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Lateral Raises For Big Shoulders

Lateral Raises For Big Shoulders

In this article we will analyze the lateral raises with dumbbells, an exercise often found in gym and bodybuilding training cards. There are several variations and theories regarding the correct execution of this exercise, aimed at working the muscles involved in the best possible way.

As you know, however, it is important that training respects joint anatomy and physiology, as well as correct programming, to optimize the result and work safely.

What Are The Side Lateral Risers?

The lateral raises are an ” isolation ” exercise, the aim of which is to train mainly the medial head of the deltoid. Apparently, it is a simple motor pattern, but the different variations and the measures proposed over the years have created a lot of confusion.

This veil of uncertainty is quite dangerous considering the delicacy of a joint such as that of the shoulder.

On the other hand, the side lifts have many variations that make them an absolutely versatile exercise that can be contextualized in a different way within our programming.

Lateral Raises: Correct Execution

The lateral lifts consist of a 90 ° abduction of the humerus in the frontal plane. In simpler and more immediate terms: we raise our arms sideways with the dumbbells. As we have said, the execution does not require particular caution, but we can identify some fundamental points to keep in mind.

The shoulder blades should not be adducted by trying to “open the chest”, but to remain in a position that we perceive as comfortable. The humerus during the movement moves on the scapular plane by about 30 °.

One way to identify the correct plane of movement is to stand behind the subject by placing the hands on the shoulder blades with the thumbs of both hands which will be approximately parallel. You will notice that the hands will not appear as if they were in contact with a flat wall, but on the contrary, on two surfaces inclined forward, by sliding the hands towards this direction and extending the arms we will find the correct amplitude that the subject must maintain during the exercise.

The elbows are slightly flexed (bent) and the palms of the hands face downwards during the ascent (neutral rotation). It is possible to slightly extra- rotate the humerus during the ascent to minimize the risk of impingement, but it is not an obligation, we will deepen this discussion.

As you go up, you need to think about bringing your entire arm towards the ceiling, but without lifting your shoulders towards your ears (elevation of the shoulder blades).

At the end of the concentric, we reach 90 °, therefore with the elbows at shoulder height. Going further would lead, due to the scapulohumeral rhythm, to the strong involvement of the trapezius muscle.

The descent is gradual and we do not let our arms go to our sides. You can keep a minimum of tension during the movement even in the lower part: for example, by stopping before touching your legs with the dumbbells.

The advice is to use a full range of motion, so ideally to go down until the arm is perpendicular to the ground and then go back up until the elbows are at shoulder height.

For supporters of the Roma media, we must remember the bachelor-humeral rhythm. Without getting into technicalities, in the first 90 ° of humerus abduction movement (the movement that occurs during this exercise), the main work is carried out by the deltoid. The subsequent degrees (from the shoulder up) are increasingly borne by the upper trapezius, bearing in mind that there is a synergy and never an exclusivity of work.

To delve even further into the matter:

  • during the first 30 ° of abduction (therefore in the first degrees of movement of the lateral lifts) the mainly active muscles are supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and subscapularis.
  • The activation peak of the deltoid (anterior and medial) occurs from 60 ° to 90 ° (when the elbow is at shoulder height).

Ok, but what do you have to take home?

  • That working with an incomplete range of motion is disadvantageous, as it limits the overall muscular work of muscles that are important for shoulder health and stability.
  • If you want to contemplate a partial movement in the lateral raises, doing it in the ” low ” portion of the movement makes little sense.
  • A possible intensity technique based on these considerations: when you reach the end of the series with full movement, you scale the load and perform partials in the “upper part of the movement”, if the main goal is the medial deltoid.

Up Over Your Head?

Reaching with dumbbells up over your head is possible, but we need to make some considerations and contextualize.

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It is not recommended to perform the lateral raises in neutral rotation, therefore with palms facing down, overcoming the shoulders with the elbows: this could increase the risk of compression and inflammation of the soft tissues that we find between the acromion (a portion of the shoulder blade) and humerus. This movement leads to a dangerous and quite useless forcing from a muscular point of view.

It is possible to perform lateral lifts reaching above the head by performing an external rotation of the humerus (thumbs upwards). This variant, however, will involve the anterior head of the deltoid more, furthermore, once the shoulder is exceeded (from 90 ° of abduction, lateral lifting of the arm) the muscular involvement will gradually shift in favor of the trapezius.

In External Rotation Or Internal Rotation?

The advice is to avoid the variant in internal rotation (with “thumbs pointing down”), this generates a dangerous movement that leads to the compression of some muscles, in particular the supraspinatus, which can generate inflammation and discomfort. The work also moves more towards the posterior deltoid.

An external rotation allows you to work safely; It is not mandatory to perform the lateral lifts in this mode, in particular, if a maximum involvement of the medial deltoid is sought, since, during the lateral lifting of the arm in external rotation, the muscular work moves more to the anterior deltoid.

Finally, avoid lifts in internal rotation: favor the exercise with neutral rotation or partial external rotation.

