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Get Ready for Sleeveless Season With These 15 Anterior Deltoid Exercises

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

The shoulders play a critical role in daily activities and aesthetics. Wider, more developed shoulders can contribute to a more athletic physique. But stronger shoulders also help you lift groceries or move boxes.

One of the ways you can build broader shoulders is through anterior deltoid exercises.

A man performing anterior deltoid exercises using a dumbbell
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In this article, we cover the 15 best anterior deltoid exercises, whether you have a barbell, cable machine, dumbbells, or no weights at all. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Deltoid Muscle Anatomy

Understanding deltoid muscle anatomy will help you develop a training program for delt development. The deltoid wraps around the shoulder and has three separate muscle heads:

  • Anterior deltoids (front)
  • Lateral deltoids (side)
  • Posterior deltoids (rear)

Each muscle head has a distinct function; different movements will engage the different muscles.

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A 3D view of anterior deltoids

Anterior Deltoid

The anterior, or front deltoid, is located at the front of the shoulder. It plays a significant role in shoulder movement and stability. 

  • Primary Function: The main function of the anterior deltoid is shoulder flexion, which involves lifting the arm forward and upward.
  • Assists in Horizontal Adduction: The anterior deltoid also assists in bringing the arm across the body in a horizontal adduction movement.
  • Stabilization: Besides movement, the anterior deltoid aids in stabilizing the shoulder joint, particularly during pressing exercises.
  • Synergistic Movements: The anterior deltoid works synergistically with other muscles, such as the pectoralis major and the triceps brachii, to perform various upper-body movements.

The anterior deltoid plays a crucial role in shoulder flexion, horizontal adduction, and shoulder joint stability. You can effectively strengthen and develop this muscle by incorporating exercises that specifically target the anterior deltoid, such as front raises and overhead presses. 

Lateral Deltoid

Positioned on the outer side of the shoulder, the lateral deltoid or middle deltoid is responsible for various shoulder movements, contributing to the overall shape and strength of the shoulders. 

  • Primary Function: The primary function of the lateral deltoid is shoulder abduction, which involves lifting the arm away from the body to the side.
  • Shoulder Stability: The lateral deltoid aids in stabilizing the shoulder joint during movements, ensuring proper alignment and support.
  • Synergistic Movements: Alongside the other deltoid heads and surrounding muscles, such as the supraspinatus and trapezius, the lateral deltoid assists in various upper body movements, including overhead presses and raises.
  • Aesthetics and Shoulder Width: Developing the lateral deltoid contributes to a visually pleasing shoulder shape, creating the appearance of wider shoulders and enhancing overall upper body aesthetics.

You can effectively strengthen and develop this muscle by incorporating exercises that specifically target the lateral deltoid, such as lateral raises and upright rows. 

Posterior Deltoid

The posterior delt, also known as the rear deltoid, is situated at the back of the shoulder. It plays a critical role in movement, stability, and posture. 

  • Primary Function: The primary function of the posterior deltoid is shoulder extension, which involves moving the arm backward and away from the body.
  • Shoulder Retraction: The posterior deltoid aids in shoulder retraction, bringing the shoulder blades together.
  • Horizontal Abduction: The posterior deltoid assists in horizontal abduction, where the arm moves away from the body’s midline.
  • Shoulder Joint Stability: Alongside other muscles, such as the infraspinatus and teres minor, the posterior deltoid contributes to shoulder joint stability and proper alignment.

Incorporating exercises targeting the posterior deltoid, such as bent-over lateral raises and reverse flies, can effectively strengthen and develop this muscle.

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The Benefits of Anterior Deltoid Exercises

There are several benefits to training the shoulder muscles. Wider shoulders can contribute to a conventional, aesthetically pleasing physique. Building strength in the upper body makes daily activities easier, like lifting and pulling.

The front deltoid muscles also contribute to shoulder stability, mobility, and range of motion. Delt exercises can carry over to other compound movements, like the bench press and overhead press.

