Front Delt Workout: 7 Exercises For Athletes – Garage Strength

Front Delt Workout: 7 Exercises For Athletes

Front Delt Workout: 7 Exercises For Athletes

Boulder shoulders are hard to hide behind the baggiest of clothing. They give you a broad physique that widens tailored sports jackets and causes your sleeves to go missing in the summer. The most oversized hoodies can’t keep such granite shoulders cloaked in anonymity.

Training the delts, specifically the front delts, is mandatory for any athlete who wants a defined upper body that can athletically press and hold dynamic trunk positions in athletic endeavors. Similar to how our strength training app, Peak Strength, prepares athletes to succeed in competition and general fitness endeavors.

And if we’re being honest, the delts are to the upper body limbs what the hips are to the lower body. Specifically, musculature around the ball and socket joint that gives the arms their wide breath of motion.

Understanding the importance of the delts, let’s dive into training specifically the front delts, and how to do that with developing athleticism in mind.

The Front Delts

The delts are a surface muscle that cover the shoulders’ ball and socket joints. The delts give that rounded look to each arms’ shoulder and give that nice shadow when using overhead lighting.

The deltoid is known for having three heads. There is the anterior deltoid, the lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. The anterior deltoid is synonymous with the front delts, and the specific muscle fibers and muscle belly involved in our larger discussion throughout the blog.

Because the deltoids are closely related to the ball and socket joint (remember synonymous with the hips), the deltoid muscles play a big, big role in the general, overall movement of the arm.

The front delt, same as the anterior delt, is responsible for quite a bit of movement. Moving your arm up and forward, like a front delt raise, fancifully known as shoulder flexion, is a result of the front delts. Bringing your arms in, like clapping your hands with your arms extended, similar to giving a big old bear hug, is another responsibility of the front delts; movement such as this is also known as shoulder internal rotation. Finally, in conjunction with the other heads, the front delt helps with shoulder abduction, moving the arms out and away from the torso. 

Anatomy out of the way, let’s talk athletic training of the anterior/front delt.     

Technical Coordination Application

For any athlete, technical coordination exercises are a necessity. Technical coordination exercises demand many muscle groups working in tandem to ensure heavy weight is moving as fast as possible.

The easiest way to think of technical coordination exercises is to understand them primarily as weightlifting movements that derive from the sport of Olympic weightlifting. In the competitive sport of Olympic weightlifting, athletes are asked to perform two different movement patterns that have them taking a barbell from the ground to overhead.

The first lift Olympic weightlifters perform in their competition has them taking a barbell from the ground to directly overhead. The lift is known as the snatch. The second lift Olympic weightlifters perform in their competition has them taking a barbell from the ground to overhead in two movements. This lift is known as the clean and jerk, which is technically two different lifts put together.

With the understanding that the snatch, clean, and jerk, plus all their variations, can be used as technical coordination movements is a first step to developing athleticism. Because two of those three movements have much more delt action, they are more appropriate for a front delt biased workout for athletes.

The jerk is fantastic for the front delts (plus a few of its variations)! The snatch, more specifically the high pull of the snatch, is legit as well for the delts.

Why are they so good? For starters, they allow you to overload movements that have you going overhead. The ability to use the lower body to hoist heavy barbells overhead does a ton for the front delts.

But let’s hold off on discussing specific movements too in depth for now. Let’s get into that later in the blog.

Absolute Strength Application

Where technical coordination movements ask us as athletes to move heavy weight fast in dynamic manners, utilizing and coordinating multiple muscle groups, absolute strength movements serve the purpose of building raw, able to grind, “LIGHTWEIGHT!” type of vibes from the muscles.

It isn’t that we aim to do absolute strength movements slowly as athletes. Not the case at all. As athletes, we want to perform the exercises in this category as fast as possible. However, the weights are heavy, heavy, which in turn makes you strong, strong. And no offense to the absolute strength exercises, namely squats, presses, and pulls, but they’re just not as fast as technical coordination movements.

But absolute strength exercises are important and have their place in a well structured program. As an athlete, you need to get stronger to hold up against opponents, body in the paint, or not get pushed off positions in competition.

Because the front delts are an upper body movement, when we dive into the exercises later in the blog, we’re going to be talking about pressing variations that best target the front delts.

Don’t forget, absolute strength movements, like technical coordination movements, are compound movements that are a must for any athlete. Because as all athletes know, hardly ever is a movement in competition being done in isolation through just one joint at a time.

