- Broad shoulders that were symmetrical and well cut were a staple in the Golden Era of bodybuilding.
- These are some of the best deltoid workouts that focus on using machines more than free weights.
- If you want to focus on free weights, check out our other shoulder exercises for some of the best free weight workouts.
- Make sure you warm up before you start any workout to prevent injury and prepare your muscles for maximum gains.
In the Golden Era of bodybuilding, you couldn’t compete without broad, full, symmetrical shoulders. They were part of the classic physique that was needed to attempt to beat your opponents.
We’ve got another great breakdown of exercises for you focusing on the shoulder, or deltoid, muscles. Whether you prefer to work multiple muscle groups or focus on one, we’ve got you covered.
If you haven’t checked out our recent article on shoulder exercises, make sure you do. Last time, we focused mainly on dumbbell and barbell shoulder exercises to work the deltoids. Most of those deltoid exercises could be done at home if you have the equipment.
This time, we’re going to focus more on using machines at the gym to work out the shoulder. Between these two lists, you’ll have a great variety of shoulder exercises to fully work the deltoids.
Machine vs Free Weights for Deltoid Workouts
This article isn’t to debate the benefits of using a machine or free weights to complete your deltoid workouts. Both forms of exercise have their benefits when working your deltoids. We want you to do both for maximum muscle gains and strength training.
We think that using machines over free weights is better when completing isolation exercises. When doing a single-joint, or isolation exercise, you’re focusing on one joint in the body.
A complex, or multi-joint exercise, focuses on more than one joint. Those types of exercises, for deltoids and other muscle groups, tend to get more benefit using free weights.
When comparing untrained men doing both types of exercises, results were the same for both. Multi-joint and single-joint exercises were equally good at increasing muscle mass and strength.
Another study was performed on 20 untrained men divided into two groups:
- Multi-joint exercises only
- Multi-joint and single-joint exercises
After the eight-week study was done, the results were in. Both groups showed the same amount of muscle performance. But the combined group saw a significant increase in muscle circumference.
So, if you’re after serious muscle mass size, then you’ll want to do both types of exercises. Which means you’ll need to focus on both free weight and machine workouts to build the best deltoids.
Deltoid Muscle Breakdown
Before we get started, let’s do a quick refresher on the muscles that make up the shoulder:
- Anterior deltoid – the front of the shoulder muscle
- Lateral deltoid – the middle of the shoulder muscle
- Posterior deltoid – the back of the shoulder muscle
Supporting muscles in the rotator cuff include:
- Teres minor
Today, we will bring you shoulder exercises that work the front, back, and middle deltoids, plus full shoulder workouts.
Before You Begin
This should be something you are doing already prior to any workout, but we want to mention it again.
Make sure you do a quick warm-up before you begin any workout routine. It gets your muscles prepared for the work they’re about to do. It also helps to prevent injury.
Also, if you haven’t done an exercise before, make sure you are using proper form. Not doing so is a sure-fire way to get yourself injured and derail your bodybuilding gains.
The good thing about the deltoid workouts that we are discussing today is the machines help with form. The Smith, cable, and rope machines help prevent you from breaking form.
Using the cable and rope machines also increase constant tension and resistance on your muscles. That means your muscles are activated longer, providing more muscle gains in a shorter amount of reps.
You also have more stability and control when using machines for assistance than you do with free weights.
You can typically put up more weight using free weights. Some people prefer to max out on free weights and then go to machines, but the preference is up to you.
We can tell you though, if you start to feel pain during any of these deltoid workouts, stop immediately. While the old adage “no pain, no gain” is true, serious injury can sideline all your goals in the gym.
Are you ready to check out some of the best machine deltoid workouts?
Cable Shoulder Press
The shoulder press is one of the best deltoid workouts to target the anterior deltoids. You can use dumbbells or a barbell, as well as the Smith machine for this exercise if you prefer.
How to do it: Set up the cable tower with the bar attachment and the weight you want to start with. Stand facing away from the machine with your feet hip-width apart. Grasp the bar at just past shoulder-width apart and start at chest level. In a swift motion, push the bar up until your arms are straight. Squeeze your shoulders before you slowly bring the bar back down to the starting position.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets. Take a 30 – 45-second break between sets as needed.
