anterior deltoid exercises

19 Anterior Deltoid Exercises With Dumbbells, Barbells, Bands, Bodyweight & More

August 30, 2021

It might come as a surprise, but your anterior deltoids (aka front deltoids) are the biggest of the three deltoid heads, and if you train them hard enough, they can be up to 5 times bigger than those with a sedentary lifestyle. That’s a lot of growth potential. The front deltoids have this potential because they play a key role in many big compound upper body movements. Your front delts are activated during all pressing exercises, which includes push ups, bench press, and overhead press. This is because your front delts power shoulder flexion, of which all pressing movements involve. Essentially, anytime you raise your arms up, your front delts are working. 

To give you a chance to reach your maximum anterior delt growth and strength potential, we put together this front delt strength and hypertrophy guide, which includes literally everything you need to know about the front delts. We cover the anatomy and functions of your deltoids, how to know if your anterior delts need more attention or if they are weak, the best anterior deltoid exercises and stretches, training tips, and programming advice to ensure the best possible shoulder development.

Without further ado, let’s begin (it’s a long one, so feel free to bookmark this page and come back to it as necessary).

Note: Anterior delts and front delts are the same thing (anterior means "situated on the front"), so don’t get confused as we will use both terms interchangeably throughout this article.

front deltoid exercises

DELTOID MUSCLE ANATOMY

In fitness, “shoulder exercises” refers to resistance exercises that target the deltoid muscle.

The deltoid is the superficial muscle that forms the rounded contour of your shoulder. While the deltoid is technically a single muscle, anatomically speaking it has three distinct sets of muscles fibers and muscle bellies, which are referred to as “heads”. Each head has a different attachment point.

The three heads of the deltoids:

  • Anterior Deltoid
  • Lateral Deltoid
  • Posterior Deltoid 

what exercises work the front deltoid

Anterior Deltoid: Your anterior deltoid is commonly called the front delt. It arises from your collar bone and inserts into your humerus (upper arm bone). Your front delt’s main function is to move your arm up, forward and to your center. 

Lateral Deltoid: Your lateral deltoid has a few common names, such as side delts, middle delts, or even outer delts. It arises from a little area on your shoulder blade called the acromion process and inserts into your humerus. Your lateral delt’s main function is shoulder abduction, which is bringing it up to the side.

Related: Best Lateral Deltoid Exercises

Posterior Deltoid: Your posterior deltoid is called the rear delt for short. It arises from the spine of your scapula (upper part of your shoulder blade) and inserts into your humerus. Your posterior delt’s main function is moving the arm outward and backward.

All in all, your deltoid muscle plays a huge role in the gross movement of your arms (shoulder abduction, flexion, extension, rotation) and stabilization of your shoulder joint. 

As this article is about the anterior deltoid, let’s dig more into the function of this specific head so you can understand how it is best strengthened.

WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE ANTERIOR DELTOID? 

As with all of three heads of the deltoid muscle, the anterior fibers help to produce shoulder abduction, which is moving your arm out and away from the body. However, the anterior deltoids main role is shoulder flexion (bringing your arm up and forward) and medial (internal) rotation.

Now, when discussing the anterior delts, it's important to also look at the pec major. Here's why...

Your front deltoids and upper head of your pectoralis major (clavicular head) are like very close neighbors, or better yet, roommates. They both attach to the clavicular (collar bone) and insert into the upper front side of the humerus (upper arm bone). If it wasn’t for the cephalic vein, it would be hard to tell where the pec major ends and the front delt begins. 

The point of this is, your front deltoid and pec major will work together to power and stabilize many exercises and movements.

The two share a very important role, which is both shoulder flexion (bringing your arm up and forward, i.e. presses) and internal rotation (bringing your arm in, i.e. flys).

Essentially any exercise or movement that involves the pec major will also involve the front delt, and vice versa.

That said, your pec major is best positioned for taking charge of shoulder flexion when your arm are more out to your sides (i.e. wide grip bench press) and your front delts are best positioned to take charge when your arms are more close to your sides or overhead. 

front delt exercises

BENEFITS OF STRONG WELL-BUILT FRONT DELTS? 

The benefit of having strong, well-built front delts is simple. First of all, they help protect your shoulder joint, keeping it stable during arm movements. Second of all, strong front delts will make arm movements that involve shoulder flexion, internal rotation, and abduction more powerful and productive. Thirdly, it’ll improve the overall aesthetics and definition of your shoulders. 

So, if you are wondering if you need to train your front delts...

SHOULD I TRAIN FRONT DELTS?

The question is not should you train front delts, it’s should you do isolation exercises that target the front delts, because you obviously should be training the front delts. Not training the front delts is like not training any other muscle. 

Obviously the reason this questions gets asked is because the front delts are a primary mover during overhead presses and they are highly activated during bench press (especially incline press), which any respectable workout plan will include. The same goes for push ups, handstands and pike push ups for those who only do bodyweight training.

So, the question is, are these exercises enough for full development of the front delts or should you do more isolated exercises?

The answer is, it depends....

Are your front delts underdeveloped and weak or are they overdeveloped and overactive?

