14 Best Anterior Deltoid Exercises (Build Bigger Shoulders)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 27, 2024
FACT CHECKED by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
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The anterior deltoid is the biggest of all the deltoid heads and plays a significant role in many big, complex upper body motions.

All pressing exercises, including bench presses, push-ups, and overhead presses, engage your anterior delts.

As a certified fitness trainer, I have put together this guide that'll explain the anatomy of the deltoid, its functions, and the best exercises you can perform to develop your anterior delts.

Quick Summary

  • Several workouts target the anterior deltoids, but strengthening them may be extremely useful for upper body development and general health.
  • Well-developed anterior delts create an individual separation between the shoulder and chest muscles that helps them stick out and appear more prominent.
  • According to a review from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, over 36% of resistance training injuries are shoulder-related.
  • If you desire larger and stronger shoulders, use a combination of isolation and compound exercises to build your deltoids.

The Best Workouts for Anterior Deltoid

A couple working out their anterior deltoids

Based on years of experience training various clients, I've put together a list of the best exercises to help you build strong, bulging anterior delts.

1. Barbell Overhead Press

The shoulder press is the king of all shoulder exercises for building broad, round shoulders.

Bodybuilders' favorite shoulder exercise is the seated shoulder press because it builds strength quickly and is powerful.

Doing the exercise while sitting upright is a more stringent variant than standing because it prevents the weight from being lifted upward by the momentum created by the legs.

"Begin with a weight you can manage for 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 10 repetitions for barbell overhead presses. Pick a weight that will allow you to keep good form across all sets and repetitions."

- Joe Holder, Master Trainer

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Sit on a flat bench and use an overhand grip to hold a barbell.
  2. Bring the barbell over your head, beneath your chin, and slightly over your upper chest.
  3. Straight up above, press the bar until your arms are entirely stretched but not locked.
  4. Lower the bar slowly back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

2. Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press is a version of the incline bench press and an upper chest-building workout.

I've found that using dumbbells will also help to create balanced and equivalent strength on both sides of the chest.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. With a neutral grip, grab the dumbbells from the floor (palms facing in). Place the dumbbell ends in the hip crease and sit on the edge of an incline bench.
  2. Lay back and bring the dumbbells close to the chest to get into position. Take a deep breath and push the weights to lock out at the top once you're in position.
  3. Lower the dumbbells as slowly and gently as possible (the handles must be about chest level).
  4. Push the weights upward to their starting position by contracting the chest.
  5. Repeat for reps.

3. Incline Bench Press

A woman doing an incline bench press

The Incline bench press is a complex upper-body exercise, which means that it involves many joints and muscles.

It is a version of the bench press and a workout for developing chest muscles.

Like its dumbbell variation, this exercise hits the triceps and pecs.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Sit on an incline bench. Ensure the inclination on the bench is set to about 30 to 45 degrees.
  2. Remove it from the rack with a shoulder-width overhand hold on the bar. Hold it over your head, arms clasped.
  3. Slowly lower the bar until you feel it on your chest. At this point, take a brief pause.
  4. Lift your arms till they are almost entirely locked out.
  5. Repeat until the required number of repetitions has been reached.

4. Arnold Press

The sitting Arnold press is a version of the seated dumbbell press.

What I find great about this exercise is that it targets every single deltoid head in one move.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Set up a 90-degree adjustable angle bench and choose a weight from the rack.
  2. With a neutral grip, grab the weights from the floor (palms facing in).
  3. Sit on the bench with the end of the weights on your knees.
  4. Kick the knees up one at a time in a safe and controlled action to secure each dumbbell.
  5. Rotate both palms, so they face you after the dumbbells are in position.
  6. Take a deep breath, then extend the elbows and engage the deltoids to press the dumbbells above.
  7. During the press, pivot the dumbbells so that your palms face front.
  8. Return the dumbbells to their starting position slowly (the arms should be about 90 degrees or lower, depending on your limb lengths).
  9. Repeat until the required number of repetitions has been reached.

