Tip: The Cure For Stubborn Medial Delts

Can't get your side delts to grow? You may be training them wrong. Here's what to do instead.


How To Tell If Yours Need To Growth

The medial (side) delts can be stubborn. Stand in front of a mirror and square up to it. Are your shoulders rounded on the sides, almost like a ball cut in half? Or are they shaped more like a 90-degree angle?

If they're more like the latter, that's a sign you could stand to add a little muscle there. Sadly, for most, it's a tough area to develop.

Throwing in a few token sets of lateral raises a couple times a week won't cut it. If you want them to respond, you need to get a little creative and be willing to put up with a lot of discomfort.

Why? Because the medial delts respond well to extended time under tension and skin-splitting metabolic stress work. You know, the type of stuff that causes burning, searing pain. Metabolic stress – along with mechanical tension and muscle damage – is one of the key drivers of hypertrophy. It's the key driver that a lot of people forget to use.

So, if your shoulders are flat and you covet a cannonball look, try one of the protocols below. Do a different one each shoulder workout, twice a week, for the next 8 weeks.

Progressive isometrics can turn any exercise with a hard contraction in the shortened position into a nightmare (in a good way). With this protocol, pick a lateral raise variation. I prefer cables or a machine over dumbbells. Choose a weight which would make you fail at rep 15.

  • Do one rep and hold it for a one second count at the top.
  • Do two reps then hold it for a two second count at the top.
  • Do three reps then hold it for a three second count at the top, etc. Notice that you're only holding on the last rep. So you'll do 10 total reps with a 10 second hold on the final rep. This should be grueling. But it's not over!
  • At the completion of the set, rest two minutes, reduce the weight by about 10%, and do it again.

This is probably the nastiest thing I've come up with for targeting and thoroughly exhausting the medial delts. Here's what to do...

  • Behind-the-Back Single-Arm Cable Lateral Raise: Do 12-15 reps to failure
  • Single-Arm Cable Lateral Raise: Do as many reps as possible using the same weight. Same goes for the next three exercises.
  • Single-Arm Cross-Body Upright Row with External Rotation
  • Single-Arm Cheat Cable Lateral Raise
  • Singe-Arm Partial Cable Lateral Raise

Don't rest between exercises, just change positions. Repeat on the other side, rest for a minute, and then repeat for a second set on each arm. Expect about a 20% reduction in reps the second time through.

Grab two sets of dumbbells – one heavy and one half that weight. Now do this:

  • Dumbbell Clean to Ahrens Press with Accentuated Negative Lateral Raise: 6-8 reps to failure
  • Cheat Dumbbell Upright Row: Do as many reps as possible using the same weight
  • (Now move to the light dumbbells.)
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Do as many strict reps as possible
  • Poliquin Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Do as many reps as possible using the same weight. Same goes for the next three exercises.
  • Modified Bent-Arm Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  • Cheat Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  • Cheat Dumbbell Upright Row
  • Rest two minutes
  • Go down five pounds from your heavy set of dumbbells. Repeat.

The priority is the first exercise because it sets the tone for the entire protocol. With the Ahrens press, press out at an angle, NOT straight up. Take a closer look. Once you reach full extension, you'll want to get a 3-4 second negative (lowering) on the lateral raise. Take this exercise to failure until you can't control the negative any longer.

There are a lot of ways to add them to your training depending on what your program looks like. But an easy way to start adding them in now is to do them twice weekly, and rotate through using a different one each session. Try that for 8 weeks.

  • One day a week, do one of these protocols mid-to-late workout AFTER your heavier, progressive overload work.
  • On the second training day, START your workout with one of these to really dial in the focus on the medial delts before you're too trashed from your other upper body work.