The middle deltoid.

The big daddy of the shoulder muscles. And by big daddy I mean the muscle that helps to give you that capped shoulder look.

But building your middle deltoids or middle delts can be hard. Maybe you’re confused about which middle deltoid exercises you should do. Or how often you should train them. Or maybe you’re scared that you’re going to injure yourself.

But don’t worry, in this post I will share with you the exercises you can do to build strong and healthy middle deltoids and how to prevent injury.

Ready to build those shoulder boulders?

Let’s dive right in.

Middle deltoid exercises

What is the middle deltoid?

The middle deltoid or lateral deltoid is one of the three main muscles of your shoulder.

This muscle helps to stabilize your shoulders and is one of the main muscles involved in moving your arm.

Even if you don’t want sculpted shoulders, you still need to train them. Keeping your middle deltoid strong and healthy is important for overall function of your arm and shoulder health.

And who doesn’t want healthy shoulders?

Middle Deltoid Exercises

The Lateral Raise

The lateral raise is an excellent middle deltoid exercise because it directly targets your medial deltoid and comes in a few different variations. You can perform them with a dumbbell, a cable machine, and a band. You can even perform a leaning dumbbell lateral raise where you hold onto a sturdy object like a pole and you lean sideways with the dumbbell in your other hand.

Cable lateral raises are fantastic to build and strengthen your shoulder because of the constant resistance. But cable machines don’t allow for a lot of weight variety which means the weights available may be too heavy for you to start with. That’s why it’s best to start with a dumbbell lateral raise and then progress to a banded lateral raise and finally a cable lateral raise.

Diamond Raise

This is one of my favorite middle deltoid exercises. It can be performed with dumbbells or a cable machine. It is a variation of the front raise, but it targets your middle deltoid more. The movement is similar to the front raise except you hold two dumbbells or one dumbbell with both hands and you lift it in front of your body with your elbows slightly bent.

Give this exercise a go, you won’t regret it.

Arnold Press

Imagine being such a beast that you invent your own exercise. Like Arnold invented the Arnold press and Bret Contreras the Hip Thrust.

But back to the important stuff. The Arnold press is a killer. And it should be part of your shoulder routine. This exercise targets both your front and middle deltoid. The difference between a dumbbell press and Arnold press is the end of the movement.

With a dumbbell press you lower the weights down to the top of your shoulders before pushing them back again. With an Arnold press you rotate your palms inward once the dumbbells are level with your chin and bring them together.

It’s tough on your shoulders but an excellent exercise to grow and strengthen your middle deltoids.

Dumbbell Press

Dumbbell Press

Presses are the foundation of any shoulder routine.

If you don’t include some sort of shoulder press in your workouts you are leaving gains on the table. Shoulder presses can be performed standing or seated. Although if you perform seated shoulder presses you lose out on core work since your abs will help to stabilize you during a standing shoulder press.

Seated shoulder presses on the other hand, helps you to focus on contracting the shoulder muscles, because you don’t have to worry about stabilizing yourself as much.

Both seated and standing presses have pros and cons, its best to do a combination so you get the benefits of both variations.

How frequently should you train your middle deltoids?

Well that depends.

If you are doing full body workouts, you should be training 2 to 3 times a week. Which means you will be training your shoulders 2 to 3 times a week.

If you follow an upper/lower body split, you should be training 4 times a week with an upper body day twice a week. Which means you’ll be training your shoulders twice a week.

If you follow a body part split, then you should scrap that training routine and choose one of the two mentioned above.

Studies show that a muscle group must be trained at least twice a week if you want to grow them. So either of the two training frequencies mentioned above will work well.

Middle Deltoid Exercise Tips

A common tip is to do lateral raises with your thumb down to help hit the middle deltoid better. This is not a good idea since it can cause a shoulder impingement. Keep your arms slightly bent with your palms facing down. And push the weight up, rather than pulling it up. This will help target your middle deltoid better.

Choose a suitable weight

Women are usually lower body dominant. This means your lower body muscles are stronger than your upper body muscles. There are of course exceptions.

This also means that even though you can squat double your bodyweight, you may not be able to lift heavy with upper body exercises. Select a weight you think you can lift for an entire set and see how it goes. If it feels too light, increase the weight. If it feels to heavy and you can’t complete the set or you are lifting with poor form, decrease the weight.

Get the blood flowing

Warm up

Warm up before you start lifting. Not only will it get your muscle ready to rumble but it will help prevent shoulder injuries.

Warm up your shoulders

Unfortunately, shoulders are prone to injury. Especially if you lift with poor form or don’t warm up.

Which is why shoulder health is a priority.

To prevent injury and to keep your shoulders healthy, perform these exercises before you train your shoulders. One to two sets of 8 to 12 reps for each exercise will be enough to warm up your shoulders.

Resistance band pull apart Dumbell External Rotation Band Circumduction Light lateral raises

But remember, a warm-up is only one part of the equation. You need to lift with proper form as well.

What’s next?

Try out each of the middle deltoid exercises and see which ones you like best. Once you’ve picked your favorites, include them into your upper body day or full body day. And don’t forget to warm up before each session.

Ready to build strong, healthy shoulders that will make your enemies quiver in fear? Don’t answer that, I know you are.

Happy lifting!

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.