This article is brought to you by ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association)

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 this article, we explore 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.

About the Deltoid Muscle Group

The deltoids are shoulder muscles. They allow you move your arms in all directions. They also provide stabilization and protection for the shoulder joint, reducing the risk of injury. 

The deltoid muscles sit on top of the shoulder and run along the back, front, and side. They are attached by tendons to the scapula (shoulder blade), clavicle (collarbone), and humerus (upper arm bone). The three parts, also known as heads, of the deltoids are: 

Anterior Deltoid
The anterior, or front, deltoids, cover the front of the shoulder and attach to the clavicle. They are responsible for flexion, moving the arm up and forward, in front of the body. 

Posterior Deltoid
The posterior, or back, delts, run along the back of the shoulder joint. They connect to the shoulder blade and allow the arm to move backward, a movement called extension. 

Lateral Deltoid
The lateral delts connect to a nob on the shoulder blade called the acromion. They help the arm move laterally, out to the side or in toward the body, (abduction and adduction) and also contribute to extension and flexion. 

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 workouts, 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 (1).

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.

Why Work on the Anterior Delts? 

Clearly, the deltoids are big and important as a muscle group. They are essential for arm movement and are recruited in all kinds of functional moves you make throughout the day. 

The front delts are necessary for any kind of forward movement. This includes day-to-day actions like reaching for something on a shelf, but also other strength exercises you do in the gym. 

Training the front delts for strength both helps you improve functional movements and reduce injury risks. The shoulders are highly susceptible to injuries from overuse or overtraining. The stronger they are, the more protected you are from injury. 

Finally, there are aesthetics. If you lift to look good, the front delts are a showpiece. Bulking up the shoulders is fairly easy compared to other muscles and add to overall upper body hypertrophy.  

Yoga can be a great tool for both preventing and healing from shoulder injuries. Find out why here

The Best Front Delt Exercises for Isolation

The best exercises for your front deltoids are compound. These are the movements that involve more joints and muscles and best mimic functional movements. On the other hand, there are some good reasons to isolate the front of the shoulder. 

Truthfully, for most gym-goers, there is no reason to isolate the front delts. The reason is that it is recruited in so many other exercises. Big compound movements involving the shoulders almost always strengthen the front delts along with other muscles. 

However, you might want to really hone in on your anterior delts for specific reasons, such as aesthetics. Or, maybe you can’t do some of the compound exercises due to injuries or pain. 

Whatever the reason, if you really want to isolate your anterior deltoid muscles, one of the best moves is the front raise. Holding dumbbells in front of the body with an overhand grip and straight elbows, raise them up to about shoulder height. 

For some variation, you can do front raises a few different ways: sitting or standing or with a cable pulley or resistance band. Change your hand grip to activate the muscles in different ways. You can also try a close grip holding on to just one heavy dumbbell. 

Try a scissors move too. With arms raised straight in front and at shoulder height, move both arms in and then out, crisscrossing in front of the body before moving laterally away.  

How about the often-overlooked forearms? Here are some great exercises to isolate these smaller muscles. 

Compound Exercises That Recruit the Anterior Delts

If you include compound exercises that work the front delts along with other muscles, you really don’t need the isolation moves. Try these for a more well-rounded shoulder workout that will still give you big, strong front delts: 

Shoulder Press


This simple exercise requires the entire shoulder but is one of the best movements for recruiting the front delts. You can also vary the basic shoulder press a couple of ways to put even more emphasis on the front delts. Try doing it while sitting to eliminate the momentum you get from your lower body in each lift. Hold the weights a little bit behind your head when doing the press. This puts more emphasis on the front of the shoulder. Using the Smith machine can also put more stress on the front delts. 

Pike Push-Ups


A simple push-up is one of the best compound exercises you can do, hitting muscles all over the upper body and core. While a standard push-up definitely gets your shoulders working, try doing one in a pike position. In push-up position, lift up your hips and butt and lower down and press up through the shoulders. You’ll feel the burn using nothing other than your bodyweight. 

Inclined Bench Press

A flat bench press is largely done as a chest exercise, but it requires good shoulder activation too. To recruit the shoulders more than the pecs, perform a bench press on an incline of about 30 or 45 degrees. 

Can You Overtrain the Front Delts? 

Overtraining the front delts is more common than many people realize. This is a testament to how many compound exercises activate them. For instance, most people don’t realize how much they work the front delts during a bench press they’re doing to build chest strength. 

Overdoing it on any muscle or muscle group can cause an imbalance in the body. Imbalances affect how you move in more ways than you can imagine and in many other exercises and day-to-day activities. Avoid overtraining to limit the risk of injuries caused by imbalances but also overuse injuries. 

If you do several of the compound shoulder exercises on shoulder or upper body days, you probably don’t need to add isolation exercises. If you do want to isolate the front delts, choose one exercise per workout to avoid overdoing it. 

