Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: April 26, 2021

I’ve worked with quite a few people who spent a lot of time bulking up their biceps and triceps but ended up with shoulders that didn’t look the part.

Isolating the front deltoid muscles seems to be something commonly overlooked, which is why we decided to put together a list of the best exercises to target these muscle groups.

The best part is that you’ll only need to pick 3 or 4 of them for your arm and shoulder days to start seeing a difference.

So, let me show you how to best target those front delts.

Our Top Front Delt Exercises

The first thing I’d say is that you shouldn’t do all of these exercises as one single routine. It wouldn’t be the best idea to isolate one area in this way for most people.

So, aim to pick 3 or 4 exercises and add them to your arms and shoulders training days as needed.

Here’s the first one.

1. Front Raises

man doing front raises with a dumbbell

Front raises are the go-to exercise for targeting your delts, and if there’s only time for one of these movements in your routine, then choose this one.

There are three ways I suggest you do these.

My favorite is to stand tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Grab hold of an Olympic weight plate and hold it with both hands at about hip-high.

Slowly lift the plate up to about shoulder height while keeping your arms straight.

At the top of each rep, hold the plate for 1 or 2 seconds and then slowly release it back to the starting position.

The second option is similar, but you start off with a dumbbell in each hand next to your body. You can either lift the dumbbells simultaneously or one at a time, but if you want to make the exercise more effective, I’d recommend lifting them at the same time.

Finally, try to do the dumbbell raises while sitting on a workout bench with the backrest at a 30% angle. I find that this activates your front delt muscles a lot more effectively.

Read More: How To Get Wide Shoulders?

2. Shoulder Press

I usually plan my shoulder press routine right after finishing standard dumbbell presses because I have everything I need ready to go with less downtime between sets.

Set up your bench with the backrest in a near-vertical position, and then grab onto one dumbbell in each hand. Lift your hands to about head-high with your palms facing forward and your elbows at a right angle.

Avoid having the dumbbells right above your shoulders, as this can add strain to your rotator cuffs. 

Push the weights up slowly and then return to the starting position for 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps.

You also have two alternatives to this.

One option is to use a barbell, which many athletes do when they reach higher weight ranges.

You can also do this exercise standing up, which would engage your core along with your front delts, as your body will need to work more to stay balanced.

3. Military Press

woman holding a dumbbell

The military press is something I’d only suggest if you’ve become used to the shoulder press as it’s a slightly more difficult type of overhead press.

Start in a standing position with your feet about hip-wide apart.

Hold each dumbbell at about shoulder-height, but this time you want to keep your elbows more in front of you rather than to the side.

Your palms will be facing each other, and from here, you start the upwards push until both arms are fully extended.

The important thing is that you want to rotate your hands to the point where your palms are facing forward when you get to the top.

Then, slowly lower the dumbbells and repeat for 8 reps over 3 sets.

You should find that the narrower your stance is, the more your core muscles will engage as your body fights to maintain its balance.

And if you are not a fan of weights, you can do this exercise using resistance bands.

4. Arnold Press

If they’re good enough for the Terminator, then you should be adding these to your training as well.

The Arnold press is another variation of the shoulder press that activates more muscle groups around your shoulders through the introduction of more arm rotation.

Start in a standing position with a dumbbell in each hand as if you were at the top of a regular biceps curl.

As you start to press your arms up, turn your elbows outward. At about the halfway point, your palms should be facing forward, and you continue to a fully extended position.

It sounds a bit more complicated than it actually is, but I would still suggest starting with a lighter load just to get into the rhythm of the exercise.

Keep in mind that if you want to increase the weight load, then you might be more comfortable on a bench.

What I like about this one is that it activates the front and rear delts.

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5. Standing Dumbbell Row

man doing a standing dumbbell row

The upright row is more of a compound exercise as it will engage your shoulders, deltoid, arms, and core.

While it looks like a simple movement, it’s important to get the setup right to avoid unnecessary shoulder strain and injuries [1].

Choose either a barbell or two dumbbells and lift them up into a standing position. Your palms should face your body, and the weights should be about hip-high.

Your hands also need to remain a bit more than shoulder-width apart, which is easier to achieve with a barbell.

