Do you want to build bigger, stronger, bulletproof shoulders?

About 40% of shoulder injuries are a sprain, and it happens because the shoulder joint is made up of complex anatomy with a large range of motion but the least stability.

Stop making detrimental mistakes training your shoulders and choose effective shoulder exercises. Let's dive into the best side delt exercises that promote growth and shoulder health.

The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints of the body, which is made up of a number of small and large muscles. All of which need to be worked equally to maximize your strength while keeping injuries at bay.

Therefore, the delts are considered one of the primary motor muscles in our upper body. [1]

The deltoid muscle is the triangular-shaped group of muscles that lies over the glenohumeral joint.

It is split into three separate sections of muscle fibers - anterior delts (or front delts), medial deltoid (or side, middle, lateral delts), and posterior deltoid (or rear delts).

The anterior delts (front delts) are responsible for moving your arm forwards away from your body. You can train your front delts using movements like front raises and military press. 

Your posterior delts (rear delts) are crucial for your shoulder stability. They're often one of the most under trained muscles in the body. Failing to strengthen this area can be the cause of many shoulder injuries.

Deltoid Muscle Anatomy

What's the function of the lateral deltoid?

The medial deltoids (middle delts) lie between the front and rear delts and are the prime mover of shoulder abduction, when the arm is lifted away from the body. Movements such as the lateral raise use your middle delts. 

This part of the delt is also involved in shoulder flexion, moving the arm upwards to the front, and transverse flexion, moving the arm across the chest.

An important function of the deltoid is the stability of the joint and to stop dislocation of the shoulder, particularly under load.

15 Best Exercises For Targeting Lateral Deltoids

This article will list the top lateral deltoid exercises and the correct execution, as well as provide tips on how to grow delts.

It will also explain why your shoulder workout should focus on strength, mobility, and stability to build big and healthy shoulders. 

1. Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises

lateral deltoid exercises

Let's start off with one of the most common variations of lateral delt exercises, dumbbell lateral raises. The dumbbell lateral raise will perfectly target the lateral deltoids, but this exercise can easily be executed with poor form.

This is an inefficient way to train as we need to create control and maximal tension. Therefore, this exercise needs to be done with a weight you can actually control.

Dumbbell lateral raises should always be done with control and without using momentum to swing the dumbbells up. [2]

I recommend that beginners start with 10-12 lb weights.


  • Isolates your lateral deltoids.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • Doesn't require a machine.

How To Perform:

  1. Stand with two dumbbells, one in each hand, with feet at shoulder width.
  2. With the elbow slightly bent, raise the dumbbells out to the side, going no higher than shoulder height.
  3. Lower with control back to the start, and then repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Lateral raises can also be done working one side at a time. Holding one dumbbell at shoulder height, use the other arm to do the dumbbell lateral raise and repeat on both sides. 

2. Behind The Neck Press

woman in blank tank top doing a behind the neck press

The overhead press is king of shoulder exercises and will most effectively develop overall shoulder muscle growth.

You can turn the focus to the lateral deltoid by positioning the barbell behind the neck. Pressing from the front will target the anterior deltoid, or the front of the shoulder.

When the bar is positioned from behind the neck, it means the arms are pointing to the side, creating greater side delt recruitment.

However, I must add that this variation is rather difficult and places more strain on your shoulder joints. If you're a beginner or have shoulder issues, this might not be the exercise for you.


  • Places more emphasis on your lateral delts.
  • Great for more advanced lifters.

How To Perform:

  1. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, the barbell should be unracked behind your neck and resting across your shoulders and traps.
  2. Initiate the overhead press by pushing upwards until the bar is locked into position overhead, straight above the traps.
  3. Lower back to the starting position and repeat desired amount of repetitions.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep the weight lighter to maintain control, and don't use your legs to drive the weight up. 