Improved Upper Body Strength

Deltoid workouts won’t only help with your appearance but significantly benefit upper body strength

Strong front delts can benefit pressing movements, like the bench press, overhead press, and push-up. These movements can carry over to daily activities, like moving a fridge or heavy objects.

Strengthening the front deltoid muscles can enhance your performance in these compound exercises, leading to greater upper body strength and stability. This is particularly beneficial for athletes involved in sports like boxing, swimming, or basketball.

Enhanced Shoulder Stability

Front deltoid training also contributes to healthier shoulder joint stability. The anterior delts work with other muscles in the shoulder girdle, like the rotator cuff, to maintain proper alignment and stability of the shoulder joint during movement. 

By strengthening the front deltoid muscles, you can improve shoulder stability, reducing the risk of injuries, such as shoulder impingement or rotator cuff strains.

Improved Functional Upper Body Movements

Front delt workouts can enhance functional body strength besides simply looking better and building muscle mass. Functional strength refers to strength used in daily activities, like lifting items overhead, pushing heavy doors, or moving objects. 

Strong front delt development will positively impact your capacity to handle these activities. 

Training programs that incorporate movements that mimic real-life scenarios, like barbell overhead presses, will help you perform better in everyday tasks.

Barbell Exercises

Traditional barbell exercises are an effective way to train the shoulders and build muscle mass in the upper body. The barbell allows for greater loading capacity and stability, enabling you to challenge and develop your front deltoids to their full potential. 

  • Barbell exercises such as the overhead press and push press engage not only the front deltoids but also other upper body muscles, providing a more comprehensive workout.
  • A barbell can easily add weight in small increments, facilitating progressive overload and continuous strength gains.
  • The barbell offers a wide range of exercises, including variations of presses, raises, and jerks, giving you ample choices to target the front deltoids from various angles.

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter, harnessing the benefits of a barbell can take your front deltoid training to new heights, helping you achieve strong, well-defined shoulders for the upcoming sleeveless season.

1. Barbell Overhead Press

The Barbell Overhead Press is a fundamental compound exercise that allows you to use heavy weights and build muscle strength. There are several variations, like seated and incline options. 

The standing barbell overhead press requires more core involvement and carries over to Olympic lifts, powerlifting, strongman, and CrossFit competition environments.

  1. Set the barbell just below your shoulders in a standing position.
  2. Hold the bar with both hands using an overhand grip and place your feet shoulder-width distance.
  3. Take a deep breath and keep the core tight.
  4. Push the barbell upward, extending your arms fully overhead.
  5. Lower the weight slowly back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the movement for the number of repetitions you want to complete.

2. Incline Bench Press

The Incline Bench Press primarily targets the upper chest muscles, but the front deltoids and triceps are also engaged. It’s a compound upper body exercise, meaning multiple muscle groups are used during the lift. 

The movement requires an incline bench set to at least a 30-degree angle. The inclined position engages the shoulders, with a deeper, 45-degree angle targeting the front deltoids more. 

  1. Adjust an incline bench to an angle of about 30 to 45 degrees.
  2. Sit on the bench and ensure your back is firmly against it, your feet are flat on the floor, and your lower back has a slight arch.
  3. Using an underhand grip, grab the barbell with your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Raise the barbell off the rack and hold it above your chest, fully extending your arms.
  5. Lower the weight in a controlled manner toward your upper chest.
  6. Pause briefly when the barbell is at the bottom, then push it back up to the starting position, fully extending your arms.
  7. Repeat this movement for the desired rep range.

3. Landmine Press

The Landmine Overhead Press is a compound upper body exercise that engages the shoulders, triceps, and chest muscles. It’s often overlooked for other exercises or because many lifters are unaware of the landmine device attachment. The movement requires a standing position, increasing core stability, and strength. 

