These 4 Shoulder-Friendly Exercises Can Help Build Bigger and Better Delts


Those who are serious about muscle want bolder delts, and arguably the best exercise to do that is the barbell and dumbbell overhead presses and their variations. These work all three deltoid heads (anterior, lateral, and posterior) for improved size and strength. For those who can do these and progress, overhead presses are great.

But only some were built to heavily overhead press due to mobility deficits or shoulder ouches. Many lifters go through it because the barbell can be unforgiving on the shoulder joint.

This is neither good nor bad; it just is. So, if your shoulders are barking at you or your shoulders are not built for safe overhead pressing, these four friendly shoulder exercises are for you. Here we’ll geek out on a bit of anatomy and movements of the shoulder joint so you can get more appreciation of it and four exercises for better flex appeal.


The deltoids are large triangular-shaped muscles of three heads, the front, lateral and posterior deltoid. They each insert on the upper humerus and originate from the clavicle and scapula. The deltoid muscles lie over the shoulder joint, which gives your shoulder that boulder shoulder look that almost all lifters desire.

 Movements of the Shoulder

The shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint that can move in multiple directions and requires strong muscles to make this happen. This is why it’s essential to strengthen the deltoids from all angles for better shoulder stability.

Here are the main movements for the deltoid with the muscles involved.

Shoulder Movement Deltoid MuscleExercise Example
Shoulder extensionPosteriorDumbbell Pullover
Shoulder flexionAnteriorFront Raise
Shoulder abductionMiddleLateral Raise
Shoulder adductionPosteriorChinup
Shoulder horizontal abductionMiddle & PosteriorBentover Reverse Fly
CircumductionAll ThreeCARS (Controlled Articular Rotations)


The shoulder joint is miraculous, and it’s a wonder it doesn’t get hurt more often. Its freedom of movement, due to its design, allows you to do lots of fun stuff in and out of the gym. But because of this, it can get beat up, and when it does, you need to train around the discomfort to maintain a training effect.

Here are a few thoughts on shoulder-friendly exercises and training.

  • The most obvious is if an exercise hurts, don’t do it. If you ignore the pain, say, two to three times, it is on you. With many shoulder exercise variations, why do one that hurts?
  • Look to exercises that offer more stability and not less. For instance, you only have two feet on the ground with an overhead barbell press, but with a seated overhead press, you have your two feet and glutes grounded.
  • Limit external shoulder rotation.  When the shoulder joint is externally rotated and abducted, it’s vulnerable, like when doing an overhead barbell press. Many people don’t have a problem with that position, but if your shoulder is barking at you, limiting this position is best.
  • Following the last point, lifting with a neutral grip, like with a landmine press, means the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints are stacked and limit the shoulder’s external rotation. This simple change can prevent a lot of pain lifters get from pressing.


Don’t let being unable to press overhead pain-free stop you from building bolder shoulders—instead, program these four exercises for more flex appeal.

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