Benefits of Greater Rear Deltoid Muscle Strength

Performing posterior deltoid exercises provides many benefits. Since this muscle helps keep the shoulders back, it supports a healthier posture. This is even more important for people who spend a lot of time at a desk. If the rear deltoids are weak, the shoulders can round forward. This posture compromises your structural alignment. It can also lead to pain in the shoulders, neck, and upper back area.

Working the rear delt also helps avoid muscle imbalance. In an upper body workout, several exercises focus on the front of the body. They work the front of the shoulder, the chest, and the biceps. Making sure the posterior muscles are worked as well keeps the body balanced. 

Another advantage of doing rear deltoid exercises is muscle growth. Put another way, the rear deltoid muscle looks bigger. This creates a fuller upper body appearance, which can be especially beneficial for professional bodybuilders and fitness competitors. But it’s also a benefit enjoyed by people who just want big, shapely shoulders.

There are also advantages associated with the boost in strength. Exercises that involve pulling motions, such as rows, become easier. Everyday activities are also easier to perform. It becomes less of a struggle to pull a backpack off the floor, for example. Or you may notice that it’s not as hard to pull your children or grandchildren around in a cart or sled.

4 Best Rear Delt Exercises for Building Shoulder Strength

What are some of the best exercises for building rear delt strength? Isolation exercises. These are exercises that target the posterior deltoid muscle, forcing it to work harder. This results in greater strength gains. Here are four rear delt isolation exercises to consider.

Rear Delt Fly

This shoulder exercise is sometimes spelled rear delt flye. Either way, the movement is the same. You can do it with dumbbells (a dumbbell rear delt fly), cables (a cable rear delt fly), or another type of resistance.

To do it, sit on an incline bench at a 45-degree angle with your chest against the back pad. Hold the weights using a neutral grip, or palms facing each other. Squeeze the shoulder blades as you lift the weights out to the side. The arms are extended and the elbows are slightly bent. 

Stop when the weights are about shoulder height. Hold for one second, then lower the weights back to the starting position. It’s important to perform the entire movement with control. Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Rear Delt Row

Like with the rear delt fly, you can also perform this exercise with different types of resistance. You can do a cable rear delt row, a rear delt barbell row, or a rear delt row with resistance bands. You can also use a barbell. If you do, grab the bar with an overhand grip. Your palms should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

To do this exercise, sit on a bench and hinge forward at the waist until your upper body is at a 45-degree angle. Hold the weights using an overhand grip. Keep your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart. 

Bend the elbows to pull the weight up, toward your chest. Stop when your elbows are a little higher than your shoulders. Lower the weight and return to the starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Rear Delt Raise

You will definitely feel a burn in your rear delt muscles when doing a rear delt raise. That’s why it made the list of best rear delt exercises.

To perform this exercise, sit on a bench and hinge forward slightly at the waist, or your upper body is at a 45-degree angle. Keep your back flat and your hips pushed back. Hold the weights using an overhand grip, letting them hang toward the floor. Arms are extended and the elbows are bent slightly.

Raise the weights laterally, as if pushing your pinky fingers toward the ceiling. Stop when your elbows are slightly lower than your shoulders. Then, slowly return the weight to the starting position. Aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. 

On a side note, one study looked at several rear delt exercises to determine which were best for increasing the activation of this muscle (2). It found that two were superior for this purpose: the seated rear raise and incline row. 

Face Pull

The face pull is another isolation exercise that targets the posterior deltoid. This movement is often performed using a cable pulley machine. Though, if you have an over-the-door suspension training system, this would work as well.

To do it, you grasp a handle in each hand, then step back. Once the arms are fully extended (with elbows slightly bent), lean back slightly. Pull the shoulders back, then slowly pull the rope toward the face. Once the hands are next to the face, reverse the movement back to the starting position.

Keep good posture throughout this exercise and aim for 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Additional Rear Delt Exercises for Stronger Shoulders

A few other exercises help provide a good rear delt workout. They include the:

You may notice that these all have one thing in common: they are each a compound exercise. Since they don’t isolate the posterior deltoid, they work other muscles as well. So, they still help build strength in the rear delt, just to a lesser extent.

Incorporating Rear Delt Training into the Exercise Plan

Rear delt exercises can be included as part of an upper body or total body workout. The former helps you better target all your upper body muscles. The latter saves time, enabling you to work your upper body, lower body, and core in one training session. If you break your workouts down by muscle group, you can also put these exercises in your dedicated shoulder workout.

Regardless of where these rear delt exercises fall in your training program, allow adequate recovery between sessions. This means waiting at least 48 hours before working on them again. 

Putting It All Together

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 helps support healthy shoulder movement and stabilize the shoulder joint.


1. Is it too late to save your posture? Harvard Health. (2022, April 7). Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-it-too-late-to-save-yo...
2. Sweeney, S. P. (2014, May 1). Electromyographic analysis pf the deltoid muscle during various shoulder exercises. MINDS@UW Home. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/70129 


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