If the former is the case, then isolation exercises after doing the big pressing exercises can give you the targeted boost that they need.

If the latter is true, then you can probably skip out on front delt isolation exercises, stick to the big compound presses, and start doing more middle and rear delt work.

Note: The primary reason people do front delt isolation exercises is for hypertrophy purposes (aesthetics and definition), as overall strength should be taken care of with the big pressing movements. 

But, let’s dig into this a little deeper, as it can be hard to tell if your front delts are weak... 

ARE YOUR FRONT DELTS WEAK? 

Some people wonder if their front delts are weak because it feels like their shoulders are tiring out before their chest on exercises like bench press or they simply lack strength on exercises like overhead press. 

Well, here’s the thing, the VAST majority of people who have been training for years don’t have weak delts. Again, this is because the front delts are being activated on every pressing movement, both chest and shoulder presses. 

The fact of the matter is, having weak (imbalanced) rear delts is FAR more common because the rear delts are simply harder to target. The same is true for the middle delts. 

Because the front delts are already being stimulated effectively during chest presses and overhead presses, most people actually need to emphasize the side and rear delts more than the front delts. It’s vital that you have well balanced deltoid training. 

Most would argue that front delt focused isolation exercises are the least necessary, so long as you are doing big compound pressing movements.

Nevertheless, adding one front delt isolation exercise to your training along with the big pressing movements can’t hurt as long as your front delts aren't already overactive. 

Note: If you feel like your front delts are weak during pressing exercises, it may just be that they are overtrained. Think about it, if you have a split that involves shoulder and chest days, then your front delts may not have recovered enough between sessions. It is also possible that your front delts are exhausting easily because the total weekly volume of front delt work is too great. Not that they are weak from a lack of training...OR it could be that your front delts are overactive...

ARE YOUR FRONT DELTS OVERACTIVE? 

What’s way more common than weak front delts, especially for late-beginner to intermediates, is overactive front delts. This means the front delts are taking over exercises like flat bench press, causing them to feel like they are tiring out before the pecs.

The best thing you can do in this case is to focus on good form (shoulder blades retracted and minimizing shoulder movement during bench) or try some variations of bench press that are better at emphasizing the pecs (i.e. wide grip flat bench).

A big problem with overactive front delts is that it’s simply hard to overload your pecs adequately because your front delts are taking over bench (or push ups).

Moreover, overactive front delts will lead to hunched posture (rounded shoulders) due to tightness. This causes an array of problems, such as chronic rotator cuff pain.

Overall, if your front delts are overactive, it will lead them to be overdeveloped and other muscles to be underdeveloped. Muscle imbalances like this are not good for aesthetics either. 

The good news if this is your issue is it can be fixed.

If you have overactive front delts, you should:

  • Do more back exercises and rear delt work (as well as the middle delts)
  • Try myofascial release of your anterior delts before workouts that involve chest exercises.
  • Focus on good form and try different variations of bench press.
  • Stop doing front delt isolation exercises for a while (just stick with the big compound pressing movements - i.e. Overhead Press).

FIXING LAGGING FRONT DELTS

With all that has been said, it is perfectly possible that your front delts are lagging both in strength and size, especially if you aren't doing compound pressing exercises. While it’s less common than lagging middle and rear delts, this may be the case for you. 

If it is, place more emphasis on big compound exercises like incline bench press and overhead press and throw some front delt isolation exercises into your workout as well. Try to hit your front delts twice a week and you should bring them up to par in no time. It’s important that your front delts are strong as they play a key role in 2 out of the 4 biggest compound lifts (bench press and overhead press), not to mention you use them anytime you lift up your arms!

Now, if you ARE doing incline bench press, overhead press and even some front deltoid isolation exercises and they are still underdeveloped, then it could very well be a form issue, a volume issue, a frequency issue, a DIET issue, a progression issue, OR all of the above.

Your front delts might not even be weak, they might just not be developed aesthetically speaking because you don’t know how to train them for hypertrophy. 

But don’t worry, this article has everything you need to know about strengthening and developing some powerful and intimidating front delts.  

We will provide you with various front delt isolation exercises so you can mix things up. It’s best to keep strict with your compound movements, for progressive overload purposes, but small isolation exercises can be switched up to provide more variety to your training, and thus keep your front delts challenged and adequately stimulated.

exercises for front delts

WHAT EXERCISES WORK THE ANTERIOR DELTS? 

While there are a lot of exercises that target the anterior delts, it really comes down to two types of exercises, presses and raises. Presses and raises both act on shoulder flexion, which is powered by the anterior delts. 

When looking at presses, placing the body in an upright or inclined position will result in more shoulder flexion, and thus anterior deltoid activation. So, exercises like incline bench press and overhead presses are the ultimate anterior delt strength exercises. Not only do they place emphasis on the front delt through shoulder flexion, they do so in a way that maximizes weight load, which is great for recruiting the most possible muscle fibers in the front delts.

As for raises, by which we mean front raises and the many variations, this movement is purely flexion of the shoulder (unlike bench press which involves horizontal adduction as well, and of course elbow flexion). So, it is also great for the front delts. 