3. Seated Arnold Press

man in black shirt and blue shorts doing an arnold press

The Seated Arnold Press is a real bang for your buck dumbbell movement and one of the best side delt exercises.

This upper body exercise is amazing for hitting all areas of the deltoid muscles and will also recruit the biceps; what's not to love?

The Arnold press is widely used in the bodybuilding community as it grows the delts so effectively.

If you hadn't guessed already, the legendary bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger created this exercise and he used it to bring some of the best delts to the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia competitions.

If it's good enough for Arnie, it's good enough for me. 


  • Works all three deltoid heads.
  • Suitable for all abilites.
  • You can do them seated or standing.

How To Perform:

  1. Sitting on an incline bench set at a 90 degrees incline and fully supporting your back, take two dumbbells and raise them to shoulder height with palms facing towards you. This is the starting position.
  2. From here, begin to rotate the dumbbells outwards and press the dumbbells overhead until your elbows lock out overhead.
  3. With control, lower the dumbbells and rotate them back to the start position and repeat desired rep range.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don’t overcompensate by letting your back round and come off the bench. And if you're standing, don't arch backwards as you press the dumbbells. 

4. Barbell Upright Row

man in black tank top doing an upright barbell row

One exercise which mainly targets the medial deltoids but has been under scrutiny is the Barbell Upright Row.

Some say upright rows are bad for your shoulders and can create shoulder impingement. Others say this is totally incorrect.

Upright rows target the lateral deltoid and need to be done properly to develop nice rounded shoulders.

While this movement is great, it does come with some downsides... It places stress on your shoulder, wrist, and elbow joints. if you've had joint issues in the past, I recommend trying another from this list such as the Arnold press or lateral raises. 

If you feel pain, try modifying the exercises using lighter weights with controlled movement. Or swap the barbell for dumbbells or kettlebells.


  • Develops upper body strength. 
  • Great for hypertrophy.
  • Gives you an excellent pump.

How To Perform:

  1. From standing, hold the barbell in an overhand grip with feet shoulder-width apart. You can use a narrow or wide grip.
  2. Initiate an upright row by pulling the elbows outwards and pulling the barbell up to around the height of your collarbone.
  3. Lower back till the elbows are straight, and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Upright rows aren't going to be for everyone, and if it gives you any pain, then don't include this exercise to build side delts, but for the right person, it can be really effective for creating size. 

5. Seated Dumbbell Military Press

man in blue tank top doing a seated dumbbell military press

The seated dumbbell shoulder press is an excellent upper body movement that you can perform in your home gym. It's suitable for most people, whether you're a gym newbie or seasoned pro, you can develop your shoulders with this exercise.

They're particularly beneficial for shoulder development as weight can be easily progressed/regressed. And as you're using dumbbells, you work each arm separately, allowing you to develop even strength in each arm.

The seated military press is similar to the Arnold press but doesn't engage the biceps.


  • Irons out muscular imbalances.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • You can do them in most gyms.

How To Perform:

  1. The seated dumbbell military (or strict) press is done seated to increase the difficulty. It can also be done from a standing position.
  2. Sit on an incline bench set to 90 degrees and lean on the back for support.
  3. With two dumbbells, one in each hand with an overhand grip, take them to shoulder height.
  4. Press the dumbbells upwards and complete the overhead press with the elbow locks out and lower them with control.

Tips From A Trainer!

Execute this exercise without creating an arch in the lower back. If you are arching, then the weight is too heavy, and you are compensating. 

Related Article - Push Press Vs Overhead Press

6. Standing T Raise

man in red t-shirt and black pants doing a weighted t raise

The best side delt exercises don’t always need to be done using weights. 

Bodyweight lateral deltoid exercises such as the T raise will promote blood flow to the muscles and is a great choice to warm up with or use to rehab the lateral deltoids.

I've used this movement in the past to rehab my clients shoulder injuries and it works brilliantly. I've also used it with several elderly members of the gym who want to build some shoulder strength.

