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February 12, 2022 8 min read

The Egyptian lateral raise is an isolated shoulder exercise that can help you effectively grow the size and mass of the shoulders. It is an isolated upper body exercise for those who want hypertrophy in the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid muscles.

The Egyptian lateral raise can be done almost anywhere—all you need is a dumbbell and something too sturdy to hang onto, like a door frame. At the gym, the Egyptian cable lateral raise is an effective option for a time under tension training. The Egyptian lateral raise is an alternative or addition to the traditional lateral raise, as it offers greater support and targeted isolation of the deltoids for your next shoulder workout.

Benefits of the Egyptian Lateral Raise

This upper body shoulder exercise has several benefits, both aesthetic and functional. Regardless of your motivation, with proper form and execution, you can reap all of the benefits of this isolated offshoot of the lateral raise.

bodybuilder showing off wide shoulders with egyptian lateral raise

It Looks Good on You

First, we address the elephant in the room. The vain stuff—aesthetic motivations for building your shoulders. It’s simple, men want big shoulders because big shoulders look good. But why? One of the biggest secrets in bodybuilding is that bigger shoulders will make your waist appear trimmer. This isn’t just for bodybuilders, though. In a T-shirt, button-down, a sweater,  or really just any shirt at all, having bigger shoulders will make you appear stronger and leaner.

It enhances the “V-shape” that you’re looking for in your upper body, especially in clothing. Due to the substantial pump from isolating your deltoids, the results of the Egyptian lateral raise are fast. It’s a great exercise to help cover up lapses while the rest of your dream body is under construction. The Egyptian lateral raise is a hack that every man should know.

It Grows the Deltoids

The Egyptian lateral raise can help you isolate the deltoids, helping assist you in your shoulder-based compound movements. If hypertrophy is the goal, and it certainly is, then the Egyptian lateral raise will help you push past plateaus on some of your other lifts. Isolating and growing the deltoid will result in benefits for your overhead shoulder press, push-ups, and bench press. If you are into Olympic lifting, then this shoulder exercise can benefit your overhead squats and barbell clean and press. The Egyptian lateral raise is one of the best shoulder exercises for athletes. Athletes of sports like baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf, hockey, swimming can all benefit from the Egyptian lateral raise.

It Protects the Joints

Training the delts can help you take some of the load off of your joints, specifically the rotator cuffs. Rotator cuff injuries are common, especially among people who lift weights. The risk increases with age. As we grow older, our bodies become less forgiving. This makes it even more important to strength train. Strengthening the muscles to take pressure off of the bones and joints is one of the greatest benefits of strength training. To lift weights is to invest in your body’s structural integrity.

The Egyptian Lateral Raise

The Egyptian lateral raise makes an excellent high repetition, low weight exercise. Because of its superior deltoid engagement, this is a high rep exercise that actually can result in hypertrophy. This exercise can be done at home or at the gym. If you are home, your options are a bit more limited. All you need is sturdy support to hold onto. In the common household, the edge of a doorframe should suffice. If you have a support beam, even better.

In a home gym, a squat rack makes the perfect support for this exercise. If you’re at the gym, you have more options. You can either use free weights or cables. The Cable lateral raise will be discussed later in this article. As for the support beam, most gyms will have something. At the very least, you can use the support system of some larger equipment.

How to Perform an Egyptian Lateral Raise

To perform the Egyptian lateral raise:

  1. Get one dumbbell or plate. You’re going for lightweight here. Without a full range of motion, this exercise doesn’t work. Be humble and use the appropriate weight. 5-20 lbs is common.
  2. Find a support beam of some sort. The only qualification is that it is sturdy and that you will have enough room to perform the movement unhindered.
  3. Position yourself. Grab onto the support beam with one hand with the weight in the other hand. Bring your feet in close to the support.
  4. Extend your support beam holding arm and hang all the way out. Keep your core tight and your spine straight. Lean in a little bit. Let your arm naturally move with your torso. Don’t force your weight-bearing arm into an unnatural position. It should be comfortable in this position.
  5. Raise your weight-bearing arm from the side of your waist, up to shoulder height.
  6. Bring the weight down slowly. The key is to bring it down slower than you raised it. The adduction phase (drawing towards the body) is a controlled negative. 
  7. Try to do at least 10-20 reps per set. If you can’t do more than 10 repetitions on this exercise, then the weight is probably too high.
  8. Switch sides by turning around on your support bean, and repeat with the other arm. 
  9. Do 4-6 sets on each arm, depending on your training goals and the rest of your upper body workout routine.

The rest intervals on the Egyptian lateral raise are built into the exercise inherently, as each arm gets a chance to “rest” by hanging on the beam. If you need some more recovery time in between sets, try to limit your rest to a maximum of 30 seconds.

Alternative Shoulder Exercises

There are some progressions and alternatives to the Egyptian lateral raise. The Egyptian lateral raise has some drawbacks. Due to its deltoid isolation, this isn’t the only shoulder exercise you should incorporate into your routine. This version of the lateral raise is just one of several delt exercises you can incorporate into your upper body routine. Alternatives to the traditional Egyptian lateral raise include:

Cable Egyptian Lateral Raise

 

If you’re at the gym, then the Egyptian lateral raise with a cable is a must-try exercise. The cable adds an enhanced time under tension benefit, allowing for a steady controlled negative on the adduction phase of the lift. 