Each variation and exercise must take into account the subject and its history.


As for breathing, the advice is to:

  • Breathe in during the concentric phase.
  • Breathe out during the eccentric phase.

Which Socket To Use In The Side Lifts?

The grip used in the lateral raises reflects the rotation of the humerus, we have 3 types of grips that we can use in this exercise.

Supine Grip

The movement begins with the palms of the hands facing the torso, then gradually the humerus is rotated externally; an extra rotation extreme is not recommended: as an index to define the maximum rotation recommended, you can use to have the palms of the hands facing forward.
This grip sees greater involvement of the anterior portion of the deltoid.

In this variant we will easily be able to overcome the level of the shoulders with the elbows, due to the position assumed by the humerus, which allows, in synergy with the movement of the scapula, not to create compression of the rotator cuff muscles. Always remember, however, that once the shoulder level is exceeded, the trapezius will intervene more and more.

Neutral Socket

From the point of view of muscle activation of the medial deltoid, it is the best, recommended for bodybuilders and/or advanced subjects with aesthetic purposes. In this case, the movement ends with the elbows not beyond the height of the shoulders.

Hammer Grip

Here the movement already begins with the palms facing forward, even in this case we can overcome the level of the shoulder due to the position assumed by the humerus.

The work in this case is already at the start and at an increased load of the front portion of the deltoid, taking account of what is still a safe variant.

Lateral Raises On Bench At 45 Degrees Or 30 Degrees

In the lateral lifts on the bench at 45 °, we try to work in particular by overloading the first part of the movement more, remembering however that the range in which the deltoid becomes the main protagonist is from 60 to 90 degrees of abduction.

Sometimes this exercise is proposed starting from the gluteus with the palm of the hand seeking a slight pre-stretch of the deltoid, difficult in other positions.

For safety, they are not recommended variants for novices and beginners but reserved for advanced subjects.

To search for a job with a more constant tension than the variants seen up to now, in intermediate-advanced subjects, you could perform a lateral lift to the low cable: the cable is on the opposite side of the working shoulder, and the torso is slightly inclined. towards the floor on the side of the hand holding the cable.

Lateral Raises: Training For The Gym And Bodybuilding

Lateral Raises: Training For The Gym And Bodybuilding

How many kgs to use and how many reps to do?

Lateral raises are generally not an exercise suitable for too low repetition ranges, considering a classic execution time: ascent 1 ″ descent 2-3 ″, the most suitable working range is from 8 to 15+ repetitions.

The advice, if you are an intermediate subject, is to move in this rep range and not fossilize only on one part, there will obviously be ranges in which you work better and on which you will then focus mainly on your programs.

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Subjects beginners or novices, should perform this exercise, it makes sense that focus on the lower end of the range between 8-10 reps, this base will underestimate easily because of the workload, and this will be more likely to happen in series with many repetitions, in which they will stop much earlier due to the “burning” and end up working with loads that are too low.

How many times to train them per week? Frequency

A good starting frequency is twice a week, perhaps differentiating the rep range of work in the two sessions, for example:

  • Sitting 1: 3x 8-10
  • Session 2 : 3x 15-12

Being an inexpensive exercise, it can be proposed, even using more variants during the week, with higher frequencies based on the recovery of the subject.

How much sets to do?

If we wanted to provide a common-sense guideline we should say that the volume should be thought on the basis of the recovery parameters of the subject in question.

In general, most subjects easily handle 6 to 8 sets of this exercise per week. The volume indicated is the weekly one on the side risers.

In a single session, it is advisable to perform at least 3-4 series of this exercise, when present, which is a good compromise between stimulation, fatigue, and mind-muscle connection.


Stripping consists of performing a classic set with a certain load, arriving at failure and, without resting, scaling the load by 10-15% and doing further repetitions at failure.


10 repetitions to failure with 10kg
stop 15%
max repetitions with 8.5kg

The technique that can be used, in the final series, to add volume and emphasize metabolic stress, saving time. The technique is not recommended for beginners and novices.

Rest Pauses

In this technique, we perform a certain number of repetitions (generally not to failure), then rest 10-20 ″ and perform further repetitions. You can do this for multiple series.

Example :

8 repetitions RIR 2-1 with 10kg
Rest 15 ″
Perform the maximum repetitions keeping the same RIR, performing at least 5-6 repetitions. Repeat this 2 times

This logic allows you to accumulate more volume of work than a classic series without getting too tired, based on the intensity of the series. It can also be used by beginners.

Performing the movement in continuous tension, therefore without losing tension between one repetition and the next, presents two problems:

  • You manage to load less.
  • The volume generated in terms of load x rep x series will be less.
  • If you do not go to failure you will probably not get a stimulus comparable to an executive time in which you do not voluntarily slow down the movement.
    If you want to contemplate this type of work, the advice is not to slow down the concentric phase excessively, indicatively not exceeding 3 seconds.

The contexts in which it could be inserted can be:

  • Serie initial heating to feel better muscle district involved.
  • Series finals in rep mid-high range> 12.