Lateral raises are a key part of training the side delt, and this exercise is effective whether using light dumbbells or not.


  • Uses your body weight.
  • Great for shoulder rehab.
  • Brilliant for the elderly.

How To Perform:

  1. Standing with a soft bend in the knees, assume a slight hinge at the hips.
  2. Starting with your arms hanging and palms towards you, raise your arms upwards to shoulder height and contract the shoulder blade at the top.
  3. Lower back to starting position with control and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Looking for more of a challenge? Try performing this movement using a resistance band. It's an ideal exercise if you're travelling.  

7. Standing Y Raise

woman in black sports bra and gray shorts doing a dumbbell y raise

Another dynamic bodyweight movement that warms up the shoulders and improves mobility is the standing Y Raise; this can also be done lying on the floor, which will shorten the range of motion. Let's talk about the standing variation.

The Y Raise is an important movement as it strengthens stabilizer muscles in the shoulder, helping strengthen for exercises such as a push-up.

As it helps with stabilizing the shoulder joint, it can be effectively used to rehab your shoulders. It even helps with shoulder mobility which should always be a key consideration when training shoulders.


  • Increases shoulder mobility.
  • Helps with shoulder stability.

How To Perform:

  1. From standing, hinge slightly at the hips and your back straight, and raise your hands upwards with palms facing up. The arms should be straight and at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Keep your chin tucked and raise your arms to a Y shape, ensuring you do not break form in order to lift your arms any higher.
  3. Lower with control and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep the movement slow and controlled to get the most from the exercise. You don't want to be swinging the weight around, letting momentum take over. 

8. Lu Raise

man in black t-shirt doing a dumbbell lu raise

This form of lateral raises was established by the Chinese Weightlifter Lu Xiaojun as accessory upper body training to support weightlifting.

Not only for weightlifters, this exercise will target the lateral deltoid and the supraspinatus muscle found in the rotator cuff.

It's a great exercise for increasing your shoulder mobility as it uses a huge range of motion during each rep. I haven't performed this movement in a few years, so I think I'll re-add it this week. 


  • Uses a huge range of motion.
  • Improves shoulder mobility. 

How To Perform:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with two light plates or dumbbells in each hand with palms facing inwards.
  2. From this starting position, begin to raise your arms out and past your shoulders and rotate your hands outwards until your arms are straight and overhead.
  3. Lower with control in order to maintain tension on the lateral delt.

Tips From A Trainer!

Do not try to go heavy with this exercise as it could create shoulder impingement 

9. Incline W-Raise

woman with a black cap doing a dumbbell w raise

The Incline W-Raise is a delt exercise guaranteed to add strength and size. The exercise will target the middle delts and rear deltoid, plus it effectively works the rotator cuff muscles.

I've used this in the past to rehab my shoulders after an injury. I found it worked my delts effectively and didn't place too much strain on my joints. 

As it's performed lying on a bench, it doesn't rely on your core strength, making it ideal for anybody with a weaker core.


  • Doesn't rely on your core. 
  • Suitable for most abilites. 
  • Great for shoulder rehab.

How To Perform:

  1. Set the incline bench to 45 degrees and lie on it forward with your torso in contact with the bench and your feet on the floor.
  2. With two dumbbells in each hand, bend your elbows and face your palms toward each other. Your upper arm should be perpendicular to the floor and your forearm at a right angle.
  3. Engaging your shoulder blades in a controlled movement, raise the dumbbells upwards so your arms make a W shape, then control to the starting position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Delt exercises such as this one should be done with light weights so that the most tension can be applied to the muscle and stimulate the most growth. 

10. Incline Lateral Raise

man in black and red t-shirt doing an incline lateral raise

This lateral raise exercise is highly effective because it eliminates the ability to create momentum to help raise the weights.

It also changes the way that gravity acts on your shoulders, placing more stress on your shoulder muscles, resulting in more muscle gains.

