Upright rows are not a single exercise but an assortment of multi-joint exercises which mainly target the middle deltoids. Each variation: using a cable, a Smith machine, a barbell or an EZ-bar has its slight advantages, however, none is drastically better than the others. It is generally recommended that you don’t do it with a close grip, which can rotate your shoulders internally. Instead, take up a position in which the upper arms are moving directly out to the sides.
Even though a closer grip increases the range of motion, a wider one has been proven to trigger significantly greater deltoid activation, while minimizing the role of the biceps in the exercise. This means that it especially targets the middle deltoids.
Although upright rows are a multi-joint exercise, you shouldn’t do them first in your workout. Do it after you do overhead presses. You can even use it as finishing move at the end of the workout if you’re striving to bring up the middle delts a bit more.
This press variation was popularized by Arnold Schwarzenegger and that’s where it got its name from. You start by holding both dumbbells in front of your shoulders with your palms turned towards you. Press the dumbbells over your head while rotating your wrists simultaneously, so that by the time you reach the top position, your palms will face forward. When lowering the dumbbells, rotate the wrists in the opposite direction.
You should do these second in your workout after doing a more basic overhead press. If you choose to do the overhead presses with a heavier weight, do the Arnold presses with a bit higher rep range, for example, sets of 10-12 reps.
Machine Rear-Delt Fly
There are three main planes of movement for single-joint movements. The reason we put this one before movements for the front and middle delts is because the rear delts are very often neglected and under-trained compared to the other two. Building size and strength in the read delts relative to the front and middle delts is important for both rotator-cuff health and good posture.
Even though it’s possible to do target the rear delts with a bent-over position and using dumbbells, lifters will often, sometimes without even being aware of it, cheat and sling the dumbbells up with no control and proper form whatsoever. The machine allows for a controlled movement which will target them directly. When exercising on the rear pec-deck machine, use a neutral grip (not palms down) to optimally target the muscle.
As always, do the multi-joint exercises first in your workout, but if you feel that your rear delts are underdeveloped do them first in your sequence of isolation exercises.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
This single-joint movement is one of the best for developing the middle delts, and even though they may seem easy to do, they’re a lot tougher to master. Beginners often find it difficult learning how to move the weight with their elbows first. They also tend to lower the dumbbells and touch their sides with them and use this bottom position to rest for a second or two. It is much better to stop the descent when their arms form about 30-degree angle with their sides.
You can also try to lift the dumbbells 30 degrees past shoulder height to achieve a longer range of motion. You may need to lower the weight for a bit for this variation. This exercise also works well with drop set training, where you start with heavier dumbbells and quickly switch to lighter ones (around 5lb decrement) each time you hit complete muscle failure.
Do it along with other single-joint exercises, after the multi-joint presses, however, be mindful about the amount of training your middle delts are already getting. Many of the exercises already put on this list activate the middle deltoids pretty well. If you have a specific goal to bring them up, do this exercise first. If you think that your front or rear delts need to be brought up more, then do this exercise last.
Front dumbbell raises
When you raise the dumbbell directly in front of you, you’re targeting the anterior head of the deltoids. The reason we put this one last is that the anterior (front) delts already tend to be disproportionately larger among lifters who tend to train their chest a bit too often whilst they neglect the muscles they can’t see in the mirror. This creates a potentially dangerous muscular imbalance.
Front raises can also be performed with a barbell or various cable handles, however, most people would find that the standard dumbbell version would suffice. Each side lifts the weight independently, which will help you not only in spotting strength imbalances but also correcting them. They also tend to recruit the smaller stabilizer muscles, which means your core will have to work that much harder.
Do this exercise in the second half of your shoulder workout, after you’ve done all the prescribed multi-joint exercises. Do it before or after the single-joint exercises for the other deltoid heads, depending on how your front delts compare to the middle and rear ones in terms of strength and size.