While you won't go heavy with front raises, the good news is your front delts also respond well to light weights with high volume, particularly in regards to hypertrophy. 

With all that said, if you want to build up your front delts, both pressing exercises and front raises are certainly the best. 

The fun part about it all is, there are so many different ways to do presses and front raises, in terms of both variations (altering training variables like body position, grip position, and load position) AND equipment used. For example, rather than incline bench press, you could do decline push ups, rather than overhand front raises, you could do neutral grip front raises, or rather than standard overhead presses, you could do Arnold presses. 

What’s more, and it’s almost needless to say, there are also other exercises that work the anterior deltoid with relatively decent muscle activation, such flys, lateral raises (again the front delts act on shoulder abduction too), upright rows, and incline rows. Basically any exercise that involves shoulder flexion, internal rotation, and abduction will be good for the front delt to some degree.

front delt muscle activation

Because of everything stated above, we have many front delt exercises and variations (with different equipment too) that we deem worthy of including into your routine. Of course, not all at once, but over the course of your fitness journey. You can always try different exercises to see which you feel do best to stimulate your anterior delts.  

HOW TO TARGET YOUR FRONT DELTOIDS FOR SIZE AND STRENGTH?

Before we run through all the exercises, let’s quickly discuss best rep ranges, load, total volume and frequency for anterior deltoid development... 

BEST REP RANGES & LOAD:

How many reps you should do mean nothing without consideration for load. So, when discussing one, you need to mention the other. 

To understand the best rep and load scheme, it’s important to know about the fibers of the anterior deltoids.

The anterior deltoids are made up of an even ratio of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers.

In the simplest terms, this means they will respond slightly better to heavier weight for low to moderate reps (i.e. 3-10 reps), but also lighter weight with high reps (10-15 reps) is effective as well.

The weight load should challenge you (bring you to failure or near failure) in the given rep ranges. 

As we know, overhead presses, incline presses, and front raises are the best exercises for the front delts, so let’s look at these in relation to reps and load. 

Overhead press and incline press are the best for achieving strength of the anterior delts. They are most effective in the 3-12 rep range. 3-6 reps using HEAVY weight and 6-12 using moderately heavy weight. 

Front raises are generally most effective with moderate to light weight for moderate to high reps, so 8-15+ reps. Raises will be hard to achieve true failure, as in you literally can’t get another rep. This is because it's easy to cheat. So, essentially you want to choose a load that you really feel the “burn” on the last several reps, while maintaining good form.

Note: Good form is essential on both presses and raises, to ensure you are activating the front delts rather than compensating (cheating) with momentum or the use of other muscles. 

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU TRAIN FRONT DELTS? 

When asking how often you should train your front deltoids, you need to consider both total volume and frequency per week.

VOLUME & FREQUENCY:

Ideally, you want to hit your front delts with around 10-12 sets per week, split up into 2-3 sessions. For more advanced trainees, the number of sets may need to be higher, around 10-15+ sets per week.

Most would suggest that the front delts recover on the slower side. As such, if you want to train them directly, you should aim for 2x per week, and at most 3x, with rest of 48 hours between sessions that directly target the front delts.

Remember, the front delts are trained with chest exercises, so if you do too much volume directly for your front delts, you may start to compromise chest training. 

An example of 12 sets per week would look like this:

  • Shoulder day: Overhead Press x 3 sets, Arnold Press x 3 sets, Front Raises x 3 sets
  • Chest day: Incline Bench Press x 3 sets

With that, you’d have a total volume of 12 sets that are directly front delts.

This should be plenty for most trainees.

It should be noted that in actuality, your front delts will receive even more stimulation than this as they will also be activated during flat bench, push ups, flys and other shoulder exercises, just to a lesser degree. 

Related: How many exercises, sets, and reps should I do per muscle group & workout?

WHY SO MANY VARIATIONS?

As you are going to see, we have a plethora of exercises that target the front delts. 

We have provided you with all of these exercises for the following reasons:

  • So you can mix things up: Stick with a few exercises for a while, but when you start to get bored of them or you are noticing diminishing returns, switch them up. As you become more advanced, variety becomes far more important.
  • In case you have shoulder issues: You’ll find some exercises are easier on your shoulder joint than others. It’s better to find an exercise that works for you rather than skip the muscle group all together. Sometimes a simple change of an angle or the equipment you are using can do the trick. Eventually, you’ll rebuild strength this way too, and hopefully eliminate the pain altogether (note: if you have concern, always consult a doctor or physical therapist first).
  • To allow you to hit the front delts no matter where you are: The exercises below use different equipment or no equipment at all, so no matter where you are (gym, home, vacation, or otherwise) you can get an effective shoulder workout in.

19 BEST ANTERIOR DELT EXERCISES

We are going to breakdown the anterior deltoid exercises into categories, just for the sake of keeping this all digestible. The categories will be vertical presses, horizontal presses, front raises, upright rows, and bodyweight exercises.

Being that vertical and horizontal presses are compound exercises, which your workouts should typically begin with, let’s start there.

