You’ve probably heard athletes talk about prioritizing chest, or training to build impressive arms or focusing on lagging legs. Those are all reasonable goals, of course. Yet, one bodypart that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as others — but could arguably make an outsized difference to your overall appearance, whether you’re a man or a woman — are your deltoids.
That’s because wider shoulders can make your waist look smaller in comparison, creating the coveted V-taper even in those who lack the genetic gift of a broad clavicle structure. Viewed from the side, thicker delts can cap the upper body and offer striking contrast to defined biceps and triceps.
If your delts need help, a smart approach is two workouts per week — say, Mondays and Thursdays — dedicating one workout to width and the other to thickness. Here, we provide the blueprint.
The width workout begins with the Arnold press, a solid all-around shoulder molder thanks to the twist of the wrist as you press the weight overhead. That is followed by the upright row with an EZ-bar. This compound movement takes direct aim at the middle delts, which are often underdeveloped in comparison to the more dominant anterior (front) delts, which are responsible for you looking like a barn door.
Moving on, the emphasis remains on the middle delts with the seated dumbbell raise and the leaning dumbbell lateral raise, in which you hold a pole or other sturdy object and lean away to create an angle, then lift a dumbbell up to shoulder level with your free hand. You finish the workout with a one-arm cable lateral raise (to concentrate on one middle head at a time) or an isometric lateral hold, in which you elevate the dumbbells to the top position of a standing lateral raise and hold them there for as long as you can.
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The second workout aims to add depth to your shoulder complex, starting again with a major strength-oriented move, the seated military press. Next is an array of exercises that target each head of the delts, specifically breaking down your muscle fibers, which will rebuild to become bigger, thicker and stronger. For the high-incline dumbbell press, you set an adjustable bench just a couple clicks away from upright, a position that hits the front delts hard.
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You then do a rear-delt superset: the reverse pec-deck flye and the seated bent-over dumbbell raise. That’s followed by a raise variation that engages the rear and middle delts from a reversed seated position — your chest on an incline bench set to 60 degrees or so. The last stop? Battle rope alternating waves, which will demolish whatever’s left of your strength. A final note: Determine which of these workouts to do first in the week by considering which needs more attention — your width or thickness. Lead with that and do the other workout two or three days later. Every three months, reassess your progress until your mission is accomplished.
Shoulder Workout #1: Width
15, 10, 8, 6, 5
EZ-Bar Upright Row
12, 10, 8, 6
Seated Lateral Raise
Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise
One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise
Iso-Lateral Dumbbell Hold
Shoulder Workout #2: Thickness
Seated Barbell Press
12, 10, 8, 6, 5
High-Incline Dumbbell Press
12, 10, 8, 6
Reverse Pec-Deck Flye
Seated Bent-Over Dumbbell Raise
Incline-Bench Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Battle Rope Alternating Wave