Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Certified Trainer’s Best Exercises for Working The Sides of Your Shoulders

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: November 11, 2022

A broad set of shoulders is the embodiment of power. And developed lateral deltoid muscles create an impressive cap on top of your arms.

But the shoulder is a complex joint made up of multiple muscles. And it can be difficult to know how to train to make your shoulders grow while avoiding injury.

For this reason, I’m giving you the best lateral deltoid exercises for building boulder shoulders.

Lateral Deltoid Exercises

What Are Lateral Deltoids?

The term lateral deltoid sounds complicated at first. But deltoid simply means three and refers to the fact that the shoulder actually has three distinct muscles. And lateral means to the side or in the middle.

The frontal (coronal) plane divides the three shoulder muscles front to back. So they are called the anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear) deltoids.

Therefore, the lateral deltoid is also called the side delt because it’s between the front and back, facing the side.

Deltoid Anatomy

Benefits of Building Lateral Delts

Developing all three deltoid muscles is crucial to create proportioned shoulders and avoid injury caused by muscle imbalances. But bringing your lateral delts up in the process has several benefits.

First, the lateral delt gives your shoulders more width when viewed from the front or back. So if you want broader shoulders, you can achieve this to some extent with lateral delt exercises.

Second, well-developed lateral delts create a defined separation between the arm and shoulder muscles. This split between the muscles makes them stand out and look more prominent.

And lastly, solid lateral delts increase your strength on compound movements like the overhead press.

  • Make your shoulders appear wider.
  • Create separation between your shoulders and arms.
  • Increase strength in other exercises.

How To Work The Lateral Deltoid

The primary function of the lateral deltoid is arm abduction. In other words, it helps lift your arm up and away from your body (I remember this by thinking of alien abduction 😂).

Therefore, side raise exercises are the most effective way to train the lateral delt. And there are a few variations you can use that I’ll explain below.

However, the lateral delt also gets used in front raises, overhead presses, and other movements. So the list of lateral deltoid exercises is quite large.

Lateral Deltoid Exercises

To make this list of lateral deltoid exercises easier to digest, I’ve divided it into sections based on the equipment used. There is a section for dumbbells, cables, barbells, machines, resistance bands, and “other.”

This segmentation also makes it easier for you to find the exercises that work with your available gym equipment. So whether you work out at a fancy health club or in your backyard, there are at least a few exercises for lateral deltoids that you can do.

Dumbbell Lateral Deltoid Exercises

You can do all of the lateral delt exercises in this section with a set of light to medium-weight dumbbells.

1. Arnold Dumbbell Press

The Arnold dumbbell press was popularized by “numero uno” in the golden era of bodybuilding. And, unlike traditional shoulder presses, the Arnold press involves a twist.

Moreover, the twisting motion as you press the dumbbells accentuates the lateral delt during the exercise.

2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Another staple lateral delt exercise is the dumbbell lateral raise. And it’s arguably the best for isolating the side delt.

The lateral raise involves lifting dumbbells from your sides to about shoulder level without bending your arms. And you can do this exercise standing or seated on a bench.

How to do the Seated Lateral Raise

3. Dumbbell Upright Row

The upright row is a popular exercise for targeting the rear delts and traps. But it also works the lateral deltoids quite well.

For this variation, stand with a dumbbell in each hand on the front of your thighs. Then pull the dumbbells straight up the front of your body to about neck level.

Lateral Deltoid Exercises - Dumbbell Upright Row

4. Dumbbell Standing Around the World

The around-the-world exercise involves rotating both of your arms up and down along the sides of your body. For example, think of the arm movement during a jumping jack or snow angel.

When doing this exercise specifically for the shoulders, you should be standing.

Lateral Deltoid Exercises - Standing Around The Worlds

5. Dumbbell Front Raise

The dumbbell front raise is like the lateral raise, except you lift the weights to the front of your body without bending your arms. While the anterior arm angle involves more front delt, it works the side delts too.