VERTICAL PRESSES

Vertical presses mean you are doing a pressing motion from a standing or upright position. Your body is vertical.

1. Overhead Press

best exercise for front delt

The standard overhead press is an exercise that involves pressing a barbell or dumbbell (although other equipment can be used as you are going to see) overhead with your arms in a lateral position and your torso upright (vertical). 

This exercise works all three heads of the deltoids, as well as your upper chest, triceps, serratus anterior and upper traps. The front and side delts are the main drivers of the movement. Your rear delts act as a stabilizer muscle, along with other muscles such as your rhomboids and the muscles of your core. Plainly speaking, it’s a big compound exercise, so it works a lot of muscles, but your front and side delts are the primary muscles targeted. 

The overhead press is a great exercise to begin your shoulder or push workouts with as it is taxing and will require more energy. 

In regards to equipment, there are various options, such as:

Generally speaking, it is the barbell or dumbbell that get the most attention for overhead presses, and rightfully so. Both have their advantages. The dumbbell overhead press involves more stability and thus activates the deltoids really well, and the barbell typically allows for the greatest potential load. 

Be that as it may, looking at studies, it does show that dumbbells provide the most muscle activation, particularly from a standing position. 

But that definitely doesn’t mean you should only use dumbbells. You should do both. The same is true for standing and seated overhead presses. Doing both will give you the variety needed to avoid diminishing returns and to challenge your muscles in different ways.

So, when looking at standard overhead press as a whole, we have the following variations:

  • Standing Barbell
  • Standing Dumbbell
  • Seated Barbell
  • Seated Dumbbell
  • Seated Smith Machine
  • Standing Kettlebell
  • Standing Resistance Band

We won’t explain how to do each, but we will show you pictures of all in action. But first, here are some key cues that will apply regardless of the variation.

Standing Overhead Press Tips:

  • Hip width stance.
  • Feet flat on floor.
  • Feet parallel.
  • Knees locked (this is a strict press!).
  • Hips locked (this is a strict press!).
  • Glutes squeezed and core tight.
  • Elbows at about 45˚ from your torso, which should have your forearms in a vertical position in the lowest position (this will have your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart).
  • Wrists straight.
  • Bar path is straight up (in line with your feet).
  • Don’t tilt your head back as the bar comes up near your head, rather retract your entire head backward as if you are making a double-chin.
  • Lock out at the top and come down until your hands are at about shoulder level (bar near chest if using barbell).

barbell front deltoid exercises

Seated Overhead Press Tips:

  • All the same is true for seated overhead presses, but your lower body is taken out of the equation. Nevertheless, your feet should be firmly planted into the floor for stability and your core will be tight.

seated front delt exercises

Here are pics of the overhead press using different equipment:

Smith Machine Overhead Press

smith machine front delt exercises

 

Resistance Band Overhead Press

resistance band front delt exercises 

We always recommend free weights for serious development, but bands are good for home workouts and supersetting. 

2. Push Press

best pressing exercises for front delts

The push press is a variation of the overhead press. It’s exactly the same except you will be using your lower body to help you press the bar up overhead. Essentially, it’s like a cheating overhead press, as you will bend at the knees and hips to help you explode the barbell (or kettlebells) up overhead.

front deltoid movements

The benefit of the push press is that it will allow you to use heavier loads, and thus increase your fundamental overhead strength and power.

Note: It’s not as good for the front delts as a strict overhead press, but it’s great for the body as a whole, so you can kind of fill two needs with one deed. However, we really recommend this only for powerlifters, Crossfitters, athletes and people who are into kettlebell sport. If you are strictly bodybuilding, then it’s not necessary.

3. Arnold Press

are arnold presses good for front deltoids

The Arnold press is a vertical dumbbell pressing exercise that moves you through multiple planes of motion. So rather than pressing straight up, you press up and laterally, rotating your arms outward.

With the Arnold press, the starting position will have your palms facing inward near your chest and your elbows out in front of you. You will press upward from this position and as the dumbbells come up you will rotate your arms outward into a standard overhead press position and then up overhead. The movement pattern is the same in reverse to lower the dumbbells back down. 

This vertical pressing exercise is great for both your front and middle delts, as well as all of the other muscles involved in a standard overhead press. What’s special about this exercise compared to the standard overhead press from a strength and hypertrophy perspective is that it targets the front delts really well. This is because the start of the movement from the bottom position has your elbows out in front of you, which is specifically shoulder flexion, ergo your front delts are the primary mover (with help from your upper chest). What’s more, with the bottom range of a vertical press being the hardest, due to our natural strength curve, it places the emphasis on the front delts in the position most important for building strength. This makes it a better vertical pressing exercise when thinking solely from a front delt perspective, yet it still gives you good middle delt activation. All in all, it’s a big bang for your buck kind of exercise, plus it trains you through multiple planes of motion, which helps build up good movement coordination. There's a reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger was so fond of this exercise.

4. Reverse Grip Press

front deltoid dumbbell exercises

The reverse grip press is like the Arnold press but without rotating your forearms outward to an overhand position as you press overhead. With that, your elbows will remain forward and tension will remain focused on your front delts.

