Change Your Delts: Exercises for More Defined Shoulders
The most common gateway for people who are beginning to lift weights is arm exercises.
It makes sense; the lifts are appealingly simple for beginners, and our arms are the least likely part of our body to be covered up by clothing. Big biceps have become an avatar for physical strength. But while people certainly notice the work you’ve put into your arms when you are wearing a sleeveless top, the package is never fully complete without equally developed shoulders!
Aside from the aesthetic appeal, a strong set of shoulders is incredibly helpful in our day-to-day activities. The anatomy of the shoulder joint allows it to perform a wide range of movements, but also makes it susceptible to injury. Building the muscles around the shoulder joint is the best way to ensure good shoulder health.
When we talk about shoulder exercises, we are mainly focusing on exercises that work the three heads of the deltoid: the anterior (front), lateral (middle), and posterior (rear). Try incorporating some of the following exercises (along with some rotator cuff-stabilizing exercises) to help build your shoulder strength.
The shoulder press is probably the most effective of shoulder exercises. It works both the anterior and lateral heads of the deltoid. It’s also a very functional movement; just think of all the times you find yourself lifting something heavy or having to hold your arms up over your head for an extended period of time. Here are a couple different variations of the shoulder press.
STANDING OVERHEAD BARBELL PRESS | Also referred to the military press, this barbell lift allows you to load up your muscles with a lot of weight. Standing also engages your core muscles, adding the extra benefit of increased body core strength.
SEATED DUMBBELL PRESS | Using dumbbells instead of a barbell makes the exercise a bit more difficult, as you have to focus on controlling two separate weights instead of just one. But the seated nature of this exercise requires less engagement from your core muscles, allowing you to focus more on the shoulder muscles themselves.
Lateral dumbbell raises
The lateral raise is a great exercise that isolates the lateral head of the deltoid. Start out with very light dumbbells; the lateral head of the deltoid isn’t a very large muscle and will fatigue quickly when you first start training it. Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and dumbbells in the palms of your hands with your palms facing each other. Slowly raise the dumbbells in a controlled motion to about shoulder height, away from the midline of your body, then slowly return them to the starting position.
Upright dumbbell rows
Upright dumbbell rows also offer a focus on the lateral head of the deltoid. Start in a similar manner to the lateral dumbbell raises, but with your palms facing your thighs. Slowly bring the dumbbells up the front of your body by bringing your elbows out laterally, stopping when your upper arms become parallel with the ground, then slowly return to the starting position; the dumbbells should reach around your collarbone before returning to the starting position.
Despite the name, your facial muscles won’t be doing any work here, aside from a grimace if you’re lifting big! Face pulls work your rear deltoids. Set up a cable machine so that it’s about shoulder height or slightly above, and attach a rope attachment.
Grasp the rope attachment so that the ends of the attachment sit on top of your fists (the same position the rope attachment would be in if you’ve done hammer curls with it before). Bending your knees ever so slightly and bracing your core, pull the ends of the rope attachment in a slow, controlled manner toward your ears, being sure to keep your upper arms moving in a plane parallel to the ground; this will simulate a movement of pulling the rope attachment to your face, hence the name. Slowly return your hands to the starting position.
Bent-over dumbbell rear deltoid row
You might already be familiar with a bent-over dumbbell row and wonder how this differs from that. The position of the elbow relative to your torso makes the difference in which muscles are doing the work here. A regular bent-over dumbbell row keeps the elbow near the torso, which engages the lat muscles in the upper back. By rotating the shoulder to where the upper arm is perpendicular with the torso, the bent-over dumbbell rear deltoid row instead engages the rear deltoid muscle to pull the weight.
Grab a light dumbbell and place one knee on a weight bench like you would for a bent-over dumbbell row, with your near hand bracing yourself on the bench and the far hand grasping the dumbbell. You want your torso as close to parallel with the ground/bench as possible, so as to isolate the rear deltoid. Hold the dumbbell so that your elbow faces away from your torso and the dumbbell grip is parallel to your shoulders, and slowly raise the dumbbell in a controlled manner until your upper arm is parallel with the ground. Slowly return the dumbbell to the starting position. •