6 Best Side Delt Exercises For Sculpting Your Shoulders

Side Delt Exercises Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Side Delt Exercises

Most people think of the side delt as a secondary muscle when it comes to shoulder exercises. However, this muscle can be worked in isolation through a variety of exercises that will target it specifically. In this article, we will discuss some of the best side delt exercises for sculpting your shoulders.

What Is The Side Delt Muscle?

The side deltoids are a muscle on the side of your shoulder. It’s responsible for lifting your arm up and out to the side. It’s also responsible for stabilizing your shoulder joint, keeping it from moving too much.

If you have ever dislocated your shoulder, it is likely that the side delt muscle was involved. The side delt muscle is one of three heads that make up the shoulder muscle. The other two heads are the anterior deltoid (front) and the posterior deltoid (rear). These three muscles work together to stabilize the shoulder joint. The side delt muscle is also called the lateral deltoid or medial deltoid. It’s the largest of the three deltoid muscles, and it’s the one that most people think of when they think of the deltoid muscle.

The side delt muscle is attached to the shoulder blade by a tendon. The other end of the muscle is attached to the upper arm bone. When the muscle contracts, it pulls on the arm bone and raises the arm up and out to the side.

1. Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises

A side lateral raise is an isolation exercise that targets the shoulders, specifically the side delts. It is performed by standing with a weight in each hand and then lifting the weights to the sides, away from the body.

The dumbbell side lateral raise is great for building strong and defined shoulders. It can be performed with a variety of different weights, making it perfect for both beginners and experienced lifters alike.

How to do a dumbbell side lateral raise:

  1. Start by standing with your chest up, shoulders retracted, feet hip-width apart, and a weight in each hand.
  2. From here, raise the weights to the sides, keeping your arms straight and your shoulders down and back.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, and repeat for reps.

Tips for doing a dumbbell side lateral raise:

  • Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout the exercise, and don’t let your shoulders roll forward.
  • Tilt your head slightly upwards throughout the movement.
  • Keep your core engaged and your body stable to avoid swinging the weights.
  • Breathe evenly throughout the exercise.
  • Use a weight that challenges you, but allows you to maintain good form.
  • Hold on to the back of the dumbbell neck and envision yourself pouring out a glass of water at the top of the movement by tilting the dumbbell slightly forward

Use these tips to make sure you’re doing the exercise correctly, and challenge yourself with different weights to keep your muscles growing.

Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise Variations

Single Arm Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises

The single-arm side lateral raise is a great variation to put full emphasis on one side delt at a time. This helps eliminate and prevent any imbalances in these muscles.

  1. Stand with a weight in one hand and feet hip-width apart
  2. Keeping your arm straight, lift the weight out to the side until your arm is parallel to the floor
  3. Pause and slowly lower the weight back to the starting position
  4. Repeat on the other side

Tips:

  • Start with your weaker arm first and be sure to do an equal amount of reps with both shoulders using the same temp.
  • Hold onto something with your free hand to maintain proper posture and balance.

Seated Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises

The seated dumbbell side lateral raise is another useful variation because it helps eliminate the extra leg momentum that may otherwise occur during the standing version. This will allow you to achieve side delt fatigue sooner with lighter weights.

  1. Sit on the edge of a bench with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your thighs.
  2. Lean forward slightly and allow your arms to hang straight down from your shoulders, with your elbows slightly bent.
  3. Use your deltoids to lift the weights out to the sides, keeping your torso stationary and your arms straight.
  4. Continue to raise the weights until your arms are parallel with the floor, then pause for a moment before lowering them back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  5. You can also perform this exercise with one arm at a time if you prefer. Simply hold the dumbbell in your opposite hand and place your other hand on your thigh for support. Proceed as outlined above, then switch sides and repeat.

2. Lying Side Lateral Raises

This is a version of dumbbell side lateral raises made famous by none other than Arnold Schwarzenneger. He used this to build massive side delts because of how well they isolated his shoulder muscles. It also helps keep the shoulder joint in a more stabilized position.