The only issue with the reverse grip press is you can’t really go too heavy, which is why the standard overhead press is still the king of front delt exercises. That said, this can be a nice addition to a routine for someone who wants to add some more focus on their front delts.

5. Hammer Press

dumbbell exercises for front deltoids

The hammer press is a front delt-centric press just like the reverse grip press as it keeps your elbows tucked and the movement focused completely on shoulder flexion (and of course elbow extension). 

You can do this one either bilaterally or alternating. Both are good. The alternating option allows your to focus on one side at a time which can be good for fixing muscle imbalances and recruiting more of your core.

This exercise and the hammer grip (neutral grip) overhead press are pretty much as front delt dominant of presses as it gets. Both keep your elbows tucked forward and concentration on the shoulder joint. 

6. Landmine Press

best anterior deltoid exercises

The landmine press is cool because it uses a different angle. It’s a very nice option for some additional front delt work, and it is also great for your scapula stabilizer muscles.

One of the greatest benefits of the landmine shoulder press is that it takes a lot of pressure off your shoulder joint. The best part is, it does so in a way that doesn’t really take away from building strength and size as you can go pretty heavy and it targets the front delts beautifully.

Another great thing about the landmine press is that it will work your core really well too, as you will be pressing on just one side so your core will be activated to maintain stability.

Note: Two handed landmine presses are good, but they turn the exercise into more of an upper chest exercise with both the angle of the press and horizontal adduction of your arms. Nevertheless, it also targets the front delts well and can be done to kind of knock out two areas at once. 

Related: Best Landmine Exercises & Workouts

7. Military Press with Hanging Bands

barbell exercises for front deltoids

There’s not much to say about this exercise except it’s the same as a standard military press but with a lot more stabilization demand. With the resistance bands hanging from the sleeves of the barbell with a weight at the end, the load becomes very unstable, which forces you to recruit your muscles differently. Every rep will require focus. This can lead to better muscle activation. It also does a great job of activating your rotator cuff complex to a higher degree. 

Ultimately, this kind of exercise can be mixed in occasionally to help you build more injury resilience and overall strength through better stabilization. 

HORIZONTAL PRESSES 

Horizontal presses mean you’re a pressing from a position where your body is horizontal (parallel with the floor), or in other words, push ups and bench presses.

Although incline presses are somewhere in the middle of vertical and horizontal, they fall into the horizontal category. 

Horizontal presses are generally meant to target your pecs, but the front delt is a primary mover as well, and since these exercise typically allow you to maximize load, they are a must for building anterior deltoid strength. 

Note: We will not go over the flat bench press, even though it is a must for any strength training routine, pending you don’t have any shoulder issues when benching (which is common with flat bench press). The flat bench press is great for the anterior delts too, but it’s more focused on the pec major. Rather than going over all the different variations of bench press, of which there are many, we will just stick to the ones that recruit the front delts the most. 

8. Incline Bench Press

incline press for front deltoids

The purpose of the incline bench press is to focus on the upper head of the pec major. However, as you know, the upper head and the front delt function together for pressing exercises, so you will also be working your front delt in a significant manner with incline presses, especially if using a 45˚ incline. 

The great thing about the incline press is that you can go heavy too. As such, not only does it activate the front delt significantly, but it also allows it to be placed under the heaviest load. It’s probably the heaviest, front delt focused exercise you are going to do. 

9. Close Grip Flat Bench Press 

bench press front delts

The close grip flat bench brings your hands to about shoulder width, which in turn keeps your elbows tucked to your side. With that, the movement is all about shoulder flexion and elbow extension rather than shoulder flexion, elbow extension, and horizontal adduction. This means that the close grip flat bench press emphasizes the anterior deltoid, the upper head of the pec major, and the triceps. So, if you want to give your front delts a little more attention while also hitting other important muscles like your triceps, you can throw this into your chest workouts. It’s a smart way to make workouts more efficient.

10. Reverse Grip Incline Bench Press 

reverse grip for front deltoids

Like the close grip bench press, the reverse grip prioritizes shoulder flexion, and thus, the movement becomes more front delt and upper chest focused. It also makes for a greater range of motion at the elbows, which causes more tricep activation. The reverse grip bench press even proves to be an effective movement for your biceps. 

All in all, if you want an exercise that fills a lot of needs - targeting your arms, shoulders and chest - the reverse grip is a good option. It’s typically a lot easier on the shoulder than close grip bench press too, which might make this a good alternative for some people.

11. Hammer Press 

exercises for anterior deltoids

It’s the same concept with the hammer press. The grip positions your elbows close to your side, which means the movement solely acts on shoulder flexion. So, like the reverse grip and close grip bench press, the hammer press, aka neutral grip bench press, places emphasis on your anterior delts and triceps. 

12. Floor Press

front deltoid strength

Typically, the reason people do floor presses isn't because they don’t have a bench, but rather to work on the end range of motion of the bench press. By doing floor presses, you can address lockout issues and sticking points. In regards to the front delt, this top range of motion is front delt dominant, so the front delt will bear the brunt of the work. 