 

 

 

5. Push Press 

A person doing a push press in the gym

The push press is another traditional barbell workout. It may also be performed with dumbbells or kettlebells.

The push press requires you to use your legs to propel the load up and overhead, making it one of my favorite compound movements.

While some may consider using the legs as cheating, I think it's an excellent way to lift bigger weights or extend the set past failure.

To optimize deltoid activation, drop the bar under control.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Stand with your legs shoulder to hip-width apart.
  2. Rack and hold the bar across the front of the shoulders with an overhand grip. Your arms should be wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift your elbows just enough to put them at the front of the bar.
  3. Brace your core, lower and back your shoulders, and raise your chest.
  4. Bend both knees and drop into a quarter-depth squat without leaning forward. Suppose you're prepping to do a vertical leap. Keep your heels firmly planted on the ground.
  5. Extend both knees and hips quickly and utilize this momentum to propel the weight up and overhead.
  6. Take the bar above with your hips, knees, and arms outstretched.
  7. Return the bar to the shoulders and repeat.

6. Seated Shoulder Press

The overhead shoulder press is a cornerstone for developing baseline strength and a well-balanced body.

Using dumbbells instead of a barbell allows the user to build both sides of the muscle equally.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Set up a 90-degree changeable angle bench and choose a load from the rack. You can also perform on a flat bench.
  2. With a neutral grip, grab the weights from the floor (palms facing in). Sit on the bench with the end of the weights on your knees.
  3. Kick the knees up one at a time in a safe and controlled action to secure each dumbbell.
  4. Rotate the palms, so they face front after the dumbbells are in position.
  5. Take a deep breath, straighten the elbows, and engage the deltoids to press the dumbbells above.
  6. Return the dumbbells to their starting position slowly.
  7. Repeat for reps.

Also Read: 5 Best At-Home Shoulder Workouts

 

 

 

7. Handstand Push-up

A person doing handstand pushups

I wouldn't recommend this exercise to beginners.

These are more complex workouts that necessitate a unique set-up. But, they provide a fantastic set of advantages unlikely to be obtained from any other activity.

To do handstand push-ups, you must first be able to invert yourself. And if you can get to that stage, you must have fine-tuned management of your body when it's upside-down.

"This is an extremely high-level technique that should not be attempted casually since it includes going upside down, which can be harmful if you lack the necessary strength."

- Grayson Wickham, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Stand facing the wall. Bend your knees and set your hands six to twelve inches from the wall, fingers wide and pushing into the ground.
  2. Kick yourself into a handstand. Kick strongly enough to get up in one motion but not hard enough that your feet bounce off the wall.
  3. Tuck your tailbone under, bring the navel to the spine, tighten your abs, and squeeze your glutes to keep yourself stable once inverted. Your entire body should create a single, solid, straight line.
  4. Drop to the mat below your head by bending your elbows. Employ control so you don't bang your head on the floor.
  5. Extend your arms to push your torso back up. Press into the floor as if you were pushing a barbell over the head. Maintain a tight and engaged core to keep the spine from overextending.
  6. At the peak of the press, completely extend your arms (lock out the elbows) and reset to drop for another rep.
  7. Don't jump right onto the following rep. Make sure you initially re-engage your core.

8. Cable Front Raise

I love using the cable pulley machine because it maintains continual stress on the target muscle area as you move the load through its range of motion.

The cable front raise can also be done with a rope connection or a single stirrup, one hand at a time.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Connect a straight bar to a small cable pulley. Use a shoulder-width or broader overhand hold to grab the bar.
  2. Stand near the pulley with your back straight and shoulders back.
  3. Exhale as you move the bar up the front of the body to shoulder height.
  4. Hold for a period of two counts. Inhale as you drop the bar to its starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

 

 

 

9. Pike Push-up

A person doing a pike push up

Pike or shoulder push-ups are a push-up variation that builds stability and strength in the triceps and shoulders.