  1. Lie on an exercise bench at a slight incline with your feet together and a dumbbell in your hand, similar to a side plank position.
  2. Bend your arm at a 90-degree angle and hold the weight against your side.
  3. Slowly lift the weight up and towards the ceiling, making sure to keep your elbow bent at an angle the whole time.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  5. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.

This is a great exercise for targeting the side delts, but it also hits the rear delts and the traps as well. It’s important to keep your elbow bent throughout the exercise to keep the focus on the side delts. Remember to go slow and controlled, and really squeeze your shoulder at the top of the movement.

3. Resistance Band Side Lateral Raises

This is a great side delt exercise to use if you have minimal equipment because resistance bands are more affordable than weights or machines. Using resistance bands will help keep constant tension on your side delts. They also help improve flexibility and mobility in the shoulders. Additionally, resistance band side lateral raises can improve your posture and prevent injuries.

  1. Step on the center of the band and hold it with both hands.
  2. Raise your arms out to the sides, keeping your palms facing down.
  3. Pause and then slowly lower them back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  5. You can also use a resistance band to perform side lateral raises by looping it around your wrists and holding it with your palms facing each other.
  6. To make the exercise more challenging, you can hold a weight in each hand while performing the side lateral raises.

4. Cable Lateral Raises

Cable lateral raises are a good way to get capped shoulders. You hold the handles and pull them up to your shoulders. The movement is a lot like a dumbbell lateral raise, but the cable machine provides more resistance.

Cable lateral raises are a great exercise for developing the side delt muscles. They can also help to improve your posture and alleviate pain in the lower back and neck.

To do cable lateral raises:

  1. Attach a handle to each side of the cable machine and adjust them to the bottom setting.
  2. Grab the handles of the cable machine with an overhand grip, grab the left handle with your right hand and the right one with your left hand.
  3. Step to the center of the machine with the cables crossed over on another.
  4. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  5. Raise your arms out to the sides until they are parallel with the floor.
  6. Keep your core engaged and your shoulders down and back throughout the movement.
  7. Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position, and repeat.

Tips for execution:

  1. To keep the side delts fully engaged and minimize trap involvement avoid lifting your arms higher than parallel to the floor during the movement.
  2. Maintain a slow and steady rep tempo throughout the entire movement and squeeze at the top.

Cable Lateral Raise Variations

Single Arm Cable Lateral Raises

Similar to the single-arm dumbbell lateral raise, single-arm cable lateral raises are a great way to focus isolation on one shoulder at a time.

  1. Choose a weight that you can comfortably manage.
  2. Attach a handle and set the pulley to the bottom position.
  3. Standing with your feet hip-width apart (or take a stance similar to the video below), grab the handle with one hand and position your arm at your side, and slightly bent.
  4. Keeping your core engaged, slowly raise your arm out to the side until it’s raised at about 90 degrees in relation to your legs.
  5. Pause for a moment, then reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat the desired number of repetitions before switching sides.

Tips:

  • Remember to keep your core engaged throughout the movement to avoid swinging your body as you raise your arm.
  • If you find that you’re swinging your body, try using a lighter weight.
  • You can also try placing your free hand on your hip or holding onto support for stability.
  • Try leaning your feet against the cable pully bar while also holding onto it with your free hand as shown in the video.

Single Arm Behind The Back Cable Lateral Raise

  1. Position the cable pulley at the bottom setting.
  2. Grab the cable handle with one hand behind your back and the bar of the pully with the other. Press your feet against the bottom of the machine while holding your upper body away from it.
  3. Bend your left elbow and raise the handle up towards the side of your head.
  4. Pause and then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement with your other arm.

5. Incline W-Raise

If you’re looking for a side delt exercise that will provide excellent chest support this is the one for you!

  1. Position yourself on an incline bench with your feet firmly planted on the ground and shoulder-width apart
  2. With a dumbbell in each hand, raise your arms out to the side so that they are parallel to the ground
  3. Hold for a second before lowering them back to the starting position
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

As you perform the incline w-raise, be sure to keep your core engaged and your back straight. Start with a lightweight and slowly increase the amount of weight as you get stronger. Because this is a very difficult movement to go heavy with. Remember to breathe evenly throughout the exercise.

