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Nothing says power and strength more than massive shoulders. While compound movements can be great for building muscle and burning fat, nothing beats lateral raises for making your shoulders look huge. Our lateral raise dumbbell guide is going to tell you more about the benefits, variations, and all the other information you’re looking for to best improve your deltoid strength.
All compound exercises are great for targeting many muscle groups simultaneously, and isolated exercises are needed for targeting specific muscle groups. In terms of targeting your shoulders, few things are better than lateral raise DB. These give your deltoids a noticeably round look while also improving their strength and your shoulder stability.
While we would say that dumbbell lateral raises are the most popular, there is other workout equipment you can use along with different variations that have the same benefit.
What is a Lateral Raise?
The lateral raise exercise is an isolated shoulder movement that increases deltoid hypertrophy. This causes muscle growth in your deltoids along with improved range of motion and better joint stability.
The most common way of doing this exercise is raising dumbbells laterally upwards. We want you to keep in mind that there are different variations, so we can help you find the right one that works for your specific needs and preferences.
While we will focus more on Lateral raise dumbbell here, you can also do this with a cable machine, resistance bands, kettlebells, and more. No matter how you do it, you’ll find that this improves your shoulder muscles and gives you that strong, rounded appearance that people envy.
Another benefit is that improved shoulder strength will help with other lifts such as overhead press, bench press, and more.
What are the Lateral Raise Muscles Worked?
Curious to know more about lateral raises muscles worked? While this is an isolated movement, it actually works several different parts of your shoulder muscle. The primary effort comes from your lateral deltoids, but the variations can target other parts of the deltoid head.
the different parts worked are:
This is the deltoid head on the outer side and it’s primarily used for shoulder joint abduction. This is what allows you to lift your arms up and outward.
This is exactly the muscle used while performing a lateral raise, which is why this exercise builds such powerful shoulders. So when people ask: lateral raise works what muscles? The main answer would be the lateral deltoid.
Also known as the front shoulder head, this is mainly involved in joint internal rotation and horizontal flexion. This is involved more in pushing exercises, such as bench presses, but you also get a fair amount of work here with the lateral raise.
So what does lateral raise work? Aside from the lateral deltoid, you also get a good workout for your anterior deltoid.
Also known as the back shoulder head, this is opposite of the anterior deltoid and it’s used for rear shoulder exercises along with external rotation.
This part of your shoulder is used more for pulling exercises, like bent over rows. They don’t get that much work with lateral raises, but some. There are some variations that are able to target this part of your shoulder better.
Lateral Raise Benefits
For many, the main benefit is just getting those strong rounded shoulders that people love. It’s certainly a huge reason for doing lateral raises, but it’s not the only reason. Let’s cover all the benefits of lateral raises here.
Leads to Muscular, Rounded Shoulder Muscles
If you want that powerful v-shaped look, then you need strong shoulders to support it. This is where your physique starts, and it’s essential to make yourself look stronger and healthier.
Not only does this make the top of your physique look better, but it makes your body look better overall. Even if it’s only for appearance, this is a major benefit that makes you look much better.
Improve Shoulder Strength and Flexibility
It isn’t just your looks. This exercise also improves your shoulder strength and flexibility. This plays a crucial role in shoulder health, and also prevents muscular imbalances and stabilizes your shoulder joint.
Believe it or not, the shoulder joint is one of the least stable and it can be prone to injury. Because of this, it’s often best to strengthen it to make yourself more resilient. It has the added benefit of making nearby muscles more flexible and stable.
Compound Exercise Performance
Nearly every pushing and pulling exercise uses your shoulder muscles. If there’s muscular imbalance in your shoulders, then this can create weakness and even lead to injury.
You really notice this with big compound exercises like bent-over rows and bench presses. They’re going to seem a lot more challenging than they need to be because your shoulders aren’t able to give you enough power.
If you work your deltoids with lateral raises DB, you’ll have stronger lateral, anterior, posterior deltoids that balance out your power and make it easier to do strength training.
Correct Form for Lateral Raise Dumbbell
It seems like an easy enough lift to do, but many people use the incorrect form and this can lead to injury or reduced performance. Grasp the dumbbells by both of your sides with a neutral grip. Your palms should be facing towards your outer legs. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and bend slightly at the knees.
