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10 Best Middle Delt Exercises (Undeniably Effective)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Last updated: May 29, 2023

Most of my fitness clients primarily focus on the muscles that garner the most attention — the biceps, abs, and glutes.

However, the often-overlooked middle delts deserve just as much attention in your workout routine.

To help you give your middle delts the attention they deserve, we have put together a list of effective exercises that will help you add size, definition, and strength to your middle delts.

Let’s dive in.

Quick Summary

  • Some of the best middle delt exercises include the incline bench press, cable lateral raise, side-lying lateral raise, and seated dumbbell lateral raise.
  • Middle delts, or medial delts, are one of the three heads that make up the shoulder muscles located in the middle part of the deltoid muscle.
  • Working out middle delts improves shoulder strength and stability, enhances shoulder muscle aesthetics, and reduces the risk of shoulder injuries.

10 Highly Effective Middle-Delt Exercises For a Stronger Back

Through years of experience and experimentation, I’ve developed a series of ten effective exercises that specifically target the middle delts and deliver results.

Before we dive into these exercises, let’s first understand what the delts are.

What Are the Middle Delts?

The middle delts, also known as the middle deltoid, are one of the three heads of the deltoid muscle located on the outermost part of the shoulder [1].

These muscle fibers are responsible for moving the upper arms away from the body in a lateral motion.

10 Best Middle-Delt Exercises

Middle-Delt Exercises flexing shoulder and back muscles

The ten best middle delt exercises are explained in detail below.

1. Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raises

The seated dumbbell lateral raise is a strength-training middle delt exercise that helps to create broader and more defined shoulders.

To perform it:

  1. Sit straight on an exercise bench with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold dumbbells at sides, palms facing in.
  3. Lift dumbbells to shoulder height and lower slowly.
  4. Do 10–15 reps.

“Your shoulders actually have three parts (or heads): your front, middle and rear deltoid. Lateral raises mainly target your middle delt.”

- Sandra Abla Leguede, Sports Nutritionist

2. Bent Arm Lateral Raises

The bent arm lateral raise is an exercise that targets the middle deltoids, with some involvement of the front deltoids and upper back muscles.

Follow these steps to do this exercise with perfect form:

  1. Hold two dumbbells while keeping your elbows tucked to your sides at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Maintaining a 90-degree angle, lift your arms to the sides until your dumbbells reach your shoulders.
  3. Lower the weights slowly to the starting position.
  4. Keep your deltoids engaged and repeat a great dumbbell arm workout for building muscle.

3. Cable Lateral Raises

Cable Lateral Raises in gym

Cable lateral raises maintain proper form and tension on your delts for optimal muscle growth without any breaks in the movement, resulting in a better pump and preventing mid-rep rests.

To perform them:

  1. Stand beside a cable machine with the handle set to its lowest, holding it with the farthest hand and the other hand on your hip.
  2. Raise your arm with a slight bend in the elbow until the handle aligns with your shoulder.
  3. Lower your arm and repeat for 10–12 reps on each arm.

4. Strict Overhead Press

This compound exercise works the delts, triceps, and upper back. It requires core activation, which can improve overall stability and balance.

“When performing an overhead press, the target muscle is the deltoid. The middle deltoid is dominant in this position while the anterior and poster assist in the abduction and stabilize the shoulder joint.”

- Cristian Cordova, Exercise Science Coach

Here’s how to perform it: 

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and grab the barbell with a double overhand grip at shoulder height.
  2. Contract your deltoids to press upward.
  3. Slowly lower the barbell back down.
  4. Repeat while keeping your lower body still.

5. Incline Bench Press

Holding two dumbbell doing incline bench press

The bench press allows for heavier weights than other middle delt exercises, making it an effective way to build strength and muscle mass in the shoulders.

To do the exercise:

  1. Set the bench to a 45-degree incline, and lie on it with your feet flat.
  2. Hold a barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and lower it slowly towards your chest.
  3. Push the barbell to the starting position while contracting your middle delts.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

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6. Side-Lying Lateral Raises

This middle delt exercise involves lying on your side with a dumbbell in your top hand and lifting it away from your body to shoulder height.

It improves shoulder stability and upper arm strength while also adding definition to the middle and lateral heads of the deltoid.

