The Best Shoulder Workout for Hypertrophy


In this article we look at the best shoulder exercises for hitting all three heads of the deltoid and building big shoulders.

Exercise that forces muscle growth is called hypertrophic exercise. If you’re looking for gains, then you need to be seeking hypertrophy.

What makes a good hypertrophy exercise?

Here’s what to look for in a good hypertrophy exercise:

  • It trains the main function of the target muscle.
  • The exercise is stable. If the target muscles are having to work to stabilize during the movement, fewer motor units will be recruited. Hence the choice of a seated anterior shoulder press versus a standing overhead press.
  • It can easily be progressively overloaded over time because it lacks any limiting factors.

The deltoid, your shoulder musculature, has 3 heads:

  1. anterior (front)
  2. medial (middle)
  3. posterior (rear)

To have the most effective hypertrophy workout, we need to hit all three areas effectively.

Let’s take a look at which exercises are best for each head.

Anterior Head of Deltoid

The best exercise for the anterior head of your delts is the seated shoulder press. Ideally this will be done with back support.

Seated shoulder press with back support

Sit on a bench with back support and press up with palms turned slightly toward each other like you see in this video:

A shoulder press can also be done with a machine at the gym. Pick either variation of the seated overhead press (dumbbell or machine) and try doing 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Medial Head of Deltoid

The best exercise for the medial head of your delts is the dumbbell lateral raise. This exercise can also be done with a cable machine as a Y raise.

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Dumbbell lateral raise

If you’d prefer to use cables, a cable Y raise is just as effective:

Pick one of these two exercises that target the medial head of your delt and try doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Rear Head of Deltoid

The best exercise for the rear head of your deltoid is the cable rear delt row. You can also do a single arm deltoid pull.

Cable rear delt row

On the cable rear delt row make sure your elbows are at a 45 degree angle.

single arm rear delt pull

Pick one of these two exercises for hitting the rear head of your deltoids and try doing 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

If you don’t have access to a cable machine, then dumbbell reverse flys are a good alternative for your rear delts.

Spend 4-6 weeks targeting these muscles for hypertrophy and your shoulders will gain mass and definition.

About The Author:

Megan Sparacio is a certified personal trainer who writes on health and fitness. She has over five years experience writing well-researched pieces aimed at helping folks reach their fitness and lifestyle goals.

Megan is passionate about staying up-to-date with and communicating methods to help others make lasting changes in their physical fitness and behavior and mindset. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, running and lifting, and painting.

She currently lives in Tennessee and also works as an NASM Certified Personal Trainer.