Shoulder Exercises

The Mechanics of Shoulder Training

Developing fully-capped” delts is a matter of training all three heads.


Lateral Raise


Laterals involve lifting the arms up and out to the side with the arms kept more-or-less straight so that there is no involvement of the elbow joint or the triceps. You can do laterals to the front, side or rear,– although there are specific techniques involved with each type of movement (to be described below). Laterals can be performed using dumbbells, cables and various kinds of machines.

Side Laterals

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand hanging down by your side, palms facing inward. Lift your arms out to each side, elbows slightly bent, until the weights are level with the top of your head. Pause at the top, then lower the weights under control back to the starting position.

You'’ll see bodybuilders starting with the weights held together in front of them, using fairly heavy dumbbells and then "swinging"” the weights up to either side so that momentum helps with the lift. This kind of "“cheating"” can be useful for advanced bodybuilders, but it can easily get out of hand and diminish rather than increase intensity. So be wary of using this technique.

Front Laterals

Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, held at arm's length in front of you, palms facing backward. Lift one arm forward and up and bring it toward the middle, palm remaining downward. The reason for bringing the weight up toward the middle is to help isolate the front deltoid. You can pronate the hand, rotating the thumb downward slightly, to further isolate this muscle. Raise the dumbbell so that it'’s directly in front of you and slightly higher than the top of our head, pause for a moment at the top, then lower it under control back to the starting position. Repeat using the other dumbbell. This movement is usually done by alternating arms but can also be done lifting both dumbbells at the same time.

Rear Laterals

Bend over from the waist holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms length below you, palms facing inward. Keeping your body steady, lift the dumbbells out and up to either side and (this is important) slightly forward so that the weights end up beside your ears rather than back even with your shoulders. This helps transfer the stress to the rear delts and away from the side delts. Pronate the weights by rotating your thumbs down slightly. Lift as high as you can, pause at the top, then lower the weights under control back to the starting position.

Cable Laterals

The three basic types of laterals can be done using a cable and handle attached to a low pulley and in some cases two such cables and handles.

For cable side laterals, you can do the lateral to the side with the pulley beside you and the lift going straight up, or with the cable on the other side with the cable crossing over in front of your body as you do the lift.

For cable front laterals, do the lateral movement to the front with the pulley located behind you. You can use individual handles for this movement or both hands together holding a short bar.

For cable rear laterals, bend over and grasp the handle with the pulley located on the opposite side of the arm you're using, or you can use two pulleys, one on either side, doing your rear lateral movements with both arms at the same time.

Upright Rows

Upright rows involve lifting a barbell or handle attached to a cable and low pulley up in front of you in order to target the front deltoids.

Stand holding the bar with an overhand grip arm's length down in front of you, hands a foot or two apart. Lift the bar up, keeping it close to your body, to a position just below your chin. Pause for a moment at the top, then lower the bar under control to the starting position.

Machine Laterals

There are a variety of machines that allow you to do side lateral exercises and a few with which you can target the rear delts. The basic movements have to be the same, no matter the equipment used, if the target muscles are going to be trained. Read the instructions posted on individual machines for more information or ask a gym employee.