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February 11, 2022 13 min read

EDIT: Entire article needs proofreading and re-writing.


A perfect V-shaped torso is the holy grail of fitness. But while a slimmer waist and broader shoulders might be the epitome of fitness, but it doesn’t come easy. Getting boulder-like shoulders, a massive chest, and equally bulky arms requires much work to pack muscle onto your frame.

If you want to achieve this look, shoulder exercises are a must. 

One such exercise is the side lateral raise. Below, you have constructed a fool-proof list (YOU HAVE OR WE HAVE?) of tips to make you an expert on the lateral raise in minutes.

Side Lateral Raises

Spending time at the gym means dedicating an equal amount of time to build all major muscle groups for a shredded physique.

Each muscle group is highly dependent on the other, and chances are, if you spend time focusing on just one muscle group, your fitness goal is forever going to remain a dream on the horizon. If you aim for a v-shaped torso, you need to complement your ab and arm workouts with equally  effective shoulder exercises.

After all, the foundation of a v-shaped torso starts with how broad and built your shoulders are.

The lateral raise or side lateral raise is one of those exercises that directly aim for and stimulate the shoulder muscles. This effortless movement activates the significant muscles of the shoulders like the delts and traps, inducing hypertrophy of those muscles for growth.

The side lateral raise is a simple movement that can be learned in little to no time and helps to strengthen and tone your shoulder muscles.

To do this exercise, you raise weights-dumbbells or kettlebells- out to the sides at shoulder level and lower them back. This might sound too simple to have any effect (why would you write anything like this?) but do not be deceived as performing this exercise in perfect form is effective for muscle growth.

Although it might not look like much, the side lateral raise is a challenging exercise, even at a basic level with light weights.

Since  shoulder injuries have become a prevalent problem in sports, it makes sense to take steps that result in bulky but strong shoulders. Essentially, the side lateral range targets a range of muscles that extends from your shoulders to your arms, and it is equally great for the shoulder joint. 

Muscles Involved 

The side lateral raise primarily targets your deltoid muscles while it chips in on your upper back, arms, and core as secondary supporting muscles. This shoulder-strengthening exercise helps to tone your shoulder muscles.

Deltoid Muscles

The deltoid muscle in the shoulder is made up of three parts or heads, namely the anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, and posterior deltoids. These parts, which are all activated during the lateral raise, are for various functions of arm movement. Altogether, the deltoid muscles help to move the arms in different directions.

These muscles also protect and stabilize the shoulder joint, an essential factor in fitness.

Without these muscles, movement of the arm would be restricted and next to impossible. The anterior deltoid is the front delt that attaches to the collarbone. It is the most important muscle for shoulder flexion and moving the arm upward and forward. You make use of the anterior deltoid when you point the remote at the TV or try to move a book off a table. You also use the anterior delt in exercises like the overhead and  incline dumbbell bench press.

The lateral raise targets and strengthens the anterior delt during the raising phase.

The medial deltoid is the part of the delt where the majority of the contraction takes place during the side lateral raise. The medial deltoid connects to the shoulder blade, and its primary function is shoulder abduction. In simple terms, the medial or middle deltoid, which is sandwiched between the anterior and posterior delts, helps with moving the arms outward. Because of this, it is also known as the lateral deltoid.

Although to a lesser degree, the side lateral raise also engages the posterior deltoid. The rear deltoid functions as an agent for horizontal shoulder adduction. It helps move the hands backward and is also a strong shoulder stabilizing muscle.

The side lateral raise targets all three heads of the delts and improves strength and mobility, reducing the risks of deltoid injuries.

Rotator Cuff

The deltoid works in conjunction with the rotator cuff.

It is, therefore, no surprise that the rotator cuff is activated during the side lateral raise.

The rotator cuff comprises muscles and tendons whose function is to keep the head of your arm in its socket and connect the upper arm to the scapula. It also helps to stabilize, raise, and rotate your arm. 