Delt exercises such as this one are also great for strengthening the muscles in the rotator cuff, creating a stronger and more stable shoulder.


  • Strengthens your rotator cuffs. 
  • Improves shoulder stability. 
  • Works your delts more than regular lateral raises.

How To Perform:

  1. Set the incline bench to 45 degrees and choose a weight you are able to complete the lateral raise without swinging, remembering that leaning on the bench won’t allow you to swing the weight up.
  2. Lean on one side of the bench and hold the dumbbell in a neutral grip. With your elbow slightly bent, raise the weight up until it reaches shoulder height.
  3. Lower slowly with control to the starting position and repeat with desired rep range, then switch sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you don't have a bench available, you can do this movement on the floor. Simply prop yourself up by leaning on your forearm. 

11. One-Arm Cable Raise

man in blue tank top doing a one-arm cable raise

The cable machine is a good choice for lateral delts as it places constant tension on the lateral delt muscle fibers.

Cable lateral raises use a wide range of motion doesn't require a lot of weight.

This is one of my favorite lateral deltoid exercises on this list and I perform it during every shoulder workout. I'm a fan as it works each arm separately, helping you iron out any muscle imbalances. 


  • Helps you iron out muscular imbalances.
  • Places constant tension on your muscles. 
  • Uses a wide range of motion.

How To Perform:

  1. Standing with one side beside the cable pulley machine, use the outside hand to grab the handle, which should be set to the bottom position.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbow, pull the handle upwards and laterally until you reach shoulder height.
  3. With control, slowly lower the weight to the start, making sure the weight is suspended and doesn't hit between reps.
  4. Work one arm at a time and then switch sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure you keep the abs braced and your head neutral. If the weight does not come up to shoulder height, then it is too heavy. 

12. Band Face Pulls

man in black hoodie doing resistance band face pulls

Banded face pulls allow you to do the exercise anywhere, and you are able to change resistance by moving closer or further to create more or less tension on the band.

It's one of the best side delt workouts that'll not only strengthen your middle delts but it will also strengthen the muscles through your mid-back, which will improve posture.

This movement is brilliant for all ability levels (depending on the resistance band strengths that are available).


  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Suitable for most gym goers. 
  • Improves your posture.

How To Perform:

  1. Anchoring the band at shoulder height, hold onto it with an overhand grip and move away to create tension.
  2. From here, keep the elbows high and pull the elbows back, focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  3. Pause, focusing on the contraction and keeping the shoulders away from the ears, and return to the start position.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you want to mix things up a little, try using a cable machine instead of a resistance band. It'll provide a new challenge for you. 

13. Resistance Band Lateral Raise

man in gray shorts doing resistance band lateral raise

Another effective lateral raise that can be done using a resistance band. This is a variation of dumbbell lateral raises and is a safe lateral deltoid exercise that can be done for rehab work.

Bands are a great addition to your shoulder workout as they are cheap, easy, and versatile. They also allow greater time under tension on the lateral head, much like a cable lateral raise.

I'm a fan of this movement as you can do it anywhere. I've performed the resistance band lateral raise in a hotel room many times. 


  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Excellent time under tension. 

How To Perform:

  1. Standing on a band with your arms by your side and holding each end of the band, keep your core engaged and raise your arms upwards.
  2. Your palms start facing each other, and they face the floor at the top of the movement.
  3. Control the arms back to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Keep the arms loose, don't lock the elbows, and remain upright and braced throughout the movement. 

14. Side Plank With Lateral Raise

man in black shorts doing a side plank with dumbbell lateral raise

The side plank position on its own will work the side delt, along with building a strong core.

Adding in lateral raises with one arm will work both side delts in different ways.

One is working to hold your body weight, and the other arm is building strength by raising the upper arm or using a light dumbbell.

This exercise is a great alternative to the conventional side plank if you find it too easy!


