Upper body workouts: best shoulder exercises for building stronger delts

Posted by for Strong Women

When putting together an upper body workout, all too often shoulder exercises are left by the wayside. 

With weight training, it really is so important to target and build your shoulders. Without isolating the muscles in these essential areas, you won’t have the stability and strength necessary for sustained progress in your upper body workouts, and you increase your risk of injury when working on your arms and chest.

“Your shoulders are made up of three deltoid ‘heads’ – anterior (front), medial (lateral), and posterior (back),” says Strong Women ambassador Alice Rose-Miller. So, in order to give your shoulders an effective, well-rounded workout, it’s good to incorporate a few different exercises that will target all three.

Alice suggests doing one to two front, rear or side deltoid exercises, and two to three pressing exercises in each upper body session. Pressing exercises are all about loading up with heavy weights, but be careful – as a result, they are more likely to cause muscle damage. Regardless of the type of exercise you do though, it’s important to keep it slow and controlled, so as not to injure your delicate delts. 

So, whether you want to improve your all-round upper body strength or give more definition to your shoulders, here are a few key exercises to get you started.

Arnold Press

This is a great exercise for working all three deltoid heads and building more defined shoulders. Starting with a light dumbbell in each hand, bend your arms at the elbows so your weights are at chest height with your palms facing in, as in a bicep curl. Now, move your arms up and out to your sides, and gradually extend them, making sure that your palms twist to face the front as you do. You should end up with your arms straight up over your head with a slight bend to your elbow.

From here, slowly return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of eight to 12, and make sure to rest for a minute in between. 

Seated Overhead Press

Start seated on a chair or bench with back support, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Hold your dumbbells out to your sides at shoulder height, with your palms facing forwards. This is your starting position. Press upwards, raising the dumbbells over your head until your arms are straight. Hold for a second, and then slowly return to the start. Complete three sets of eight to twelve presses.  

Lateral Raises

Exercises like lateral raises are more about that “mind to muscle connection,” explains Alice Rose-Miller. It’s important to go with a lighter weight than you would for pressing exercises, and to really engage the muscles you want to work.

Stand with your arms down by your side, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing inwards. Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise both arms outwards, making sure the movement is controlled – you don’t want to swing your arms and overwork the delicate deltoids. Stop when your arms reach shoulder height, so that your body forms a “T” shape. Pause for a couple of seconds, then return to the starting position. Do three sets of 12 reps. 

Rear Delt Fly

For this exercise, stand with your legs hip-width apart and your arms down by your sides, a light dumbbell in each hand. Hinge forward at your hips and bend your knees slightly, so that your torso is almost parallel to the floor and your back is flat. Your arms should hang down below your body. Raise your arms out to the sides and squeeze your shoulder blades as you do. You should end up with your arms extending straight out from your shoulders and your palms facing down. Hold for a second, and then bring your arms back down. Do three sets of 12 reps. 

Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts. 

Image credit: Getty

Sign up to receive the latest Strong workouts, nutritious recipes and expert tips and you'll also get our 14-page Beginner's Guide To Strength Training.

Share this article

Recommended by Aiden Wynn