Pull up the weight in a slow and steady motion until you reach about chest-height, allowing your elbows to flare out to the side.

On the return, make sure that you don’t allow the weight to “drop,” as this can damage the joints in your shoulders and elbows.

Keep it slow rather than going for the show-off approach to training with the heaviest possible weight.

“Deltoid strains can be caused by numerous mechanisms. Most commonly, they result from overuse of the muscle without adequate rest. This can lead to discomfort in the area of the deltoid muscle with associated swelling and loss of function.” - Brian J. Ludwig, MD, and writer at SportsMD.com.

6. Shrugs

Many people think these exercises purely target the traps, but you’ll be surprised how well they work for the deltoid as well.

The easiest way to start is with dumbbells held in each hand beside your body. You pull your shoulders up and slightly back while holding the squeeze at the top.

To activate the deltoid a bit more, you’ll also want to lift your hands up a little allowing your elbows to bend.

Some of my clients find this easier with a barbell. What the barbell also does is position your arms slightly in front of your body, which tends to engage the front delt muscle a bit easier.

You might feel like you can do a load of reps here, but I strongly suggest slowing things down, grabbing a heavier load, and remembering to hold the squeeze at the top.

Other types of exercises:

7. Lateral Raises

man doing lateral raise with a dumbbell

This is a great way to follow on from dumbbell shrugs as you’ll have the right set up and probably only need a lower weight.

Stand tall with the dumbbells hanging down to the side of your body and the palms faced towards your thighs.

Before you start to pull up the weights, be sure that you engage your upper back muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Avoid rounding out your back.  Start the movement by pulling up your arms in a wing-like motion until you reach about shoulder-height.

You should feel this in your front delts, traps, and upper back area as well, giving you a solid compound exercise.

While you only want to do about 8 reps in each of 3 sets, make sure that you can raise the dumbbells to the top for all of them.

If that means using a lower weight, that’s fine.

But avoid doing these exercises to a gradually lower level as that won’t fully engage your front delt.

8. Decline Push-Ups

You’ll need a bit of flexibility for these, and I’d also advise using a set of push-up stands. They will give you more flexibility, reduce the strain on your wrists, and give you a longer range of motion.

One way to do these is to get into a downward dog position. While keeping your legs perfectly straight, bend your elbows to allow your upper body to lower down towards the ground.

From there, push back up to complete the movement in the starting position.

An alternative is to put your feet on top of a bench so that you’re in a downward-facing push-up position. Ideally, your chest should be slightly lower than your ankles to force more pressure on your deltoid muscles [2].

9. Front Cable Raise

man doing front cable raises

This is a good alternative to the standard front raises using free weights, as some people prefer using machines.

Set up a cable machine with the appropriate weight and a short straight handle.

Start with a pronated grip and your arms straight and pointing down at a slight angle to your body.

From here, slowly pull your arms up until they reach a horizontal position and hold it for a second.

Then slowly lower your arms to the starting position of the movement.

One tip I give my clients is to count to 3 on the way up and again on the way back down, as this is not an exercise that is about speed.

10. EZ Bar Press

The final recommendation to work on your front delts is to use an EZ bar to do some modified overhead presses.

First, make sure you set your incline bench to fully vertical. Your starting position is sitting upright with the center of the EZ bar right under your chin.

Don’t lower it to your shoulders; you need to start from a higher position.

Your elbows should be facing outwards and your palms forward, and then you push up the bar until your arms are fully stretched above your head.

Here’s the tricky part.

You’ll need to move your head out of the way on the way up and down. As you push up, tilt your head back and then look straight forward again. On the way back down, tilt it back again until the bar reaches your chin.

Other Shoulder Exercises: Rear Delt Cable Fly (How-to-Guide)

Are You Going To Try These Front Delt Exercises?

It should be easy for you to change or extend your shoulder training sets by picking a few of the above exercises.

My final tip would be to keep the reps down in each of the sets as the front delt muscle responds much better to heavier strain than higher repetitions.

You won’t be disappointed with the results of more defined and broader shoulders.


References:

  1. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19531264/deltoid-muscle-strain-front/
  2. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Deltoid

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