Presses get the most attention on shoulder day, but which moves are the unsung heroes? Try these 9 underrated delt exercises to spur new size and strength!

The overhead press is one of the most popular and effective movements for building bigger, stronger shoulders. Like the bench press, squat, and deadlift, it gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Our purpose here isn't to heap praise on a move you already know, but to showcase new exercises you can use to round out your shoulder training—and your shoulders!

We asked a diverse group of fitness and physique athletes to select their favorite shoulder movement that many folks might overlook. Try some of these gems during your next shoulder session!

1. Pre-Exhaust Lateral Raise With Isometric Hold

Courtesy of Lee Constantinou 

About This Move: I've been looking to tweak my technique on just about every shoulder exercise to take my upper traps out of the movement as much as possible. This is especially true with lateral raises, where I find that most people—myself included!—tend to shrug their shoulders as they raise the weights.

I start my delt workouts with this lateral-raise variation to prefatigue the middle delts and boost my mind-muscle connection. To better reduce upper-trap engagement, I focus on keeping my shoulders down, which allows for better delt isolation.

Another trick I learned while watching gymnasts is to add an isometric hold at the top of the movement. So when my elbows reach shoulder height, I'll pause for a second before slowly controlling the weights down.

How to Do a Pre-Exhaust Lateral Raise With Isometric Hold

Key Training Tips
  • Keep a very slight bend in your elbows that you hold throughout the entire set.
  • Focus on leading with your elbows and getting them up to a point at which your upper arms are parallel with the floor, with your wrists slightly below.
  • Try to maintain this form as you hold the weight in position at the top.
  • Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps with a very light weight. I use 10- to 15-pound dumbbells most of the time to avoid any jerky movements and to minimize trap engagement.

2. Isolated Incline Lateral Raise

Courtesy of Stan De Longeaux, aka "Stanimal" 

About This Move: This exercise works the middle deltoid head from a different angle than typical standing or seated lateral raises. I find it works the muscle closer to its insertion on the arm. Everyone does some kind of lateral-raise movement in their delt routine, but as with any muscle group, changing the angle alters the stimulus.

I like to use this exercise toward the beginning of my shoulder workout because of its extreme isolation—it's simply harder to cheat when you're lying on a bench. I often use it to pre-exhaust the middle head before doing upright rows, for example, or at the start of a superset.

How to Do the Isolated Incline Lateral Raise

Key Training Tips
  • Always keep your elbow higher than your wrist, and your pinkie finger higher than your thumb, as shown in the video. Doing so will keep the tension on the middle head while resisting help from either the brachialis or front delt.
  • I recommend 12-20 strict reps for each side for 3 sets.

3. Single-Arm Shoulder Press With Static Hold

Courtesy of Noora Kuusivuori 

About This Move: This exercise combines partial reps at various stages of the movement as well as a static hold, generating an insane pump.

Holding a pair of dumbbells in the starting position of a seated overhead dumbbell press (with a 90-degree bend in both elbows), press one weight up to a point that covers about 1/3 of the range of motion (ROM), lower it, press up again to 2/3 of the ROM, lower it, and press up a third time, this time covering the full ROM. All that equals one rep for one arm!

Meanwhile, your nonworking arm will be holding the weight in an isometric position, or static hold. After all three portions, repeat for the opposite side. I do this for 3 sets of 10 reps per side.

How to Do a Single-Arm Shoulder Press With Static Hold

Key Training Tips
  • I use these in two ways: as a pre-exhaust to start my shoulder workout, which generates a deep burning from the get-go, or as a last exercise, to finish with a great pump.
  • Choose a lighter weight than what you'd use for normal shoulder presses.

4. Leaning Single-Arm Barbell Lateral Raise

Courtesy of Noora Kuusivuori 

About This Move: This is a more isolated version of the standing lateral raise, because you're minimizing thrust through your lower body. Using a bar rather than a dumbbell forces you to use more of the stabilizing muscles not only in your wrist and forearm, but in your shoulder, too.

With your feet planted near the base of a cable-pulley station and your arm extended, you can also increase the range of motion when you take your upper arm to parallel, delivering a significantly longer ROM than what you'd be doing with the standing version.

How to Do a Leaning Single-Arm Barbell Lateral Raise

Key Training Tips
  • Hold on to an object that's secured, like a power cage, squat rack, or cable stand.
  • Be sure to keep your body still, so you don't start swinging to get the weight up, which would reduce the isolation effect.
  • I use this variation mostly as a finishing exercise at the end of my shoulder workout.
  • I do 4 sets of 15 reps with each arm.

