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4 Side Delt Exercises That’ll Help You Build Big Shoulders

Struggling To Build Big Shoulders?

When it comes to packing on muscle mass many of us having a weak point, be it due to genetics or a lack of proper training knowledge of that particular muscle group… and for many guys in the gym that muscle group is the medial head of the deltoids (or as it’s often called, the side delt).

It doesn’t strike me as any kind of mystery either – I mean by simply hitting the flat bench press you can build a reasonably impressive chest and by hitting some heavy barbell biceps curls you can build a commanding pair of biceps… unfortunately the same cannot be said when we’re talking about our shoulders.

If your shoulder workout consists of one or two pressing exercises (i.e. the military press and the seated dumbbell shoulder press) you’ll likely have unimpressive shoulders…

In order to build those big, capped ‘cannonball’ style shoulders that’re ever so desired you NEED to place a large amount of emphasis on side delt exercises.

Add the side delt exercises below into your shoulder regime and watch your shoulders begin to blow up in size.

Enter The Side Delt Exercises

If your side delts are lagging I recommend placing a couple of these exercises listed below at the beginning of your shoulder workout before moving into your anterior/posterior deltoid exercises.
At the end of the article you’ll find my sample shoulder workout regime with this prioritization in place.

#1 – The Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

Movement: Isolation

Targets: Shoulders

Required: Dumbbells

Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise Form…

Grasping a pair of dumbbell stand straight with palms facing towards your body with a slight bend in your knees.

Maintaining your straight position proceed to raise the dumbbells to your sides with a slight bend in your elbows.

As you reach the top of the repetition tilt the dumbbells slightly as if you were pouring a glass of water.

Lower the dumbbells back down to your side.

You can check out my full guide to this exercise (including photos and a video guide) here.

#2 – The Leaning Dumbbell One Arm Side Lateral Raise

Movement: Isolation

Targets: Shoulders

Required: Dumbbell + Smith Machine

Dumbbell One Arm Side Lateral Raise Form…

Grasp a dumbbell in one of your hands, your non lifting hand should be hold onto the bar set at a decent height in the smith machine or similar.

Lean in towards your arm holding the dumbbell while extending your arm holding onto the smith machine.

Hold the dumbbell at arms length with your palm facing towards your torso.

Without jerking your body proceed to llift the dumbbell to your side with a slight bend on the elbow and your hand slightly tilted forward as if pouring water in a glass.

Pause at the top of the repetition for 1 second.

Slowly lower back to your side and repeat for the desired number of reps before switching arms.

#3 – Cable One Arm Side Lateral Raise

Movement: Isolation

Targets: Shoulders

Required: Cable Machine + Handle

Cable One Arm Side Lateral Raise Form…

Grasp a cable in one of your hands, your non lifting hand should be hold onto the bar set at a decent height in the smith machine or similar.

Lean in towards your arm holding the cable while extending your arm holding onto the cable machine.

Hold the cable at arms length with your palm facing towards your torso.

Without jerking your body proceed to lift the cable to your side with a slight bend on the elbow and your hand slightly tilted forward as if pouring water in a glass.

Pause at the top of the repetition for 1 second.

Slowly lower back to your side and repeat for the desired number of reps before switching arms.

You can check out my full guide to this exercise (including photos and a video guide) here.

#4 – The Arnold Press

Movement: Isolation

Targets: Shoulders

Required: Dumbbells + Bench

Dumbbell Arnold Press Form…

Sit on a bench and grasp two dumbbells in front of your torso at upper chest level, your palms should be facing your face and your elbows should be bent (picture the contracted top position of a seated dumbbell biceps curl).

Begin to raise the dumbbells while rotating your palms until facing forward.

Continue lifting the dumbbells until your arms are extended above you as if it were a regular dumbbell shoulder press.

Contract at the top for one second.

Reutrn the dumbbells to the starting position by lowering them while rotating at the same time so your palms are once again facing towards your torso at upper chest level.

You can check out my full guide to this exercise (including photos and a video guide) here.

A Few Tips When Implementing These Side Delt Exercises… 


Don’t Use Momentum/Bounce The Weight

Your stance should be shoulder width and you should maintain a slight bend in your knee (I have seen quite a few people performing standing shoulder exercises with locked out knees, however for stability and reduced risk of injury a slightly bent knee is superior) when performing their lateral raise variations.

At the bottom of the repetition you pause for a split second before proceeding with the following rep – no bouncing or swinging to get the weight up.

When it comes to these side lateral variations it’s all about time under tension – if you swing, jerk or bounce the weight up you’re removing tension from the muscle.

Use A FULL Range Of Motion

Partial reps can be used to push yourself beyond your point of failure at the end of your set, however strict, full range of motion must be practised first.

The dumbbells should be raised until they are at least parallel and lowered all the way back down to your sides.

Ensure You Train Your Muscle Groups In A Suitable Order

I highly recommend having at least 1 day between your chest and shoulder workouts.
The flat barbell bench press, incline bench press and dips place a large amount of tension on the front deltoids (even though the chest is the primary muscle targeted during this exercise).
If you’re going straight from a heavy chest workout on Monday into a shoulder workout on Tuesday you won’t be getting the best bang for your buck out of your workout – your shoulders will be recovering and from my experience you won’t be able to lift anywhere near as heavy as if they were fresh.

Ongoing, excessive amounts of stress placed on the shoulders can result in a shoulder impingement which’ll have you out of performing the vast majority of upper body exercises for weeks if not months, not good.

If you’re strapped for time and can only train three times a week the push/pull/legs workout regime is an option which hits both chest and shoulders in the same (push) workout however if you’re able to train 5 days a week I recommend performing a split in the following order:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • (rest)
  • Repeat

Alternatively, include a leg or rest day between your chest and shoulder workouts.

Sample Shoulder Workout (Prioritizing Side Delt Exercises)

  • Dumbbell Arnold Press – 4 sets – 8 reps per set
  • Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise – 4 sets – 8 reps per set
  • Leaning Dumbbell One Arm Side Lateral Raise – 4 sets – 8 reps per set (per arm)
  • Military Press – 4 sets – 6 reps per set
  • Dumbbell Alternating Front Raises – 3 sets – 12 reps (per arm)
  • Dumbbell Rear Delt Flyes – 3 sets – 12 reps

What’re Your Go-To Side Delt Exercises? Let Me Know Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.https://ignorelimits.com
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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