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December 13, 2021 8 min read

For many gym bros, the standard dumbbell lateral raises are a great addition to a bro split. Not only is it easy to get into the proper form, but it is also a merciful way to gain strength and extra muscle in the upper body, and specifically, the shoulders.

Shoulder exercises  are an important part of exercise routines not only because shoulders provide a more buffed-up tapered-v look, but are also a major player in being able to carry out other exercises properly. Shoulder strength and stability accounts for upper body strength and core tightness. It is exactly for this reason many gym bros decide to switch out traditional lateral raises for its challenging counterpart, the leaning lateral raises.

What is the Leaning Lateral Raise?

The Leaning lateral raise, also called the leaning dumbbell raise, is a variation of the dumbbell lateral raise that provides a more challenging yet better result for the strength, stability, and flexion of the shoulder joint. Although it might look easier than its predecessor, the leaning lateral raise has more potential for injuries if not done properly.

Gym novices and noobs favour the standard side lateral raise for its simplicity and its activation of the lateral and anterior heads of the deltoid of the shoulders, the trapezius muscle, and the supraspinatus, all of which contribute to the shredding of the muscles of the upper body. The leaning lateral raise, however, goes farther than this. The main difference between the leaning lateral raise and the standard side lateral raise is that the latter is similar to a deadlift, and the former is not.

The angling of your body against gravity helps to go further in the activation of the muscles of your arms, shoulders, and chests. The leaning lateral raises further isolates the muscles of the joints that add mass and muscle bulk to the upper body, proving to be a simple yet effective upgrade. By isolating these muscles during flexion and extension, you  slowly but surely move them to test and essentially build their strength limit.

Bodybuilder showing his back and biceps muscles

Muscles Worked in Leaning Lateral Raise

What works to activate the muscles of the shoulder in the leaning lateral raises is the change of the angle of the body. The angling helps to isolate the muscles of the shoulders that contribute to strength, musculature with every rise of the dumbbell. For you to get the required result, the leaning lateral raises require concentration on the body form and the angling of the shoulders during each rep. Simply put, you should focus on avoiding putting in cheat reps.

This is equally important in ensuring that there are no injuries to the muscles, as things can easily go wrong. When done correctly, the leaning lateral raise works the deltoids, the trapezius in the upper back, the supraspinatus, the serratus anterior, and the core. It strengthens and broadens these muscles, helping to provide bigger shoulder musculature and a better buffed up look.

Benefits of Leaning Lateral Raise

The leaning of the body creates a larger plane for the arms to move. This would provide a further increase in the range of motion provided to the shoulder joint than in a side lateral raise. This provides enough stimulation that ensures that it contracts the muscles more during movement. The leaning lateral raise is the perfect exercise for working out those delts. Not only does it target the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid, but also ensures that it isolates the most important deltoid of all, the lateral deltoid.

This deltoid strengthens, stabilizes, and tones the shoulders, and in turn, the rest of the upper body. This plays a huge part in shoulder strength. Think about it- the more strengthened your shoulders are, the more weight you can lift in the gyms. This would go on to influence how well you can build strength and musculature in other parts of your body and prepare the upper body for more intense exercises. The leaning lateral exercise ensures that the delts are engaged even in the lower arm position.

This is a feat that is not possible in the side lateral raise.  Overall, the strength of your deltoids is important in shoulder exercises as they help the arm carry objects, like during barbell exercises, and help in rotation of the shoulders. The leaning lateral raise also helps you to engage your traps, which helps to keep the back muscles pulled back, maintaining good posture. While the delts help in strength, the trapezius muscles, which are connected to the scapula of the back, ensure the stability of the upper body.

Since functional moves like raising the arms, shrugging and tilting the neck involve the trapezius muscles, it is most definitely a good idea to get them toned. Weak trapezius muscles are not a pleasant sight as they give the body a rounded, hunched look. Because leaning lateral raises provide you with more range for arm movement when lifting the dumbbell, it also activates one of the rotator cuff muscles, the supraspinatus. The supraspinatus assists in arm flexibility and muscle strength, helping through various exercises like bench presses.

It is, however, easy to tear this muscle when engaging in strenuous exercises. The leaning lateral raise also contributes to the toning and expansion of the serratus anterior muscle that not only stabilizes the scapula but also protects the shoulders and also provides the chest with a wider, muscled, and jacked look. The ability of the leaning lateral raise to target important muscles makes it a favourite bodybuilding exercise in the gym.

It strengthens the upper back, lower back, and shoulder muscles while engaging the core. If you are looking for an added plus to help you build muscles during this exercise and every other routine, try our  ULTIMATE RIPPED STACK.

