20 All-Time Best Shoulder Isolation Exercises (With Videos)

Published by Roshan S Pillai on

Shoulder isolation exercises

Photo Credits- Hand photo created by master1305 – www.freepik.com

Isolation exercises had been one of the major recipes in a workout program. You can find most of the workout programs will have isolation exercises in them. So why is it so important?

One of the big reasons for this is that when you only do compound exercises like military presses, you cant focus and target one muscle at a time. There will be multiple muscles that will engage during the movement. However, during isolation exercises, you can focus on each part of your muscle separately and other muscles will be engaged at their minimum.

Here in this article, I will share with you some of the best isolation exercises for the shoulders.

As there are three heads of the shoulder namely front, lateral and rear delts, so I have divided these exercises into three groups. I have used all of these exercises with my clients and they got amazing results from them.

Also in the end you will find in shoulder isolation workout which you can easily do at home or in the gym. So let’s start with the exercises.

For Front delts

1. Dumbbell Front Raises

This is an old-school famous exercise done for the front shoulder muscles. You can see many people in the gym doing this exercise as it directly targets your front delts. Also, it is an easy exercise to do even for beginners.

how to do

1. Hold two dumbbells on both hands and stand at a shoulder-width stance. Your thumb should face forward. This will be your starting position.

2. Raise the dumbbell up from one arm until it reaches the eye level. You don’t have to go further as it will involve more traps which we are not focusing on here.

3. Hold the top position for a second and squeeze your shoulders hard.

4. Then bring your hands back to the starting position. Do the same movement with the other hand and that will be your 1 complete rep.

Here you can completely isolate your anterior deltoids. If you go heavy on this, then it will involve other muscles like the trapezius. So if you want to focus completely on your front delts, then do it with moderate weights.

2. Reverse-Grip Smith Machine Shoulder Press

If you have been doing regular grip shoulder presses for a while, then you must try this version. With the reverse grip, you will use your shoulders more and there will be less activation of other muscles.

How to do

1. Place a bench at the centre of the smith machine and close to the bar. Bench should be fixed at a 90° angle.

2. Sit on it with your back resting on the bench. Now grab the bar with an underhand grip, with both hands placed slightly wider than the shoulder width.

3. Start pushing the bar up and stop at the top. Your elbow should be slightly bend at the top.

4. Return back to the starting position and then repeat the movement.

If you lack wrist mobility, then don’t perform this exercise. You can stick with regular shoulder press exercises which we will talk about in this article as we proceed.

3. Incline Dumbbell Front Raise

You have a variety of options to train your front delts with dumbbells. All the three exercises shown above can be done as a superset or a triset which will give hypertrophic effect.

How to do

1. Grab two dumbbells and lay down on an incline bench with your chest on the bench. You can do it in three different ways as shown in the video.

2. Raise your hands straight up till the arms have reached up to your ear level. Try to raise it with your thumbs up.

3. Hold the top position for 1 second and then return slowly to the starting position.

Key tips

  • Don’t use too heavy dumbbells for this exercise. Use moderate to heavy dumbbells and do it with a proper form.
  • If you are at home then do it while sitting. Don’t round your back and do the same movement properly.
  • You can also perform the same exercise in a reverse position with your back on a bench but it’s not recommended for beginners.
  • Your back should not be rounded while performing any three types of exercise shown above.

4. Cable-Rope Front Raise

This exercise will completely isolate your front delts. You can do this with your palm facing down up or together. Try all the three and choose what works best for you.

How to do

1. Hook the pulley at a lower part of a cable machine and attach a rope at it.

2. Steps away from the cables and stand at a shoulder width stance. Then, grab each end of the rope and stand straight with your hands down at the front.

3. Start the exercise by moving your hands up while keeping your arms straight and pause when your hands reach the eye level.

4. Return back to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Cable exercises are meant to isolate the muscle so don’t go too heavy on these exercises. Also, remember to concentrate on each movement you perform during the exercise.

5. Incline Cable Front Raises

This is another variation of the front delts on a cable machine. You can very easily set up an incline bench in between the cable machine which is very easily available in the gym.

How to do

1. Attach both the handles at the lower end of a cable machine and place an incline bench in between. Fix the bench at about a 90° angle.