  1. Stand with the feet shoulder-width  distance, holding the weighted end of the barbell in front of your chest.
  2. Ensure the barbell is securely placed in a landmine device or wedged in a corner.
  3. Extend your arms and push the barbell overhead while exhaling.
  4. Pause briefly at the top of the exercise with your arms fully extended.
  5. Lower the weight back down to the starting position in a controlled manner while breathing in.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired rep range.

4. Barbell Front Raise

The Barbell Front Raise may look silly, but it has several advantages regarding the anterior delts. The barbell allows you to use heavier weights than dumbbells or cables, providing more muscle activation.

  1. Stand with the feet shoulder-width  distance and grab a barbell with an overhand grip.
  2. Hold the barbell in front of your thighs, with your palms facing down and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keep your back straight, engage your core, and slightly bend your elbows.
  4. Raise the barbell slowly in a straight line in front of your body until your arms are parallel to the floor or slightly higher.
  5. Pause briefly at the top of the exercise, then lower the weight to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  6. Repeat this movement for the desired repetition range.

5. Behind-The-Neck Press

The Behind-the-Neck Press is an advanced movement that challenges the upper back muscles. Compared to standard shoulder presses, this movement targets all three deltoid heads, including the front, middle, and rear deltoids.

It also targets the triceps, traps, and rhomboids. The movement is not recommended if you have pre-existing injuries or mobility complications. 

  1. Sit on an exercise bench and position the barbell just below shoulder height.
  2. Fully extend your arms and raise the barbell overhead, exhaling as you do so.
  3. Hold the contraction for a second at the top and then lower the weight to the starting position while breathing in.
  4. Repeat this movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Dumbbell Exercises

Incorporating dumbbells into your training routine can yield remarkable results when it comes to targeting and strengthening the front deltoids. Dumbbells offer versatility, allowing for various exercise variations that specifically target the front deltoids. 

  • Dumbbells allow for a broader range of motion compared to other equipment, enabling a deeper stretch and better activation of the front deltoids.
  • Dumbbell exercises require each arm to work independently, helping you deal with muscle imbalances and building equal strength between the left and right sides of the body.
  • By using dumbbells, the stabilizer muscles around the shoulder joint are activated, contributing to improved stability and joint integrity.
  • Dumbbells offer a wide variety of shoulder workouts, including front raises, lateral raises, and Arnold presses, allowing you to target the front deltoids from different angles for comprehensive development.

6. Dumbbell Front Raise

The Dumbbell Front Raise is one of the most effective exercises for targeting the front deltoids. The raise exercise works better with light weights and higher rep ranges, around 10-12 reps. There’s some core involvement, as you have to keep a stable body position during the standing variation.

  1. Stand straight and grab a pair of dumbbells, resting them across the front of your thighs.
  2. Keep your feet shoulder-width distance and your knees slightly bent.
  3. Lift one dumbbell (let’s say the right hand) in front of you until it reaches just above shoulder level.
  4. Lower the weight of the right hand while simultaneously raising the left hand in front of you.
  5. Continue alternating the movement between your right and left hands in a back-and-forth manner.
  6. Perform this exercise by raising one dumbbell while lowering the other, and keep alternating between them.

7. Arnold Shoulder Press

Created by the world-renowned bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Arnold Press is a popular exercise for targeting the shoulder muscles. The Arnold Press is a fantastic addition to your deltoid workouts, as the additional rotation targets each muscle head, leading to massive delt growth

  1. Sit on a flat bench or stand tall with the feet shoulder-width  distance.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder level, with your palms facing your body.
  3. Start the movement by pressing the dumbbells overhead while at the same time rotating your palms away from your body.
  4. As you push the dumbbells upward, continue rotating your palms until they face forward at the height of the exercise.
  5. Pause briefly at the top position, and then reverse the movement by rotating your palms back towards your body.
  6. Return the dumbbells to the starting position while maintaining the palm rotation.
  7. Repeat this exercise by pressing the dumbbells overhead, rotating your palms, and then returning to the starting position.