How to do the Leaning Lateral Raise


Like the side lateral raise, to do the leaning lateral raise or the leaning cable lateral raise, you require the use of a dumbbell. It is also characterized by the lifting of the shoulders away from the body in an external rotation. What makes it challenging is the use of sturdy support. Of all the dumbbell lateral raise variations, the leaning lateral raise proves to isolate the lateral deltoid, letting it move through a more expanded range of motion.  

It is important to understand that it is not the amount of weight that matters in this position. The form and the repetitions are far more important in this isolation exercise. To ensure that you maintain the proper form and to avoid injuries, it is important to secure the help of a personal trainer.

To do the leaning lateral raise:

  1. Begin with a dead start. With a dumbbell of reasonable weight size in one hand, stand away from a sturdy pole, cable machine, or squat rack. Grip the pole firmly for support at arm's length and shoulder height.
  2. With the arm grasping the dumbbell farthest away from the pole, keep your arm straight and palm facing you.
  3. Position your feet at the base of the pole and lean outwards. Your feet should be beneath the hand gripping the pole. The arm holding the dumbbell should hang straight down.
  4. Hold your form and flex your elbow into a slight bend. Inhale and as you exhale, lift the arm holding the dumbbell upwards and outwards without straining too far.
  5. Your arm should be at shoulder height or a bit above that level. Hold this position for two seconds and inhale as you drop your arms back to the starting position.
  6. That is one repetition. Repeat for as many times in a set (which is often 10-15 for each set). Switch arms and do the same for the other side.

Tips to Hold Form

  • Always ensure that you raise the arm with the dumbbell to a 90-degree angle parallel to the floor. This helps the isolated muscles to make the most of the contraction.
  • It is important to choose a manageable weight as resistance. This will help to focus more on your form while also avoiding injuries to the muscles. Picking a suitably weighted dumbbell would also enable you to squeeze in as many reps as possible without wearing your muscles out and reaching failure too soon.
  • Avoid swinging the dumbbell out and away from the body. This is poor form as it does not target and engage the proper muscles. Swinging the dumbbells would not work on your shoulders and instead, engage totally different muscle groups.
  • Remember to brace yourself as holding form is very essential to the muscles. Keep your back neutral and avoid bending at the hips or at the knees to get the best possible results.
  • The point of the leaning lateral raise is not to raise the dumbbell but to extend the arm, taking the dumbbell as far away from your body as possible. This might look to be the same movement, but the latter isolates all the shoulder muscles, including the traps.
  • Remember to keep your core engaged.
  • Avoid maxing out too early. While it might look like a good idea to get as many reps in as possible, it is important to rest in-between sets. This would help you focus on keeping form and ensuring that you do not strain or tear a muscle.
  • The leaning lateral raise is a more challenging exercise that requires arm and shoulder strength. This makes it important to warm up before starting. It might be a good idea to begin with both light-weight and  free-weight shoulder workouts
  • If you suffer from preexisting muscle injuries, focus on small weights if at all you need to do the leaning lateral raise.

Before engaging in leaning lateral raises- or any shoulder exercise at all it is imperative to perform stretches. 

There are various shoulder stretches that help to keep the shoulders in check, and you can practice these stretches as stand-alone exercises or as part of a workout routine.

Switching Up the Leaning Lateral Raise

The leaning lateral raise can be made a more challenging exercise by changing the angle of your body, mainly the torso. This would provide a wider angle for arm rotation and improve the activation of the delts, traps, triceps, and other muscles involved in the movement. Many bodybuilders often drop the lighter weights for heavier dumbbells in order to help contract the arm muscles faster and provide shredded shoulders. This is only advisable for individuals who have gained sufficient shoulder and upper body strength.

It is important to note that increasing the weight of the dumbbells used will shift the weight load from the lateral deltoid muscle and focus more on the trapezius. This is not a deterrent, but heavier weights will simply not target all shoulder muscles equally. Doing this will isolate some muscles more than others.

Unless practiced with a personal trainer, use dumbbells for the exercise.

Kettlebells have thicker handles and hence might improve grip strength, but their weight is not as evenly distributed as the dumbbell.

When using kettlebells, your body would need to adjust its stability as kettlebells have a different centre of gravity. Other variations might include front raise and the use of resistance bands.

It is important to keep the shoulders in good shape, as it is an intricate joint.

Because of this complexity, it is extremely easy to suffer shoulder injuries and muscle burn. One of the most common shoulder muscles to suffer injuries is the rotator cuff.

Because the rotator cuffs are an important part of other gym exercises, it is important to keep them strong. To do this, simply  engage in rotator cuff exercises. 

Coupled with other deltoid exercises for stacked shoulders, the leaning lateral raise exercise is the perfect addition to your shoulders and upper body exercise routine.