When fully developed, there are few things more impressive on the bodybuilder’s physique than big, well-rounded delts. Many trainees own a pair of big arms, or have nice, thick chests, but it’s much more rare to see a couple of “cannonballs” hanging off the clavicles.

One of the coolest aspects of developing exceptional lateral delts is the effect it will have on the overall look of one’s physique. The wider the shoulders are, the narrower the waist will appear. This helps to create the much-sought-after “X” frame.

The 3-Headed Muscle

Being that the deltoid is a three-headed muscle, it is important to work each of these heads equally in order to bring about proportional and complete development. It should be noted that the rear (posterior) head gets plenty of stimulation from the rowing movements that are performed on back day, and that the front (anterior) head is hit hard any time you rep out on a press or flye for chest. All of the extra work that these two deltoid heads receive can often lead to the side (lateral) head falling behind.

So, if you have tried your share of standard side lateral raises and find that you’re still fitting through most doorways far too easily, give the following exercises a try.

1. Partial Side Laterals

It can be very difficult to overload the lateral deltoid head with heavy poundage, because side laterals are meant to be performed very strictly with lighter weights. When one tries to go too heavy on side laterals it takes a lot of body-english and trap strength to get the dumbbells up to the top position. In addition, it can also take its toll on the elbow and wrist joints. However, there is a solution…partial reps!

Grab a pair of heavy dumbbells—about twice the weight you would use for normal laterals. Those of you with weaker grips might want to use wrist straps. Hold the dumbbells by your sides, tense the lateral delts, and begin to move them outward as far as you can. Try to do short, quick reps while keeping maximum tension in your shoulders at all times. Do everything you can to “push” those dumbbells out with side delt power only, and keep them moving as long as possible. You will be surprised at what a burn these can produce, and what a shock they can be to the normally “lightly-worked” side delts.

2. Incline Side Laterals

Unlike the movement I just described above, this exercise requires the use of light weights in order to perform it effectively. However, because of the unique angle and severe stretch it puts on the lateral head, it is a literal “cannonball creator.”

Sit back on an incline bench set to about 75 degrees. Pick up your dumbbells and let them hang straight down by your sides. Make sure that you keep your shoulders back, not allowing them to slump forward at any time during the set. With only a slight bend at the elbows, raise the dumbbells out to the sides until your arms are parallel with the floor. At the top of the movement rotate your hand downward just slightly so that your pinkie is higher than your thumb. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position. One additional thing I like to do with this exercise is to change the angle of the bench with each set. So, if the first set the bench was at 75 degrees, I might drop it by about 5 degrees or so on the next two sets.

3. Wide-Grip Upright Rows

Most trainees use barbell upright rows with a narrow grip to help develop the mid-traps. However, if the hands are moved to just outside shoulder width, the upright row becomes a major lateral deltoid head developer. The best thing about this exercise is that it allows for heavy weights to be used, unlike lateral raise movements.

Take hold of a barbell with your hands set at shoulder width, or just slightly wider. Raise the bar towards your chin, but make sure to allow your elbows, not your hands, to lead the movement. The bar should only be raised to a point where your upper arms are about parallel to the ground. Any higher than this and your traps will begin to take the load off the delts. 

The Workout: Lateral Shoulder Shocker Workout

Superset: WG Upright Rows/Partial Side Laterals…2 x 10-12/16-20

Dropset: Incline Side Lateral…2 x 10-12, drop, 6-8 more

Rest Pause: WG BB or Machine Shoulder Press…1 x 8, rest 15 seconds-max reps, rest 30 seconds-max reps