8. Dumbbell Shoulder Press

The Shoulder Dumbbell Press exercise is a classic exercise to incorporate into your shoulder workouts. The dumbbells allow for an additional range of motion, and you can use lighter weights for higher rep ranges. The movement of front and middle delts, alongside stabilizer muscles, like the triceps brachii.

  1. Begin by sitting on a bench or standing tall with the feet shoulder-width  distance.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at shoulder level, with your palms facing forward and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Press the dumbbells overhead by straightening your arms.
  4. When you reach the top of the movement, briefly pause with your arms fully extended, making sure not to lock out your elbows.
  5. Lower the dumbbells back down to shoulder level.
  6. Repeat this exercise for the desired rep range.

9. Incline Dumbbell Press

The Incline Dumbbell Press is a variation of the traditional barbell method. It may seem like a chest exercise, but it’s an effective exercise for targeting the pectoral muscles and front delts. Dumbbell incline presses require more coordination and sufficient strength from stabilizer muscles, leading to more muscle growth. 

  1. Lie back on an incline bench that is set at a 30 or 45ΒΊ angle.
  2. Clean the dumbbells by lifting them up and positioning them straight overhead. You should feel a nice squeeze in your chest at the top.
  3. Lower the dumbbells down slowly and feel a stretch in your chest muscles at the bottom position.
  4. Hold for a second, and then press the dumbbell back up to return to the starting position.

10. Dumbbell Squeeze Press

Another chest press exercise targeting the inner chest muscles and anterior delts is the Dumbbell Squeeze Press . The range of movement requires the pair of dumbbells to be in contact with one another at all times. This provides more resistance over time, leading to more muscle development. 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie down on a flat bench.
  2. Bring the dumbbells together, placing them side by side, and lift them up above your chest.
  3. Lower the dumbbells together, allowing them to touch your chest, and then push them back up.
  4. Repeat this movement for the desired rep range.

Cable Front Delt Exercises

The cable machine is one of the best pieces of equipment for delt isolation exercises.

The cable pulley machine offers consistent resistance over time and a wide range of shoulder exercises that specifically target the front deltoids.

  • The cable machine provides constant tension throughout the entire range of motion, ensuring a continuous challenge to the front deltoids.
  • With the ability to adjust the weight stack or select different resistance levels, the cable machine allows for progressive overload and tailored intensity.
  • The cable machine offers a variety of attachments and cable heights, allowing you to target the front deltoids from various angles and positions.
  • The cable machine provides a wide range of exercises, such as cable front raises, cable presses, and cable crossovers, giving you versatility in targeting the front deltoids.

Incorporating the cable machine into your exercise regime offers numerous benefits, including constant tension, adjustable resistance, versatility in exercise options, and engagement of stabilizer and abdominal muscles .

11. Cable Front Raise

The Cable Front Raise is a variation of the dumbbell raise exercise. The consistent tension from the cable pulley machine recruits more muscle fibers, making it an effective isolation exercise. It’s best to perform in the 3-12 rep range, keeping the weight moderate. 

  1. Connect a straight bar to the lowest position on the cable machine. 
  2. Hold the bar with an overhand shoulder-width grip.
  3. Stand near the pulley with your body upright and your shoulders pulled back.
  4. Breathe out as you pull the bar up the front of your body until it reaches shoulder height.
  5. Hold for a count of two, and then breathe in as you lower the bar back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat this movement for the recommended number of repetitions.

12. Cable Upright Row

The Upright Row is an effective exercise for muscle development in the upper back, shoulders, and triceps. The cable variation offers a wide variety of grip widths, allowing you to adjust the range of motion to suit your muscle activation goals. 