If you want more information about horizontal presses, along with clear instructions on how to perform them, check out our guide to bench pressing.

FRONT RAISES 

While side raises also hit the front delts because the front delts are involved in shoulder abduction, we will stick to front raises and the variations of it because it is really specific to the anterior delts and that’s what this article is all about. 

13. Front Raises

anterior deltoid exercises dumbbells

The front raise is a basic anterior delt isolation exercise, or at least as isolated as it gets considering the upper head of the pec major also acts on shoulder flexion.

It is a single joint movement, so movement only occurs at the shoulder joint. Needless to say, that movement is shoulder flexion. So, your elbow will be fixed as you lift your arm up.

There are many variations of the front raise. You can use different training variables like grip position, body position, and load position as well as different equipment. We will show you several of the best variations, but first let’s go over how to do the standard front raise with dumbbells, which is the most common version. 

How to do a standing front raise: 

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells with one in each hand. Hold them with an overhand grip.
  2. Stand with your feet about hip width apart and your feet squared forward.
  3. Position the dumbbells just in front of your thighs with your arms full extended (a slight bend in your elbow is ok).
  4. Make sure you are standing tall. Bring your shoulder blades down and back to ensure your shoulders are packed.
  5. Lift both hands up simultaneously while keeping your elbow fixed. Come up so your arm is parallel with the floor (arm straight with hand at about shoulder height).
  6. Hold the position for a moment, then slowly lower your arms back down until they come just in front of your thighs then repeat.

Note: There’s no need to go higher than shoulder level and this exercise is best performed with lighter weight and higher reps (light weight is also safer in terms of risk of injury).

The most common variation of this is single arm dumbbell front raises (or alternating) which allows you to focus on one side at a time and involves a little more core work. 

The front raise can also be done from a seated position with your arms directly at your sides as well.

seated front raises

Let’s go over some training variables for front raises now... 

Equipment for Front Raises:

Although dumbbells are the most common equipment for front raises, they can also be done with an EZ Bar, kettlebells, bands, cable pulley machine, or even just a weighted plate.  

Here is an example of a... 

Cable Pulley Front Raise 

cable machine front delts

Related: 16 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises For 3D Delts

and...

Resistance Band Front Raise

anterior deltoid resistance bands 

Plate Front Raises

front deltoids

All of the various equipment are effective and will provide slightly different activation, so it’s good to switch things up.

Grip for Front Raises:

You have three options for grip position:

  • Overhand
  • Underhand
  • Neutral 

Overhand grip places emphasis on your front delts and middle delts.

Underhand places emphasis on your front delts and upper chest.

Neutral grip is mainly front delt focused.

Body Position for Front Raises:

The main body positions for front raises are standing, seated upright, seated incline, and prone incline.

Standing vs Seated Front Raises: Both are highly effective and quite similar. It’s just that standing puts you in a biomechanically advantageous position so you can likely use a little heavier of a weight.

As for seated incline front raises, it will activate your pecs more and the prone incline (as you will see below) brings your back and middle delts into the picture.

Load Position for Front Raises: 

Depending on your body position, you can alter the load position.

For example, when doing seated front raises, the load will be more to your side than with standing (although you can also position the load to your side when standing too). You can also brings the load closer to your centerline, by either holding both hands on one dumbbell, using a close grip on an EZ bar or simply doing front raises with a weighted plate.

The closer your hands are together, the more your upper chest will be involved, and the further they are, the more your side delts will be.

Of course, grip, body and load positioning can be mixed and match, as seen with these exercises: 

Close Grip Front Raise 

close grip front raise for front delts

Seated Incline Underhand Grip Front Raise

seated incline front raise

Standing Underhand Front Raise

dumbbell exercises for anterior deltoids

Alternating Front Raise 

are front raises good for the front delts

Close Grip Prone Incline Front Raise

best front raise exercise for front deltoids

14. Battle Ropes 

Battle ropes are a full body condoning tool, but they emphasize the deltoids by nature of design and function. Essentially, when doing battle rope exercises, you are doing both conditioning and deltoid training (hypertrophy and endurance). 

The best battle rope exercises for your front delts will be the ones where you are performing shoulder flexion. Essentially they are like dynamic front raises, which is why we've included them in the front raise category.

The best example is the classic battle rope wave.

battle ropes front deltoids

Throw this exercise in-between your sets to really kill your front delts while keeping your heart rate booming or use it as a finisher after a shoulder workout to ensure full exhaustion of the delts. 

Note: Studies show that battle ropes provide around 50% MVC (maximum voluntary contraction) for the anterior delts. This is a lot considering front raises are just about 58% and DB shoulder is around 74%.

Related: Best Battle Rope Exercises

UPRIGHT ROWS 

Most people think of upright rows when it comes to hitting their side delts and upper traps (as well as rear delts). However, it is also an effective exercise for the front delts. 

