In terms of aesthetics and proportion on a physique, the deltoids provide width to the upper body, and contribute to the ‘V-taper physique’, which many desire as, while making the upper body appear larger and stronger, it can also make the waist appear smaller.
The shoulder joint itself can be considered as the most mobile joint on the human body. It allows for flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, rotation, and circumduction. While this allows the shoulder to move in almost any range of motion, it also proves that the shoulder is especially susceptible to injury, if the muscles are not trained correctly and efficiently.
The deltoids are the muscles that can be seen on the outside of the body, whilst the rotator cuff group is found within the shoulder joint itself, providing structural support and allowing the shoulder to perform many functions.
To achieve the ‘V-Taper physique,’ all 3 heads of the deltoids must be developed sufficiently:
1) Anterior head of the deltoid
2) Lateral head of the deltoid
3) Posterior head of the deltoid
When it comes to designing your shoulder workout and choosing the most optimal exercises for growth, the use of a cable machine during specific exercises provides specific benefits over dumbbells. However, if you’re limited to which equipment you have access to, there’s no reason why you can’t get a great workout in for your shoulders, strictly using dumbbells.
1) Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Including the dumbbell shoulder press exercise into your shoulder routine is essential in order to develop strong deltoids. It’s a compound exercise that targets the anterior head of the deltoid and the triceps – which are both greatly involved during the press. Having strong anterior deltoids will also improve your strength and stability during a bench press.
When it comes to choosing which press you wish to perform – standing or seated – it simply comes down to preference. Choose a technique that you are willing to stick to and progress in.
1) Pick up your preferred dumbbell weight and hold one in each hand using an overhand grip, keeping your torso tight (if you’re sitting down, rest weights upright on thighs).
2) Exhale whilst beginning to raise the weights towards the ceiling with palms facing forwards. Hold the contraction at the top.
3) Slowly inhale and begin to lower the weights to shoulder height, as shown on image.
4) Repeat for allocated/preferred sets and reps.
2) Dumbbell Front Raise
This exercise isolates the anterior deltoid. I would recommend only performing this exercise if your anterior deltoid is underdeveloped in comparison to your other shoulder muscles, although this is highly unlikely due to the anterior deltoids’ great involvement in the bench press and incline bench press.
✓ I suggest performing this exercise using one arm at a time, in order to solely focus the muscle that is being worked.
✓ Keep form strict and use minimum momentum.
1) Choose preferred dumbbell weight and stand upright, tighten torso and position weights at the front of your thighs (palms inwards).
2) The torso should remain strong and, without swinging, raise one side to the front of your body, holding a slight elbow bend (rotate palms towards floor) and keep rising until arm is parallel to the ground. Exhale throughout the movement.
3) After holding the contraction for a moment, inhale and begin to slowly lower the weight back to the thigh.
4) Alternate and complete with the right arm.
3) Dumbbell Bent-Over Lateral Raise
This exercise targets the posterior head of the deltoids. This muscle is often the weakest and underdeveloped in most people, so dedicating a lot of sets in your workout is key to achieving sufficient development.
1) Pick up preferred dumbbell weight and position yourself in an almost early squatting position (see image above).
2) Keeping a tight torso, bend slightly at the hips, stretching the hamstrings, so your body is nearly parallel to the ground.
3) Raise the dumbbells in a reverse-fly motion; squeezing the scapula together at the end of the motion. Exhale during the movement.
4) Inhale and lower the weights slowly in a controlled manner. Repeat allocated/preferred repetitions.
4) Dumbbell Lateral Raise
This exercise targets the lateral head of the deltoids. Sufficient development of this muscle is key to achieving the ‘capped’ look of the shoulders.
1) Pick up preferred dumbbell weight and position your body upright, tightening your core and head up straight.
2) Using minimum momentum as possible, exhale whilst raising the dumbbell to the side of the body, with a slight bend in the elbow. The shoulder joint should be kept at a neutral rotation, or slight internal rotation. This can be achieved by leading the movement with the elbow.
3) Hold the weight at the top of the movement for 1-2 seconds, squeezing the contraction.
4) Inhale whilst lowering the weight back down slowly.
5) Dumbbell Upright Row
The dumbbell upright row is a great compound exercise that targets all 3 heads of the deltoids, and can be considered a ‘finisher’ exercise in a shoulder workout.
The advantage that the dumbbell upright row has over the barbell upright row is the free range of motion that dumbbells allow for. This can prove very useful in preventing injury to the shoulder joint.
✓ Don’t go too heavy on this exercise as it’s important to use correct form to prevent shoulder injury.
✓ Suffer with shoulder problems? Stick to the lateral-orientated exercises.
1) Pick up preferred dumbbell weight using an overhand grip. Dumbbells should be positioned just inside shoulder width, with palms facing the body, whilst the body should remain upright, tight and arms extended with a slight bend.
2) Concentrate on the side shoulder muscles – exhale whilst using them as the main aid to lift the dumbbells whilst your elbows drive the upward motion. Keep dumbbells close to the body throughout the entire movement.
3) Hold for a moment at the top of the movement. If this is too difficult, pick up a lower dumbbell set.
4) Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbells back to starting position. Keep dumbbells close to body throughout this movement.
BONUS:Dumbbell Shoulder Shrug
It is very common that the upper region of the trapezius muscle is also directly trained during a shoulder workout.
Whilst it is a muscle that is on the back, it is involved in a large number of shoulder exercises, so training them directly during the end of a shoulder workout may be a good idea, especially if they are a lagging body part.
✓ Keep torso straight whilst arms are extended straight on either side (at all times), whilst grasping the dumbbells with overhand grip.
✓ When lifting the dumbbells, make sure to exhale whilst raising shoulders as high as possible. squeezing the contraction at the top. Avoid using biceps throughout.
✓ I recommend a slight hinge at the hips, due to the orientation of the muscle fibres.
✓ Raise the dumbbells using strictly your traps, using no bend in the elbow.
✓ Squeeze the upper traps during the top of the movement for 1-2 seconds, and slowly lower the weight.
Sets and reps?
Sample Workout Plan
Sample Workout Plan
|Exercise||Sets and reps|
|Dumbbell Overhead Press||1-3 x 6-12 reps|
|Dumbbell Front Raise||1 x 8-12 reps|
|Dumbbell Lateral Raise||3 x 8-12 reps|
|Dumbbell Upright Row||1 drop set (15-20 reps total)|
|Dumbbell Rear Raise||4 x 6-12 reps|
|Dumbbell Shrug||3 x 6-12 reps|
Take Home Message
State-of-the-art gym equipment is great to help you maximise your muscle mass, however, if your favourite machine is constantly being hogged at the gym or you just want an effective home-workout to follow, simply throw a few of these dumbbell exercises in the mix.