10 Best Side Delt Exercises for Broad Shoulders

The shoulder is primarily a group of three muscles – the front deltoid, lateral deltoid, and rear deltoid. And to build firm and broad shoulders, you’ll have to equally train each delt.

Other than specific exercises, front delts work during various push movements, such as bench presses and push-ups, and rear delts tend to engage in many upper-back exercises, such as the Pendlay row and Australian pull-ups.

However, the lateral deltoids (also known as side, medial, or mid delts) often remain untrained if we don’t specifically focus on them. That’s why we need to pay more attention to the lateral delts compared to the front and posterior ones.

In this article, I’ve outlined the best exercises for side delts that can help you build firm, symmetrical, and broad shoulders.

Here’s a quick list of all side delt exercises:

ExerciseEquipment NeededSkill Level
Standrad Side Delt RaiseDumbbell/MachineBeginner
Bent-arm Lateral RaisesDumbbell/MachineBeginner
Leaning (Against) Lateral RaisesDumbbell/MachineBeginner
45-Degree Incline Prone Y RaisesDumbbellsIntermediate
45-Degree Incline Chest Supported RowDumbbellsBeginner
Seated Y RaisesDumbbellsIntermediate
Upright RowBarbell/MachineIntermediate
Behind-the-Neck Shoulder PressBarbell/MachineIntermediate
Banded Lateral RaisesResistance BandsIntermediate
Side Plank Lateral RaiseBodyweightIntermediate

You can perform these exercises interchangeably to hit your lateral deltoids effectively and build sturdy and defined shoulders.

But before we see how to do each exercise. Let’s understand the function of lateral deltoids.

Functions of Lateral Deltoids

Shoulder Anatomy

The lateral delts are one of the three muscles that make up the shoulders. They work during shoulder abduction (when you raise your arms away to the side of your body).

Lateral delts also work along with other muscles, such as the front deltoids, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles to perform various push, pull, and circular movements.

Having strong mid delts provide stability to the shoulder and minimize the risk of dislocation and injury.

10 Best Side Delt Exercises to Build Broad Shoulders

Let’s find out how to perform each lateral delt exercise with step-by-step instructions.

1. Dumbbell Side Delt Raise

Dumbbell lateral raises are a primary exercise to bolster the medial deltoid and increase shoulder muscle growth. 1Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals – Journal of Human Kinetics

It is easy to perform so people of all fitness levels can integrate this exercise into their muscle-building program.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab one dumbbell in each hand and stand in a shoulder-width stance.
  2. Push your hips back, slightly lean forward, and maintain a neutral spine position.
  3. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms facing in.
  4. Brace your core and raise your arms to the sides (20-30 degrees in front of your shoulders) until your elbows and delts are in line.
  5. Pause for one second, then return to the start. That’s one rep.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Do not pull your arms back. Your palms should be facing down at the top of the movement.
  • Do not shrug your shoulders. Your focus should be on lateral delt all the time.
  • Do not raise your arms directly to the sides of your shoulders.

2. Dumbbell Bent-arm Side Delt Raises

Dumbbell Bent-arm Side Delt Raises

You can hit your medial delts in another way using the bent-arm variation. The bent-arm lateral raise found as the best exercise when it comes to engaging the medial delts, as shown in the American Council of Exercise (ACE) study. 2Dynamite Delts: ACE Research Identifies Top Shoulder Exercises – American Council of Exercise

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip and stand upright or sit on the end of the bench with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Keep your elbows bent in front of you (assume half hammer curl position) with your palms facing each other.
  3. Raise your elbows and dumbbells up and out until they are at your shoulder height. You can hold there for a moment before returning to the start.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Do not let your elbows pass your shoulders.
  • Do not use heavy dumbbells.

3. Leaning Lateral Delt Raise

It is another excellent variation to hit the lateral deltoids. It requires leaning away to the side from the standing object.

The leaning position allows you to put more stress on your delts and help promote hypertrophy.

How to do a dumbbell variation:

  1. Grab a dumbbell in your right hand with a neutral grip and stand beside the rack, door, smith, or cable machines with your feet together.
  2. Hold the rack with your left hand for support and slightly lean against it until your arm is straight. Keep your working arm straight. That’s the start.
  3. Raise your arm and dumbbell up to the side till it reaches your shoulder height. You can keep your elbows softly bent.
  4. Feel the contraction in your side delt for a moment before lowering the dumbbell to the start.

How to a cable leaning lateral raise:

  1. Insert the D handle into the machine and set the rack at an appropriate height.
  2. Stand straight beside the cable machine and grab the handle with your right hand. Hold the rack with your free hand for support.
  3. Slightly lean away to the side of the machine until your left arm is straight. That’s your starting position.
  4. Raise your right arm up and out until it is parallel to the ground.
  5. Hold there for a moment and then return to the start. That’s one rep.

4. Incline Dumbbell Y Raises

The dumbbell Y raises can help you grow shoulder mass and improve muscle definition.

It requires a pair of dumbbells and a flexible bench where you can lie prone at a 45-degree angle and perform raises.

