In order to build big shoulders you have to understand the basic anatomy of this muscle group and train each part of it desperately. Shoulders consist of three deltoid muscle heads – front, rear and lateral, and you have to activate each and every of them in your workouts.

Shoulder Exercise

So let’s look at 8 of our favorite exercises for each deltoid and see how you can get a complete shoulder workout that builds big shoulders.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

We start with the shoulder press, the exercise that works all delts but really hits the front delts especially if you keep your elbows a little bit forward. If you raise the dumbbells diagonally to form sort of a triangle with your arms and shoulders, you will hit the side delts too.

Barbell shoulder press vs dumbbell shoulder press

You can do this exercise with a barbell and it allows you to press a bigger weight, but here’s where the main difference is. Dumbbells allow more free joint movement, especially if you do standing press and give you more range of motion. That way you can hit more muscles in the same exercise. And for that reason I favor the dumbbell press over the barbell, especially if you have some problems with your shoulder joints.

Overhead Shoulder Press


Arnold Press

A trademark exercise of the Arnold Schwarzenegger himself introduces rotation to the shoulder press exercise. Because of the rotational movement, it works the muscles in more ways so it’s perfect as a warm up exercise or as a burnout at the end of a workout. To perform this exercise, start with an underhand grip and the dumbbells at your shoulder level, rotate the dumbbells as you press the weights up so they end up in the overhand grip at the top. Reverse the movement back down for a full rep.

Arnold Press


Dumbbell Front Raise

This exercise allows you to focus on the front delts. A pretty straightforward exercise as you raise dumbbells with your arms straight, but you can add a little variation by bringing the dumbbells up and across your body to the front. This makes the front dels to contract more in a more natural way.

Dumbbell front raise


Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The exercise to target your side (lateral) delts. When doing dumbbell lateral raises focus on the eccentric movement by lowering the weights down slowly, don’t swing to generate momentum. Your arms should be slightly bent at the elbow for a natural movement and less stress on the joints.

As a body weight alternative you can do bodyweight side laterals found in this shoulder workout.

Dumbbell lateral raise


Dumbbell Rear Raise

And finally, the rear raise works your rear delts. You can choose the seated or standing variation of this exercise. When seated, you will bend over and place your chest on your knees. If you perform it standing, all you have to do is bend over. So to perform, bend at the hips at a 90 degree angle and raise the dumbbells laterally. Due to your position, the weight shifts to the rear delts rather than the side delts.

Bent over lateral raise


Dumbbell High Pull

This great compound exercise hits not only the shoulder but upper back and chest muscles too. However, because it allows you a free range of movement you can choose to target specific muscles more by the way you move your arms during the exercise. You can focus on the front, side and even rear delts depending on the angle at which you pull the dumbbells. If you bring your elbows up while pulling, you’ll target the front delts. Move the dumbbells slightly to the sides and you’ll hit the front delts. And if you move your elbows slightly back as you pull, you’ll hit the rear delts too.

Dumbbell high pull


Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Finally, to really focus on the rear delts, perform reverse dumbbell flyes. You can do this exercise using the incline bench or do bent over flyes. The key here is also focusing on the eccentric movement in slow motions lowering down the dumbbells.

Reverse Flye


Bench Flyes

The dumbbell flys is a great exercise to isolate the chest and it works your front delts too. To perform, lie on a flat bench, start at the top with your arms slightly bent at the elbows and at about shoulder width apart, lower the weights to the sides by flexing the shoulders but keeping elbows fixed. Stop when the elbows are at the chest level and reverse the movement. Never bring the dumbbells close together at the top, stop at the shoulder width or slightly closer, just enough to keep the chest under tension (the muscles get a relief if you push the weights together and that’s not what we want).

Dumbbell flyes

So there you have it, the best 8 exercises that will hit your 3 delts for those big defined shoulders. You’re probably already doing some of them, and if there are some that you’re not doing, consider adding them to your workouts.

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