15. Upright Rows

front delt upright rows

Upright rows are generally done with dumbbells or EZ bars, but they can also be done with a smith machine, Olympic barbell, straight bar using a cable pulley machine or resistance bands

Deltoid Muscle Activation for Upright Rows:

  • Front Delts (33% MVC - Maximum Voluntary Contraction)
  • Side Delts (73% MVC)
  • Rear Delts (31% MVC)

What this tells you is the upright row is a very worthy exercise for the deltoids as a whole. You’ll get the most activation at your side delts, but your front delts and rear delts will also get some great activation. This makes it one of the more well rounded deltoid exercises. This is just another example of how to make your workouts effective and efficient. 

We like to add this one at the end of the workout to really crush all three heads and give the middle delts the extra attention they deserve, considering the mid delts are generally the hardest to area to target effectively.

what exercises work the front deltoids

Are upright rows bad for your shoulders? 

Upright rows get a somewhat bad rap as they can cause shoulder pain, but that’s only if you do them with too close of a grip. If your shoulders feel good, you can do them carefully with any grip width, but if you have some shoulder joint issue, simply use a wide grip and you should enjoy some pain free upright row delt growth.

BODYWEIGHT

Just because you don’t have access to a gym or free weight equipment doesn’t mean you can’t hit your front delts effectively. 

Standard push ups provide 48% MVC, which means they are quite effective at targeting the front delts. Move your feet up onto a platform (decline push ups) and the MVC will increase.

So, decline push ups is one great option, but here are a few others more front delt specific bodyweight exercises...

16. Pike Push Ups 

bodyweight front deltoid exercises

The pike push up is very demanding push up variation (yes, harder than a regular push up!). This body positioning places emphasis on your deltoids (especially the front delts) and triceps, as well as your upper back and serratus anterior. 

The higher up your feet and the your torso becomes perpendicular to the floor, the more shoulder activation you get and the harder it’ll be. 

17. Handstands 

bodyweight deltoid exercises

Handstands are to overhead presses as push ups are to bench press. It is the bodyweight version of the overhead press.

The biggest difference is, handstands are a lot harder than push ups, especially if you do handstand push ups

For beginners, try to do handstands and hold the position for 10-20 seconds. It’s an isometric exercise, which is a great way to build strength in your shoulders, arms, upper back and chest.

Once you build strength, you can attempt handstand push ups. Obviously, these are very difficult, because you are using your entire bodyweight as a load. So, if you weigh 200lbs, it’s like doing a 200lb overhead press. Most people won’t be able to do them, but even if you can get a couple reps, it will be effective.

18. Chest Dips

front delt exercises at home

The chest dip (aka parallel dip) is a great exercise for your pec major, but it also activates the anterior delts (along with other muscles) very well. A study from ACE shows that dips provide 41% MVC, which is just below push ups. This relatively high muscle activation makes perfect sense consider the movement involve shoulder flexion along with elbow extension.

Even if you go to the gym, we recommend doing chest dips. It’s an all-around great compound movement. 

Note: If you don't have dip bars, you can simply set up sturdy chairs and do dips in-between them.

19. Tricep Dips

best exercises for anterior deltoids

The final exercise we have for you is the tricep dip. Like the chest dip, it involves a degree of shoulder flexion, so it’s going to activate your anterior deltoid pretty well. Not as good as chest dips, but definitely a worthy addition to any push workout, at home or the gym.

Related: 9 Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

PROGRAMMING ANTERIOR DELT EXERCISES INTO YOUR ROUTINE

It really depends on your split. So let’s go over a few examples...

These examples assume that your front delts are lagging, most likely aesthetically-speaking, and you want to give them a little more attention.

Body Part Split 

If you are doing a body part split, which separates chest and shoulder day, then you can hit your anterior delts on both chest day and shoulder day, which is great as hitting a muscle group twice a week is shown to be best for hypertrophy. Of course, these two workout days must be separated by at least 48 hours to ensure recovery of your anterior delts before the next time hitting them.

Chest Day:

  • Barbell Bench Press: 4 sets x 5-8 reps
  • Chest Fly: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
  • Incline DB Bench Press: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
  • Parallel Dips: 3 sets x 10-15 reps 

With this chest workout, you will be getting a fair amount of anterior delt work in. However, your shoulder day will have more focus on them. 

Shoulder Day:

  • Overhead Press: 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Arnold Press: 3 sets x 8-12 reps
  • DB Front Raise: 3 sets x 8-15 reps
  • Lateral Raise: 3 sets x 8-15 reps
  • Rear Delt Flys: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
  • Upright Rows: 2 sets x 10-12 reps 

The first three exercises are anterior focused, although overhead presses provide you good lateral delt activation as well since your arms are positioned laterally when pressing. This is a well-rounded shoulder workout in terms of targeting all three heads. The overhead press will be a heavy lift, the rest should be moderate with lower rest times, so this workout shouldn’t take you very long. 

Upper Lower or PPL Split 

If you are doing an Upper Lower Split or PPL split, where you are training your chest and shoulders together, then you simply just need to focus on the big compound presses and add one front delt isolation exercise in.

