Thank you for all the coherence you have brought to the bodybuilding world by your writing over the years.
Regarding your recent blog post, The Case Against Overhead Presses:
I find your logic and biomechanical evidence unimpeachable (as usual, for you, Doug). And I agree with your conclusion that overhead presses are an extremely poor choice for a lateral delt movement.
However, I have never performed this movement for anything other than its action on the anterior delt. In spite of the disadvantageous mechanics involved (as well outlined in your post), and considering that incline presses primarily work the pectorals, what movement can an enthusiast do for his front delts? Since front dumbbell raises seem to be biomechanically wrong for the front delt, what is a guy to do, Doug? Would you be so kind as to take a moment to offer a suggestion for a front delt exercise?
Thank you for your kind words and support.
Regarding the front deltoid, you are correct in that the overhead press works front deltoid more than side deltoid – although with some mechanical risk. There are several excellent front deltoid exercises that work the front deltoid much better than the overhead press, and with no mechanical risk.
First, understand that the primary path of the front deltoid is primarily alongside the torso – with the upper arm starting at your side, moving straight forward, and stopping at a point where your upper arm is even with your shoulder. The anterior delt is involved in other paths too, including overhead presses and most chest exercises, but those paths are not the primary path of the front deltoid.
The second consideration is the position of the muscle, relative to the direction of the resistance. The rule is that a muscle must be positioned opposite the resistance, in order for it to be maximally stimulated by the resistance.
As an experiment, do the following: raise your right arm straight out in front of you, parallel to the ground, with the palm of your hand facing downward. Now look at your deltoid complex (the area of the three heads of your deltoids). What you’ll notice is that both the front deltoid and the side deltoid are “on top” – opposite the downward pull of gravity. But now – turn the palm of your hand upwards, so that your elbow is pointing straight down. Now look at your shoulder. You’ll notice that the side deltoid has rolled more out to the side – away from the position opposing resistance, leaving primarily your front deltoid on top. This is the way all of your front deltoid exercises should be done – with the palm up.
The next consideration is the resistance curve. Do you want to make the early part of the range of motion easy and the latter part more challenging? Or do you want to make the early part more challenging, and the latter part more easy? Both are good.
If you do a standing alternate front DB raise, with the palm up, you will feel the movement start easy, and become more difficult as the hand (with the weight in it….approximately 20 lbs is good) reaches a position that is even with your shoulder. Doing them alternately (while standing) is good because it allows better concentration per deltoid, but mostly because it protects the lower back, since raising them simultaneously would force your lower back to sustain twice as much weight.
Now, lie down on your back on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells at arms length (but with a slight bend in your elbow, so that your elbow is touching the ground, but the weights are not quite touching the ground), alongside your body, with the palms up. Now raise them up, simultaneously (since your lower back is now protected) – along the same path as the one you used in the standing version of this same exercise – until the weights reach a point directly over your shoulders. You’ll notice how it starts off with maximum resistance, but ends with minimum resistance.
You could do the same movement while on an incline bench (45 degree angle) – and experience a resistance curve that provides 50% resistance at the beginning, 100% in the middle, and 50% at the end.
Now try them in front of a pair of cables that originate near your ankles, a few inches outside your ankles (with you facing away from the pulley, so the resistance is pulling downward and backwards). Same path, different resistance curve.
If you have access to an adjustable massage table, you can vary the degree of incline from flat up to 45 degrees. You can choose 10 degrees, or 20, or 30 – and each angle offers a new resistance curve for the front deltoid, and therefore a new “environment”. Same path always, and always palm up, because that is the path and proper muscle position of the front deltoid, for maximum activation.
In my shoulder workout, I typically do three or four side deltoid exercises (all laterals), followed by a front deltoid / rear deltoid super-set. Then, if I have time, I do a second front deltoid / rear deltoid super-set. Then I do one or two trap exercises, and that constitutes my shoulder workout.
As you can see, there are lots of GREAT options for front deltoid exercises. Hope that helps.