Supporting Muscles

The side or lateral raise also activates and engages other supporting muscles like the serratus anterior, upper traps, and lower trap muscles during the upward phase of the exercise.  The serratus anterior, also known as the boxer’s muscle for a good reason, contributes to the more considerable girth of the chest. Located on either side of the ribs, it helps to lift the ribs during movement and essentially during respiration.

The upper and lower traps of the back, on the other hand, help to move and stabilize the scapula or shoulder blades. It is a significant factor that affects the movement of the shoulders, and it is utilized during most arm and chest exercises. Most importantly, the traps connect the spine, affecting your posture and protecting your backbone. 

Chip in the activation of the core and stabilizer muscles, and you find that the side lateral raise gives you a bang for your buck. However, your ability to make the most out of this exercise depends on your ability to execute it in perfect form. 

How To Do The Side Lateral Raise

The side lateral raise is an easy routine, but it is also easier to get it all wrong. To activate all the necessary muscles while also avoiding the possibility of injuries, you need to do it right. Lateral raises can be done standing or seating; however, standing increases the intensity and activates more muscles than sitting. 

To do the side lateral raise:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells with equal weights. Start with light weights.
  • Stand erect while holding one dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your sides.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Pull your shoulder blades back and keep your chest proud.
  • Bend your elbows somewhat without locking them. You should feel the weight in your forearms and not your wrists.
  • Engage your core and keep your upper body still.
  • Exhale and lift your arms to shoulder height until they are parallel to the ground.
  • Hold this position for a second.
  • Inhale and slowly lower your arms to your sides.
  • This is one repetition. Complete as many reps as you can fit in a set.

At first, the side lateral raise might seem easy, but as you progress, it becomes increasingly difficult to lift the weights. 

Benefits Of Side Lateral Raises

Before you add lateral raises to your workout routine, you might continuously ask yourself, “Are lateral raises worth the try?”. While this is a pertinent question to your fitness, the benefits of the lateral raise will blow every bit of doubt out of your mind. If you have your eyes set on a bodybuilder’s type of physique, particularly the massive and equally strong shoulders, side lateral raises are the best bet for you.

It targets and breaks down fibers of your shoulder and connective muscles, triggering the rebuilding by hypertrophy like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of muscle soreness. Below, we have highlighted some things you can gain from perfect execution and consistency when performing the side lateral raise.

  • Overall shoulder strength: The most significant benefit of the side lateral raise is improving overall shoulder health. Weak shoulders, which an injury could cause to any shoulder muscles, might result in a reduced range of motion in the shoulder joint or a permanent loss of movement, or even increase the risk of arm injuries. The side lateral raise is not only effective for shoulder muscle hypertrophy but also strengthens the muscle in the process. It can also be incorporated into supersets for increased stimulation of the shoulder muscles. Since shoulder strength is required to perform high-intensity exercises like the deadlift, it is a great idea to include the side lateral raise in your workout routine.
  • Get shredded: The side lateral raise is a splendid way to induce shoulder muscle hypertrophy. This helps you go from slender to broad shoulders in the long run. It also helps that this exercise also extends to the pelvis and back. If you are looking to imitate the ripped shoulder looks of the poster boy athletes, the side lateral raise is a great place to begin. 
  • Isolation exercise: The side lateral raise is an isolation exercise which means all your efforts directly stimulate your shoulder muscles. Since compound shoulder exercises like triceps bench dips distribute your actions throughout your muscles, your shoulder muscles are activated to a lesser degree. The side lateral raise helps build impressive shoulders by restricting most of the intensity to your shoulder muscles, singling out every muscle fiber in that region. 
  • Improve posture: The side lateral raise works the traps and other complementing muscles connecting the spine. It strengthens them, thereby improving back strength, increasing mobility, and decreasing the risks of back injuries. The lateral raise also requires a strict posture that engages the posterior chain and the core muscles, necessary for maintaining good functional posture. This improves your performance in other exercises.

