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July 26, 2022 11 min read

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. 

Exercises that isolate your shoulders can help maximize their muscle growth, so bodybuilders typically choose single-joint movements to get those boulder shoulders. Side lateral raises are one of those exercises that primarily target the shoulders and is a popular one in the gym. 

You likely won’t be using a heavy amount of weight, but pairing the lateral raise with light weights and high volume can help you achieve that desired beach bod.

Why are Isolation Exercises Important?

There are two main types of exercises: isolation and compound. Isolation means only one joint is used and one muscle group is targeted. You can probably guess that compound refers to targeting two muscle groups while using multiple joints. Each has the ability to help you build strength and muscle, but they also each serve their own purpose.  

Developing sculpted shoulders means putting the time and effort into the gym. It’s not just about how many hours you spend in the weight room but choosing the right exercises for what you’re trying to achieve.

Exercises like the overhead press can be beneficial for developing strength, but to really get that muscle growth, isolating a specific area of the body is important.  

The foundation ofa v-shaped torso starts with how broad and built your shoulders are. Side lateral raises help to achieve bigger and stronger shoulders by directly targeting one muscle group.

With compound exercises, multiple muscle groups are working at a time, so smaller muscles like the shoulders, could be overlooked by the bigger ones. This could lead to imbalances in the body and limited strength gains. 

The side lateral raise may not be as fun as a heavy bench press, but it can be equally important and can even help improve other pushing exercises.

Muscles Worked by the Side Lateral Raise

The side lateral raise primarily targets your shoulder muscles, but there are other supporting muscles that assist in the movement.

Deltoids

The deltoid muscle in the shoulder is made up of three parts or heads:

  • Anterior deltoids
  • Lateral deltoids
  • 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.Without these muscles, movement of the arm would be restricted and next to impossible.  

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

Anterior Deltoid

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.

Medial Deltoid

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.

Posterior 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 may be 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 in the Side Lateral Raise 

The side 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.  

Serratus Anterior 

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. 

Trapezius 

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. 

Core 

Chip in the activation of the core as stabilizer muscles, and you find that the side lateral raise gives you a bang for your buck. To keep your posture upright and help you back from arching, your core must be engaged. Your core muscles help to stabilize your body during this exercise to help ensure proper form and safety.

How To Do The Side Lateral Raise


The side lateral raise can be an easy routine, but it's 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. 

Benefits Of Side Lateral Raises

Before you add lateral raises to your workout routine, you might ask yourself, “Are lateral raises worth the try?”. While this is a pertinent question to your fitness, the benefits of the lateral raise may 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.
  • Injury Prevention: Since shoulder injuries have become a prevalent problem in sports, it makes sense to take steps that result in bulky but strong shoulders. 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. 

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. 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 can take your shoulders out of the necessary range of motion, over-stretching your shoulder muscles. When lifting the dumbbells, aim to reach your arms shoulder high.
  • Complete the range of motion: It's 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. Remember to keep a neutral spine and engage your core muscles. 
  • Don’t swing the weight: A common mistake made 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. Using momentum can take the pressure away from these muscles and, this can increase your chances of injury. Instead, lift the dumbbells with slow and controlled movements. 
  • Don’t round your shoulders: Rounding the shoulders is often a result of lifting too heavy. Instead, switch your weights for lighter ones if this is the problem and keep your gaze forward and neck relaxed throughout your exercise.
  • Take time to recover: Muscle growth depends on many factors 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 could delay muscle response. Take time to rest between each exercise and after each session, and load your system with adequate nutrients for muscle growth.

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. This is somewhat of a simpler version of the dumbbell lateral raise, but 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.
    • 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.
    • Slowly bring your arms down.

    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 facing the landmine machine. 
    • 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. 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.

    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.