Top 6 Best Lateral Deltoid Calisthenics Exercises: For Broader Shoulders

The lateral deltoid, also known as the side deltoid, is frequently overlooked by calisthenics athletes due to a lack of exercises that target this specific muscle. However, calisthenics exercises can be used to target the lateral deltoid; in this blog post, I will show you how to build this often-overlooked muscle using primarily bodyweight exercises.

Function and Anatomy of the Lateral Deltoid

The lateral deltoid, also known as the lateral head of the deltoid muscle, is one of the three major muscle heads that make up the deltoid muscle in the shoulder. It is located on the outer side of the shoulder and has several important functions:

  1. Abduction: The lateral deltoid is most prominently involved in the abduction of the arm. Abduction refers to lifting the arm away from the body’s midline. When you raise your arm to the side, such as during lateral raises or lateral movements in general, the lateral deltoid is responsible for this movement.
  2. Shoulder flexion: While the primary mover for overhead movements like shoulder presses is the anterior (front) deltoid, the lateral deltoid also contributes to these movements by assisting in the raising of the arm.

6 Best Lateral Deltoids Calisthenics Exercises

To effectively target the lateral deltoid, include exercises involving shoulder abduction and flexion, as we learned is the primary function of the lateral deltoid. Below is a list of the best lateral deltoid exercises you can do:

1. Lateral Raise With Towel

Lateral raises using a towel represent a modified approach to the conventional lateral raise exercise. This variation can be executed without the need for any specialized equipment, making it a convenient and effective alternative. It stands out as an excellent bodyweight exercise for isolating the lateral deltoid. To increase the challenge of this exercise, you can easily enhance its difficulty by positioning yourself farther from the wall

How to perform Lateral Raises with just a towel:

  1. Stand with your shoulder against a wall, put a towel between your shoulder and the wall
  2. Slowly raise your arm, using the towel, up until it is parallel to the ground. Focus on lifting with your lateral deltoid muscles.
  3. Lower your arms back down to the starting position in a controlled manner.

Towel bodyweight lateral raises are an excellent way to target the lateral deltoids without the need for weights or gym equipment, making them a convenient home workout option.

2. Reverse Ring Fly

While the Reverse Ring Fly is seen by many as a purely rear delt exercise, this is actually far from the case. Performed correctly the reverse ring fly can be an effective exercise for targeting the lateral deltoids. The key is to turn your palms facing forward instead of down(like in the picture), this is regardless the most convenient way to perform the exercise with rings.

How to perform the reverse ring fly to emphasis the lateral deltoid:

  1. Stand facing the anchor point (where the rings or straps are attached), and hold one handle in each hand. Your arms should be extended straight in front of you.
  2. Initiate the exercise by pulling your arms outward and away from each other in a controlled manner. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together as you do this.
  3. At the peak of the movement, your arms should be extended out to the sides, forming a “T” shape with your body. Your hands should be at or slightly below shoulder height.
  4. Slowly bring your arms back to the starting position in front of you by reversing the motion.

To put more emphasis on the lateral deltoid focus on externally rotating your shoulders.

3. Y-Raise (with rings)

Y-raises performed with gymnastic rings are an excellent exercise for effectively targeting the lateral deltoids, along with the traps, rhomboids, and rear deltoids.

How to perform Y-Raises:

  1. Stand facing the anchor point (where the rings or straps are attached), and hold one handle in each hand with your palms facing each other. Your arms should be extended straight in front of you.
  2. Begin the exercise by lifting your arms diagonally upward and outward in a Y-shape. Your goal is to raise them all the way overhead.
  3. At the peak of the movement, your arms should be extended outward and upward, forming a “Y” shape with your body.
  4. Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position in front of you by reversing the motion. Maintain control throughout the movement.

Y-raises with rings are an excellent calisthenics exercise for targeting and strengthening the lateral deltoids, helping to develop broader shoulders and overall upper-body strength.

4. Handstand Push Up Variations

Handstand push-ups are one of the best calisthenics shoulder exercises, not only is this exercise great for developing the anterior deltoid (front part of the shoulder) it also works the lateral deltoid to a significant degree. According to this study, the activation of the lateral deltoid in lateral raises and overhead (the weighted alternative of handstand push ups) was pretty close, since you can push more weight in handstand push up the handstand push ups may be as effective as lateral raises for developing the lateral deltoid.

How to do handstand push up variations:

Pick a variation: You should choose a variation that you can do with proper form for reps, some common variations include pike push ups, chest to wall handstand push ups and of course freestanding handstand push ups.

Pike push ups:

Pike push-ups are an excellent exercise to help you build shoulder strength, especially if you’re working towards more advanced exercises like handstand push-ups. They are also a great addition to any upper-body or calisthenics routine. Here is how to do them:

  1. Begin in a push-up position with your hands placed on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift your hips up toward the ceiling, forming an inverted “V” shape with your body.
  2. Lower your upper body by bending your elbows. Aim to bring the top of your head toward the floor.
  3. Push through your palms and extend your elbows to return to the pike position.

Use bands and weights

Despite calisthenics being our preferred form of exercise, using weights can be just as beneficial. A well-rounded training program can be produced by combining calisthenics with weight training, and both have advantages. The use of weights or resistance bands can be used to target specific muscle groups and address areas of weakness.

5. Lateral raises

Lateral raises are the best exercise to isolate and strengthen the lateral deltoids, helping to create broader shoulders and improve overall shoulder stability. It is well worth performing this exercise if you have access to weights, or you can use resistance bands as well.

Everkinetic, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How to do lateral raises right (most people do them wrong):

  1. Lean slightly forward with a dumbbell in each hand(this will save your rotator cuff from injury), palms facing your body. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, simultaneously lift both dumbbells out to the sides. Your goal is to raise your arms until they are parallel to the ground or slightly below shoulder level. Keep your wrists straight during the movement.
  3. Hold the raised position for a brief moment to maximize the contraction of your lateral deltoids.
  4. Lower the dumbbells slowly and with control back to the starting position, keeping your wrists and arms straight.

To get the most out of the exercise, use a light weight that allows you to perform the exercise properly and focus on quality over numbers.

6. Lu raises

Lu raises is little known but excellent exercise for building the lateral deltoid. Popularized by Chinese Olympic weightlifting champion Lu Xiaojun, the Lu Raise is a variation on the normal lateral raise with an extended range of motion, lifting the arms overhead until they meet. Lu Raises is an excellent exercise for improving shoulder health, size, and mobility.

How to perform lu raises: 

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand as you stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start with your arms in front of you, the dumbbells touching each other.
  2. You should raise your arms out to the side and all the way overhead in a circular motion.
  3. At the top of the movement, the dumbells should meet overhead.
  4. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position, following the same movement pattern.

Final Thoughts

Working on your lateral deltoids through calisthenics can be quite effective, but it comes with its own set of unique challenges. While calisthenics provides a range of efficient exercises like handstand push-up variations and pike push-ups that engage the lateral deltoids, they often don’t directly isolate them. If you find that your lateral deltoids need extra attention due to weakness or underdevelopment, incorporating weights can be a logical choice. Utilizing exercises such as lateral raises is an efficient means of targeting and isolating the lateral deltoids, leading to noticeable gains in strength and size.

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