2. Grab both the handles from each hand and lay down onto the bench. Your neck and lower back should not bend too much.

3. Start raising both of your hands forward and pause at shoulder height. You should feel the tension on the front delts.

4. Slowly bring your hands down and stretch your shoulders at the bottom.

6. Front Raises with Plates

This is another isolation exercise for your front shoulder muscles. You can include this at the end of the workout to get an amazing pump. You can also replace the dumbbell front raises with this exercise. You front have to do too many exercises to target the same muscle.

How to do

1. Hold one plate and stand at the shoulder-width stance. Narrower the stance, less the balance.

2. Now start moving the plates up with the slight bend in the elbow. Bring it towards the head level and squeeze you shoulders at the top.

3. You should hold the top position for 1 second to get the maximum contraction at the top. Remember not to swing with the plates.

4. Bring the plates back to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Your back should stay neutral during the exercise. Also, don’t shrug as you move your hands up. You should feel the front delts throughout the movement Do at least 8 reps on each set.

For Side Delts (lateral Deltoid)

7. Dumbbell Lateral Raises

This is one of the traditional exercises for your side deltoid. Almost all lifters might have done this exercise. If you are beginner who want to specifically target your lateral delts, then this exercise is for you.

In my experience, most of my clients received significant results with this exercise. They were able to develop that full-rounded look on their shoulders with this exercise. So I would highly recommend you to include this in your workout program.

How to do

1. Hold the dumbbells on your hands and stand with both feet at shoulder’s width. You can also do this exercise while sitting.

2. Lift both the dumbbells to each side of the body and stop until your arms are parallel to the ground.

3. Hold the top position for a second and then return back to the starting position. Keep the tension on your side delts throughout the movement.

Make sure that your wrists are in line with the elbow or slightly up. It should not go too far up. You can also do this with one hand at a time to focus on each side separately.

8. 45-degree Incline Row

This is one of the best ways to target your mid deltoids. There was a study which was conducted by ACE which concluded that a 45° incline rows are the best way to train your lateral deltoid when compared with those 10 exercises.

How to do

1. Grab two dumbbells and place your chest on the bench which is set up at a 45-degree angle.

2. Start pulling the dumbbells up by flexing the elbow and bring the dumbbells up towards the chest. Both dumbbells should be away from each other.

3. Pause at the top for a second and then return back to the starting position.

If you feel any pain in the shoulder joint during the movement, then discontinue the exercise. Also don’t go heavy on this.

9. Leaning Away Lateral Raises

This is another way of doing lateral raises. By leaning forward, the exercise becomes harder at the top. You can use it as a substitute for lateral raises.

How to do

1 Hold one dumbbell on one hand and stand with the other hand on a pillar or a bar for support.

2. Now lean away towards the side and the dumbbell should be at the lateral side of the thigh. This will be your starting position.

3. Raise the dumbbell up to the side while breathing out and stop at the top such that your hands are parallel to the ground.

4. Hold the top position for 1 second and then gently come back down to the starting position while breathing in.

Keep in mind that your elbow should be in line with the wrist or slightly up. As you get advanced, you can take your hands back and do the same movement.

10. Incline Cable Lateral Raise

Another great isolation exercise for your side delts. If you don’t have a good mind and muscle connection, then doing this will definitely improve your focus on the right muscles.

How to do

1. Attach both handles at each end of a cable machine. Place a bench in between the machine and set the bench at about a 60° angle.

2. Grab the right side of the cable with your left hand and the left cable with your right hand.

3. Hold the handles and lay down onto the bench. Keep your hands down together with a slight bend in the elbow. This will be your starting position.

4. Now start raising your hands up to the sides and phase when your arms are parallel to the ground. You elbow should be bend slightly.

5. Bring your hands down to the starting position and repeat the exercise.

11. Cable Single-hand Lateral Raise

This is a perfect isolation exercise for your side delts. You can focus on each part of your deltoid separately with this move. Here, your elbow should point up. That puts more tension on your side delts as said by Charles Glass in many of his videos on youtube channel.

How to do

1. Attach a handle at the lower end of a cable machine. Stand at a shoulder-width stance with your sides facing the cables.

2. Hold the handles and keep your hands in front of the body. This will be your starting position.

3. Now start raising your hands to the sides with a slight bend in the elbow and pause when your hands are parallel to the ground.

