How to Work Out Your Deltoids

man doing a shoulder stretch

You know squats help you develop a booty, bench presses create enviable pecs and pull-ups sculpt your back, but you've never thought much about your shoulders.

The deltoids are key to giving your body the desirable V-shape, in which a strong upper body narrows down to a slim waist. Strong shoulders also balance out muscular arms and keep your body functioning optimally.

Your deltoids are composed of three sections: the anterior (or front), lateral (or top) and posterior (or rear). The anterior delts are responsible for flexion movement, such as raising your arms up in front of you or pushing forward. The lateral delts allow you to lift objects up to the sides, away from you. The posterior delts help your arms pull backward, such as during a row.


For a comprehensive deltoid workout that keeps the shoulders looking symmetrical and functioning seamlessly, address all of these parts of the joint with an equal number of exercises.

man doing front arm raise

Don't forget those delts!

Anterior Deltoids

Front Arm Raise: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging in front of your body. Raise the arms together until they are the height of your chin. Pause momentarily and then lower back down to complete one rep.

Angled Press: Lie on your back on a workout bench set at a 45-degree angle and plant your feet on the floor. Grab a set of dumbbells and extend your arms straight up over your chest with your palms facing each other. Bend your elbows to lower the weights toward your chest; the elbows come alongside your ribs at a 45-degree angle. Return to straight arms to finish one rep.

man doing lateral dumbbell raise

Don't forget those delts!

Lateral Deltoids

Lateral Dumbbell Raises: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and allow the arms to hang along the sides of your thighs. Raise the arms straight out to the sides of the room until they are parallel to the floor. Release back to a hang to complete one rep. Sit or stand while performing this move.

Upright Cable Rows: Attach a straight bar to a cable pulley set at the lowest level. Face the column and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly closer than shoulder-distance apart. Draw the bar up almost to your chin, allowing your elbows to wing out to the sides. Release back down slowly for one rep.

man doing a bent-over row

Don't forget those delts!

Posterior Deltoids

Bent-Over Rows: Bend over at a 45-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in each hand as the arms hang toward the floor. Draw the elbows back as you squeeze the shoulder blades together. Release back to a hang to complete one rep.

High Cable Row: Find a seated cable station or stand in front of a pulley set at chest height. Use a rope attachment and grasp each end. Sit or stand slightly back from the pulley to create light tension. Keep your upper arms parallel to the floor as you squeeze your shoulder blades and pull your elbows back. Your hands will come near your chest and your elbows form 90-degree angles. Slowly straighten the elbows to complete one rep.

The Logistics

Warm up with a few minutes of light cardio, arm circles and unweighted shrugs. If you're just starting out on a shoulder routine, one set of eight to 12 reps of each move two times per week suffices. Use a weight that feels heavy by the last couple of efforts in each set.

More seasoned trainees can work up to three sets of each exercise with 30 to 60 seconds of rest between them. Increase heft of the weights used when 12 reps becomes easy.

If you split your workout days between upper and lower body, work your the shoulders on the same days you do your chest, arms and back. Instead, you can make one day per week shoulder-specific, sandwiching it between a leg day and rest so as not to overtax the shoulders when they're again called to action on chest and back days.

Your shoulders don't exist in a vacuum. They're inextricably tied to other major muscle groups. For example, chest presses target the shoulders but also involve the chest and triceps; rows address the back of the shoulder, but also target muscles of the back and biceps.

Your routine then might look like this:

  • Monday: legs and abs
  • Tuesday: shoulders
  • Wednesday: rest
  • Thursday: back and biceps
  • Friday: chest and triceps
  • Saturday: legs and abs
  • Sunday: rest

Cautions and Considerations

The shoulder is a complex joint and using too much weight too soon can easily stress it. If you feel pain during an exercise, stop and give it a rest. If the pain persists for a few days, you'll need to consult a doctor.

Beginners should focus on form above all else. More advanced lifters can use the moves to develop shape and definition.