Lateral raises have been around for as long as we can remember, made famous by bodybuilders looking to gain mounds of chiseled muscle on their shoulders. While more sport-specific movements like cleans, snatches, squats, and log presses are critical to performance as strength and power athletes, movements like the lateral raise can and should be used throughout one’s training to increase muscle hypertrophy, aid in blood flow to tissues, and even establish better joint actions and control.
Therefore, in this article we will discuss lateral raises, how to perform them correctly (as I have found most people, myself included, may have been doing them wrong), and what benefits we can expect on performance.
The lateral raise is a movement that can be classified as a shoulder exercise, one that is modified via different angles, ranges of motion, and loading. The below list is a group of smaller muscles that are targeted.
Deltoid (which includes the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoid muscles)
Trapezius (which includes the upper and middle trapezius muscles)
Lateral Raise Exercise Demo
The below video demonstrates how the lateral raise can be performed using just about any object (dumbbells, kettlebells, small weight plates, cables, etc). The degree of difficulty can be altered based upon the loading, tempo, range of motion, and even slight angular differences in the lateral (side raise).
Please note, that the importance of this movement is to isolate the deltoids. A moderate load with focused repetitions and movements that match the pennation angles of the deltoid and joint actions of the shoulder should be done to allow for maximal muscular activation and growth.
Benefits of the Lateral Raise
The lateral (side) raise exercise offers us more than just bigger, broader, and more defined slabs of muscle onto our frames. The below are three benefits that coaches and athletes can expect to gain from performing these in their accessory training, regardless of sport.
Lateral raises have been a staple movement for bodybuilders looking to add quality shoulder size and width to their frames, and rightfully so. The lateral raise is one of the few movements that can hit all heads of the deltoid, based on the slightest of angles taken during the lateral raise. Increasing shoulder size and growth (hypertrophy) is key to any strength, power, and fitness athlete as it allows the newly built muscle fibers to learn skills like force production, movement integrity, and how to contribute greater amounts of work to bigger lifts like presses and gymnastic movements.
Greater Control of Full Range of Motion
When looking at injury prevention and sound movement coordination/control, we must recognize the fact that lateral raises allow a lifter to promote loaded movement throughout a wide range of motion. By developing the ability to contract at varying speeds, promote force, and have the neurological awareness and proprioception to move the arms and shoulder joint throughout non-sagittal planes can help to diversify one’s fitness and increase injury resistance. Lateral raises, in combination with other angular movements (front, varied angles, etc) can be a great way to stimulate new movement coordination and awareness.
Correct Muscle Imbalances and Asymmetries
We may find that some muscle groups are lagging and need to be addressed, which can be difficult at times when the muscles that are failing are small and often masked by larger groups. By attacking the shoulders with specific movements like the lateral raise, we can itemize our shoulder training to increase muscle hypertrophy, control, and develop weaker groups that may be out-muscled by the upper pectorals and triceps during movements like the overhead strict press. Like lifters looking to gain greater leg size and quad muscles (who then go and perform leg extensions and/or belt squats), lateral raises can work in a similar fashion, just for the shoulders.
Check out these awesome shoulder workouts to gain mass and strength!