For example, a good push day that allows you to give a little extra emphasis on your front delts can look like this:

  1. Overhead Press: 3 sets x 6 reps
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets x 12 reps
  3. Dumbbell Front Raise: 3 sets x 16 reps
  4. Rear Delt Fly: 3 sets x 10-15 reps
  5. Flat Bench Fly: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
  6. Close Grip BB Bench Press: 3 sets x 10-15 reps

With this kind of workout, your front delts are getting a lot of attention. In fact, they are arguably the main attraction. So, if you do this kind of workout, it would be important to change things up after some time once your front delts catch up. Also, you’d ideally want to alternate between incline dumbbell press and flat bench press to ensure the lower head of your pec major is being worked enough. You could do this week by week.

Overall, things aren’t as complicated as many make it out to be. If you want your front delts to grow, then make sure you are killing them during workout days that you are focusing on the shoulders, and get enough food to support the growth. It’s that simple. And, you also need to remember that balanced training is important, so don’t let your other delts fall by the wayside.

should i do front delt exercises

FRONT DELT TRAINING TIPS 

If you want your front delts to grow and get stronger, then here are a few simple tips to follow:

  1. Train your front delts twice a week.
  2. Add a shoulder press into your routine that emphasizes front delts (overhead presses that position your elbows forward will be more front delt focused, such as Arnold presses or hammer grip presses).
  3. Add a front delt isolation exercise into your routine too.
  4. Play around with your rep ranges and implement training past failure. Kill the muscle and it will grow.
  5. Switch things up. It’s ok to stick with an exercise for some time, but at some point, you’ll get less and less out of the movement. Because of this, it’s important to have variety. Variety will allow you to avoid adapting to a particular movement. This includes compound and isolation exercises. Variety can be simple as going from seated to standing or using different equipment too. This is why we’ve given you so many options, not because we want you to do all of them at once, but so you can change things up over the course of your fitness journey. Maybe you stick with a few exercises for a couple months, but then change it up after that for another 1 or 2 month mesocycle.

ANTERIOR DELTOID STRETCHING & MYOFASCIAL RELEASE

The anterior deltoid is a common area of tightness for people. It’s also a common muscle to become overactive since it is used so often. As such, it would be very advantageous to implement stretching and myofascial release of the anterior deltoid into your routine. By doing this, you can reduce tightness and stiffness, allow your to have better range of motion and mobility. Moreover, you can avoid rounding of the shoulders and poor posture as well as the anterior deltoids becoming overactive during exercises where you want your pecs to be activated to the max. 

Here are some of the best anterior deltoid stretches that you can do... 

1. Arm Circles

deltoid warm up

Arm circles are a great way to dynamically stretch and warm up your shoulders before a workout. It will help improve your range of motion and get blood flowing and muscles activated.

To do this stretching exercise, all you have to do is make a circle with your arms. Do big circles, small circles, circles close to your sides and circles with your arms out completely to your side.

2. Shoulder Flexor Stretch 

front deltoid stretches

As the name suggests, this is a stretch for your shoulder flexors...ergo, your front delts. To do this exercise, simply place your arm behind your back with a 90˚ bend in your elbow. Position your hand so your fingers are pointing straight up and your palm is facing away from its elbow. Then, use your opposite hand to lift up your forearm a little. This will allow you to get a deeper stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds then release. 

3. Reverse Shoulder Stretch

anterior deltoid stretches

This is a great way to get a deep stretch in your front delts, upper chest, biceps, and forearms. It places your arms in maximum shoulder extension, which fully lengthens your anterior deltoid muscles. 

To do this exercise, place your hands palm down on a table (or something of the like) behind you then slowly squat down until your shoulders are in line with your hands. If you can’t go that deep, that’s perfectly fine. Just go as far as you comfortably can. Once you feel a good stretch, hold the stretch for 20 seconds then release.

4. Standing Reverse Shoulder Stretch

front deltoid stretching

This is essentially the same as the previous stretch but without any assistance, and thus will not hyperextend your muscles. To do this exercise, bring your hands behind your back and interlock them. Extend at your elbows then lift up as far as you comfortably can. Once you feel a good stretch, hold the stretch for 20 seconds then release. 

5. Doorway Shoulder Stretch

anterior delt stretches

This is a great and simple stretch for your shoulders and chest. To do this exercise, stand in an open doorway, raise each arm up to its sides (with arms bent at 90˚ or straight) and palms forward, then slowly step and lean forward. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds then release.

CONCLUSION:

Your front delts are the biggest head of your shoulder muscle and they are involved in many compound lifts, ranging from push ups to bench press to overhead press, and that includes all variations of these exercises.

As a result, they are not typically an area that needs too much additional attention, so long as you are adequately performing your big compound pushing exercises. Nevertheless, it’s always advantageous to know the best exercises to do to ensure full development of this muscle head (especially as you become more advanced). Moreover, to help you design a workout plan that is effective and efficient.

So, remember, these are the best exercises for the front delts:

  • The Overhead Press
  • The Incline Press
  • The Front Raise
  • The Push Up
  • The Dip
  • The Upright Row 

If you feel your anterior delts are lagging behind in strength and development, be sure to include these exercises into your workout plan and play around with the variations as you see fit. Use your best judgement when designing your workout plan and all will be stellar.

If you have any questions about anterior deltoid exercises, please feel free to reach out to us.

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