25 Best Side Delt Exercises

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: March 23, 2022

A broad set of shoulders is the embodiment of power. And developed side delt muscles create an impressive cap on top of the 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 side delt exercises for building boulder shoulders.

25 Best Side Delt Exercises

What Are Side Delts?

The shoulder muscle comprises three smaller muscles called the anterior, posterior, and lateral deltoid (delt for short).

To be more specific, the anterior is on the front, the posterior is on the back, and the lateral is on the side. Therefore, the lateral delt is also called the side delt.

Side Delt Anatomy

Benefits of Building Side Delts

It’s important to develop all three deltoid muscles to create proportioned shoulders and avoid injury caused by muscle imbalances. But bringing your side delts up in the process has several benefits.

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

Second, well-developed side 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, strong side delts increase your strength on compound movements like the overhead press.

  • Make your shoulders appear wider
  • Create definition between your shoulders and arms
  • Increase strength on other exercises

How To Work The Side Delt

The primary function of the side delt is arm abduction. In other words, it helps lift your arm up and away from your body.

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

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

Side Delt Exercises

To make this list of side delt 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 side delt exercises you can do.

Dumbbell Side Delt Exercises

If you have a set of light to medium weight dumbbells at your disposal, you can do most side delt exercise variations. Here are some of the best options.

1. Arnold Dumbbell Press

The Arnold dumbbell press was popularized by “numero uno” himself back 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 side delt during the exercise.

2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Another staple side 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.

3. Dumbbell Upright Row

The upright row is a popular exercise for targeting the rear delts and traps. But it also works the side delts 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.

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. As an 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.

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 side 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 to use lighter dumbbells and go for 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.

Related: Compound Shoulder Exercises for Delt Growth & Power

Cable Side Delt Exercises

Next up are the cable side delt exercises. 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.

8. Behind the Back Lateral Raise

Let’s stick with the cable lateral raise setup 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.

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.

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 side delt.

More Cable Shoulder Exercises

Barbell Side Delt Exercises

Now, let’s jump back to free weights and look at barbell side 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 awesome for overall shoulder development.

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 shoulder-width or slightly narrower 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 upright row movement. You can pull some more significant weight to overload your side delts on this exercise.

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Machine Side Delt Exercises

If you’re working out at a fitness club, you probably have access to a few machines. So let’s look at some machine side delt exercises.

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 side 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 to incorporate drop sets to make this exercise even more challenging on the side delts since you can change the weight quickly.

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 Side Delt Exercises

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

Luckily, you can train your side 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 normal.

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

Resistance Band Side Delt 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.

Click Here For A Complete List Of Resistance Band Shoulder Exercises

Other Side Delt Exercises

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

22. Side Plank

The side plank is a popular core-strengthening movement. But 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. And it’s a burn unlike any of the other exercises on the list!

23. Crucifix Hold

The crucifix hold is an exercise normally 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 side delt exercise you can do without dumbbells. On this variation, I recommend holding your hands near the top of the plate.

Front Plate Raise Side Delt Exercises

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 side delts.

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

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Side Delt Workout

Now you have twenty-five viable exercises for side delts. But you might have analysis paralysis from all those options.

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

Side Delt 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 is called the bro split workout routine, and it works great 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 couple of side delt exercises in those workouts.

Bro Split Side Delt Exercises

Side Delt 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.

Side Delt Workout Example

A side 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.

Side Delt Workout

Rear Delt Exercises

In this article, you learned how to make your shoulders bigger and wider with side delt exercises. But if you want your shoulders to look big from the side, you can’t neglect your rear delts!

So check out these three rear delt fly variations for building 3D delts.

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 |March 23, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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