In bodybuilding, middle deltoid development is important to make you appear wider and tapered. Due to this, I often see emphasis placed on lateral raise variations and hear the concern that without their inclusion, delt development will lack.

While I don’t dispute the importance of lateral raises (you will even see them in our sample advanced hypertrophy program in the book), it should be noted that due to the delt’s biomechanics the middle delts contribute significantly to many compounds lifts.

To some degree, they are involved in any push or pull, but most notably during horizontal pulling 1 and vertical pushing 2; meaning, they get hit all the time. You only need to spend time isolating them if you are advanced, and they are a clear weak point.

So, given how often compound lifts cover your bases in terms of the muscles they train, a question among strength-focused lifters might be, is it ever appropriate to focus on just a few big lifts (i.e. just doing ‘the big 3’)?

Certainly, but that requires managing volume, intensity, and frequency so as to manage any potential fatigue. For example:

  • Rank beginners can benefit from the practice of the movements with a higher frequency and a lower intensity. Sessions don’t need to be “all out” as progress comes easily and is largely driven by technique improvement.
  • A powerlifter might train squat, bench, and deadlift very frequently at certain stages of competition preparation (with some days performing all three on the same day), but often only one movement is heavy, the other one might be moderate reps at a moderate volume (doing your hypertrophy work), and the last might be singles at 80%, to train technique which is not as fatiguing. Point being, there is a specific reason, a time restricted period this is done, and in a way to manage the fatigue overlap.

Each is just an example, but as you can see, a high-frequency protocol requires that you put more thought into overlap and fatigue management with heavy compound lifts.

If you have found this helpful, you might be pleased to know it is just a small section taken from our Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid book. The second edition, along with the Nutrition companion book, was released this January 2019.

Join 17,000+ other readers, get your copies here.

Thank you for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments.

– Eric, Andy, and Andrea

» Reference List

  1. Botton, C.E., Wilhelm, E.N., Ughini CE. Electromyographical analysis of the deltoid between different strength training exercises. Medicina Sportiva, 2013. 17(2): p. 67–71.
  2. Boeckh-Behrens, W.U. and Buskies, W., Fitness-Krafttraining. Die Besten Übungen und Methoden für Sport und Gesundheit (Fitness – Strength Training: The Best Exercises And Methods For Sports And Health). Hamburg, 2000.


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I personally think that doing chest and back exercises work all the heads of the shoulder muscles already.
I never saw results from doing side raises. I don’t have those round baseball shaped shoulders, and the side raise didn’t change it one iota.
And overhead pushing exercises don’t feel good to me, although I have done them in the past, they fel totally uncomfortable, even unnatural of a movement.
Overhead press works the front head mostly, and those are worked already when bench pressing. Look at the large front shoulders of guys being strong at the bench press.

Andy Morgan
Andy Morgan

Thank you for sharing.


Still doing the lateral raise though.
I like it. And when doing it with say, 7.5 kg for 20 controlled reps, I really feel the burn.
Also the lying side raise is an excellent exercise.
Short movements,will make the muscle burn like hell.
Love it.
That some exercises don’t make the muscle ‘big’ , doesn’t mean it doesn’t or shouldn’t be trained. For me that is.
My calves are not growers either.
Still work them.
I even work the tibialis anterior.
Great to feel a pump in those muscles.
Helps with walking as well. It lifts the foot all the time.

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