Keep your torso upright and bend forward just a little in the hips so that your shoulders are just in front of your hips. Maintain a neutral neck and head position throughout. Keep your shoulders back, retract your shoulder blades, and look forward.
With your arms straight and elbows slightly bent, move both dumbbells upward and away from your body. Continue this motion until your elbows are shoulder height. Both palms will be facing the ground.
Pause here for a moment before slowly lowering the dumbbells back to your sides.
Common Mistakes with Lateral Raise DB
Here are some common mistakes that can reduce your performance.
Weights are Too Heavy
Isolation moves shouldn’t use the heaviest amount of weight. You should instead use weights that you could easily complete 8-12 reps for. Lateral raise weight should be enough so that you can do this many reps, but it shouldn’t blast your arms.
If the weight is too much, this can lead to injury and it also requires other muscles to help the lift.
Using the Momentum Instead of Muscle
This happens frequently with newcomers or those using heavy weights. Many people end up swinging the dumbbells rather than using their muscles. You’ll know you’re doing this if your torso is leaning back or forward.
If you find this happening, then reduce the weight slightly to ensure that you can slowly and correctly lift the dumbbells.
Moving Too Quickly
Once again, it’s all about control. If you’re moving too fast, then chances are that you’re using momentum instead of being controlled and properly working your shoulder heads. It’s all about being slow and steady.
Your neck should be in a neutral position, and you should feel no straining your neck. If you notice that you have to look downwards while lifting, then this is a sign that you are probably using weights that are too heavy. As we said before, other muscles will be recruited to help you with the weight.
We suggest reducing the weight until you can look forward with a neutral position without feeling your next strain.
Using Your Traps
Another muscle group that might get involved if the weights are too heavy is your trapezius muscle. Do you notice that your shoulders shrug while doing this exercise? Some people find it helpful to look in the mirror to see if there is shrugging or anything else off with the lift.
You know what we’re going to suggest here. Reduce the weight to ensure you have proper form.
Best Lateral Raise Variations
There’s no shortage of lateral raise alternatives and variations. While we find that lateral raise dumbbell is the best, you can also use barbells, kettlebells, and there’s even a lateral raise machine alternative.
We’ll cover some of the best alternatives here, but keep in mind that there are many others you can find as well.
Rear Lateral Raise
Also commonly called the bent-over lateral raise, this uses your posterior deltoids rather than your lateral ones. Keep in mind that you want the weight to not be overly heavy, or else you’ll just end up exercising your back rather than your shoulders.
How to Do Rear Lateral Raise
Grab the dumbbells, bend slightly at the hips, and bend your torso down until your chest is level with the floor. Start with your arms extended outwards and the dumbbells near the floor. Raise both dumbbells out towards your sides with your elbows somewhat bent. Continue this until your arms are level with the floor and in line with your shoulders.
Slowly go back to the starting position and then repeat.
Dead Stop Lateral Raise
This lateral raise dumbbell variation promotes muscle growth, excellent form, and superior shoulder strength and functionality.
You’ll need a bench or chair to sit on, and you’re going to focus on not letting your deltoids completely relax when the dumbbells are down.
You should feel shoulder tension throughout the entire exercise. We must sound like a broken record when we say to not use too heavy a weight, but here you want to use about 25% less than you normally would.
How to do Dead Stop Lateral Raise
Sit on a bench, grab the dumbbells as if you were doing a normal raise, and point them towards the floor. Sit up tall, place tension in your delts, and lift your hands until they are in line with your shoulders.
The major difference here is that your shoulders should have tension the entire time. Even after placing the dumbbells back down, make sure you don’t allow your shoulders to completely relax. You’ll find that this creates much more power and muscle growth for your shoulders.
Cable Lateral Raise
If you’re looking for a lateral raise machine alternative, then the cable lateral raise might be exactly what you need. You can do this with one arm or both, and this allows you to see if there’s any imbalances in your deltoid strength.
How to do Cable Lateral Raise
Go to the cable pulley machine and select your weight. Keep your feet shoulder length apart. Rotate your shoulders back, bend slightly in the knees, and keep your torso upright.
Use your outside arm, and reach across your body to grab the pulley handle. Raise your arm up and out towards your side and keep going until it’s in line with the shoulder. Pause for a moment and then slowly lower your hand back down.