5. Single-Arm Battle-Rope Burn-Out

Courtesy of Alyssa Smith 

About This Move: I love incorporating functional training into my workouts as often as possible. Plus, it's fun to get away from the weight rack and challenge my body with something it's not used to! I do burn-out sets of these at the end of my shoulder day to completely fatigue my delts and lats. 

To focus on going to complete exhaustion, I sit on an exercise ball with good posture and my core engaged for stability. Sitting sideways to the rope allows you to engage the middle delts just like you're doing lateral raises, only with a faster motion.

I do 3 sets to complete exhaustion, resting only as long as it takes to do the other side. If you're able to do only a few reps with each arm, that's perfectly fine! It's better to keep good form for a few reps than be sloppy and call other muscle groups into the movement.

How to Do a Single-Arm Battle-Rope Burn-Out

Key Training Tips
  • I keep my feet planted, with my opposite arm resting on my leg to help maintain good alignment.
  • You can also face forward on this move, doing one arm at a time, which shifts the primary focus to the front delt.

6. Cable External Rotation

Courtesy of Shaun Stafford 

About This Move: The shoulder joint (or "complex," as it's actually made up of several separate joints) is inherently unstable because of its ball-and-socket structure. The majority of the joint's stability comes from having an active web of muscles that wrap the joint. Apart from the big deltoid muscles, there is a group of muscles commonly referred to as the "rotator cuff" that underpin a lot of the major movements of the shoulder.

This exercise focuses on the major muscles of the rotator cuff which, if strengthened correctly, deliver greater shoulder stability and strength. Conversely, if these muscles are neglected in a training plan, the shoulder will become imbalanced and at greater risk of injury.

This exercise—as well as its cousin, internal rotation—is good to perform at the end of an upper-body day (you don't want to prefatigue your rotator-cuff muscles if you're doing heavy upper-body lifts) or any time during a lower-body or rehab day.

How to Do a Cable External Rotation

Key Training Tips
  • Depress your shoulder, and anchor your scapula so that it's fixed throughout the move.
  • Always keep your elbow tight and fixed to your side.
  • Controlling the eccentric motion is an important part of the lift, which will increase the time under tension.
  • You often see individuals standing with a dumbbell using the same motion as you see in the video, but that's actually a fail. With a cable, the line of pull is coming directly across your body; with a dumbbell, it's straight down. If you want to use a dumbbell, lie on your side on a bench.
  • The standard rep range is 10-15 with a very light weight. Maintain a slow, controlled tempo, and perform 2-4 sets, depending on the total volume already in your workout.

7. Shoulder Warm-Up Sequence

Courtesy of Brandon Johnson  

About This Move: Along with internal and external rotation (usually done with a cable or band), this is one of my favorite shoulder warm-up movements. You can see the tightness in my shoulder capsule in this video, so ideally you want to have a cleaner overhand rotation and be able to open up the shoulders a little more at the top of the press.

I never go heavy with this movement, and I keep my reps around 8-10. I'm not trying to fatigue the shoulders, just warm them up and strengthen my shoulder girdle.

How to Do the Shoulder Warm-Up Sequence

Key Training Tips
  • The sequence consists of three movements: a shrug, an overhead rotation, and an overhead press.
  • Keep the weight very light; this isn't meant to be an exercise but a warm-up series.

8. Rear-Delt Superset

Courtesy of Brandon Johnson  

I like to do this superset combo for rear delts. I start with a palms-in grip on a slightly inclined bench and complete a fly for rear delts for 10-15 reps. I immediately change to a knuckles-down position and attempt to do another 10-15 reps. The second motion has a shorter ROM and really isolates the rear delts. By using an incline bench, you'll be far less able to cheat.

When you do these standing in the bent-over position, you naturally rise up as you raise the weights out to your sides, which invites momentum.

How to Do the Rear-Delt Superset

Key Training Tips
  • Notice in the video that my head isn't up looking back at myself in the mirror, something most trainees do, which extends the cervical vertebrae. By keeping it in alignment with my torso in what's called the neutral position, it's safer for my cervical spine and doesn't affect performance.
  • Keep a slight bend in your elbows that you hold throughout the movement.

9. Front-Delt Superset

Courtesy of Brandon Johnson  

This a great combo for hitting your front delts. The first movement uses a wide, underhand grip on the bar; the second, an overhand grip. That's a pretty small change, but each variation has a slightly different muscle-recruitment pattern. Using an incline bench like the one shown here eliminates body bounce or additional movement; this allows you to really focus on the front head. 

Don't use a lot of weight with this exercise. This a finishing movement where you're really focusing on a strong mind-muscle connection and getting a deep burn.

How to Do the Front-Delt Superset

Key Training Tips
  • Keep your head neutral and in alignment with your torso.
  • Go as high as possible with this front raise, at least to the level of your head.
  • Try to keep your arms as straight as possible without locking out your elbows.

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