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If you’re looking for a classic V-shaped bodybuilder’s upper body, you’ll need more than just big arms and swole lats. You’ll need large, round shoulders with plenty of muscle. Part of that is doing side delt exercises.
This involves working your deltoid muscles. Today, we’ll be focusing on your side delts, but keep in mind that most deltoid exercises fail to achieve true, 100 percent isolation of any one deltoid muscle. You’ll also be working your front and rear delts as well, which is actually ideal.
The Best Side Delt Exercises
I’m about to go over seven of the best side delt exercises that will seriously increase your bulk – and overall strength – if you do them consistently. Let’s go!
1) The Military Press
The military press is one of the simplest, most basic workouts in the world. To work your side delts, ditch the barbell and use a pair of dumbbells. This will allow you to lift vertically, instead of pushing a barbell forward to get around your face.
To perform a military press:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the dumbbells just over your shoulders, with your palms facing inwards and your elbows angled outwards at about 45 degrees.
- Keeping your back straight, push the dumbbells straight up – not forward – until your arms are straight and your elbows are locked.
- Lower the dumbbells slowly back to your starting position.
2) Upright Rows
The upright row is exactly what it sounds like. You perform a rowing motion while standing. As opposed to a traditional row on a rowing machine, which works your abs and your back as well as your arms and shoulders, this exercise isolates your side delts. It is one of the most popular side delt exercises.
To do an upright row:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your back straight.
- Hold your dumbbells at arm’s length, resting against the front of your thighs with your palms facing towards your body.
- Raise the weights to chest level, with your upper arms parallel to your shoulders, elbows extended outwards, and your hands slightly lower than your elbows.
- Remaining in control, lower the dumbbells back to your starting position.
3) The Rear Flye
This exercise focuses more on the rear delts than the side delts, but we included it anyway because it does work your side delts to some extent. Besides which, with the shoulders, it’s important to work all of your deltoids.
To do this exercise:
- Incline your bench to about 45 degrees.
- Facing the back of the bench, straddle the bench and lay down on your stomach.
- Let your arms hang directly towards the ground, gripping your dumbbells with your fingers on the outside and your thumbs on the inside.
- Raise both weights until your muscles have reached their full range of motion.
To work your side delts more, keep your chin on the top of the bench and raise your arms until you’re squeezing your shoulder blades together. To work your rear delts more, slide up further on the bench until it hits just beneath your collarbone, and don’t squeeze your shoulder blades together.
4) The Behind the Back Cable Lateral Raise
This is another exercise that does a good job of isolating your side delts. The advantage of working with a cable machine is that the weight doesn’t change throughout your motion, which is important when part of the motion is horizontal instead of vertical.
Here’s how to perform a behind the back cable lateral raise:
- Stand perpendicular to the cable machine, with your back straight.
- Place the hand that’s closest to the machine on your hip.
- Hold the cable handle in your outer hand, just inside of your hip, with your elbow slightly bent.
- Keeping your back straight and your other arm on your hip, straighten your arm and raise the cable as high as your shoulder, extending your arm out like a wing.
- Lower the cable to the starting position.
5) The One-Arm Lateral Raise
Dumbbell lateral raises are generally done with both arms simultaneously. However, this can cause you to “cheat” forwards, involving other muscle groups. To effectively isolate your side delts, it’s best to work one arm at a time.
To do a one-arm lateral raise:
- Stand with your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Place your inactive hand on your hip for stability.
- Hold your dumbbell just inside your hip, with your elbow slightly bent.
- Straighten your arm and raise the dumbbell as high as your shoulder, extending your arm out straight.
- Lower the dumbbell to the starting position.
This is meant to be a high-intensity exercise. Feel free to max out your weight while you’re doing it.
If you prefer Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises with both arms, watch Jeff Nippard video below to master the form.
6) The Skullcrusher
The skullcrusher is primarily a triceps exercise, and only peripherally works your delts. But it’s important to work your triceps as well: many deltoid motions rely on the triceps for support, and you don’t want your triceps giving out before you’ve pushed your delts to their limit.
Here’s how to do a skullcrusher:
- Lay on the bench as you would for a bench press.
- Using an EZ curl barbell, grip with your hands towards the center and your palms angled inwards.
- Hold the barbell directly over your shoulders, with your arms fully extended.
- Lower the barbell until it’s just over your forehead, with your upper arms angling only slightly backwards.
- Raise the bar back to the starting position.
7) Rotator Cuff Rotations
Working your deltoids puts stress on your rotator cuffs. To avoid injury, it’s important to end your exercise session by performing some rotator cuff rotations.
Here’s how to do it:
- Use a stretch band or a lightweight cable machine setup.
- Stand with your back straight, perpendicular to the weight machine or your stretch band tie-down point.
- Let the arm that’s closest to the machine hang loosely by your side.
- Hold the other arm close by your side, with your elbow at a 90-degree angle and your lower arm extended directly in front of your shoulder.
- Rotate your arm outwards, keeping your elbow against your side.
- Slowly return to your starting position.
As you can see, the most important aspect of the best side delt exercises is performing intense isolation workouts along with workouts to build supporting muscles and joints. Provided you follow these steps, you’ll be able to build muscle in a safe, sustainable fashion.
If you’d like more advice on building a classic, V-shaped bodybuilder body, check out our other article on building broader shoulders, or these other powerful deltoid exercises.