Steps to do it:

  1. Set the bench at a 45-degree incline and lie on it with your face down and chest on the edge of it.
  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral or overhand grip and keep your arms straight downward.
  3. Slightly lift your shoulders and raise your arms diagonally, making a “Y” shape, until your lateral delts are fully engaged.
  4. Pause for a couple of seconds and then lower your arms to complete the first rep.
  5. Do two to three sets of 8 to 10 repetitions each.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Do not take your arms out to the sides as it can put more stress on the rear delt instead of the side.

Also, check out: IYT Raises Exercise

5. Bent-over Lateral Raises

The bent-over lateral raise is primarily a rear delt workout; however, it also engages mid deltoid to some extent. And combining it with other medial delt exercises can help you achieve better results.

Steps to do it:

  1. Holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Pushing your backward, slightly bend your knees, and lean your torso forward (45 degrees).
  3. Keep your arms straight below your trunk and maintain a neutral spine position.
  4. With a slight bend in your elbows, raise your arms out until your lateral delt muscle is engaged.
  5. Lower your arms to the starting position to complete the first repetition.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • Avoid bending your torso more than 45 degrees because it can minimize lateral delt activation.

6. 45-Degree Incline Chest Supported Row

The chest-supported row targets the medial and posterior delts and helps develop muscular shoulders.

Steps to do it:

  1. Lie prone on a 45-degree incline bench with your chest at the end.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip and let your arms hang below your shoulders.
  3. Pull the dumbbells up until your elbows are in line with your shoulders.
  4. Hold for a moment and then lower your arms down.
  5. Do two to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions each.

7. Barbell Upright Row

Upright Row Shoulder Workout

The upright row is a compound workout that bolster multiple muscles simultaneously, particularly the traps and delts. Including it in your specific side delt workout can produce decent results.

Steps to do it:

  1. Grab a loaded barbell with an overhand grip (hands slightly wider than hip-width) and stand in the shoulder-width stance.
  2. Holding a bar in the standing position, pull it toward your neck as high as you can.
  3. Pause for a moment, then return to the start. That’s one rep.

8. Behind The Neck Barbell Shoulder Press

Smith Machine Overhead Press

The front overhead press primarily targets the anterior deltoids, but when you press the bar from behind the neck, you also engage the medial and lateral delts to some extent. 3Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. Front vs Back and Barbell vs Machine Overhead Press: An Electromyographic Analysis and Implications For Resistance Training. Front Physiol. 2022 Jul 22;13:825880. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.825880. PMID: 35936912; PMCID: PMC9354811.

It may not be the best exercise, but you can perform it along with other movements to build sculpted delts.

And when you do pressing behind the neck, you can skip the front overhead press and perform front lateral raises instead.

Steps to do it:

  1. Insert the desired weight into the Smith machine and grab it with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Sit on the bench and hold the bar behind your head.
  3. Brace your abdominal muscles, inhale, and press the bar up until your arms are straight.
  4. After a brief pause, lower it down to the start. That’s one rep.

9. Banded Lateral Raises

Doing lateral delt exercises with resistance bands may help you achieve similar results compared to conventional strength training over time. And it is great for those who do not have access to dumbbells and machines.

Steps to do it:

  1. Start with standing upright with your feet two times wider than your hip-width stance.
  2. Place one end of the band under your right foot while grabbing the other end with your left hand.
  3. Raise your arm and band up to the side as high as possible so your side delt muscle can activate.
  4. You can pause for a couple of seconds before lowering the band to the start.
  5. Complete a couple of sets of eight to ten repetitions each.

10. Bodyweight Lateral Raise

If you work out at home, you can try bodyweight lateral raises to enhance your shoulder strength and stability. Along with side delts, it also engages the core and arms and help build a strong torso.

Steps to do it:

  1. Get into a forearm plank position with your back straight and elbows in line with your shoulder.
  2. Lift your right elbow off the floor and move your torso to the right until your face is facing forward.
  3. Return your right forearm to the floor and repeat the same move with your opposite arm.
  4. Do as many times as you can.

How to Integrate Lateral Delt Exercises into Your Routine?

If you want to build sturdy, broader, and defined shoulders, you must train your lateral delts twice a week (3-6 sets per session).

Here’s how you can integrate the medial delt exercises into your shoulder training program:

Week 1 (Part 1)

  • Overhead Dumbbell Press
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raises
  • Rear Delt Dumbbell Fly
  • 45-Degree Incline Chest Supported Row
  • Shoulder Shrug
  • Perform three sets of 10-12 exercises with 1-2 minutes of break in between them.

Week 1 (Part 2)

  • Arnold Press – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Incine Y Raises – 3 sets x 10 reps
  • Reverse Pec Deck Fly – 4 sets x 10 reps
  • Barbel Front Raises – 3 sets x 10 reps

Final Words

The shoulder muscle primarily has three parts – the front deltoid, lateral deltoid, and rear deltoid. And you need to train each delt to build thick, muscular, and rounded shoulders.

Front and rear delts usually work during the push and pull movements, but middle delts are often skipped.

That’s why you need to put more focus on training your lateral delts to build healthy shoulders.

You can do that by using some of the best side delt exercises I’ve outlined above.

You can perform those exercises interchangeably to hit your lateral deltoids effectively.

You can also include the example routines in your workout regime.


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Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.
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