Do side lifts hurt?

The side raises, if performed with the precautions shown, are a safe and very useful exercise from a muscle and shoulder health point of view. Obviously by dosing the volume, the intensity, and adapting the execution on the basis of the subject under examination.

Variants Of The Side Risers


We can perform 2 variants of inclined side raises:

  • Torso tilted to the opposite side with respect to the working shoulder: therefore we are talking about the lateral raises on the 40-30 ° bench. Here we emphasize more the initial portion of the movement that we fail to emphasize standing.
  • Bust inclined homolaterally, i.e. on the working side of the shoulder. This exercise is the variant in which it is performed standing on the cable or with a dumbbell, here we can emphasize the work area of ​​the deltoid. By using a low cable you will get a more constant and higher tension from the beginning of the movement.


This executive variant involves maintaining the position for several seconds or minutes, obviously using a load. We can use it in different contexts:

  • Pre-activation: we perform 2-3 submaximal series keeping the load at the point where we perceive the active medial deltoid at its maximum. This will create local hypoxia with consequent blood flow at the end of the series with a greater pump effect and perception of the district during and after the series.
  • Exhaustion: for example, as soon as the traditional series is finished, we can slightly lower the load for the maximum seconds in tightness (possibly from 60 ° of abduction upwards). Another alternative is, if we have little load available, to perform some initial maximal isometries (pre-exhaustion), and then work with the available load and feel it more training.
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With torso flexed and tilted at 90

Angling in forwarding the exercise becomes an opening rear, the lines, and the plan of job change and we will have greater involvement of the posterior portion of the deltoid. This variant is not suitable for stimulation of the medial-anterior deltoid, which is the purpose for which lateral lifts are performed.

Using cables

Using cables allows you to obtain greater tension in degrees of movement than we do not have in the execution with dumbbells. It is essential to position yourself at the right distance from the cable, we must not be too close, indicatively the correct distance is the one in which we perceive the resistance of the cable from the first degrees of movement.

It’s necessary that the cable is great and flows well in the pulley, vice versa, the movement will be non-homogeneous and jerkily, which make it difficult to properly convey the ‘ effort and properly carry out the exercise.

The variants that can be performed on the cables are:

  • Stand with a straight torso.
  • Stand with the torso tilted to the side of the shoulder that is working.

The preferred playing mode is generally the one-sided one, more comfortable, and allows you to focus on one side at a time, improving the technical quality.

With Sitting Or Standing Dumbbells?

The difference in terms of overloading of the column vertebral is minimum between the two variants, as the load used is relatively low.

However, we can think about some points:

  • For sedentary subjects who spend many hours of the day sitting, it makes sense to have them work standing.
  • For people who do heavy work, who are on their feet for many hours during the day, it may make sense to have them work seated.
  • In cases where the subject ” cheats ” the movement by giving himself momentum, a possible approach could be to make him work sitting on a bench with the backrest tilted at 90 °, this will prevent oscillations and will force you to lower the load and work better.
  • Using a flat bench placed horizontally while sitting on the backrest, so as to be with the dumbbells against the bench at the beginning of the movement, helps to respect the scapular plane. This could be a possible initial approach.

Lateral Raises, Risks And Injuries

Getting hurt by doing side lifts is not common. Usually, they are execution errors perpetuated over time that lead, especially if accompanied by a poor dosage of the training parameters, to inflammation and problems.

The lateral raises are not a difficult exercise, but they still require a correct setting and learning of the correct technique.

Internal rotation

This execution is not recommended, as we have seen, and it makes little sense even from a muscular point of view. Favor executions in neutral rotation or partial external rotation, the latter particularly if you want to exceed the level of the shoulders or already have discomfort.

Cracking shoulder

Any “noises” during the execution of the lateral lifts, especially if systematic, indicate that there is probably an altered sliding of the joint surfaces during movement.

The recommended steps are 2:

  • Make sure you do the exercise correctly, respecting the subjective scapular plane.
  • If associated with annoyances, systematic, and also present in other exercises, the advice is to get yourself evaluated by the specialist.


In reality, it makes more sense to talk about tendinosis and tendinopathy, most of the time in fact shoulder pain occurs due to tissue degeneration or its failure to heal.

Usually, the muscles involved in these problems are the long head of the biceps and the supraspinatus muscle. It is beyond the scope of this article to deal with these delicate issues pertaining to the health area, we can say that generally, these fall within what is defined: ” Sub-acromial conflict or impingement “.

If you experience pain and discomfort, the advice is to contact a physiotherapist, as he is able to carry out a complete medical history, functional evaluation and recommend the right approach to your problem.

It is certainly useful to note and report to the professionals with whom you collaborate the exercises in which you experience pain and the portions of movement in which you have discomfort.

Now you have a complete overview of this exercise and the tools to understand in what context and how to insert it logically into your programming, each choice should never be made a priori but on the basis of the objectives, history, and analysis of the subject.

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