6. Machine Lateral Raises

Although many gyms don’t have this machine it is one that helps the user maintain posture while also holding them in a natural position to work the side delts effectively.

  1. Adjust the seat height and backrest to fit your body size.
  2. Sit down in the machine and place your hands on the lateral raise handles.
  3. Lean forward slightly and press your feet against the footplates to stabilize yourself.
  4. Lift your arms out to the sides until they are parallel with the floor.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Sample Workout Routines That Include Side Delt Exercises

Choose one or two of the side delt exercises from above and perform 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps. Remember to use a weight that challenges you, but doesn’t sacrifice your form.

Here’s an example workout routine that includes side delt exercises:

  1. Seated dumbbell lateral raises – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  2. Standing cable upright rows – 3 sets of 8-12 reps
  3. Bent-over lateral raises – 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Perform each exercise with 30-60 seconds of rest in between. If this is too easy, feel free to add more weight or reps. And if it’s too challenging, reduce the weight or reps accordingly.

The following workout is designed for shoulder growth and strength. Perform each exercise for the prescribed number of reps, resting as needed between sets.

  1. Bent-Over Lateral Raises – 3×35
  2. Standing Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 4×25
  3. Arnold Press – 4×10-12
  4. Upright Row – 3×10-12

Even implementing drop sets, supersets, and high rep sets can be very effective at building your shoulders.

The most important thing is that you find a workout routine that works for you and that you can stick within the long term. So experiment and find what works best for you. And always remember to focus on your form and breathing while you’re working out.

Honorable Mention Shoulder Exercises

Here are three more shoulder exercises that don’t put quite as much isolation on the side delt specifically but still effectively engage them.

Seated Arnold Press

This exercise is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was known for his big shoulders. It’s similar to the seated dumbbell military press, but with a twist.

  1. Sit on a bench or chair with a weight in each hand.
  2. Bring the weights to shoulder level, holding them in a similar position as if you were at the top of a bicep curl.
  3. Push the weights up over your head while simultaneously rotating the weights into a shoulder press motion, extending your arms fully at the top.
  4. Reverse the motion, lowering the weights back to shoulder level while rotating them back to the bicep curl position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Variations:

You can also perform this exercise standing or with one weight in each hand.

Cable Upright Rows

  1. Attach a straight or curved bar to the low pulley of a cable machine.
  2. Step forward so that you are standing facing the machine and grab the handle with both hands, using an overhand grip.
  3. Keeping your back straight, pull the handle up towards your chin, pause, and then slowly lower it back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when performing the cable upright row:

  • Use a lightweight to start and gradually increase the weight as you get comfortable with the movement.
  • Keep your back straight and avoid rounding your shoulders as you pull the handle up.
  • Pause for a second at the top of the movement and then lower the weight under control.
  • Avoid using momentum to swing the weight up – focus on using your muscles to lift the weight.
  • When pulling upwards try to keep your elbows above your hands.

Standing Barbell Overhead Press

  1. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell resting in your hands above your collarbones using an overhand grip.
  2. Hold the barbell with your hands at about shoulder-width apart
  3. Take a deep breath in and press the barbell overhead, locking your elbows out at the top.
  4. Keep your core engaged as you lower the bar back down to the starting position. Repeat for reps.

Barbell overhead presses are a great way to build shoulder and upper-body strength. Follow the steps above to ensure you perform the exercise correctly. Remember to breathe deeply and keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement.

Start with a lighter weight to get the hang of the movement before progressing to a heavier load.

Give These Side Delt Exercises A Try!

The side delt exercises we’ve highlighted in this article are a great way to target the muscles in your lateral deltoids. They can help you build strength and improve your overall appearance. When performing these exercises, make sure to use a weight that is challenging for you and maintain good form. Give these side delt exercises a try to spark some serious muscle growth!

As always, consult your doctor or certified personal trainer before starting any new exercise.

Eric Decremer
Eric Decremer

Eric is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer and competes in the USPA Powerlifting Association. Feel free to contact him anytime at edecremer@wildnswole.com!

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