When performed in a more upright posture, the exercise will focus on the shoulders rather than the chest.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Begin in a typical push-up posture, with your arms slightly broader than shoulder-width apart and your elbows fully extended.
  2. Raise your hips up and back till your torso forms an inverted V. Maintain as much straightness as possible in your arms and legs.
  3. Drop the top of the head slowly to the ground. Pause for a second when the head is almost in contact with the ground.
  4. Push back carefully until the arms are straight and you're in an inverted V position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

10. Dumbbell Front Raise

Front raises are among the most effective and significant isolation anterior deltoid exercises for increasing muscle development and strength.

If you desire more prominent, defined shoulders, include a front raise in your workout routine.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Choose a set of dumbbells and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the weights with your hands fully stretched in front of you, down near your thighs.
  3. Employ an overhand grip (palms facing the body). Hold the dumbbells about four inches away from your body. This is your starting point.
  4. Begin by extending your hands straight before you, palms towards the floor. Maintain a slight bend in the elbow.
  5. Continue lifting the dumbbells out in front of you, moving just at the shoulders and maintaining your body as steady as possible until your hands are parallel to the ground.
  6. Pause briefly at the top of the action before carefully lowering the dumbbells to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Read also: Best Upper Body Dumbbell Workout for Toning Your Muscles

11. Dumbbell Overhead Press

A person doing a dumbbell overhead press

One of the best things about the dumbbell overhead press is that it activates your core throughout its range of motion.

In my early days, I'd do this exercise as part of my routine to develop a strong core.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells.
  2. Stand with both feet hip-width apart and slightly bent knees.
  3. Maintain a tall stance with your chest forward and the shoulder blades pulled back.
  4. Flex your shoulders and tighten your core.
  5. Elevate the dumbbells a little higher than your shoulders.
  6. Maintain a straight line with your elbows and hands facing front. Here is where you'll begin.
  7. Keep your stance and maintain the wrists neutral while pressing the dumbbells toward the ceiling. Maintain synchronized arm motions.
  8. Your hands should be straight above and your elbows slightly bent at the top of your motions.
  9. Bend your elbows to begin the descending phase.
  10. The dumbbells should be just over shoulder level after the action.
  11. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

12. Behind the Neck Press

The behind-the-neck pressing exercises activate the traps, triceps, rhomboids, lateral delts, and the three heads of the shoulder.

I advise you not to do this exercise if you lack shoulder mobility.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Adjust the bar to around shoulder height before loading the necessary weight onto the barbell when standing.
  2. Put an adjustable bench in an upright position beneath the bar.
  3. Sit on the bench and use a pronated grip to unrack the bar.
  4. Inhale, brace, and tuck your chin before lowering the barbell to the back of the neck.
  5. Exhale and return the bar to the lockout position.
  6. Repeat for reps.

13. Landmine Overhead Press

A person doing a landmine overhead press

The landmine shoulder press is fantastic because it puts most of the weight on the shoulders by keeping the load in line with the shoulder (rather than shifting it towards the center of your torso as you would for a landmine chest press with both hands).

This implies that the benefit of this workout is improving shoulder size while also strengthening the deltoids and scapular stabilizers.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Begin by ensuring the barbell is tightly wedged in a landmine trap or corner.
  2. Kneel and use one hand to grip the loaded end of the barbell. Tuck the elbow into your side and clean the weight to shoulder height. Your legs should be shoulder-width apart and level.
  3. With one hand, push the weight up until your arm is extended, keeping the core braced, and knees relaxed. Push your torso forward slightly while you press and activate your core muscles to aid with stability.
  4. After reaching the top, carefully return the weight to your shoulder and continue the overhead press until you've finished your set.

14. Barbell Upright Row

Upright rows develop deltoid (shoulder) and trapezius mass, form, and strength, which are excellent additions to any well-rounded training routine.

It's worth noting that a narrow grip induces more trapezius participation, whereas a broader grasp encourages more shoulder involvement.

