What are Lateral Raises
The lateral raise is a strength training isolation exercise that works the shoulders (specifically the lateral deltoids), with the trapezius (upper back) supporting by stabilising the exercise.
This exercise involves lifting weights away from your body, out to the side. It's an exercise which looks much easier than it is, and even using light weights for lateral raises can help to build strength and size. An added bonus is that lat raises can improve the range of motion in your shoulder, and help to stabilise the shoulders.
Commonly asked questions on lateral raises
There are a few ways to make lat raises harder. The first step is to make sure you have the form correct, and are recruiting the lat delts to raise the weights rather than swinging them up. From there, you can increase the weight, slow down the exercise, or try switching to kettlebells or the cable machine.
While you could technically do lat raises everyday, we wouldn't advise it. A strength workout can cause micro tears in the muscles, so it's best to wait at least a day between working the same muscle group twice. If your goal is bigger shoulders, focus on training them at least twice a week with a variety of shoulder exercises, and eat enough calories and protein to help your body recover.
Lateral raises are great for strengthening the lateral deltoids, but this is only one of three muscles that make up the deltoids. It's important to also strengthen the anterior deltoids and posterior deltoids, as well as other muscles in the shoulders, chest, and upper back. Try a mix of compound exercises like the shoulder press along with isolation exercises like front raises and rear delt flyes.
When doing lat raises, you should feel tension or a slight burn in your lateral deltoids, which are positioned on the side/ middle of your shoulders.
Lateral raise tips
- Form is much more important than lifting heavy for this exercise. Choose a weight which you can move in a controlled, smooth motion, and avoid using momentum to lift the weights.
- At the top of the movement, lat raises should be around 20 degrees in front of your chest, not in a straight line, in order to protect the rotator cuff.
- Your arms only need to go as high as parallel with your shoulders. However, if your mobility allows, going higher can be a good way to work your traps.
How to do a lateral raise
Level: Beginners to Advanced
- Stand with your feet around shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing inwards.
- Engage your core and squeeze your glutes to provide a strong base, and then raise your arms out to the sides, stopping when your arms are parallel with the floor.
- At the top of the exercise, your arms should be slightly in front of your torso, and your elbows should have a soft bend.
- Pause before slowly lowering back to starting position.
How to do a cable lateral raise
Level: Beginner to Advanced
Equipment: Cable pulley machine
- Set the pulley to the lowest setting and attach the single hand cable attachment. Select the weight.
- Grip the handle with your left hand and turn so you're standing with your right side facing the pulley.
- Engage your core and then slowly raise your hand until it's parallel with the floor, keeping a slight bend in your arm.
- Your arm should end around 20 degrees in front of your chest.
- Pause before lowering your arm back down.
- Repeat your reps and switch sides.
How to do a seated lateral raise
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Equipment: Dumbbells, bench
Performing lateral raises while seated makes the core more stable, which ensures the lateral deltoids are taking the brunt of the work.
- Sit on the edge of a bench with your feet flat on the floor around shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides, palms facing inwards.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side and slightly in front of your torso, stopping when they are parallel with your shoulders. You should maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
- Pause at the top before lowering the dumbbells back to your sides.
If you’re not sure if any of the above exercises are suitable for you, please consult your doctor before you start it. Need guidance on how to perform the exercise? Ask a personal trainer at your gym.