Variation: You can also do the shoulder press seated using handles instead of the bar. Both shoulders can be worked at the same time or you can do one at a time. You can also use the Smith machine to do the shoulder press if you prefer.
Tip: Use a mirror or a spotter to make sure you are lifting the bar evenly with both shoulders. Lopsided shoulders are not a good look on anyone.
Smith Machine Upright Row
This is one of the best deltoid workouts for men that works all three deltoid muscles plus the traps. The wide grip is the secret to making this a full shoulder workout.
Using the Smith machine improves muscle activation over just doing the standard upright row with a barbell. It also reduces stress on the back and shoulders by placing the bar further out in front of you.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, using an overhand wide grip outside your shoulders. Start with the bar at your thighs and your arms straight. Engage your core and bend your knees slightly once you release the bar.
Use your shoulders and traps to pull up the bar until it’s chest level. Your elbows should be out to either side. Hold at the top and squeeze your deltoids before you slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
Complete 12 – 15 reps for the first set, then 10 – 12 for the next two, with a total of three sets. If a break is needed between sets, take no more than 30 – 45-seconds.
One-Arm Smith Machine Upright Row
This upright row focuses more on the anterior and lateral deltoids. Since you are only using one arm to complete this deltoid workout, make sure you use an appropriate weight.
How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your back straight and core engaged, knees slightly bent. Start with the bar at your upper thighs and a shoulder-width overhand grip.
Engage your traps and shoulder as you lift the bar to chest level. Keep your elbows held high as you perform the exercise. Squeeze your deltoids and traps at the top before you lower the bar down to the starting position.
Complete 8 – 10 reps for a total of three sets per arm. Take up to a 45-second break between sets as needed.
Standing Cable Rear Delt Fly Crossover
This deltoid workout works the posterior deltoid, traps, and upper back. Make sure you don’t let the weight stack touch down once you start until you’ve completed the set. This will provide maximum muscle growth.
How to do it: Set the weights to your preferred limit and the cables to the highest setting. Stand in the center of the rack and grab each handle with the opposite hand.
Engage your core, keep your back straight, and your arms should be straight out in front of you. Begin by pulling out and back on the cables until your arms are straight out to your sides. Hold for a second while you squeeze your shoulders and upper back. Then, slowly move back to the starting position.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets for this deltoid workout. If you need a break, then take up to 45-seconds between sets.
Machine Shoulder Press
This shoulder workout for men focuses on the traps, anterior, and lateral deltoids. Using the machine makes this a great workout for women as well. You won’t need a spotter for this one, but make sure you don’t go too heavy to complete all the sets.
How to do it: Sit on the seat and grab a handle in each hand. Keep your elbows bent and close to your body. Exhale and push up until you’ve fully extended your arms. Hold at the top while you squeeze your deltoids and traps. Then, lower back down to the starting position. Try to keep the weight stack from touching down until you’ve completed the set.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets each. Take up to a 30-second break between sets.
Single-Arm Straight-Arm Cable Kickbacks
The cable kickback usually focuses on the tricep muscle. Keeping your arm straight focuses the workout on the posterior deltoid. This is an isolation move, so its best to do after you’ve done your complex deltoid workout.
How to do it: Set your weight on the cable machine and use the ball attachment for the best grip. Stand facing the machine and align the side you are working with the pulley. Bend over at the waist with a straight back throughout the exercise.
Your body should stay stationary without twisting so the focus is on your deltoid. Stay bent over with a straight arm and pull the cable back as far as you can. Squeeze your deltoids for a second before you slowly move back to the starting position.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets. If you need to rest between sets, take up to a 45-second break before you start the next set.
Front Cable Raise
This is one of the best deltoid workouts for men that focuses on the anterior deltoids. If you’ve been focusing on presses, then save this deltoid workout for another day. Make sure you have appropriate weight to complete the full sets.
How to do it: Set up your weight and place the cable at the lowest setting. You’ll stand with your back to the machine and grab the pulley handle with an overhand grip. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, or use a staggered shoulder-width stance. Place your unused hand on your hip to help balance. Start with your arm straight and at your side by your thigh.
Keep your back straight, core engaged, and don’t swing your body. Begin by raising up the cable until your arm is parallel with your shoulder. Squeeze your deltoid for a second or two before you slowly begin to lower back down to the starting position. Make sure the weight stack doesn’t go all the way down until you’ve completed the set.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets per arm. Take between a 45 – 60-second break between sets as needed.