Here's how you do this exercise with good form:

  1. Hold the barbell with an overhand grip at least six inches wide and (cautiously) stand so that it rests on your thighs.
  2. Tighten your abs (and maintain them tight throughout the action), then draw the weight up to just behind your chin (with your elbows pointed outward to the sides and elevated as high as possible), exhaling throughout.
  3. Exhale as you slowly drop the barbell to the beginning position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Why You Should Mix Up Your Anterior Delt Lifts

A person working out his anterior deltoids

We've provided plenty of workouts that focus on the anterior deltoid for the following reasons:

  • You could mix things up: Start with a few workouts, but swap things around when you become bored or see declining benefits.
  • Versatility: Many of the above exercises require varied or no equipment, so you can get an excellent shoulder workout regardless of location (home, gym, vacation, or otherwise).
  • Work through shoulder problems: Some workouts will be easier on the shoulder than others. Finding an activity that suits you rather than avoiding the muscle group is preferable. (Note: If you have a concern, always consult a physician or a therapist first).
  • Prevent muscle imbalances through compound movements: Incorporating a mix of compound and isolation exercises ensures that you build a strong and well-balance physique.

Deltoid Muscle Anatomy

A person looking at his deltoid muscles

The delts are the primary muscles that give your shoulder its rounded shape [1].

They're essential for gross arm movement (shoulder flexion, abduction, extension, and rotation) and shoulder joint stability.

While the deltoid is considered a single muscle, it comprises three sets of muscle fibers and muscular bellies known as "heads." Each head has its attachment point.

The deltoid muscle has three heads:

  • Anterior
  • Lateral
  • Posterior

Here's a little bit more about each of them.

1. Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid is also known as the front delt.

It grows from your collarbone and enters the humerus (upper arm).

The primary purpose of the anterior deltoid is to move the arm forward, up, and toward your center [2].

2. Lateral Deltoid

The lateral deltoid is sometimes called the side, middle, or outer delt.

It emerges from the acromion process on the shoulder blade and penetrates your humerus.

The primary function of your lateral deltoid is shoulder abduction or raising your shoulder to the side [3].

3. Posterior Deltoid

The posterior deltoid, called the rear delt, grows from the scapula's spine (the top section of the shoulder blade) and enters into your humerus.

The primary function of the posterior delt is to move your arm forth and backward [4].

The Function of the Anterior Deltoid

A person looking at his anterior deltoids

Like all three deltoid heads, the anterior fibers contribute to shoulder abduction or extending your hand out and away from your body.

Nonetheless, the primary function of the anterior deltoids is shoulder flexion (lifting your hand up and forward) and internal (medial) rotation [5].

Both shoulder flexion (lifting your hand up and forward, i.e., pushes) and internal rotation play an essential role (bringing your hand in, i.e., flies).

Any workout or action that includes the pec major will inevitably engage the front deltoids and vice-versa.

That being said, the pec major is best positioned to control shoulder flexion when your arms are farther out to the sides (i.e., wide grip flat bench press), while your front delts are better placed to control it when your arms are closer to your sides or overhead.

How To Train Anterior Deltoid Muscles

A person training his anterior deltoid muscles

While several workouts engage the anterior deltoid, most front delt exercises fall into two categories: presses and raises.

Both raises and presses cause shoulder flexion, which the anterior delts control.

Presses like the overhead and incline bench presses are the pinnacle of anterior deltoid strength training.

It is a complex exercise that works with a variety of muscle fibers.

Isolation front delt exercises include shoulder front raises and many more variations.

Front delts react well to modest weights and heavy volume, especially in hypertrophy.

Because this deltoid head is engaged in every chest workout, it may not require much extra training.

Incorporate these best pre-workout supplements into your weekly routine for the energy, focus, pump, and concentration required for the anterior delt exercises.

Benefits of Strong, Well-Built Deltoids

A woman with a strong anterior deltoids

Besides looking attractive, big, powerful, and rounded, shoulders have various advantages.

The deltoids belong to our essential muscles since they are used in everyday tasks such as pushing, pulling, and lifting items above our heads.

