How To Grow the Medial/Middle/Lateral/Side Delt: the 6 Best Exercises

Sometimes, we spend so much time on our abs and arms, that we neglect the muscles that can have the biggest impact on our build.

One of these is the medial delt, which is also commonly called the lateral, middle, or side delt for short.

Training this part of the delts will make your shoulders pop, helping you develop a more powerful and impressive build.

However, this isn’t possible without hard work. 

Your medial delts will need about 2-3 days of 60-100 reps to develop well, and your usual vertical pressing exercises won’t cut it. 

Why don’t my shoulders grow? 

If you’re wondering why your shoulders don’t seem to be benefiting from your workouts, it’s probably because you’re neglecting them. 

You should start to prioritize your deltoid training. Either focus on your delts during an arm workout or dedicate a separate day to them. Don’t treat these muscles as an afterthought – treat each head (anterior, medial, posterior) as a separate muscle that requires training. 

If your delts are in need of some attention, fear not – we’ve got you covered. 

Below you’ll find the 6 best exercises for growing your medial/middle/lateral/side delt – which is absolutely key for achieving that desirable V-shaped look. 

1. Behind the Back Cable Lateral Raise 

The king of medial delt isolation exercises, the cable machine provides constant resistance and eliminates the need to push the weight upwards. By doing it behind the back, you lean forward to line your medial delt parallel to the floor to ensure the muscle takes the brunt of the work. 

However, as with all new moves you try, reduce your weight at first and take your time to avoid putting too much strain on the medial delt. 

2. Arnold press 

The Arnold press is a form of shoulder press inspired by the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it’s a great move for generating impressive gains. 

The Arnold press resembles a seated dumbbell overhead press but it takes the shoulders through a full range of motion and is the main move behind Schwarzenegger’s boulder shoulders.

As a compound lift, the Arnold press should be performed at the beginning of your shoulder work, before progressing to isolation moves. However,  proper form is essential to avoid rotator cuff injury. 

3. Behind the Neck Press 

When doing behind the neck presses, you shift the focus from the front delt to the medial delt as you move the barbell behind your neck.

It will take some time for you to get into the correct form with this one, as you’ll need to be careful not to hit yourself in the back of the head with the bar! 

Go slow, decrease your weight slightly, and go wider than usual. You should be particularly wary of this exercise if you have poor shoulder mobility. 

4. W raises 

For this exercise, you’ll need an incline bench and a pair of light dumbbells. 

While straddling the bench face down, do lateral raises with your arms slightly bent so that they resemble a “W” shape. 

The support of the bench eliminates the need for momentum, and, by using lighter dumbbells than usual, you won’t be able to swing the dumbbells upwards.

5. One arm dumbbell upright rows 

This is an isolation exercise that allows you to go heavy, and while most delt isolation moves require you to use lighter weights, one-arm dumbbell upright rows are one of the few exceptions. 

When you’re trying to grow a muscle it’s important to include all angles, rep ranges, and resistances.

By performing one arm at a time, you can focus on broadening your range of motion, as it won’t be restricted by the other arm. 

Simply grab a dumbbell, lean on a rack with your free arm, position yourself forward with your shoulders back and hips out, and lift the dumbbell to chest height while focusing on pulling the weight with your elbow.

6. One arm lateral raise 

While most people do their lateral raises with two dumbbells at a time, the better version is to focus on one at a time. By doing this, you can use heavier weights and go through a greater range of motion while still maintaining control. 

That said, you can hold a dumbbell in your free hand to counterbalance the weight in the other hand, but while it may be tempting, you should resist the urge to raise both dumbbells at once. Lean forward 10-15 degrees, and keep your elbow slightly bent.

Focus on one arm at a time, and once you’ve completed your set, you can switch to the other arm. 

Things to bear in mind

Reduce your weight and focus on form 

If you’re struggling to achieve a full range of motion and find yourself contouring in your lateral raises, you need to go back to textbook form. 

The best thing you can do is cut your weight. Focus on getting your form spot on before you increase your weight. By retraining your shoulders to achieve correct contraction and control you’ll not only reduce your risk of injury, but you’ll see bigger and better results. 

Ensure you’re contracting your deltoids properly 

This goes hand-in-hand with what we mentioned above – you need to make sure your form is spot on.

If you’re compromising your form in order to lift more weight, effective contraction of the delts will go out the window, and you’ll start to recruit other muscles to accommodate the weight. 

Make sure your reps aren’t too low 

If you’re lifting too heavy, you won’t be able to perform as many reps, and for the average lifter, chest and back training provide plenty of weight. 

Try lightening up your weights and increasing your reps. Don’t be fooled; just because you’re lifting less doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. 

Aim for 10 to 20 reps for a while and you’ll quickly find the higher reps will start to pay off.