Big, muscular shoulders can add a lot to your physique. In regular clothes, they give your upper body an impressive, powerful outline. With your shoulders exposed, they link your chest with your arms to create a pleasing line and shape.
There isn’t a successful bodybuilder on the planet with underdeveloped shoulders!
Strong shoulders don’t happen by accident. It takes time, effort, and dedication to build cannonball delt.
And they aren’t just for show, either. Training your shoulders can have a knock-on effect to many of the other lifts in your bodybuilding workout. That’s why many powerlifters use overhead presses as an accessory exercise for the bench press.
So, if you want to bench more weight, make sure you work on your overhead press, too.
In this article, we reveal our 15 favorite (and arguably the best) bodybuilding exercises for bigger anterior or front delts.
Deltoid Anatomy 101
While you don’t need an in-depth understanding of functional anatomy to build bigger shoulders, knowing a little more about how these muscles may make it easier to choose the best exercises for your front delts…
The shoulders or deltoids are actually made up of three sets of fibers called heads. While they all work together, it’s also possible to emphasize one head at a time with particular movements and exercises. The three deltoid heads are:
The posterior deltoid
Located on the back of your shoulder, this muscle is also known as your rear deltoid. Its functions include extension, horizontal extension, and external rotation of the shoulder joint. This head is diametrically opposite the anterior or front deltoid, and exercises that emphasize it include band pull-aparts and reverse cable crossovers.
The medial deltoid
Located between the posterior and anterior deltoid, this deltoid head makes up the side of your shoulder joint. Its only function is the abduction of the shoulder joint, which means it lifts your arm out and away from your side. Exercises that work the medial deltoid include cable side raises and dumbbell side raises.
The anterior deltoid
The subject of this article, the anterior deltoid is located on the front of your shoulder. Its functions are flexion, horizontal flexion, and medial rotation of the shoulder joint. The front deltoid is usually the largest and most prominent deltoid head.
The 15 Best Front Delt Exercises for Bodybuilders
Not sure how to start building bigger front deltoids? Begin by including some of these exercises in your upper body workouts!
1. Barbell overhead press
The barbell overhead press is a bodybuilding staple. In fact, if you want bigger shoulders, this is the exercise you need. Pressing a barbell overhead is a great way to build muscle size and strength, both in your deltoids and triceps. It’s also a classic test of strength. You can do overhead presses seated or standing as preferred and also using a parallel grip trap bar.
2. Dumbbell overhead press
While the barbell overhead press is a classic anterior deltoid exercise, some lifters find that having their hands fixed in one position causes shoulder pain. Using dumbbells means you can modify the range of motion to suit your anatomical needs for a more comfortable workout. Like barbell presses, you can do dumbbell presses seated or standing, or even with kettlebells.
3. Arnold press
Named after bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, this exercise combines a sort-of seated pec fly with an overhead press to really hammer your anterior deltoids. Compared with regular dumbbell overhead presses, you probably won’t be able to use such heavy weights when doing the Arnold press. Still, the demanding movement will ensure that you still get a great workout from this exercise.
Some bodybuilders find the Arnold press a little shoulder un-friendly, so progress with care. Arnold presses can be done seated or standing and using dumbbells or kettlebells.
The Z-press is a challenging overhead pressing variation that was invented and named after strongman legend Žydrūnas Savickas, better known as Big Z. This exercise is done while sitting on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. That means you’ll need to use your core to stabilize your lower back and won’t be able to use your legs to push the weight up.
You can do the Z-press with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells and with just one arm at a time.
How to do it:
- Between the uprights of a squat rack, sit on the floor with your legs straight and spread wide for balance.
- Place a barbell on the J-hooks at about shoulder height.
- Sit up tall, brace your abs, and hold the bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- With your core tight and shoulders down and back, unrack the bar and hold it across your shoulders as you would for regular overhead presses. Do not lean forward or back. Lift your chest.
- Keeping your core tight, press the bar up and overhead.
- Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
- Focus on maintaining a good upright posture and tight core throughout. Do not allow your lower back to round, so no slouching!
The push press is another classic barbell exercise, although it can be done using dumbbells or kettlebells, too. With the push press, you use your legs to help drive the weight up and overhead.
While some may view this as cheating, it’s actually a legitimate method for lifting heavier weights or extending your set past failure. Make sure you lower the bar under control to maximize deltoid engagement.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart.
- Using an overhand grip, rack and hold your barbell across the front of your shoulders. Your hands should be just outside shoulder-width apart. Raise your elbows slightly so they are in front of the bar.
- Brace your core, pull your shoulders down and back, and lift your chest.
- Without leaning forward, bend your knees and descend into a quarter-depth squat. Imagine you are setting up for a vertical jump. Keep your heels on the floor.
- Rapidly extend your knees and hips and use this momentum to help you drive the bar up and overhead.
- Receive the bar overhead with your knees, hips, and arms extended.
- Lower the bar back to your shoulders and repeat.
6. Cable shoulder press
While there is nothing wrong with training your anterior deltoids with freeweights, that’s not the only form of resistance you can use to build bigger shoulders. Cables are also helpful.