"Shoulders play a crucial functional part in our lives, from day-to-day chores like carrying or lifting objects to keeping a decent upright posture. In terms of looks, our clothes fit best on well-developed and rounded shoulders. People with well-defined shoulders appear larger and more proportionate."

- Preetesh Manas, American Council for Sports & Medicine-Certified Personal Trainer

The advantages of having robust, well-built anterior delts are as follows:

  • Sturdy front delts will make hand movements that necessitate internal rotation, shoulder flexion, and abduction more solid and productive.
  • It will enhance the overall appearance and firmness of your shoulders.
  • They aid in the protection of your shoulder joint by keeping it steady during arm motions.
  • When completing a bench press, the front deltoid muscle helps to stabilize the weight. Performing the best anterior deltoid exercises will transfer strength to your other exercises.

How to Target Your Front Deltoids for Size and Strength

A person working out and targeting his front deltoids

Here's how you can build a large, functional, and strong front delts.

1. Volume and Frequency

Preferably, you should target your front delts with 10 to 12 sets each week, divided into two to three sessions.

For more advanced individuals, the number of sets a week may need to be increased to 10 to 15+.

Most people believe that the front delts heal at a slower rate.

As a result, if you wish to train them primarily, aim for 2x per week, at most 3x, with a 48-hour recovery period between front delt exercises.

Note that the front delts are exercised alongside chest movements; therefore, doing too much volume for your front delts may affect your chest training.

An illustration of 12 sets each week could go as follows:

  • Shoulder day: 3 sets of the overhead press, three sets of Arnold press, three sets of front raises
  • Chest day: 3 sets of incline bench press

With that, you'd have an overall volume of 12 sets of direct front delt exercises.

This should suffice for the majority of trainees.

Your front delts will be stimulated even more than this because they will be active to a lesser extent during push-ups, flat bench presses, flies, and other shoulder movements.

2. Rep Ranges and Load

A person working out his anterior deltoids

To train your anterior deltoids effectively, balance your reps with the right weight. These muscles respond well to both heavy weights for lower reps (3 to 10) and lighter weights for higher reps (10 to 15).

Optimal exercises include incline presses, overhead presses, and front raises.

For building strength, incline and overhead presses are ideal, working best with 3 to 6 reps at heavy weights or 6 to 12 reps at moderate weights.

Front raises are more effective with medium to lightweight for 8 to 15+ reps.

Ensure you choose a weight that challenges you in the final reps while maintaining good form, especially since it's easy to cheat with front raises.

3. Rest and Recovery

In my experience as a fitness trainer, I've noticed that the delts are the muscles most easily prone to injury, which is why rest and recovery are crucial.

According to a review from The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, over 36% of resistance training injuries are shoulder-related [6].

I highly advise not doing delt workouts if your shoulders are still recovering from a previous workout.

Make sure you drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and eat a high-protein diet to rebuild your delts.

FAQs

What Exercise Works the Anterior Deltoid?

The incline and overhead press are the most effective anterior deltoid exercises for developing anterior delt strength. These work well in the 3 to 12-rep range. Three to six repetitions with heavy weight and six to 12 reps with moderate weight.

What Are 3 Exercises for the Deltoids?

Three anterior deltoid exercises are the dumbbell overhead press, dumbbell upright row, and rear delt fly.

Do Bicep Curls Work Anterior Deltoids?

Yes, bicep curls work anterior deltoids. Biceps curls help in shoulder rehabilitation. The biceps are predominantly elbow flexors but also help with shoulder flexion.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537056/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12712801/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042752/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3607282/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12750133/
  6. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2010/06000/shoulder_injuries_attributed_to_resistance.36.aspx
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Connor Sellers holds a degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from Rutgers University He is an author and personal trainer with the mission to inspire people to relentlessly pursue their fitness and lifestyle goals. He mantra is that staying fit has an overall positive effect on one’s body, mind, and spirit.
Learn more about our editorial policy
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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