Impulse For Athleticism

Impulse is a biomechanical term. It’s been around within the literature of sports science for quite some time. Oftentimes we think of words like power or terms like speed strength stand in for what we are actually trying to talk about, and that is impulse.

Impulse, at its simplest, is force X time. It is the idea of putting the most amount of force in the shortest possible time to be the fastest, quickest, more forceful athlete out there. Impulse is what separates elite athletes from good athletes, the better than the best from the rest.

So the idea of training impulse specific to a muscle like the front delt can feel a little out of the ordinary. We read “athleticism” and “impulse” and "being fast” and if you’re like me, you go to locomotion. I think of running fast, agility, and being twitchy. Which isn’t wrong at all. Actually, that all is exactly correct.

What is needed is an expansion of our thought around impulse and its relation to athletic muscle. And in this specific case, how the front delts have an impact–think shoulders being involved. Movements like throwing a discus, swinging a baseball bat, or backhanding a tennis ball or slinging a frisbee down the field for a teammate to run under.

But that impulse expression is not only related to generating force, sometimes it is involved in receiving forces. In such instances, think of a gymnast's front or back handspringing around or an offensive lineman receiving a blitzing linebacker or a weightlifter needing to stop a barbell from coming back to the ground to complete the catch of a snatch.

Impulse is tantamount to athleticism.

Exercises (7)

The cool thing about technical coordination exercises and absolute strength exercises is that they both contribute to impulse expression capabilities. The other great thing is that both exercise categories are compound movements.

I’d be remiss to not talk about the benefits of isolation exercises, typically used in Garage Strength Program Design for hypertrophy and accessory work, but for this blog they’re not receiving a more in-depth look at because they typically focus on building muscle mass and targeting structural stability for greater joint health, as well as pre-habbing connective tissue for injury mitigation.

Of course, reflexive strength exercises, which can be used as accessory movements, also serve the dual purpose of developing athleticism and directly contributing to impulse training.

As with almost all Garage Strength programs (except in certain instances), we’re going to start our front delt exercise list off with technical coordination exercises.

Split Jerk (Technical Coordination)

Of all the technical coordination exercises, the jerk may look the simplest but at the same time be the hardest. To watch the movement, it appears that you just dip half a foot and heave the weight overhead, landing into a lunge position.

I wish it was that simple.

The split jerk has you changing directions four times. First you dip, then you drive, then you go press under the bar, and then you recover and stand back up. Yeah, some elite level weightlifters squat jerk, which requires tremendous leg strength and mobility, or power jerk, again, a movement that requires tremendous leg strength. But most weightlifters split jerk.

The split jerk puts you in a unique unilateral position which is essentially a split squat, in turn upping the athletic demands.

For the front delts, the weight going overhead is explanation enough. I’m not going to tell you that all the work falls upon the front delt, because that would be absurd. But I will tell you that the extreme weights that are able to be hoisted overhead because of the full body nature of the movement does a ton to build front delts that can handle crazy weights and isometrically hold weight overhead.

Pressing movements work for developing the front delts. The split jerk just so happens to be a great pressing movement that can be extremely overloaded because of the heavy reliance on the legs. And as we all know, the more muscles working together, the stronger and more athletic we can potentially be.

PA Press (Technical Coordination)

The PA Press is remarkably similar to the push press. There is a dip and drive that is executed as a press overhead. In the same vein that pressing movements help develop the front delts in conjunction with other pressing muscles, the PA press takes the athleticism a step further.

Where the push press has you firm on two feet, the PA Press takes the balance, and demands on the trunk to another level.

I should have said this prior, but pressing overhead is a killer trunk, ab, core developer. Being able to hold and stabilize weight overhead puts crazy demands on the trunk to stay rigid and create a support structure for the pressing musculature.

So the push press and the split jerk put these same demands on the trunk. Where the PA Press differs is that it has you on your knees. The body has to adapt a whole new mannerism for balance. The PA Press not only develops the front delt, but will simultaneously create quite a bit of neural noise to make the body smarter–also known as neurological adaptations–through developing dynamic trunk control.

High Hang Pump Power Snatch (Technical Coordination)

Upright rows are a wonderful exercise for increasing the muscle mass of the front delt. What is so cool about the snatch is there is an upright row of sorts embedded in the weightlifting movement.