4. Return back to the starting position and stretch your shoulders at the end. Do the same movement with the other hand.

You can do the same movement by taking your arms behind the body. This version will not let you cheat and will put constant tension on your side delts.

12. Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raise

This exercise will stretch your shoulders a lot more than the regular lateral raises!

To get the most out of any exercise, you should increase the range of motion of the movement and this exercise will allow you to completely stretch your delts at the bottom.

How to do

1. Pick two dumbbells and sit on an incline bench with your back resting on the bench and keep your hands on to the sides.

2. Now start moving your arms up with a slight bend in the elbow. Puase when your hands are parallel to the floor.

3. Slowly bring your hands back to the starting position and then repeat the movement.

Don’t use heavy dumbbells for this exercise. Its an isolation exercise so focus on quality over quantity.

13. Side-lying Lateral Raises

You might have seen Arnold doing lying side raises on the bench. But this is the floor version of the same exercise which will allow you to do it in the comfort of your home. This is a great isolation exercise for your side deltoid muscle. So looking for a rounded shoulder, then try this move!

Targeted Muscles- lateral head of the deltoid

How to do

1. Lay your side onto the workout mat while keeping one hand to the side while holding a dumbbell. You can keep the other hand onto the side of the head.

2. From that position, start raising your hand while maintaining a slight bend in the elbow and squeeze you shoulder muscles at the top.

3. Pause at the top when your shoulder is in at maximum contraction and then slowly bring your arms back to the starting position.

4. Repeat the same movement from the other side.

You don’t have to go heavy on this otherwise you could hurt your shoulder joints. This exercise is done to isolate the lateral head and is not meant for building power or strength.

So now lets me share with you some isolation exercises that target the back part of your shoulder i.e. the rear delts.

For Rear Delts

14. Seated Rear Lateral Raises

This is one of the best ways to target the rear delts. According to the ACE study, this exercise is ranked No. 1, when it comes to maximum rear delt activation when compared with other shoulder exercises. So definitely include some rear lateral movements into your shoulder workout!

How to do

1. Hold two light pair of dumbbells and sit on a bench with your knees at about 90° angle.

2. Now bend forward while keeping your back straight and hold the dumbbells to the the side and this will be your starting position.

3. Start moving the dumbbells up with a slight bend in the elbow and raise it to the sides at about shoulder height.

4. Squeeze your rear delta at the top and then bring the arms back to the starting position

You can also go heavy with this exercise but make sure that you are not swinging too much. Also, focus on your rear delts while you move the dumbbells up. If you feel other muscles like traps are getting engaged more, then reduce the weight accordingly.

15. One-Arm Supinated Dumbbell Rows

Another great move to strengthen those posterior deltoids. The best part of this exercise is the supinated grip which allows external rotation which is another function of the rear delts.

How to do

1. Bend down and hold the barbell with one hand which is placed on a rack. You can also do this on a dumbbell rack or a bench.

2. Keep your back flat and both legs away from each other for balance.

3. Pick a dumbbell and then start moving it up with your hands facing at the front. Your elbow should go out at about 45° angle to hit the rear delts.

4. Squeeze your rear delts at the top and then return back to the starting position.

It’s very important to maintain an underhand grip to maximally activate your rear delts. So always remember this and correct yourself whenever you go wrong.

Also at the beginning, you should start with the lighter weights and then gradually increase the weights according to your strength.

16. Rear Delt Cable Flys

This is a great isolation exercise where you can completely focus on the right muscles and can eventually build the mind and muscle connection. Your rear delts will burn out after this exercise.

How to do

1. Attach both pulleys at the top part of the cable machine.

2. Grab the right side of the cable with your left hand and the left cable with your right hand.

3. Stand in between the cable machine and then move a few steps back while holding the cables.

4. Raise your hands and keep both hands together and from there, start moving your hands back with a slight bend in the elbow.

5. Pause when both arms are straight and parallel to the ground and squeeze your rear delts harder.

6. Slowly bring your hands back to the starting position and repeat the movement.

Do this with the proper form and use light weights for this exercise. You don’t need to go too heavy on this otherwise many other assisting muscles will get involved. So go light and focus on rear delts as you move the arms. You don’t need to impress anyone.

