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Six Best Side Delt Exercises

You might think you’re working your shoulders regularly, but if you’re not incorporating side delt exercises into your routine, you’re not going to get stronger muscles that make your shoulders full and round.

Why are your side deltoids so important? 

You might work out your rear and middle deltoid muscles but your side (or lateral) deltoids should also be worked out regularly because they’re important for shoulder abduction, which is when you extend your arms at your sides and bring them down. 

By training these muscles, you get bigger, more defined shoulders.

Too often, people only concentrate on getting bigger front shoulder muscles, which can result in an unbalanced look. 

Quick biology lesson: the deltoid muscle has three main muscle “heads” – the anterior head, lateral head, and posterior head– that all need to be exercised so that you build bigger, even shoulders. 

So, stop neglecting your lateral head – here are six side delt workouts to give you shoulder boulders.

1. The Side Plank With Arm Raise

The Side Plank is great for your side deltoids, but the addition of an arm raise in this exercise is a smart way to work out both side delts simultaneously.

Here’s how to do it:

Pro tip: Focus on keeping your arm that’s resting on the floor well aligned and still to give you the most support.

2. Dumbbell Side Raises

Also referred to as dumbbell lateral raises, this isolation exercise will strengthen and define your side deltoids. It’s really easy to do it, too.

Pro tip: When performing a dumbbell lateral raise you should stop briefly after moving your hands to the sides because this puts more tension on your shoulders, and removes it from your trapezius muscles in the upper back which are trying to sneak in a workout.

3. Upright Row

This is one of the side delt exercises that makes use of a barbell

While it isolates your side delts nicely, it also gives your biceps a bit of a workout because of how you have to bend your elbows.

Pro tip: You can do these upright rows on a Smith Machine at the gym so that you can lift heavier weight.

It’s not an easy exercise and if you want to see quick gains then get some help with some supplements such as these.

4. Arnold Press

Another classic move to target your side deltoids! Did you know Arnold Schwarzenegger loves this move? 

It’s even named after him so you know it means business when building muscle in your shoulders. 

It is similar to the overhead press yet the elbows descend more directly in front of the body.

This small alteration makes it a great exercise because it lasers in on all three sections of your delts.

Here’s how to do it:

Pro tip: If you’re just starting out, use light weights for three sets of eight reps, so that you don’t injure your rotator cuff which contains tendons and muscles that surround your shoulder joint. Once you can do the Arnold Press with light weights comfortably, move on to bigger loads.

5. Side-To-Front Raise

This move targets your side deltoid and anterior deltoid. 

It’s a nice progression from the earlier-mentioned Dumbbell Side Raise.

Pro tip: Although you’re engaging your muscles in a swinging motion in this exercise, it’s important to do this exercise slowly and in a controlled manner.

6. Behind-The-Neck Press

This is one of the side delt exercises that puts your side delts in the driver’s position because when you move the barbell behind your neck, you take the focus away from your front delts to your side delts. It also requires a good grip.

Pro tip: As mentioned on Seriously Strong Training, you want to take your time with this exercise. You might have to do a few sets before the movements and bar placement feel comfortable.

Supercharge Your Side Delt Exercises

You’ve got the right side delt exercises, but make sure you follow the below tips to keep your workout explosive and successful.

Grab Some Resistance Bands

When doing the lateral raise, you can give it an extra boost by using a resistance band instead of your trusty dumbbells. 

This works well because it makes the toughest part of the lift even more difficult and helps your muscles to contract more.

To do it with correct form, you want to stand on the exercise band and hold its handles with your palms facing your thighs. 

You want to keep your arms extended, but your elbows slightly bent. When you pull both sides of the resistance band, your side delts should be engaged to lift the handles. 

Exhale on the way up, and pull the handles so that your arms are in line with each other on either side of your body.

A good tip is to tilt your hands as you lift the handles as if you were dropping coins out of them. 

Wait a second at the top of the pull, then slowly lower the resistance band, inhaling as you return to the starting position.

Don’t Overdo It

While you might be raring to go and do side delt exercises in a fast manner, you don’t want to you work them with too much momentum. 

The reason for this is because the side deltoid muscles are really small so you need to avoid other muscles getting in on the action when trying to isolate them. 

Controlled movements are key to keep them in the spotlight!

To help you slow down, it can benefit you to do some of your shoulder workouts while sitting. An example is with the Arnold Press. 

Not only does this help you to ease into the difficult exercise, but it further enhances work on your upper body because your legs are completely ignored.

Prioritize Your Side Delts

Doing the above side delt exercises will help you to make your side delts more of a priority while also giving the rest of your shoulder muscles a good workout. 

However, don’t go on to do front delt exercises after working your side delts as they already get excellent exercise from your chest workouts, like when you do bench presses. 

Heck, they get a lot of exercise! The point of focusing on your side delts is that they don’t get much attention. 

So, giving them center-stage now will help you to balance out the work you do on your different shoulder muscles, giving you much better all-round results.

Don’t Forget About Your Rotator Cuff

Earlier we mentioned that the rotator cuff can get injured during side delt exercises, so you want to give it some gentle exercise (read: TLC) when working out your shoulders to prevent injury. 

But, exercising your rotator cuffs also enables you to strengthen them so that your shoulders gets worked out properly.

To keep your rotator cuffs healthy and strong, you should do the following exercises.

The Arm Reach

Lie down on your back and extend your arms and legs, engaging your core. Reach one arm up to the ceiling until your shoulder blade is no longer touching the floor underneath you.

Hold this position for five seconds, then return your arm to the floor and repeat the same exercise with your other arm.

Lawnmower Pull

Stand shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other. With one hand you should hold a dumbbell. 

Place your free hand on your hip and lean a bit forward, bending your knees.

With your hand that’s holding the dumbbell, you want to reach down towards the floor and then pull your elbow back, in the same way that you’d pull the starter cord of a lawnmower.

Slowly return back to your starting position, then repeat the exercise with your other arm. You want to do two sets of eight or 10 reps.

How Often Should You Work Out Your Shoulders?

Aim for working out your shoulders two to three times a week, on nonconsecutive days. 

Also separate your chest and shoulder workouts by at least one full day so that your muscles have enough energy for both.

How Much Should You Rest Between Sets?

When exercising your shoulders, you should increase your rest times to three minutes. 

Basically, resting more gives you greater gains. 

Strength and Conditioning Research journal has found that resting for three minutes between sets builds more endurance, strength, and muscle than shorter breaks.

By bringing side delt exercises into your regular shoulder workout routine, you’ll have stronger and more powerful shoulders to match your built pecs and arms.

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