Incorporating dedicated shoulder work into your training offers several benefits: reinforcing and maintaining healthy shoulder joints, building functional strength, and adding mass and definition. In other words, your shoulders will look and feel great.
Targeting the front delts is a common goal for those looking to add definition and strengthen the shoulder joint. Here are six effective front delt exercises to help you accomplish that goal.
Front Deltoid Anatomy
First, let’s start with some simple shoulder anatomy. While this complex joint and muscle group has many moving parts, the deltoids are the primary muscle making up the shoulder cap. The deltoids have three components:
- The front deltoid (anterior deltoid) at the front
- The middle deltoid (lateral deltoid) in the middle
- The rear deltoid (anterior deltoid) at the back
Your deltoids are responsible for facilitating shoulder movement. Any time you push, pull, or raise your arms overhead, your deltoids help. Your front deltoid connects your clavicle to your humerus and has a symbiotic relationship with your chest muscles— that’s why you’ll likely feel many front delt exercises in your pecs as well.
Now that you know a little more about this muscle, let’s dive into some effective exercises to incorporate into your next front delt workout.
Plate Raise Steering Wheels
You’ll need a weight plate of a manageable size for this movement. Start with a 10lb plate and work your way up if you’re new to fitness. This exercise combines the motion of a traditional dumbbell front raise with a little twist to really hit the front delt and shoulder stabilizers.
- Grab a weight plate at the sides so that your palms are facing each other with arms fully extended when you lift it in front of you (the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions). Start with the plate resting against your thighs.
- Brace your core and slowly lift the plate while keeping your arms extended. Pause when your arms are parallel to the floor and the plate is at chest height.
- Turn the plate to the left until your hands reach 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock.
- Pause, then repeat to the right.
- Pause, then return to the center.
- Slowly lower the plate back to the starting position to complete one rep.
Explore your range of motion with this move. If you feel better activation when your hands reach 11 o’clock and 5 o’clock, pause there rather than continuing. Slow and controlled movement is a must.
Underhand EZ Bar Front Raise
The dumbbell front raise is one of the best-known shoulder exercises. These movements are typically completed with hands in an overhand grip or neutral grip (palms facing each other). The underhand grip variation allows the elbows to move toward the center of your body in the frontal plane, which shifts the focus of the exercise to the front delts. The EZ bar provides better stability while in this position.
- Grab an EZ bar in an underhand grip, hands and feet placed approximately shoulder-width apart. Let the bar rest against your thighs.
- Brace your core and lift the bar until you reach chest height. Pause.
- Lower the bar with control back to the starting position to complete the rep.
This shoulder exercise is simple to execute but more challenging than it looks. Keep the weight light to start and maintain proper form. If your back arches or you have to use momentum, it’s too heavy.
The Arnold Press is a compound exercise that builds on the traditional shoulder press for an intense shoulder workout. In addition to hitting the anterior delt, this movement also engages the side delts, rear delt muscles, and upper chest— all you need is a pair of dumbbells.
- Grab two dumbbells with an overhand grip and sit on a flat or incline bench. Hold the dumbbells upright with elbows bent and palms facing toward you, approximately at eye level. Your arms should be tucked close to your body. This is your starting position.
- Push the dumbbells upward, twisting them in a fluid motion as your arms extend until your palms face away from you and your arms are fully extended overhead. The top of the movement should end like a traditional overhead press.
- Pause, then reverse the motion until you reach the starting position.
The effectiveness of this compound exercise makes it one of the best exercises for bodybuilding, even among those who prefer isolation exercise movements.
Resistance Band Upright Row
The upright row is something of a hot topic. Many trainers avoid it due to the risk to the rotator cuffs if done incorrectly. Using a resistance band rather than a barbell or cable machine helps minimize that risk while strengthening the shoulder muscles that support the rotator cuff, focusing on constant tension rather than heavy load-bearing.
- Grab a light resistance band with an overhand grip, standing on the band with feet shoulder-width apart. If you have a loop band, step inside the band, placing your feet on the lower portion while leaving the upper portion free between your hands.
- Brace your core, keep a neutral spine, and pull the band upward in a straight line with your hands tucked close to the front of your body. Let your elbows bend upward and flare to the sides.
- Stop at shoulder height, pause, and return to the starting position.
Pay attention to your shoulder muscles when practicing this movement. Extending too far will shift the motion to the shoulder joint and traps, rather than keeping the anterior and middle delts in charge. You can also try the exercise with one arm while keeping your other palm placed on the active shoulder to feel the engagement in your anterior delt.
Single-Arm Landmine Press
The landmine press is one of the most overlooked deltoid exercises. In addition to targeting the front delts, this unique barbell movement also hits the upper chest and triceps. If you’re into powerlifting or just want to build your bench press or military press, this is a great accessory lift. You’ll need a barbell and a landmine attachment (or a sturdy corner) for this movement.
- Set up a barbell and position yourself, so the free end is resting on your palm, held above your shoulder. Remember to practice proper squat form when getting into this position.
- Stand in a split stance with your opposite leg positioned in the front. If you’re starting with the right shoulder, your left leg should be forward.
- Push the barbell up until your arm reaches full extension. It’s natural for your back foot to come up slightly and the weight to shift to your leading foot during this movement.
- Pause, and lower the barbell back to the starting position with your elbow tucked close to your body. That’s one rep.
You can also do a two-handed version of this movement by standing with feet evenly spaced at shoulder-width and the bar centered in front of you. Be sure to brace your core throughout the movement.
It wouldn’t be a CrossFit shoulder workout without mentioning handstand push-ups. This incredibly challenging bodyweight exercise engages the entire body, with special emphasis on the deltoid muscles.
- Place your hands on the floor with fingertips facing the wall at approximately 6-12 inches away.
- Get into a handstand position with your heels touching the wall, facing away. Take a moment to get stable.
- Squeeze your glutes and brace your core. Then, lower yourself slowly, allowing your elbows to bend to a 45-degree angle until your head touches the floor.
- Maintain tension as you push yourself back up to full extension to complete the rep.
This movement is not for beginners. However, beginners can swap out pike push-ups as an alternative while learning this movement. The key is to start with learning to kick into a handstand position and holding it while maintaining balance and form. Then, using negatives and assists to progress.
Did You Know
Your shoulder is barely connected to your skeleton. It relies on muscles more than any other joint in the body. This allows the flexion, extension, and rotation we depend on for movement.
Adding targeted front deltoid work to your shoulder training will help you strengthen your upper arms and shoulder joint while you build an impressive upper body physique. Remember to practice proper form to protect the sensitive shoulder joint as you work through these exercises.