17. Behind The Back Barbell Raises

As the video suggests, it’s one of the most effective ways to train your rear delts. You will love this exercise because it directly brings rear delts into action. So if you are not able to effectively activate those rear delts, then this exercise is for you.

How to do

1. Place one barbell on the ground and stand in front of it. Now slowly bend down and pick the barbell up from the ground.

2. Now start bending forward while moving your hips back and keeping your back straight. This will be your starting position.

3. Start moving the barbell up and stop when your hands are parallel to the ground.

4. Pause at the top and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat the movement without bending your back.

Bonus!

You can do the same exercise with an underhand grip. You just have to follow the same steps mentioned above. The only difference would be that your grip is underhand (supinated).

This is another great variation to hit those rear delts. So try the underhand version too.

18. Face Pulls

This is one of the best exercises not only for your back shoulder muscles but for the entire scapular muscles. If you want healthy shoulders, then you should do this exercise at least twice a week.

How to do

1. Attach a rope at the upper part of the cable machine. Hold each end of the rope and take a few steps back.

2. Stand at a shoulder width stance or a split stance, whichever is comfortable for you. Then, start pulling the ropes towards your nose.

3. Your elbow should go out and always go back. Think as if you want to hit someone standing behind you with your elbows.

4. Pause and then bring your hands forward and stretch your rear delts at the end.

You can do this at the beginning of the workout or the end as a finisher. Make sure to use moderate weight on this, otherwise, you can hurt your shoulder joints.

19. Seated Cable Rows for Rear delts

This exercise will build your rear delts which makes your shoulder look wider from the sides. It’s very important to train your rear delts as most people have an underdeveloped rear delts.

How to do

1. Sit on a seated cable row machine and keep your legs on the platform. Your knee should be slightly bend.

2. Grab each end of the bar and keep your back straight while holding the bar. You can also use a straight bar but make sure that you are holding it with a supinated grip.

3. With your chest up and shoulders rolled back, start pulling the weights and bring the bar towards your upper abdominal area. Your elbow should go out and should be at about 45° angle.

4. Pause at the end and then return back to the starting position.

The key thing to note here is the elbow positioning. As your elbow goes out, the focus shift towards the upper back and rear delts. A 45° angle is the preferred angle to train the rear delts.

20. Single-hand Rear Delt Flys

Some people cannot use rear delts during reverse flyes due to a lack of mind and muscle connection. But this exercise will be a great alternative for them. It will completely isolate your rear delts and you will love that pump afterward.

How to do

1. Attach a pulley at about shoulder height and stand in front of the cable machine with your sides facing the cables.

2. Hold the cables from the other hand and keep your elbow and arms at shoulder height. Your elbow should be slightly bend.

3. Now start moving your arms horizontally and bring them towers the side of the body. Your chest should be up throughout the movement.

4. Pause when your arm is perpendicular to the shoulder. Then return back to the starting position and repeat the exercise.

Your rear delts are the one that gives width to your shoulders from the side view. It also tends to get weak due to our daily posture and sedentary lifestyle. So always have them in your shoulder workout.

Shoulder isolation Workout

As we have discussed many exercises, now it’s time to take action! So here is the isolation workout for you. This workout will target every head of your shoulders and will give you that boulder look. So without wasting time, let’s start!

ExerciseRepsSetsRest
1Dumbbell Front Riases12360-90 seconds
2Leaning Away Lateral Raises12360 seconds
3One-Arm Supinated Dumbbell Rows12360 seconds
4*Cable Single-hand Lateral Raise + face pulls15 each345 seconds

*If you are at home then you can replace the 4th exercise with side-lying dumbbell lateral raise.

I have explained each exercise in detail already. So if you have any doubt, you can scroll up and get the information.

Final Words

All these exercises discussed above should be added to your workout program according to your goals and fitness level. Also, make sure that you add compound exercises too in your workout. Both compound and isolation exercises together will help you in building amazing shoulders.

If you found this blog helpful, then do share it with your friends or on social media so that more people can get the information. Also, if you like to share your knowledge on this topic, then do share it with all of us in the comment section below.

Categories: Shoulder

Roshan S Pillai

Roshan Pillai is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer with more than 6 years of experience in lifting weights and guiding people to get fit. He is the owner and editor of fitnessproworkout.com, and has worked as a fitness coach in gyms and is passionate about fitness and helping people to get in shape.

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