Tips To Help You

Performing the side lateral raise depends on your ability to maintain a good form throughout your reps. This helps to stimulate the right muscle groups and ensures your safety from injuries. Like any other high-intensity exercise, the side lateral raise requires a strict adherence to cues that ensures good form.

Here are some tips to tweak your form and improve your lateral raise game:

Start with light weights

Get rid of the urge to begin your reps with heavy dumbbells. The side lateral raise looks deceptively easy but completing your reps requires a weight to lift comfortably without approaching fatigue early. Do not base your ability to deadlift a certain weight as the same weight to choose for your lateral raise. The shoulder tends to tire out quickly, so take it down a notch and pick more manageable weights.

Don’t lift too high

A common mistake amongst new gym-goers who just got introduced to the side lateral raise is raising the arms too high.

Raising the arms too high will take your shoulders out of the necessary range of motion, over-stretching your shoulder muscles. This will most likely cause your arms to go sore after your routine. When lifting the dumbbells, aim to reach your arms shoulder high.

Complete the range of motion

It is one thing to lift too high and another to lift too low. Yes, that’s a thing. Not completing your range of motion doesn’t fully contract your muscles enough to get a muscle response.

Don’t arch your back

When you shift focus from your form and lateral raise posture, you tend to overlook essential things like an involuntary arch of your back.

Arching your back during your lateral raise routine puts a lot of pressure on your spine and back muscles.This might open you up to a sore back, or worse still, injuries to the back muscle. Remedy this, remembering to keep a neutral spine and engaging your core muscles throughout your workout. 

Don’t swing the weight

A common mistake made by many gym-goers when performing the side lateral raise is swinging the arms out from the sides. To get the most out of this exercise, your shoulder and arm muscles should do all the work. This will ensure that the correct primary and secondary muscles are activated.

Making use of momentum will take the pressure away from these muscles and make use of your forearms and shoulder joints.

This increases your chances of injury. Instead, lift the dumbbells with slow and controlled movements. Pause at the top of the movement and decrease the speed you lower the dumbbells to your sides. This would ensure the activation of the right muscles. If this doesn’t work, switch the dumbbells for a lighter one.

Don’t round your shoulders

Rounding and raising the shoulders is often a result of lifting too heavy dumbbells. It could also be because you jut your neck outwards instead of keeping it in the recommended neutral position with your gaze forward. This could strain your neck and the surrounding muscles. Instead, switch your weights for lighter ones if this is the problem and keep your gaze forward and neck relaxed throughout your exercise.

Make a wrist twist

Simple tweaks help turn up the heat on your lateral raise, making it more complex and increasing muscle response. One of such cues is to rotate your wrist at the top of the movement so that your thumb is under and pinky is on top.

Although it might take some time to get used to, this activates more muscle fibers in your delt and works the muscles even harder.

Pull your shoulder blades together

Instead of leaving your shoulders slack throughout the exercise, pull your shoulder blades. This is a great cue that helps to keep the shoulders nice and tight while ensuring that your form is perfect.

Take time to recover

Muscle growth depends on many factors other than exercises like lifestyle, nutrients, and proper recovery. During the side lateral raise, your muscles are targeted and broken down to stimulate the beginning of hypertrophy. Inadequate rest would delay muscle response. To hasten your shoulder goals, take time to rest between each exercise and after each session. Load your system with adequate nutrients for muscle growth. 

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Alternative Lateral Exercises To Try 

1. Cable Lateral Raise


    The cable lateral raise is a variation of the side lateral raise that uses a cable machine. Performed using a steel frame structure with attached pulleys and weights, the cable lateral raise is somewhat of a simpler version of the dumbbell lateral raise. It activates the middle head of the delts and helps to stimulate growth and strengthening of the shoulders and chest. 

