Struggling to get big shoulders? We’re here to help.

The deltoid muscles are without a doubt one of the more aesthetic muscle groups in the body.

That is perhaps because they are a major component of your V-taped frame.

Proportional development of all 3 heads of the deltoids is mandatory if you’re looking to become a living Greek sculpture.

Besides looks, a strong pair of shoulders will certainly improve your strength and balance on most upper body movements.

Before we get into this high volume workout, let’s have a look at the 3 laws of building big shoulders, as well as the anatomy of the deltoids.

How Do You Get Big Shoulders?

There a couple of key components to getting big shoulders, which we like to refer to as the “3 Boulder Shoulder Laws”

Here they are:

#1 Training Angle Variety

Hitting the shoulders from every angle possible will grant sufficient development of all 3 heads of the muscle. (Explained in a bit)

This is valid not just for the shoulders, but every other muscle group – You want to engage as many zones of the muscle as possible.

#2 Training Intensity

Overhead pressing 180 lbs for 1 rep might be cool, but it certainly won’t be optimal for bulk muscle growth.

Training in the 6+ rep range is of prime importance, as it will allow you to engage more energy substances & yield more bulk growth.

#3 Activation & Time Under tension

It is sometimes easy to cheat on your exercises and not even know it.

Using inertial movements will take away from the activation and work of the targeted muscle group and therefore, hinder growth.

What we want to do is maximize time under tension to grant a better activation – This can be done by excluding inertial movements that will help you on the way up.

Now let’s briefly look at the anatomy of the deltoids.

Deltoid Anatomy

Anatomy of the 3 deltoid heads

When looking at anatomy charts of the human body, you can’t help but admire the complexity and beauty of this biological machine.

And that is especially valid for the case of the shoulder joint and its surrounding muscles.

The shoulder joint is a ball & socket joint that connects the arm to the torso.

It is located between the scapula and the upper arm bone and is one of the most mobile joints in the body.

There are many deep, stabilizing muscle groups attached to the shoulder joint, which we refer to as the “Rotator cuff”.

However, this article is specifically for the superficial muscles which every trainee wants to develop – The deltoids.

If you’re looking to find out more about the rotator cuff and its functions, head over to our Shoulder Exercises Directory.

Now let’s have a brief look at the deltoids and the functions of its separate parts.

The deltoid muscle surrounds the shoulder joint all around, which is why it has 3 separate parts, each of which has a certain function. 1

Those 3 parts are the Front, Side & Rear deltoids.

Front deltoid

The front deltoid, also known as the “Pars Clavicularis” is located on the anterior part of the shoulder.

It gives a rounder look from the front and its main function is elevating the arm up, in front, over head and last but not least, rotating the shoulder internally.

This part of the delts can be targeted with exercises like front raises and overhead presses, but it also acts as a synergist of the chest and triceps during pressing movements.

Side deltoid

The medial deltoid is located on the side and is also referred to as “Pars Acromialis” in anatomy books.

This is the part of the shoulder musculature that makes you look wider and in many trainees, it is what makes their physique stand out.

The main function of the side deltoid is to elevate the arm up laterally.

You can target the side deltoids with exercises like dumbbell lateral raises.

Rear deltoid

You can’t talk about cannonball delts without mentioning the rear deltoids, located on the posterior part of the shoulders.

This zone of the deltoids is what will give you that overall bulky look, if you develop it properly.

The function of the rear deltoid is pulling the arm back from the shoulder joint.

There are a variety of rear delt exercises but it is important to know that they also contract during rowing movements when we target the back.

5 Exercises For 3D Deltoids

Now that we are familiar with the basic anatomy of the deltoids and its functions, let’s see what we can do to target all 3 heads.

For this workout, we’re going for maximum intensity + maximum activation + high volume overload.

Let’s get these delts big, shall we?

#1 Exercise – One Arm DB Lateral Raise

Side lateral raise tips

Sets: 3

Reps: 12-15

Rest times: 45 seconds between sets

Targets: Side Deltoid

This first one is a unilateral exercise, which implies training each side in a separate set.

What this allows us to do is focus our attention on that specific side for better activation.

Furthermore, as you grab onto something with the opposite hand and tilt to the side a bit, you will lower the contraction angle of the deltoid & take away from the stress on the joint.