When doing front raises for side delts, keep your palms down. This hand position rotates your elbow externally, engaging the lateral delt more.

6. Alternating Front & Lateral Raise

One of my favorite shoulder day finishers is alternating front and lateral raises. You can use moderate weights, but I like using lighter dumbbells and high reps to burn out the muscles.

For this exercise, both arms work simultaneously, but one arm does a front raise, and the other does a lateral raise. Then alternate and do the opposite with each rep.

Cable Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Next up are the cable exercises for lateral deltoids. You will need a cable apparatus and a few different handle attachments for these variations.

7. Single Cable Lateral Raise

In execution, the cable lateral raise is close to the dumbbell lateral raise. Start by setting the pulley low to the floor. You can use a single handle or just hold the cable.

Next, stand with your hand across the front of your body before performing the lateral raise movement. With this variation, you keep tension on the side delt even at the bottom of the range of motion.

Lateral Delt Exercises - Single Cable Lateral Raise

8. Behind the Back Lateral Raise

Let’s stick with the cable lateral raise set up for one more variation. But this time, start by reaching behind your back to grab the cable.

You’ll feel more stretch in the front and side delts when you do the lateral raise behind the back.

9. Dual Cable Lateral Raise

Another way to do the cable lateral raise involves two cables. First, grab the one to your left with your right hand and vice versa. Then start with your hands in front of your body.

Next, you perform the lateral raise movement. The cables should make an “X” shape across the front of your body at the top of the movement.

Lateral Delt Exercises - Dual Cable Lateral Raise

10. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is another solid side delt exercise. You can use a bar, dual handle, or rope attachment for this variation.

One benefit of doing upright rows with the cable is taking a step or two back from the low pulley. This makes the exercise sort of a hybrid between an upright row and a face pull.

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11. Face Pulls

The face pull is essentially the same movement as the upright row, except the pulley is about head level. With the higher pulling angle, your shoulders rotate externally, incorporating the lateral delt.

Barbell Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Now, let’s jump back to free weights and look at barbell lateral delt exercises.

12. Overhead Press

The overhead press is sort of like the squat of shoulder exercises. So, you should definitely use it in your shoulder-building workouts.

Often, inexperienced bodybuilders overlook this exercise in favor of isolation movements. But make no mistake, the overhead press is fantastic for overall shoulder development.

Related: Push Press vs Overhead Press for Size & Strength

Lateral Deltoid Exercises - Barbell Overhead Press

13. Barbell Front Raise

The front raise is another way to target your side delts with a barbell. Make sure you use a pronated (palms down) grip with hands about shoulder-width for this variation.

14. Barbell Lateral Raise

The barbell lateral raise is a much less common way to target side delts because most people use dumbbells or cables for this movement.

However, using a barbell (long or short) requires more balance and concentration. So it’s worth a try if you don’t have dumbbells or your progress is stagnant.

15. Barbell Upright Row

The barbell upright row is the most common variation of the vertical row movement. You can pull more significant weight to overload your lateral delts on this exercise.

Machine Lateral Deltoid Exercises

You probably have access to a few machines if you’re working out at a fitness club. So let’s look at some machine exercises for lateral delts.

16. Smith Machine Shoulder Press

The Smith machine is essentially a barbell on rails that makes balancing easier. And the Smith machine shoulder press is a good way to blast your lateral delts.

17. Machine Lateral Raise

So far, we’ve covered a few different lateral raise variations. But the machine lateral raise has to be one of the best because it’s tough to cheat!

I like incorporating drop sets to make this exercise more challenging on the side delts since you can quickly change the weight.

Lateral Delt Exercises - Machine Lateral Raise

18. Single Machine Lateral Raise

One arm at a time is a less common way to use the lateral raise machine. However, this variation enables you to concentrate on the mind-muscle connection and elicit maximum muscle contraction.