To do a side-lying lateral raise:

  1. Lie on a bench on your side and hold a dumbbell in one hand.
  2. Place the weight on your upper leg and bend your elbow slightly.
  3. Raise the dumbbell to parallel your body.
  4. Lower it back down slowly to the starting position.

7. Dumbbell L-Raise

Doing Dumbbell L-Raise

The dumbbell lateral raise is a middle delt exercise that increases shoulder strength and stability, improves posture, and enhances upper body aesthetics to produce broad, wide shoulders.

Follow these steps to perform a dumbbell L-raise:

  1. Hold dumbbells at your sides and bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
  2. Pull your shoulders down and back as you do so.
  3. Lift the weights parallel to the floor, keeping the angle of your elbows constant.
  4. Bring them back down to your sides and repeat.

8. Seated Shoulder Press

This popular shoulder exercise produces a strong muscle burn by using heavy weights. The bench’s

support enables the deltoids to exert more effort, making it a valuable exercise for building mass.

To perform a seated shoulder press:

  1. Set the bench at a 90-degree angle and sit with your back against the seat, holding dumbbells on your knees.
  2. With an overhand grip and bent arms, lift weights just above shoulders, elbows pointing out.
  3. Push weights up above you, but don't lock your arms out.
  4. Lower back down to shoulders and repeat.

9. Switch Side Pulses

Performing switch side pulses

This workout for the middle deltoids focuses on creating tension for a long time to cause the breakdown of muscle fibers in the lateral deltoid region.

Here’s how to perform it: 

  1. Raise your arms straight above and below your shoulders by contracting your middle deltoids.
  2. Pulse your arms up and down with your palms facing up.
  3. Alternate the position of your palms and continue pulsing for the desired number of reps.

10. Rear Delt Fly

This exercise is highly effective for targeting the middle and posterior deltoid as they bear the primary load in controlling the weight throughout the range of motion.

To perform a rear delt fly:

  1. Stand with your knees slightly bent, holding dumbbells in front of you.
  2. Keep your arms straight and extended while hinged forward.
  3. Raise the dumbbells, slightly bending your elbows until they align with your torso.
  4. Lower the weights to the starting position and repeat.

Why Should You Work the Middle Delts?

You should work the middle delts because it helps create more rounded shoulders, an important aesthetic goal for many fitness enthusiasts.

Strengthening the middle delts can also improve posture, as these muscles are crucial in stabilizing the shoulders and keeping them healthy [2].

Targeting the middle delts can improve upper body power and performance in bench and shoulder press exercises.

Related: Best Delt Exercises for Shoulder Development

Workout Split

Doing dumbbell raise

A middle delt workout split should include seated/standing dumbbell lateral raises, lateral cable raises, dumbbell L-raises, and compound exercises like an upright row and strict overhead press.

Vary the exercises and rep ranges to avoid plateauing and encourage muscle growth while keeping middle deltoid workouts fresh, interesting, and effective [3].

Aim to perform 3–4 sets of 8–12 reps for each exercise, with 60–90 seconds of rest between sets.

Increase weight and reps as you progress to challenge your muscles and avoid plateauing continuously.

Tips To Maximize Your Shoulder Gains

To optimize your shoulder gains, start with compound exercises that target the entire shoulder complex. Follow it up with isolation exercises that focus on the middle delts.

Use progressive overload, increase weight and volume gradually. Incorporate adequate rest and recovery time between workouts, especially during heavy lifts.

Also, fuel your body with adequate protein and nutrients to support muscle growth and repair.


What Does the Middle Deltoid Do?

The middle deltoid is responsible for shoulder abduction, i.e., moving the arm away from the body in the lateral direction.

What Exercise Hits All 3 Deltoids?

The exercise that hits all three deltoids is the overhead or military press, which targets the rear, middle, and anterior deltoid fibers.

Work Your Middle Delts

Shoulder exercises targeting middle deltoids help you build a well-defined upper body that looks great and is strong and functional.

Along with a consistent training program, consuming adequate protein is vital for muscle growth and recovery.

To meet your daily protein requirements, you can try one of the protein powders we extensively tested:

Products on these lists came on top in our testing, so make sure to check out the list.


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