  1. Grab a dumbbell and keep it by your side with your palm facing the torso
  2. Hold on to something with the opposite arm and hang on it, leaning to the side slightly
  3. Bend elbow out of lockout and keep it in that static position
  4. Look forward, keep torso straight
  5. Raise the arm laterally & contract the delt up top
  6. Hold peak flexion briefly and go back down slowly, keeping the tension on the delt

Form tip: Push your arm away from the body and try to point down with your thumb at the top of each rep & don’t rest at the bottom – Focus on keeping the dumbbell in motion

#2 Exercise – Lying Front raise

Lying front raise

Sets: 4

Reps: 12

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

Targets: Side delts & rear delts

This next exercise is without a doubt something you have probably never done before.

Well, the motion pattern is similar to that of a standing upright row, but it’s done on a cable, granting way more control.


  1. Attach two pulley handles on the seated row machine
  2. Sit down and place your legs on the platform
  3. Grab both handles and extend your torso back to lie down on the bench
  4. Keep arms at shoulder width and elbows slightly further away from the body (Not flaring though)
  5. Pull up to your face, stopping the range of motion at chest level – Keep elbows and chest up
  6. Contract the delts up top and slowly let the weight come back down, maintaining tension on the delts

GAINS TIP: If you’re having trouble keeping the chest up, place a foam roller below your upper back.

#3 Exercise – Parallel Grip Iso Shoulder Press

Machine shoulder press

Sets: 3

Reps: 10

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

Targets: Front deltoids

Time to attack the anterior deltoids with some overhead action.

This specific exercise is done unilaterally and allows us to target and maintain tension on the front deltoid.

For this movement, it is important to keep the elbow closer to the body, push up towards the torso and lean slightly on the working side.


  1. Sit down on the shoulder press machine
  2. Grab the left handle with the left arm
  3. Lean to the left very slightly and place the right arm on your left leg
  4. Keep torso straight and push up and over your head
  5. Avoid locking out the elbow up top to minimize triceps activation
  6. Go back down slowly without resting completely at the bottom

TIP: If you do not have access to a shoulder press machine, you can always do this exercise with a dumbbell.

#4 Exercise – Rear Delt Machine

Rear delt machine

Sets: 3

Reps: 12

Rest times: 45 seconds between sets

Targets: Rear delts

One of the main functions of the deltoids is abduction – Moving the arms away from the body.

For this exercise, you want to keep the elbows up as you push out and make sure you are initiating the movement with your rear delts.

In this specific movement, we’ll use the back of the triceps as a cushion to abduct out.


  1. Sit down on the rear delt machine comfortably
  2. Keep torso straight and place your elbows on the pads
  3. Look slightly up and push back, initiating the movement with your rear deltoids
  4. Contract the rear delts, hold peak flexion and return back down slowly without resting at the bottom

#5 Exercise – Machine Shoulder Press

Machine shoulder press tips

Sets: 3

Reps: 15,10,8

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

Targets: Front deltoids

What is a good shoulder workout without some heavy, compound overhead pressing?

Well, facts are that overhead pressing movements are superior for shoulder development 2

To finish off the workout, we’ll throw in some Machine shoulder presses, done at an incline angle.

The exercise goes from lighter sets with more reps to the heavier, single digit rep sets.


  1. Set up the bench to a 60-degree angle
  2. Sit down andgrab the handles so that your arms form a 90-degree angle
  3. Push up and over your head, contracting the shoulders up top
  4. Go back down slowly, maintaining the tension on the deltoids

NOTE: Usually, heavy compound movements go first in the workout when you have the most energy. However, by placing them last in the workout when the shoulders are already fatigued, you’ll realize a great deal of stress and growth stimulus.

Bottom line

You are now a step closer on your way to get big shoulders.

If you enjoyed this workout, make sure to check out our exercises directory, where we have similar articles, abundant of variety, for each and every muscle group!

We want to provide trainees of ALL levels with valuable and actionable information, so if you are not sure what your current level is, make sure to take our Superhuman QUIZ to get more insights on where you are at and what you should aim for!

This workout was structured by the one and only – Charles Glass, also known as the godfather of bodybuilding.

Now that you have the blueprint of the best in the game, feel free to go ahead and apply it in your routine!