Resistance Band Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Recently, we all discovered what it’s like to have our gyms closed. And if you’re like me, you scrambled to set up a decent home gym.

Luckily, you can train your lateral delts pretty well with nothing more than a set of resistance bands.

19. Resistance Band Lateral Raise

To do a resistance band lateral raise, stand in the center of the band and grab a handle in each hand. Now perform the lateral raise as usual.

With this variation, you’ll feel more tension at the top of the range of motion than at the bottom.

Resistance Band Lateral Deltoid Exercises

20. Resistance Band Cross Body Lateral Raise

Consider using the cross-body resistance band lateral raise to add more tension at the bottom of the range of motion. For this variation, place one foot in the center of the band. Then grab the other end using the opposite hand, so your arm is in front of your body at the start.

21. Resistance Band Upright Row

As you have seen, the upright row is an exercise you can do with almost any gym setup. To do an upright row with resistance bands, stand in the center of the band and pull the other end straight up your body.

Other Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Fear not if you’ve read this far and still haven’t found an exercise you like. Here are a few more lateral deltoid exercises using different equipment or just your body!

22. Side Plank

The side plank is a popular core-strengthening movement. And not many people associate it with a shoulder workout.

However, your side delt does a lot of work during the side plank to keep your arm from folding in on your side. Plus, it’s a burn unlike any other exercise on the list!

Side Plank for Lateral Deltoids

23. Crucifix Hold

The crucifix hold is an exercise usually reserved for strongman competitions. But it makes a good side delt exercise, and you can hold on to just about any heavy objects you have lying around.

24. Plate Front Raise

The plate front raise is a great shoulder exercise you can do without dumbbells. On this variation, I recommend holding your hands near the top of the plate to target the lateral delts.

25. Kettlebell Swing

For those CrossFit enthusiasts out there, you probably already use the kettlebell swing in your workouts. And you might not realize that this exercise is working your lateral delts.

But to get more side delt activation, try slowing down your swing to use less momentum and more shoulders.

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Lateral Deltoid Workout

Now you have twenty-five viable exercises for lateral delts. But you might be stuck on assembling them into an effective workout.

So I’m going to give you an example lateral delt workout. In addition, I’ll explain how to program these exercises in terms of frequency and sets/reps.

Lateral Deltoid Workout Frequency

The first thing to establish is how often you will train shoulders. The answer to that depends on your experience and your goals.

For beginners or people who can only work out a few days a week, a total body 3-day split works well. That means you would do a couple of shoulder exercises each workout three times per week.

More advanced lifters might work single muscle groups in each workout. This routine is called the bro split workout and it’s excellent for growth (despite the name).

In that case, you would work your shoulders for an entire workout once or twice a week. And you want to include at least a few lateral delt exercises in those workouts.

Bro Split Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Lateral Deltoid Workout Sets & Reps

To grow your shoulders, it’s best to use a hypertrophy training program. That means using weights you can handle for 6-12 reps.

Also, you should aim for 4-6 sets per exercise. And each workout should include from 5 to 8 exercises. So that’s around 24-32 sets per workout.

Lateral Deltoid Workout Example

A lateral delt-focused workout starts to take shape with all this in mind. So here is an example using some of the exercises and tips you just learned.

Lateral Deltoid Workout

More Deltoid Exercises

In this article, you learned how to make your shoulders bigger and wider with lateral deltoid exercises. But if you want your shoulders to look big from all angles, you can’t neglect your anterior and posterior delts!

So check out these other articles for more shoulder workout ideas.

Posterior Deltoid Exercises (Rear)

Anterior Deltoid Exercises (Front)

Home Gym Resistance Band Shoulder Exercises

Cable Shoulder Exercises for Definition

Compound Shoulder Exercises for Strength

With this information, you’re well on your way to building massive shoulders. And if you found this article helpful, take a look at some of my other great content below!

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By |November 11, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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