How to Train Your Front Delts: Exercises & Workout

Your front delts, or anterior deltoids, is the front part of your shoulder muscle. It originates on your clavicle, inserts on your humerus (upper arm bone), and aids your chest muscles in flexing and internally rotating your shoulder.

In this article, you will learn about front delt muscle anatomy, what some effective front delt exercises are, and how you can combine them into a workout.

Front Delt Muscle Anatomy

Your front delts are one of three sets of muscle fibers in your deltoids, the other two being the lateral and rear delts. The primary function of these muscles is to act on your shoulder joint and move your arm.

Front delt muscle anatomy
The upper pectoralis major and the anterior deltoid are close in origin and insertion, as well as in function.

Your front deltoids originate from the outer third of your clavicles, adjacent to the clavicular part of your pectoralis major. Were it not for the cephalic vein that passes between them, it would be difficult to tell where the pectoralis major ends and the front deltoid begins, as they originate and insert so close to each other. Like the pectoralis major, your front delts insert on the front of your humerus.

Because they are close in origin and insertion, your front delt and your pecs also share functions: both muscles flex your shoulder (= brings your arm forward). However, while your pecs are well-positioned for shoulder flexion from a horizontally abducted position (when your arm is out to your side, like in a wide-grip bench press), your front delts are better positioned for shoulder flexion when your arm is in a starting position a little closer to your sides.

Both muscles also internally rotates your arm, like in armwrestling.

Front Delt Exercises

In this section, we’ll take a look at four different front delt exercises. If you train one or two of these exercises, that’s all you need for a good front delt workout.

1. Overhead Press

Overhead shoulder press

The classic overhead press is as close to a panacea as you get when it comes to shoulder training, and your front delts are no exception.1

This exercise is probably one of the best front delt exercises there is, as it hits them at a perfect angle, in a long range of motion.

Whether you sit or stand, use a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells, doesn’t make too much of a difference when it comes to your front delt development, so stick with whatever feels best for you.

Besides working your front delts, overhead presses also work your side delts and rotator cuffs.

Possible substitutes:

2. Incline Dumbbell Press

Incline Dumbbell Press

The incline dumbbell press is another great exercise for your front delts, as well as your upper pecs.

A recent study showed that both anterior deltoid and upper pec activation increased when pressing at an incline compared with flat bench presses.2

Front delt activation in incline bench
Front deltoid muscle activation increases when pressing at a slight incline.

Another recent study showed that pressing at an incline leads to greater upper chest growth than flat bench pressing does.3 Anterior deltoid muscle growth wasn’t measured in that study, but because it is so close to the upper pec in terms of function and placement, and in combination with the increased muscle activation shown above, I believe it very likely that pressing at an incline increases front delt muscle growth.

For many people, dumbbells are preferable to a barbell in this exercise. Not only because it might be easier to get into position with them, but also because they might allow a longer range of motion, which is likely positive for your muscle growth.

Possible substitutes:

3. Dumbbell Front Raise

Dumbbell front raise

The dumbbell front raise is the closest thing you’ll get to an isolation exercise for your front delts. The urge to cheat in this exercise by swinging the weights up is strong, but resist it if your aim is to train your front delts.

Start off with light weights, focus on technique and muscle contact with your front delts. Keep your shoulder blades tucked down throughout the movement.

An alternative is to use a (light) barbell, or simply hold a weight plate.

Possible substitutes:

4. Bench Press

Bench press exercise

Finally, what about the good ol’ bench press? Well, for most people, the bench press can definitely be a great front delt exercise. However, the devil is in the details, and if you arch excessively, maybe in combination with a super-wide grip, you might lose much of the training effect on your front delts, and instead mostly work your middle and lower pecs.

If you bench press with only a small arch and with a long range of motion, then it is likely a great exercise for your front delts. If not, then you might want to complement your front delt training with one of the previous three exercises.

Possible substitutes:

Front Delt Workout

So what does a good front delt workout look like?

Well, first of all: depending on what exercises you already do for your chest, you might already be getting in a lot of front delt work. Bench pressing alone might not lead to optimal front delt growth (especially if you bench with a high arch), but combine it with one additional exercise that works your front delts a little more, and you’re golden.

A specific front deltoid workout could look something like this:

StrengthLog’s Front Delt Workout

  1. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 6 reps
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 12 reps
  3. Dumbbell Front Raise: 3 sets x 16 reps

Together, these exercises will train your front delts very well. You are working in three slightly different angles, which increases the chance that all your front delt muscle fibers are covered. By combining different rep ranges (from low to high) it is also possible that you stimulate muscle growth via more mechanisms.

If you train these exercises with a good technique, and regularly try to increase the weight you are using while still maintaining good form, your front delts are bound to grow bigger and stronger.

Front Delt Training FAQ

Let’s finish this article by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about front delt training.

Should You Train the Front Delt Specifically?

Your front delts are involved in pretty much any upper body exercise in which you move your arms in front of your body. That means if you are already doing exercises like bench presses, overhead presses, and incline presses, you are already working your front delt muscles really well.

In this case, doing isolated front delt training might be unnecessary, and only add an increased risk of overuse injury.

How Can I Make My Front Delts Bigger?

You can grow your front deltoid muscles efficiently by training them with two or three good front delt exercises, in a rep range and with a training volume that is suitable for muscle growth.

You can read a lot more about general principles of muscle growth in our guide: How to Build Muscle.

What Exercise Works the Front Deltoids?

Any exercise that moves your arm forward or upward in front of your body works your front delts. That means anything from compound exercises like bench presses, overhead presses, and incline presses, to isolation exercises like front raises.

Are Front Raises a Good or Bad Exercise?

Front raises is a good exercise for working your front delts in isolation. Just make sure to stick with light weights and focus on muscle contact and proper form. Keep your shoulder blades tucked down and avoid swinging the weight up.

It should be noted, that if you are already doing high volumes of the various pressing exercises mentioned above, adding front raises might be unnecessary and even lead to doing too much volume for your front delts.

Wrapping Up

And that’s it! Hopefully, by now you have a good grasp of your front delt muscle anatomy, what some effective front delt exercises are, and how you can combine them into a front delt workout.

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References

  1. J Hum Kinet. 2020 Oct; 75: 5–14. Different Shoulder Exercises Affect the Activation of Deltoid Portions in Resistance-Trained Individuals.
  2. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct 8;17(19):7339. Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise.
  3. Int J Exerc Sci. 2020 Aug 1;13(6):859-872. Effects of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Adaptations in Untrained Young Men.