With cable exercises, your muscles are under more or less constant tension, which helps create more metabolic stress and a better pump. Also, cable machines are perfect for intensity-boosting drop sets.
Cable shoulder presses can be done using both arms together or by with just one arm at a time.
7. Cable front raise
All pressing exercises are compound in nature, which means, as well as your deltoids, they also involve your triceps. However, single-joint isolation exercises can also help build bigger anterior deltoids.
Doing front raises with a cable is a great way to keep your front delts under constant tension and is also a very shoulder-friendly exercise. Use light to moderate weights and medium to high reps for this exercise.
8. Dumbbell front raise
Dumbbell front raises are classic old-school anterior deltoid exercise. They can be done seated or standing, raising two dumbbells at once or lifting one at a time. Raise your arms until they’re parallel with the floor and not much higher. Lifting your arms above parallel increases the risk of shoulder impingement and upper traps activation.
Click the links to learn how to do:
9. Bus drivers
This exercise is a variation of weight plate front raises, which you’ll find discussed above (exercise #8). It’s a very straightforward movement and ideal for use as a finisher to your deltoid workouts. However, it does create a deep burn and pump, so don’t go too heavy too soon!
How to do it:
- Hold a weight plate out in front of you with your arms straight and hands facing one another. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back. Do not lean backward.
- Keeping your arms extended, rotate the plate to the left and right like you are turning a steering wheel. Keep your arms parallel to the floor.
- Continue until you are unable to keep your arms up.
10. Pike push-up
No gym? No problem! You can also develop your anterior deltoids using just your body weight for resistance. This exercise takes the humble push-up, which is usually more of a chest exercise, and makes it much more anterior deltoid-focused.
How to do it:
- Get down on the floor in the push-up position, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Keeping your legs straight, lift your butt up toward the ceiling so that your body forms an inverted V. Move your feet closer to your hands if necessary.
- Without lowering your hips, bend your arms and lower your head to the floor.
- Push yourself back up and repeat.
- Increase your range of motion, and therefore the difficulty of the exercise, by using push-up handles or placing your hands on stacked weight plates or yoga blocks.
11. Handstand push-up
If you’ve mastered pike push-ups and want to overload your delts and triceps with more weight, give handstand push-ups a try. Needless to say, this is much more challenging as you’re going to be lifting your entire body weight with just your arms.
Handstand push-ups can be done with your feet against a wall for stability or, if you’ve got great balance without support. However, you’ll need to master freestanding the handstand first!
12. Battle rope alternating slam
Battle ropes are mostly thought of as a conditioning tool but may also be useful for building muscle mass. Alternating slams are a lot like doing dynamic front raises and, as such, are an effective anterior deltoid exercise. So, an exercise that builds muscle, builds fitness, and burns fat at the same time– what’s not to love?!
13. Kettlebell swing
Most people do kettlebell swings for fat burning and conditioning or to develop their glutes and posterior chain. However, they’re a pretty decent anterior deltoid exercise, too. After all, if you take a moment to analyze the movement, you’ll quickly see that the arms replicate a front raise.
Make the kettlebell swing more anterior deltoid-dominant by actively using your shoulders to raise and then decelerate kettlebell weight as you lower it again.
14. Bradford press
The Bradford press is an old-school shoulder exercise that keeps your deltoids under constant tension. Because it involves a behind-the-neck press, it’s not an exercise for everyone.
If you’ve got tight or painful shoulders, proceed with caution or skip this move entirely. But, if your shoulders are mobile and healthy, this unique exercise should provide your delts with the challenge they’ve been waiting for.
How to do it:
- Seated or standing, lift a barbell up to your shoulders, hands just outside shoulder-width apart.
- Press the weight up just high enough to clear your head. Do NOT lock your elbows.
- Lower the bar behind your neck.
- Press the bar back up and over your head and return to the front.
- That’s one rep; keep going!
15. Bench press
No, you have not inadvertently wandered onto an article about chest exercises! The anterior deltoid is strongly involved in all types of bench presses. That’s because the pecs and anterior deltoids always work together.
You can train your front delts along with your pecs during any bench press variation, including:
More Resources on Shoulder Exercises:
- Best Rear Deltoid Exercises
- Essential Cable Shoulder Exercises
- Best Side Delt Exercises
- Best Shoulder Exercises For Powerful Delts
- Build Bigger Shoulders: Overhead Press Hypertrophy
- Overhead Barbell Press Variations
- 13 Ways to Avoid Shoulder Pain
Top Front Delt Exercises for Bodybuilders
The deltoids are one of the most important muscle groups in bodybuilding. Big, wide, rounded delts give your upper body much of its width and help create that oh-so-important V-taper.
All three deltoids need your attention, but with their potential for size, working on your anterior deltoids makes a lot of sense. That said, this deltoid head is also involved in every chest exercise you do, so it may not need too much extra work. So, don’t neglect your medial or posterior deltoids!
That said, if you want to beef up your front delts, these are the best exercises to do it!