middle deltoid exercise
Fitness

10 Middle Deltoid Exercises For A Great Shoulder Workout

Your shoulder muscles – also known as the deltoid muscles – are an important part of your upper body shape and strength. When properly targeted, not only will they pop more and add bulk to your upper body, they’ll also help prevent injury and improve your ability to perform other exercises, as the shoulders are involved in so many.

There are three main deltoid muscles: the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. The ones we’re focusing on today are your lateral deltoids, also known as the middle delts. These are the ones sandwiched in between the other two muscles and are arguably the most prominent. 

So, here are 10 shoulder exercises that will recruit your middle delts.

1. Rear Delt Fly

Why It’s a Great Exercise

This is an excellent middle delt exercise as your middle delts are producing most of the force to control the weight through this range of motion.

Equipment Used

  • Dumbbells

How to Do it

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a small bend in your knees. Hinge forward with your arms extended so the dumbbells hand in front of you, with your chest almost parallel with the floor.
  • Raise your arms, keeping a slight bend in the elbows, until they are in line with your torso.
  • Lower the weights back to the starting position and repeat.
  • 12-15 reps.

Training Tip

Keep your back straight and ensure your elbow position is consistent throughout.

2. Lateral Raise

Why It’s a Great Exercise

Lateral raises not only target your middle delts, but the other two shoulder muscles as well. By bringing the weight to shoulder height under control, these muscles are doing all of the work.

Equipment Used

  • Dumbbells

How to Do it

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing inward. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Raise your arms up to the side until they are at shoulder height, with your body in a t-shape. 
  • Hold for a moment, then lower your arms back to your sides and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Training Tip

If you need to, pump your knees when lifting the weights up to help build momentum, though if you need to do this too much then considering using a lighter weight.

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3. Seated Shoulder Press

Why It’s a Great Exercise

This classic shoulder exercise can create an intense muscle burn when performed with heavy weights. The support of the bench means your deltoids have the freedom to work even harder. It’s an excellent mass-building exercise.

Equipment Used

  • Bench
  • Dumbbells

How to Do it

  • Adjust a bench so that its seat is at a 90-degree angle. Sit down with your back flat against the back of the seat, holding two dumbbells on your knees.
  • Lift the weights so they are just above your shoulders, holding them with an overhand grip and your arms bent, elbows pointing out to the sides.
  • Push the weights up above you, extending your arms but not locking them out.
  • Lower back down to your shoulders and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Training Tip

Keep your back flat against the seat during the movement and try not to arch it too much.

4. Standing Arnold Press

Why It’s a Great Exercise

Arnold Schwarzenegger was renowned for his boulder-like shoulders, so it’s no surprise that this mass building exercise was named after him. The full range of motion gets all three deltoid muscles working extremely hard.

Equipment Used

  • Dumbbells

How to Do it

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a pair of dumbbells just underneath your chin, with your palms facing you.
  • Press the dumbbells up and above your head, ensuring you turn your palms out as you do so. At the top of the movement, your palms should be facing away from you.
  • Lower the weights back down, turning your palms inward as you do so to return to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Training Tip

When you bring the weights back under your chin, make sure your elbows are in line with your wrists.

5. Shoulder Push-Up

Why It’s a Great Exercise

You only need your body weight for this exercise, making it a convenient move to include in your workout programs. Instead of using your chest like a normal push-up, the inverted angle puts pressure on your shoulders instead.

Equipment Used

  • None.

How to Do it

  • Assume a normal push-up position with your hands under your shoulders and arms straight. Push your hips up, but keep your hands and feet where they are so your body creates and angle.
  • Bend at the elbows and lower your head toward the floor, stopping once it grazes it.
  • Push back up through your arms to return to the starting position and repeat.
  • 12-15 reps.
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Training Tip

If you struggled to perform these, place your knees on the ground and then perform the movement.

6. Upright Row

Why It’s a Great Exercise

This is another excellent mass-building exercise, and it’s also a multijoint exercise. Row exercises are great for working your shoulders as well as other upper back muscles.

Equipment Used

  • Dumbbells/barbell

How to Do it

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells or a barbell with a close, overhand grip across your waist, with your arms straight. Have your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Pull the weight up until your hands are just under your chin and your elbows are flared upward.
  • Hold for a second, then lower the weight back down and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Training Tip

Keep your back straight and your wrists strong.

7. Push Press

Why It’s a Great Exercise

Pressing exercises are one of the best ways to work your deltoids and this classic exercise is a staple of many athletes. You can also turn this into a dumbbell military press if you’d prefer.

Equipment Used

  • Barbell

How to Do it

  • Hold a loaded barbell with an overhand grip, across the front of your deltoids. Your feet should be in like with your shoulders and hands slightly wider than this.
  • Engage your core to push the barbell overhead with your arms straight, pushing your head forward slightly.
  • Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Training Tip

If you need more stability, place one foot slightly in front of the other while performing the exercise.

8. Kettlebell Halo

Why It’s a Great Exercise

Your shoulders are under tension throughout the entirety of this exercise and have to work extra hard to keep the weight under control.

Equipment Used

  • Kettlebell

How to Do it

  • Hold a kettlebell in front of your chin with both hands gripped on it and your arms bent.
  • Bring the kettlebell around one side of your head, round the back and then around the other side until it returns to the front, in the starting position. That’s one rep.
  • Repeat the movement, but starting on the other side this time. Keep alternating between reps.
  • Reps: 12-15.

Training Tip

Your core is really important here, so make sure it’s engaged and stable.

9. Cable Lateral Raise

Why It’s a Great Exercise

The cable’s tension works your delts hard and helps guide you through a fluid range of motion.

Equipment Used

  • Cable machine
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How to Do it

  • Set the handle on a cable machine to its lowest setting and stand next to it, side-on. Hold the handle with the hand that is farthest away from the machine, with your other hand on your hip.
  • With your arm extended and a slight bend in the elbow, raise your arm up to the side until the handle is in line with your shoulder.
  • Lower back down under control and repeat all the reps on one arm, then turn around and perform them with the other arm.
  • Reps: 10-12 on each arm.

Training Tip

Keep your back straight and your core engaged to ensure that only your shoulders are doing the bulk of the work.

10. Front Raise

Why It’s a Great Exercise

Again, all three muscle heads in your deltoids are engaged here, making this a very comprehensive move.

Equipment Used

  • Dumbbells

How to Do it

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells in front of you with your palms facing you, arms straight. The weights should be resting on your thighs.
  • Raise your arms, keeping them straight, until the weights are in line with or just above your shoulders.
  • Slowly lower your arms back down and repeat.
  • Reps: 10-12.

Training Tip

Don’t let your body swing forward or backward during the movement.

Conclusion

Your deltoids are a lot easier to target than you might think, so they can sometimes be overlooked. As these exercises show, there’s a variety of ways you can work your middle deltoid at the same time as other muscles in this area, helping you build upper body strength and size.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I build my deltoids without weights?

Many of the exercises above can be adapted to be performed with resistance bands instead of weights. There are also bodyweight exercises, like the shoulder push-up, that you can perform.

How do you develop the middle deltoid?

The exercises above all target this specific muscle, but they need to be performed regularly and consistently. You also need to pay attention to adaptations your body makes; when a certain exercise becomes easy, you need to change it to make it more challenging, for example adding more weight.

How do you test deltoid strength?

Like any muscle, start by performing simple exercises with a lighter weight to see how your deltoids cope. The seated shoulder press is good for this. Increase the amount of weight until you find one that is challenging.

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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