Deltoid Destruction: How to Build Bigger Delts

The posterior deltoid muscle.

Gray's Anatomy / public domain

The deltoid is one of the most noticeable muscle groups when standing onstage. Judges can see your delts in nearly every mandatory pose, not to mention during the relaxed bodybuilding poses. Having a big set of delts helps you look wider from the front and back and gives your physique a sort of three-dimensional appearance from the side. Take one look at two-time and current reigning Mr. Olympia champion Phil Heath and you'll see this exact three-dimensional appearance, thanks in part to his big and round delts.

Basic Deltoid Anatomy

There are three parts comprising the deltoid: anterior, lateral and posterior heads. The anterior head is also called the front head. It is made up of two segments that originate at your collarbone. The lateral head, or side head, is made up of only a single segment that originates at your acromion, a bony prominence at the top of your shoulder blades. The posterior head, also known as the rear head, comprises the most muscle segments at four. This part of your delts originates at a bony ridge, called the scapular spine, at the back of your shoulder blades. All three heads of your delts insert at the deltoid tuberosity, a triangular region at the outer side of your upper arm bone.

The primary function of each part of your delts is to raise your arms. The front delt raises your arms in the forward direction, the side delt raises them away from your sides and the rear delt does so in the rear direction. There are a plethora of other movements that these three muscles allow for, but knowing these functions will be sufficient when designing your beginning bodybuilding program. As you become more advanced, you'll need to learn each and every function for maximizing your muscular gains.

Compound and Isolation Exercises

You should do one compound exercise and three isolation exercises during each deltoid workout. Compound exercises are those that involve heavy use of multiple joints. The standing dumbbell overhead shoulder press and the seated military barbell shoulder press are two of the best compound exercises for your deltoids. The dumbbell variation is more difficult because you are in a standing position, so your entire body's musculature must be engaged to keep you in a stable erect position. Also, since you are using dumbbells, there is more stabilizer muscle activity. In contrast, the military barbell shoulder press is more stable due to the seated position and the use of a barbell. As a result, you are able to lift a heavier load during the lift. By including the two exercises in your deltoid program, alternating between the two exercises during every couple of workouts, you can gain the benefits of each.

As for the isolation exercises, you should do one exercise for each deltoid head. The front raise, side raise, and bent-over side raise are some of the best movements for the front, side, and rear heads, respectively. You can perform all three exercises using dumbbells or cable pulleys. It best you alternate between these two pieces of equipment every few workouts to reap the benefits of each. Dumbbells provide you with high stabilizer activity while cable pulleys allow for constant muscular tension.

Beginner Workouts for Bigger Delts

The following are two beginner workout programs that will kick-start your path to building bigger delts. Alternate between each workout every four to six weeks.

Workout A:

  • Standing dumbbell overhead shoulder press - three sets of six to 10 reps
  • Standing dumbbell front raise - three sets of eight to 12 reps
  • Standing cable side raise - three sets of eight to 12 reps
  • Bent-over cable side raise - three sets of eight to 12 reps

Workout B:

  • Seated military barbell shoulder press - three sets of six to 10 reps
  • Standing cable front raise - three sets of eight to 12 reps
  • Standing dumbbell side raise - three sets of eight to 12 reps
  • Bent-over dumbbell side raise - three sets of eight to 12 reps