    To do the cable lateral raise:

    • Attach a handle to the lowest pulley setting.
    • Stand in front of the cable machine so that the arm you intend to work on is facing away from the engine. 
    • Starting with your right arm, face away from the cable machine so that your left arm is facing the machine.
    • Keep your feet hip-width apart.
    • Hold the handle in your left arm.
    • Transfer the handle to your right arm so that the machine's cable crosses your body.
    • Grab the tower with your left arm for support. You can also choose to put your hands on your hip or leave it at your side.
    • Keep your back straight and pinch your shoulder blades together.
    • Push your chest forward and engage your core.
    • Exhale and pull the handle by pulling your right arm laterally upwards.
    • Ensure that you only raise the cable slightly past shoulder height.
    • Hold this position at the peak of the moment.
    • Slowly bring your arms down.
    • This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as you can fit in a set.

    The cable lateral raise withholds movement throughout the range of motion. This is especially beneficial because while doing the dumbbell lateral raise, you only get maximum tension at the peak of the movement, which is when the arm is spread out laterally.

    2. Landmine Lateral Raise

    The landmine lateral raise makes use of the landmine machine setup. In the absence of one, set up a makeshift landmine by fixing a barbell end into a corner and putting weighted plates and the other one. The landmine lateral raise works similar muscle groups that the side lateral raise works. It also pitches in on the Lower trap, resulting in a more capped and shredded look.

    To do the landmine lateral raise:

    • Stand erect facing the landmine machine. 
    • The arm you intend to workout should be the closest to the machine or barbell.
    • Keep your feet hip-width.
    • Ensure that your back is straight and your neck is neutral.
    • Push your chest forward.
    • Hold the barbell in front of your body with a pronated grip.
    • Unlock your elbow.
    • Exhale and raise your arm across your body and into the air.
    • Keep your arm extended for a second.
    • Inhale and slowly lower the barbell to the starting position.
    • This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as you can.

    Don’t overextend your arms. Keep the movement within your arm’s normal range of motion.

    3. Leaning Away Lateral Raise

    The leaning away lateral raise puts more tension on the lateral deltoid muscle. This is because the additional lean creates leverage that increases the isolation of the deltoid muscle and the tension it receives throughout the movement. 

    To do the leaning away lateral raise:

    • Hold a dumbbell in your right hand.
    • Grasp sturdy support like a pole or cable machine structure with your free left hand.
    • Position both your feet at the base of the pole and lean out the rest of the way.
    • Flex your hip so that your body forms a diagonal line.
    • Slowly raise the dumbbell from the side of your hips to shoulder height in an arching motion.
    • Pause at the top of the movement.
    • Slowly bring the dumbbell back down without letting it come to a complete rest.
    • Repeat for as many reps as you can.

    The leaning lateral raise is a great exercise that people can perform across all levels. It can be done with a kettlebell and a cable machine.

    4. Kneeling Lateral Raise

    The kneeling lateral raise is a beginner-friendly exercise. It is side lateral raise done while kneeling. It is a splendid exercise for better muscle feedback. If you find yourself using momentum during the standing lateral raise, the kneeling lateral raise will help you keep your body still. 

    To do the kneeling lateral raise:

    1. Hold one dumbbell in each hand.
    2. Use a pronated grip so that your palms are facing your sides.
    3. Kneel on an exercise mat.
    4. Keep your legs hip-width apart.
    5. Maintain a straight back and a proud chest.
    6. Engage your core.
    7. Exhale and lift both your arms out to the sides.
    8. Pause for a second with your arms at shoulder level.
    9. Bring your arms back to the starting position.
    10. This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as possible.

    There are other variations with varying intensity and degree of muscle response. The best variation for you depends on your current fitness level and the fitness level you aim to attain. It also depends on your choice of exercise. Either way, find what works for you, and feel free to combine two or more lateral raise variations.

    Is The Side Lateral Raise Worth it?

    The side lateral raise is your one-way ticket for capped shoulders. With this killer exercise, you can achieve the  boulder-like shoulders, impressively chest span, and equally bulky arms that you admire at the gym. It is also an excellent complementary exercise to other  shoulder lifts for bigger shoulders.

    Now that you are armed with the tricks of the trade waste no time at hopping on the big gun train.