The bonus of the power snatch, not only in developing the front delts to a degree, is that the snatch itself is a much more athletic movement.

Since this is a front delt for athleticism blog, there is a variation of the snatch that is more aligned with our goals: the High Hang Pump Power Snatch.

Conceive of a rapid snatch grip high pull, but never letting the barbell descend past the knees. You want to “pump” the high pulls BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! and then finish with a high hang power snatch. Because of the additional high pulls, the rapid nature of the movement, and the need to catch the bar with the concluding snatch, you work the front delts and get that necessary athletic muscle work.

Garage Grip Incline Bench Press (Absolute Strength)

The higher the incline, the more the front delts come into playing with pressing. And if we are being 100% honest, the normal bench press is a big front delt exercise as well. It’s just that the incline bench is more front delt targeting than the normal bench press is.

By adding the Garage Grips, the high threshold motor unit recruitment ups its cadence when performing the incline bench press.

Maybe the one drawback of the incline bench press relative to the flat bench press is the amount of weight that can be put on the bar. The positive, despite the typically lower intensity, is that there is more front delt development.

If you really want to up the athletic development from the Garage Grip Incline Bench Press, perform the movement unbroken. Performing a movement unbroken means not pausing at the top of the lift, cycling one rep after the other with hesitation or pause.

Dumbbell Military Press (Absolute Strength)

The Dumbbell Military Press is a good ‘ole standby. Besides developing front delt strength and demanding dynamic trunk control while pressing overhead in a seated position, the exercise has unilateral components involved.

Having a dumbbell in each hand makes everything balanced, but it also makes each arm responsible for its own ability to press. If one arm has a stronger front delt than the other, the use of dumbbells when pressing will put this opportunity for musculature development front and center.

The other bonus of using dumbbells is the joint stability that manifests. The musculature around the joints needs to keep everything safe and capable of holding firm, another component around athleticism.

Handstand Walks (Impulse For Athleticism)

No matter how numb I have come to seeing CrossFit athletes walk on their hands, I will never deny the athleticism it takes to perform such an action.

The need to not only balance on your hands, but for the trunk to hold the lower limbs in an advantageous position to stay upside down and vertical is more than impressive.

And since this is a front delt blog, let’s not forget the shoulder strength necessary to walk on our hands. The handstand walk is essentially a plyometric exercise for the delts and shoulders. The force every time the hand lifts, steps, and plants to move forward is straight impulse expression.

If handstand walking isn’t quite in your skillset yet, you can also kick up to a wall and practice by doing alternating shoulder taps. If that is not in your toolbox yet, you can do the shoulder taps in a pike position, or do the shoulder taps in a plank position. Whatever your level of athleticism, each movement trains the front delts for impulse expression while simultaneously demanding dynamic trunk control.

The other best part of this exercise? No equipment needed.

Walruses (Impulse For Athleticism)

Another oddly plyometric movement for the front delts that develops impulse for athleticism are Walruses.

Ideally you have furniture sliders under your feet. Don’t have furniture sliders? Socks tend to slide pretty well on a kitchen floor or gym floor. In a plank position, much like a push up, you simply drag your body forward by moving your hands out in front of you and dragging your body with you.

The exercise is a killer on the front delts as well as a great bodyweight movement for training stability through the trunk.

Who thought moving like such a silly animal could have such an impact on athletic performance though the front delts?

Go figure.

Sample Front delt Workout (Upper Body Power Day)

Sample Front Delt Workout (Hypertrophy Day)

The Bottom Line

Training the front delts in a specific way to enhance athleticism takes some planning. Thinking of the shoulders relative to the arms similar to the hips relative to the legs is the first step to seeing how to address the front delts in an athletic manner. The arms are used frequently in plenty of sporting endeavors. Because athletes can escape the use of their arms in most sporting events (outside soccer of course), it is important to think holistically about how the front delts contribute to the body’s athleticism through the arms.

Take either of the provided sample workouts and run through one of them next time you are in the gym. Or better yet, try both sample workouts over the course of a week to address athleticism in the front delts.

If the two sample workouts aren’t enough for you, and you are looking for a more robust, periodized program that is sport specific to your fitness or athletic needs, the premier strength development app for athletes, Peak Strength, will create a program from over 700 exercises to sculpt that athletic physique you’re looking for. Try a week of workouts for free at today!


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