To perform a cable Egyptian lateral raise:

  1. Find a cable machine that allows you to pull from the ground and hold onto a support structure of some sort. Most single cable machines have some sort of handle or pole to hold onto.
  2. Set the weight low. Keep it between 10-20 lbs. A full range of motion is necessary for this movement, and that is best accomplished with a lower weight. Pick a weight that you can do at least 10 reps with.
  3. Position yourself. The starting position is just like the Egyptian lateral raise with the dumbbell. Bring your feet close to starting floor position of the cable and hold onto your support. Lean outward and let your arm hang from the support.
  4. Put the cable between your legs and grab the handle with your arm that isn’t holding onto the machine. 
  5. With each rep, pull the cable up to the top, shoulder height or close to it. Bring the cable down slowly, until your hand reaches your sides.
  6. Repeat for 10-20 reps on each arm. Depending on your training goals and the rest of your upper body workout plan, do 4-6 sets.
  7. The rest interval is already built into the sets, but if you need additional recovery time between sets, don’t let it be more than 30 seconds.

Dumbbell Side Lateral Raises

 

A great alternative to the Egyptian lateral raise is a dumbbell side lateral raise. This shoulder exercise can arguably be considered a progression, as it involves simultaneous engagement of both the left side and right side deltoid muscles, as well as core muscle stability and latissimus dorsi strength, as muscle synergists.

To perform the dumbbell side lateral raise:

  1. Grab two smaller dumbbells or plates. You’re going for less weight here. This is a high rep, low weight exercise. Adding too much weight will sacrifice your range of motion, resulting in fewer gains. (It’s OK to limit your range of motion in some exercises, but this isn’t one of them).
  2. Stand with your knees bent slightly. Keep your back spine straight and core tight. Lean in slightly. Keep your lats engaged and shoulder blades pulled back. 
  3. Raise both arms simultaneously. Lift the weights all the way up to shoulder height. Let them descend slowly back down to your sides.
  4. Repeat for 10-20 repetitions. Do 4-6 sets, depending on your training goals and the rest of your upper body workout program.

Which Muscles Does it Work?

The Egyptian lateral raise is primarily responsible for the deltoids (anterior, medial, posterior). We all know this as the shoulders. The anterior deltoid is the muscle directly at the front of your shoulders, and its function is to raise the arm forward. The medial deltoid, sometimes referred to as, “lateral deltoid,” is the largest muscle in your shoulder. This is what we typically think of when we think about shoulder exercises. The function of this muscle is to raise the arm out, or sideways. In other words, it’s responsible for the abduction and adduction of your arm. 

The posterior deltoid is at the back of your shoulder, and it is responsible for moving your arm back behind you. This exercise isn’t just for the delts, however. The Egyptian lateral raise also strengthens the trapezius muscles, and depending on your angle and range of motion, it can also work out your triceps and pecs as synergists.  It should be noted that there are better compound upper body movements if that’s what you're going for.

The benefit of the Egyptian lateral raise and cable lateral raise is isolation. This is a chance to really target the delts, specifically the medial deltoid. Overhead shoulder presses are great for the anterior deltoid, but sometimes they fall short in hitting the medial and posterior  deltoids. Combining some sort of lateral raise with an overhead press is a great way to target your shoulders on your next upper body training day.

Making Delt Specific Adjustments

With a few adjustments, you can further isolate which deltoids and synergist muscle groups you are specifically hitting. In a clinical study amongst bodybuilders, measuring muscle activation through electromyographic analysis, researchers found that  rotating your humerus externally and internally in a lateral raise targets different muscle groups.

Humerus (the upper arm bone) rotation in the lateral raise made a significant difference in shifting between the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids. It also makes a difference in which synergist muscles are incorporated. 

Researchers found that internal rotation of the humerus resulted in greater activation of the posterior deltoid, triceps brachii, and upper trapezius. External rotation was found to increase activation of the anterior and medial deltoids. Frontal lateral raises (not an Egyptian lateral raise) mainly activate the anterior deltoid and the pectoralis major. Practice making these slight adjustments the next time you do a lateral raise. Incorporating these small, specific changes have a dramatic effect on the results from your shoulder delt routine.

Conclusion

When doing isolation strength training exercises, the focus is the key to success. The Egyptian lateral raise is an excellent exercise for both beginners and experienced weight lifters. If you can lift weights, you can do an Egyptian lateral raise. The lateral raise is most effective with lightweight, as the range of motion is crucial to your success with this shoulder exercise. The lateral raise is important for functional and aesthetic purposes.

No matter if you're doing compound exercises or isolated exercises such as Egyptian lateral raises, intense training can drain your energy quick. Recover faster after your workouts with HyperAde by quickly replenishing the muscle glycogen and electrolytes that are depleted after intense bursts of energy.  Learn more now!