Whether you want a broader upper body or to improve your upper body strength, the side (lateral) deltoids are the key to achieving that amazing shoulder.
In this article, I’ll share the 11 best side delt exercises, including my top three picks and a workout plan to help you build bigger and border shoulders. So, grab a water bottle and hit the gym to crush those shoulders!
My Picks: Top 3 Middle Delt Exercises
Here’re my top three picks for the best middle delt exercises:
Anatomy of the Side Deltoid
The side deltoid, also known as the lateral deltoid or middle deltoid, is a triangular-shaped muscle located on the outermost part of the shoulder. It originates from the acromion process of the scapula and inserts into the deltoid tuberosity of the humerus.
The primary function of the middle deltoid is to abduct the arm or lift it away from the body to the side. It also assists in shoulder flexion and extension and plays a role in shoulder stabilization during overhead movements, helping us to get broad shoulders.
11 Best Side Delt Exercises for Mass
Here’re the 11 best side delt exercises with dumbbells, barbell, and cable machine.
1. Bent-Arm Lateral Raise
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other), and bend your elbows about 90 degrees at your sides.
- Keeping the elbows bent, raise your arms until you reach horizontal, contracting your middle delts at the top.
- Then lower your arms to the starting position and repeat.
Do not use heavy weights! Instead, perform longer repetitions like 15-20 reps per set. It’s one of the best middle delt exercises you can do with dumbbells.
2. 45-Degree Incline Row
- Place yourself on a 45-degree incline bench in a face-down position and let your arms hang straight while holding the dumbbells with an overhand grip (palms facing toward you).
- Inhale and pull the dumbbells toward your shoulders, contracting your side and rear delts.
- Then lower the dumbbells and repeat.
3. Side-Lying Dumbbell Lateral Raise
- Lie on one side on the floor or a bench holding a dumbbell with an overhand grip, and place the elbow of your opposite arm on the bench for support.
- Inhale and raise the arm to be vertical.
- Then slowly lower your arm to the starting position, controlling the movement.
- Perform longer reps (12-15) and switch sides.
Perform this lateral raise exercise without resting the dumbbell on your thigh to keep a consistent tension on the middle deltoid and make the shoulder workout more effective.
4. Seated Dumbbell Overhead Press
- Sit on a bench and hold a pair of dumbbells at your shoulder level with an overhand grip (thumbs pointing inward).
- Keeping your back straight, inhale, and extend your arms straight up.
- Lower the dumbbells to the starting position and exhale. Repeat.
You can also do this middle delt exercise in a standing position or alternating the arms. A backrest seated position is preferable to avoid excessive curves in the lower back. It’s one of the best middle delt exercises that also targets your anterior deltoid.
5. Lateral Dumbbell Raise
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Keep your spine neutral, elbows slightly bent, and shoulder blades squeezed.
- Inhale and raise your arms to the sides until you reach shoulder height.
- Then slowly lower your arms to the starting position.
- Exhale at the end of the effort and repeat.
Use lighter weights and avoid excessive body movement during almost all shoulder exercises. Engage your middle delt throughout the exercise and focus on full range of motion.
6. Incline Dumbbell “W” Raise
- To begin, get yourself on an incline bench with face down position. Hold a pair of dumbbells with your hands on a neutral grip (palms facing each other) in front of your shoulder and elbow belt.
- Raise your arms to the side as you feel your lateral and posterior deltoid.
- Slowly lower your arms to the starting position and repeat.
During this middle delt exercise, pause at the top of the movement for 3 seconds to increase tension on the shoulder muscles. It also activates your posterior delts.
7. Dumbbell Cheat Laterals
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell between your legs with your elbows softly bent.
- Keep your core tight, back flat, and hip squeezed.
- Inhale and raise your elbow to shoulder level, feeling the tension on the middle deltoid.
- Slowly return to the initial position as you exhale.
- Repeat and switch arms.
Variations, like starting the dumbbell raise from the side or even from the back, can help you hit different muscle fibers of the deltoids. Avoid swinging your body during the exercise.
8. Single Arm Cable Lateral Raise
- To begin, grasp the handle of a low pulley and stand laterally so that your leading arm is away from the machine.
- Keep your body upright, your elbow slightly bent, and look straight ahead. You can do this with the handle in front or back of the body.
- Inhale and raise your arms laterally until you reach shoulder level.
- Slowly lower your arm and exhale. Repeat and switch arms.
Bringing the handle from the backside can help increase the stretch of the deltoid muscles. It’s one of the best middle delt exercises with cable or bands.
9. Barbell Back Press
- Sit on a bench with a straight back and hold a barbell across the back of your neck with an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart.
- Inhale and extend your arms straight toward the ceiling, keeping the low back as straight as possible.
- Lower the bar to the initial position and exhale. Repeat.
To avoid shoulder joint injury, lower the bar only as far as your body allow you to do it comfortably.
10. Long Arc Lateral Raise with Band
- Step on a resistance band with your feet hip-width apart and hold the band in front of your thighs with an overhand grip.
- Keep your core tight, arms straight, and shoulder blades depressed.
- Inhale and raise your arms from side to shoulder height, contracting your middle delts.
- Then, slowly return your arms to the starting position as you exhale. Repeat.
You can also do this exercise with dumbbells or a cable machine. Keep the tension on your lateral deltoid muscle fibers throughout the movement.
10. Machine Lateral Raise
- To begin, set a weight on the lateral raise machine and position yourself on the machine and grasp the handles.
- Inhale and raise your elbows to the horizontal, contracting your medial deltoid.
- Lower your arms to the initial position and repeat.
It’s an excellent exercise for beginners to learn the movement and build foundational strength in the middle delts before moving into the other shoulder exercises.
A Sample Workout Plan for Middle Delts
Here’s a sample side (lateral) deltoid workout routine:
- Warm-up: 3-5 minutes (arms circle, external rotation, lightweight lateral raises, etc.)
- Bent arm lateral raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Cable lateral raises: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
- Side-lying lateral raises: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Cool down: 3-5 minutes (static stretching the deltoid muscles)
Rest for 60-90 seconds between each set.
So… There we have it, crazy! The best side delt exercises and a workout plan to help you increase strength and build massive shoulders.
Targeting the side deltoid muscle is critical to achieving a well-rounded, V-shaped upper body. By incorporating these exercises, you can effectively target and develop your side deltoids.
Remember to warm up properly, use proper form, and adjust weights according to your fitness level to prevent injury and get the most out of your sessions.
Read Next: 50 Best Shoulder Exercises of All Time
FAQs About Best Side Delt Exercises
How to stretch side delt?
To stretch your side delt, stand upright, bend your left elbow, and place it in front of your chest. Now, place your right hand on your left elbow and pull it inward and to the right side to feel the stretch on the middle delt. Hold that position for 20-30 seconds.
How do you build side delts fast?
To grow your side (lateral) deltoid faster, follow these tips — i) Gradually and progressively increase the weight or resistance in your exercises. ii) Increase your training volume by increasing the number of sets and reps. iii) Focus on building mind-muscle connections and doing the exercises in a full range of motion. iv) Aim to consume a high-protein diet and enough calories throughout the day. v) Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night for optimal muscle recovery and growth.