Cable Lateral Raise
This isolation exercise focuses on the lateral deltoid. You’ll also be using the serratus anterior, traps, anterior deltoid and supraspinatus for support. You’ll need a cable tower to pull the cable simultaneously with both hands. Make sure you use an equal weight on both sides for symmetrical gains.
How to do it: Set your weight and put the cables at the lowest setting closest to the floor. Stand in the center of the tower with your feet hip-width apart. Grab the opposite handle in each hand so that the cables cross and form an X during the exercise.
Use a hammer or neutral grip. Stand straight with your elbows slightly bent and locked throughout the exercise. Engage your core while you are performing this deltoid exercise.
Begin by raising both arms out in a smooth motion until your elbows are level with your shoulder. Pause and squeeze your shoulders at the top before you bring them back down slowly to the starting position. Don’t let the weight stack touch down until you’ve completed a full set.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets. If you can’t do it, then decrease the weight on both sides. This exercise is meant to be slower to perform, so you don’t want to go heavy on these. Take up to a 30-second break between sets to rest if needed.
Tip: If you haven’t done these before, start in front of a mirror if you can. If not, have someone watch your form. You want to make sure you are lifting both arms at the same time and reaching the same height. This will ensure that you are working your shoulders evenly.
One- Arm Cable Lateral Raise
This is the same exercise as above, but you do one arm at a time. This works great if you only have a single cable machine available. It’s also the best shoulder workout if you have one deltoid that is smaller or weaker than the other.
How to do it: Set up just like you would for the cable lateral raise. Grab the cable in your outer hand and rest your other hand on the machine or on your hip or thigh. Engage your core, stand tall, and keep your elbow slightly bent and locked. Raise the cable up until your elbow is shoulder level.
Pause and squeeze your deltoids before you slowly lower your arm back to the starting position. Complete all sets before you switch arms, or switch back and forth between sets.
Variation: You can also complete this deltoid exercise bent over. By bending forward at the waist, you put more focus on the posterior deltoid.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for a total of three sets per arm. If you need to rest between sets, take no more than a 30-second break.
Smith Machine Shrug
The shrug focuses mainly on the trapezius (traps) muscle, as well as the deltoid muscles. Using the Smith machine allows for
- Heavier weights
- Drop sets (if you choose)
- Reduced risk of back injury
- The ability to put the barbell at the right starting height level
- Helps perfect form
How to do it: Set your weight and position the barbell at the right height, about mid-thigh level. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and grab the barbell shoulder-width apart using a pronated grip. Stand tall with your back straight, core engaged, and straight arms. Exhale as you use your shoulders to raise the barbell up until your deltoids are close to your ears. Hold for a second, then inhale as you lower back down to the starting position.
Complete 10 – 12 reps for three sets total. If you are doing drop sets, then follow a 10, 8, then 6- – 8 count of reps. If needed, take up to a 30-second break between sets.
Variation: You can complete the shoulder shrug using a barbell or dumbbells too. If you prefer the cable machine to the Smith machine, you can use that instead. Some people also use the calf machine to make this a versatile best deltoid workout.
Note on Form
Before you try any of these variations, make sure you have proper form so you don’t injure yourself.
Tip: Before you begin, get your neck ready for this traps and deltoid workout. Lower your head down until you feel the stretch in the back of your neck. Slowly roll your head from side to side for a deep stretch. Do this for at least a minute to avoid injury. Also, do not roll your shoulders at any point during the exercise. All it does is strain your shoulders.
Why Always Three Sets?
In a group of 34 resistance-trained men, they were divided into groups to complete one, three or five sets. Once the eight-week study was complete, they found that three sets were an optimal minimum standard.
So, that’s why we recommend starting out an exercise doing three sets. It gives you a great starting off point with the least amount of time involved per exercise.
Of course, once you’ve mastered the form of the exercise, you can increase sets when three become too easy. That same study found that muscle hypertrophy, or gains, increased with each subsequent set.
Have you been using our shoulder workout and exercise guides? Do you prefer using machines or free weights, or do you like the best of both worlds? Let us know in the comments, and keep us updated on your progress!