  1. Attach a straight bar to the lowest position on the cable machine. 
  2. Grab the bar using a shoulder-width overhand grip.
  3. Stand near the pulley with your body upright and your shoulders pulled back.
  4. Breathe out as you pull the bar up the front of the body until it reaches chest level.
  5. Do not pull the bar up any higher. Hold for a count of two.
  6. Inhale as you lower the weight to the starting position to finish one repetition.

Bodyweight Exercises

You don’t need any fancy equipment to train the front deltoids; you can use your body weight to build muscle mass in the shoulders. These exercises utilize your body’s weight as resistance, allowing you to train your front deltoids without the need for any additional equipment. 

  • Bodyweight exercises can be performed anywhere, anytime, as they require minimal space and no equipment. This makes them highly accessible for individuals with limited resources or those who prefer to train outside the traditional gym setting.
  • Bodyweight exercises engage multiple muscle groups, including the front deltoids, in a coordinated manner, promoting functional strength and stability in the shoulder joint.
  • Bodyweight training offers a wide range of difficulty levels, allowing you to scale the exercises based on your fitness level. As you progress, you can incorporate variations and advanced movements to continually challenge your front deltoids.
  • Bodyweight workouts provide a lower-impact option that can be beneficial for individuals recovering from injuries or seeking to prevent shoulder-related issues. 

13. Push-Ups

The push-up exercise is one of the best calisthenics movements to add to your workout regimen. You can perform them anywhere to build muscles in your chest, shoulders, and triceps. 

  1. Lie facedown on the ground in the standard push-up position with your legs extended and your arms supporting your upper body.
  2. Lift yourself off the ground by straightening your elbows and arms while keeping your elbows close to your body.
  3. Raise your body until your elbows are fully extended, and hold for a brief pause at the top.
  4. Slowly lower your body down in a controlled manner, feeling the movement all the way until your chest is very close to the ground.

14. Archer Push-Up

The Archer Push-Up exercise variation requires a wider arm position. You transfer most of your body weight to one of the hands and incline forward, keeping the other hand straight. The movement requires control, core stabilization, and focus. 

  1. Begin in a standard push-up position, placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and ensuring that your elbows are fully extended.
  2. Keep your core strong and shift your upper body towards the right side.
  3. Bend your right elbow and bring your right chest closer to your right hand.
  4. As you lower towards the right side, allow your left arm to straighten out completely.
  5. Your left arm should be fully extended, forming a straight line from your shoulder to your hand.
  6. Repeat this movement for your desired rep range, and then switch sides to perform the exercise on the opposite side.

15. Pike Push Up

Pike Push-Ups, or shoulder push-ups, are another variation that can improve shoulder strength and stability. The movement uses an upright position, engaging the shoulders and triceps more than the chest. The exercise looks similar to a downward-facing dog but can be a major exercise for muscle development. 

  1. Begin in a standard push-up position, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your elbows fully extended.
  2. Lift your hips up and back, forming an inverted V shape with your body.
  3. Keep your arms and legs as straight as possible throughout the movement.
  4. Slowly lower the top of your head towards the ground.
  5. Pause for a second when your head is about to touch the ground.
  6. Then, slowly push back up until your arms are fully extended, returning to the inverted V position.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Exercises Work the Anterior Deltoids?

Front raises, overhead presses and incline presses are fantastic movements for strengthening the front deltoids. Presses can be performed with heavier weights for lower reps, between 6–8. Front raises are best with moderate or lightweight for 10–15 reps.

What Grows the Shoulders the Most?

Exercises like the overhead press, Arnold press, and incline bench press can contribute to shoulder development. It’s best to incorporate a wide range of exercises, including compound lifts and isolation movements. Front raises, lateral raises and rear delt flyers are effective delt isolation exercises.

How Do You Isolate the Anterior Deltoid?

Movements that require you to lift weights in front of the body or overhead will help you isolate the anterior deltoid. These movements can include front raises, overhead presses, and the Arnold press. Using dumbbells or cables can provide more flexibility and versatility to your training regimen.

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