. However, it’s common to start in a seated position to focus on shoulder form before adding the stability required when standing. 

How to do it: The client will raise the dumbbells to their shoulders (use knees or spotter to lift to starting position, if needed). They should grip the dumbbells with the palms facing forward. With the core engaged, the spine neutral (don’t arch the back), and the head and neck in alignment with the spine, the client will press the dumbbells up and stop just before full extension (still a slight bend in the elbows). They will slowly lower back down until the weights are even with the ears before pressing back up into the next repetition. 

3. Alternating Single-Arm Front Raise

The front raise is similar to the lateral raise, but the arms are lifted straight out in front of the body and there isn’t a 90-degree bend in the elbows. During the alternating single-arm dumbbell raise, repetitions are alternated between the right and left arm. However, the exercise can be varied by lifting both arms at the same time or completing all reps on one side of the body before moving to the other side. 

How to do it: The client will grip the dumbbell with arms hanging at their sides and palms facing toward the wall behind them. With the core engaged, neutral pelvis, and a slight bend in the elbows, the client will raise the left arm in front of the body, stopping at shoulder height, and lowering back down to the starting position before repeating with the right arm. 

4. Arnold Press

The Arnold Press is similar to the dumbbell shoulder press, but it is executed with a little twist. 

How to do it: The client will begin in a seated position. With the core engaged, the client will flex the elbows to bring the dumbbells up near the face with the palms facing the wall behind them. In one motion, the client will rotate the palms toward the front wall and press the dumbbells up toward the ceiling. The client will slowly reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position. 

5. Reverse Fly

The reverse fly is a great exercise for the posterior deltoid and can help combat poor posture

How to do it: The client will begin standing with their feet shoulder-width apart. They will hinge at the hips and lower their upper body until it’s about parallel with the floor. The client should grip the dumbbells with the palms facing each other and the arms hanging toward the ground. The spine should be straight with the head and neck in alignment and the elbows should have a slight bend in them. The client will raise their arms out to the side and squeeze the shoulder blades together before slowly lowering back down to the starting position. 

6. Incline Dumbbell Row

The incline dumbbell is another strong exercise for the posterior deltoid (rear delt).

How to do it: An incline bench should be set to about 45 degrees. The client will lean on the bench with the front of their body resting on the inclined backrest and the toes pressed firmly on the floor. The arms should hang toward the ground and hands should grip the dumbbells with palms facing each other. The head and neck should be in alignment with the spine. The client will drive the elbows toward the ceiling, squeezing the shoulder blades at the top, and slowly lowering back into the starting position. 

As you build your clients’ programming for stronger shoulders, it’s important to include exercises that target the rear deltoid because they tend to be overlooked. 

However, don’t forget to include the other small but very important muscle group of the shoulder – the rotator cuff muscles. The shoulder joint is one of the most used joints in the body and this collection of muscles and tendons help support healthy shoulder movement and stabilize the shoulder joint.

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  1. Elzanie A, Varacallo M. “Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Deltoid Muscle.” StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan.

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