  • Improves core strength.
  • Works each side separately.
  • Doesn't require a lot of equipment.

How To Perform:

  1. The starting position is on the floor, propping yourself onto one side with the elbow and feet on the floor.
  2. From here, the hips raise up and into the side plank position.
  3. Once in the side plank, raise one arm up with a slight bend in the elbow and keep below a 90-degree angle for complete tension on the side delt—lower back to the start and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Super set this exercise with rolling plank (moving from your forearms onto your hands and back down). This will give you a killer shoulder pump.  

15. Elevated Side Plank

man in green shorts and gray shirt doing an elevated side plank

If a side plank with a lateral raise isn’t achievable for you, then a good place to start to develop stronger, more stable shoulders is an elevated side plank.

This movement will strengthen most of your body such as your hip, core, and shoulder strength. 

It's a tough movement and should only be attempted by more advanced gym-goers. I've often found beginners will struggle and are better off performing other movements first such as the regular plank, lateral raises, and others from this list.


  • Works most of your body. 
  • Helps stabilize your shoulder joints.
  • Great for more advanced lifters.

How To Perform:

  1. Lying on one side on the floor, place your hand on the floor directly underneath your shoulder. Your body should be in a straight line from your head down to your heels.
  2. From here, the hips raise up and into the side plank position.
  3. Pushing through one arm, raise your hips off the floor and hold for desired time.
  4. Make sure the hips don’t drop towards the floor. Repeat on the other side.

Tips From A Trainer!

It is important when doing a side plank to have your hand directly underneath your shoulder and keep actively pushing through the floor to engage the upper body. Otherwise, it can be easy to lose positioning and collapse. 

What Are Benefits Of Strong Well-Built Side Delts?

Strong and defined side delts not only look good, but they are also incredibly important to protect our shoulders from injury and shoulder pain, which we have already established is one of the most common areas that people injure.

Having strong shoulders will also help your posture, and training the muscles surrounding the shoulder will increase the stability of the joint.

Strong shoulders look good but ensuring you have a good range of motion in the joint will help in activities and everyday life.

Upper body training should consist of a variety of exercises that target all areas of the shoulder, with attention being paid to the lateral deltoid to develop round shoulders that look great.

There are many side delt exercises to choose from. The key is using a range of exercises that targets all areas of your shoulder muscles.

The best exercises target the shoulder from different angles, and you should aim to use dumbbells, cable exercises, and bands.

Frequently Asked Lateral Deltoid Exercise Questions

How do you target your side deltoids for size and strength?

The best way to target your side deltoids for size and strength is to use the right exercises to target that specific muscle. Middle deltoids are responsible for creating a wider look. Movements like the dumbbell lateral raise or cable lateral raise are excellent options.

How often should you train your delts?

You should train your delts at least twice per week. Getting the right amount of volume is important because you don't want to under work your delts, but you also don't want to create too much fatigue and not enough recovery. 

Why are my side delts not growing?

Your side delts aren't growing because your workout might not be specific enough to that muscle. You could also be struggling to grow side delts due to the volume being too low to stimulate growth.

How do you best isolate lateral deltoids using bodyweight only?

The best way to isolate your lateral deltoids using your bodyweight is to perform movements like the T Raises and Y Raises.

What helps lateral deltoid pain?

To help lateral deltoid pain, gentle resistance exercises and stretching will help improve the injury along with working with a physiotherapist to get to the route of the cause.


If growing bigger side delts is your focus for shoulders, then using the best side delt exercises for you will promote size and strength without overdoing it.

The shoulder joint can be susceptible to injury. Avoid this by making sure you choose the correct exercises and focus on making your shoulder mobile and stable as well as strong.

To effectively grow your side delts, you must make this a priority in training your shoulder, train the muscle 2-3 times per week, focusing on specific side delt exercises.

Read through the exercises above and add a few of them to your shoulder workout. Your lateral delts will be bursting through your T-shirt in no time.


Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.