Deltoid Shoulder Muscle

Image Credit: PrairieArt

Talking about the shoulder muscles can really get confusing.

Chances are, if you ask someone for a shoulder rub, they’ll grab the meat that sits close to the base of your neck. This part of your “shoulders” is referred to as the trapezius muscle, or your “traps”.

Your deltoids or “delts”, on the other hand, are the part of your “shoulder” that sits just above your biceps where the arm connects to the body. So let’s just clarify right now that “shoulders” in this article is referring to the deltoid muscles and not the trapezius that sits at the base of your neck.

The deltoids are important to both developing a well-balanced physique as well as improving your sports performance. Strong delts will give you a strong competitive advantage in sports like football, wrestling, and gymnastics, just to name a few.

Here are some reasons why you should strengthen your deltoids:

  • Strength & Power: Deltoids are involved in functional movements that strengthen the upper body. They also play a large roll in athletic performance.
  • Broad Shoulders: Your deltoids can be seen from all angles since they surround your shoulder on the front, side, and rear. Wide shoulders are visible regardless of what you wear (ok, maybe not if you’re wearing a snow jacket, but you get the point), and they will help increase the appearance having the V-shape… large shoulders that taper down to a small waist.

The deltoids are composed of 3 separate muscle heads. Not all heads of the deltoids are worked through the same motions.

  • Anterior Deltoid: This is on the front portion of your delts. To get a feel for it, place your hand on the front of your delts and raise your arm up directly in front of you. You should feel the anterior deltoid flexing.
  • Medial Deltoid: Located on the side of your delts. Place your hand on the outside of your shoulder and lift your arm directly out to the side to feel it flexing.
  • Posterior Deltoid: This one’s on the back. Place your arm on the back of your shoulder and start moving your elbow backward… I bet you can guess what will happen.

Regardless of what your natural genetics are, a lot can be done to increase your shoulder width. If you train them intensely and with your head on straight, you can widen your shoulders as much as several inches over time. This all depends on your natural frame, of course, but everybody can improve what they were given.

Even just widening your shoulders by a quarter to a half-inch on either side can make you look much broader. The best way to broaden up your delts is to train your medial deltoid on the side of your shoulders using pressing movements and side laterals.

There are 3 primary types of shoulder exercises that you will use in your training:

  • Pressing Movements: Most pressing movements, such as the overhead shoulder press, focus on the anterior and medial portions of your deltoids. Think of movements such as the overhead press, dumbbell shoulder presses, Arnold presses, etc. Shoulders are also involved in other pressing movements such as bench presses and dips.
  • Pulling movements: Exercises such as barbell rows, cable rows, T-bar rows… these tend to involve the posterior deltoids in the pulling movement. You’ll get these movements during your back workouts.
  • Leverage Movements: Just like the exercise we practiced earlier, leverage movements involve raising your arm up directly to your front, side, or rear. Exercises such as front raises, side laterals, and bent-over laterals are all included in this category. These are isolation exercises, so use these a little more sparingly as a beginner and intermediate.

Like we mentioned above, the deltoids are a very complex and versatile muscle group. Because there are so many small muscle groups that give your shoulders this mobility, there is a larger potential for injury.

Be sure to always begin your deltoid exercises with plenty of warm-up. Work with weights you can handle and always use good form. Finally, working on your shoulder flexibility can also help you to avoid future complications.

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8 Responses to “What You Need to Know About Your Deltoids”

  1. A much needed article Jason.

    Many gym goers neglect the deltoid muscle group in favour of chest and bicep exercises. Training the shoulders is very important for excelling in sporting actions as the deltoid muscles basically control movement of the arms in all directions like you mention.

  2. I personally think that well develop shoulders are one of (if not the) best compliments to a nice physique. While having big biceps and 6 pack abs are nice, nothing displays power like the shoulders.

    Anyways I personally like to stick with the over head and flat bench press for my primary delt exercises. Since they get hit with so many exercises one must be careful when choosing their exercises and avoid overtraining them.

    I believe shoulder injuries are amongst the most common injury in weight lifting. Good article Jason.

  3. Daniel- Sadly, you’re right about alot of gym-goers

    Sean- No mistake there, shoulder injuries are the most common type of injury. With so much function comes risk, and rotator cuff injuries are common. Definitely a topic for future discussion.

  4. Jason,

    Fantastic article. It clearly explains the shoulder area with movements specific to building the shoulders. I agree, an impressive set of shoulders make your physique stand out. You look wider.

    I’m always a fan of taking care of my shoulders to the best of my ability. I’m 35 at the time of this post and almost every bodybuilder I know and personal friend has some type of shoulder issue.

    They are not meant to push massive amounts of weight. The shoulders are designed for mobility.

    Next time you see some author preaching heavy this and heavy that for shoulders, keep that in mind. It’s probably some younger bodybuilder who’s just figured out lifting heavy weight is the “secret” to get big. They’ll be singing a different tune in a few years after beating the hell of of a small joint.

    The most common bodybuilding injury is….

    Rotator cuff from heavy bench pressing!

    Again, shoulders. Great article. Two thumbs up!!

  5. Marc-

    Yep, injuries can do alot to hold back your long-term progress, and rotator cuff injuries are #1 on the list. I’ll have to get into it a bit with a future article so that we can all avoid this stuff. Thanks for your comment.

  6. An even more elaborate series on the deltoids/shoulders starts here:

  7. “I personally think that well develop shoulders are one of (if not the) best compliments to a nice physique.”

    yeah i agree,
    it contributes in giving you that masculine physique.
    I try to work on that as much as i can.

    Thanks for the post anyway

  8. a man with nicely defined shoulders is H-O-T!

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