How to Train Your Lateral Delts: Exercises & Workout

Your lateral delts, or lateral deltoids, is the middle part of your shoulder muscle. It originates on the acromion of your shoulder blade and inserts on your humerus (upper arm bone). Its main functions are to abduct your shoulder, as well as keep your arm in place when you are lifting or carrying heavy loads.

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

Lateral Delt Anatomy

Your lateral delts are one of three sets of muscle fibers in your deltoids, the other two being the front and rear delts.

Deltoid shoulder muscle anatomy
The three sets of muscle fibers in the deltoid muscle. Front deltoids in red, lateral deltoids in green, and rear deltoids in blue. BodyParts3D, © The Database Center for Life Science.

Your lateral delts originate from your acromion – the bony process of your shoulder blade that forms the “roof” of your shoulder joint. The fibers then passes over your shoulder joint, and inserts on the outside of your humerus.

The main function of your lateral deltoid is to abduct your shoulder. That is, to lift your arm out to your side, like in a lateral raise. It can also transversally abduct your arm (like in a reverse dumbbell fly) if your arm is externally rotated. Lastly, your lateral deltoid keeps your arm in place when you are carrying or lifting things.

Lateral Delt Exercises

In this section, we’ll take a look at three different lateral delt exercises. If you train one or two of these exercises, that’s all you need for a good lateral 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 lateral delts are no exception. The overhead press has been found to activate your lateral delts to the same degree as lateral raises, plus you train your front delts and triceps at the same time.1

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

Possible substitutes:

2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Dumbbell Lateral Raise exercise

The dumbbell lateral raise isolates the training effect more to your lateral delts, but the uppermost fibers of your front and rear delts are still aiding in the abduction. To counter your shoulder muscles that pull your humerus up, your rotator cuff pulls the humeral head down to keep it in your shoulder socket.

Use light weights in this exercise, and focus on technique and muscle contact with your delts.

Possible substitutes:

3. Barbell Upright Row

Barbell upright row

Finally, the barbell upright row. Grab a light barbell, hold it with a grip slightly narrower than shoulder-width, and pull it high towards your chin, as far as feels comfortable.

This exercise has an unwarranted bad reputation as a shoulder exercise. Get used to the exercise gradually, slowly increase your training load, and back off or revise your technique if you feel any discomfort, and you can utilize this exercise just as safely as the previous two.

Lateral Delt Workout

So what does a good lateral delt workout look like?

You can of course structure it in many ways, but a specific lateral deltoid workout could look something like this:

StrengthLog’s Lateral Delt Workout

  1. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 6 reps
  2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 3 sets x 10 reps
  3. Barbell Upright Row: 3 sets x 15 reps

Together, these exercises will train your lateral delts very well. You are working in slightly different angles and resistance curves, which increases the chance that all your lateral 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 lateral delts are bound to grow bigger and stronger.

Wrapping Up

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