Kettlebell Lateral Raise
A lateral raise kettlebell is exactly the same as a dumbbell lateral raise in form. The only difference is that you’re using a kettlebell.
There is one major difference though. With kettlebells the weight is below the handle. This forces your shoulders to work even harder to fight gravity.
You can also change which shoulder head is being targeted. Standing up straight targets your lateral delts while leaning forward slightly targets your rear delts.
How to do Kettlebell Lateral Raise
This is exactly the same as doing lateral raises with a dumbbell. Stand up and keep your torso upright, and have your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height while keeping a natural grip.
Once at the top, pause for just a moment and then let the kettlebells go back to your sides.
Barbell Lateral Raise
Another great alternative to lateral raises is the barbell lateral raise, also known as the landmine lateral raise.
How to do Barbell Lateral Raise
Stand tall with an upright torso and have your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell slightly in front of you. Hold it with one hand with an overhead grip. Your arm should be down by your side with your arm straight.
Bend your elbows slightly and then raise your arm upwards. Your elbow will likely bend more than with other forms, so keep that in mind as you’re doing this.
Three-Way Lateral Raise
Most of the other alternatives we talked about here have worked either the lateral or rear deltoids. This puts attention on the front shoulder head. It also increases your shoulders range of motion as you’ll be moving the dumbbell in different directions.
Another great benefit of this is that it improves your muscular endurance. Keep the weight light at first until you’re used to this exercise.
How to do Three Way Lateral Raise
Stand tall with an upright torso and have your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and then extend your arms out towards your sides like a normal raise.
As your arms are up, bring the dumbbells towards the front of your body and have them meet in the center. From here, raise the weight over your head and then lower them back down to the center of your body. Bring the weight back towards your sides and then lower them down and return to the starting position.
Lateral Raise Machine
We said that the cable lateral raise uses a machine, but there’s also a specific machine for lateral raises. This can improve safety and also give you some much-needed variation.
How to use Lateral Raise Machine
Get comfortable in the lateral raise machine while keeping your back straight and torso upright. Grab the handles and maintain a neutral grip. Put your elbows out towards the side until your palms face downward.
Pause at the top of the exercise and then return to the starting position.
Lateral Raise FAQ
We’re going to answer some of your biggest questions about this exercise movement so that you’re better equipped to master it and improve your shoulder strength.
Are Lateral Raises Good for Building Your Shoulder Muscle?
This movement directly targets your side shoulder, which usually doesn’t get as much attention as her front or back shoulder during other movements. This also helps give you a well-rounded and powerful looking shoulder.
While front and back shoulder muscles are commonly used during other movements, not working your side shoulder can lead to muscular and balance.
Why are Lateral Raises so Difficult?
This is an isolation exercise that targets a muscle that rarely gets much attention. You’ll find this part of your shoulder usually isn’t as strong as your front or back deltoids, and it seems a lot harder. like any other exercise moment, keep at it and your shoulders get stronger.
How Heavy Should Lateral Raises Be?
You want to keep the weight light when doing this exercise. You definitely don’t want to use very heavy weights as it can lead to injury or have you recruit other muscles that take away from your lateral and deltoids. This can lead to working your traps, neck, and other muscles that don’t need the attention.
Another problem with using weights that are too heavy is that your lower body might become recruited, or you’ll end up using momentum rather than muscular strength. Just reduce the weight and do the exercise correctly.
Is Lateral Raise Push or Pull?
There is a lot of heated debate about this. Some people say it’s more of a pulling exercise because of the motion that you’re doing. We would definitely agree with this with cable lateral raises, but it’s hard to say with standard lateral raises. Other people say it’s more of a pushing exercise because it works your shoulder muscles so well.
Truth is it’s neither. Instead of getting hung up on whether lateral raises push or pull, try adding in two days that allow you to work your shoulders without them getting too tired.
When to do Lateral Raises
It can sometimes be hard to add these into an existing workout split, but there’s an easy way to fit it in. Do them on days that target your shoulders and your chest muscles, on upper-lower split, or push-pull splits.
As an isolation exercise, this is best done during the later part of your routine. It’s best to do your compound exercises first and then your isolation exercises afterwards. You want to make sure that the way it is light so that you don’t hurt yourself.
Proper form is more important than weight. Go slow and make sure that you are only working your lateral deltoids and shoulder muscles. Do this and your muscles will certainly grow and develop.