Lateral raises may not look like they’re doing much for your bod, but trust me — they do. They’re an essential shoulder exercise that will amp up your strength and stability in a big way. The move targets mainly your deltoids (the triangular muscles on top of your shoulders) and will create the kind of definition in your shoulders that will have you itching to wear strapless tops all year long. But you won’t reap the benefits of this move unless it’s done correctly.
Too often, I see people just swaying and swinging their dumbbells around, without any sort of structure or form. Not only is that not going to get you the results you want — it’s also putting at risk for injury. That’s why as a certified personal trainer, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about lateral raises, including how to them, technique, variations and more.
How to do dumbbell lateral raises
Stand with a dumbbell in each hand with arms by your sides, palms facing down and inward. Without bending your arms, raise them up and straight out to your sides until they’re shoulder-level. Lower the dumbbells back to starting position. That’s one rep.
Form tips: When you raise your arms, keep them at shoulder-level — and no higher. Do not lift them up to your ears. Be sure to keep your head above your tailbone, too, with no movement in your upper torso.
Reps/sets for best results: I recommend using two- to four-kilo weights for three sets of 8 to 12 reps. Be sure to take a 30- to 45-second rest in between sets.
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Benefits of the exercise
I can’t say this enough, but lateral raises are a prime shoulder move. It’s an isolation exercise, meaning that it’s extremely focused on a particular joint and group of muscles. In this case, it’s your shoulder joints and your deltoid muscles. Strengthening these can protect you from future injuries when you’re lifting — and score you toned shoulders at the same time.
Variations on dumbbell lateral raises
Do them with your thumbs up: Standard form for a lateral raise is with your palms facing down. But if you’re struggling with this form, try doing the move with your thumbs up. With this modification, you’ll find it’s easier to keep your shoulders down and focus on that stability.
Play with tempo: Try sneaking a three-second hold into your lateral raise before bringing your arms back down. This will build up your resistance and strength.
Try a front raise instead: This is basically the same thing as a lateral raise, except you’ll be bringing your arms up in front of you, rather than out to your sides. By doing so, you’ll target slightly different muscles to mix it up.
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How to add the move to your workout
Add it to your shoulder circuit: Dumbbell lateral raises aren’t meant to be a warm-up and should only be done after you’ve substantially worked out the other parts of your upper body. This helps ensure you’ll have the shoulder mobility to do the move correctly. Plus, lateral raises target smaller muscles, and I generally recommend starting with chest and back movements (since those are bigger muscles) to warm up first.
Personally, I usually put my lateral raises about three quarters of the way into my shoulder circuit. You’ll find that by warming up larger muscles first, it’s easier to focus on form, avoid injury, and reap all the benefits the lateral raise has to offer.