The Ultimate Guide to Lateral Raises: Tips, Variations, and Benefits

If you've been longing for broader and stronger shoulders, look no further than lateral raises. These exercises target the medial deltoids and can help you achieve those coveted cannonball shoulders. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various lateral raise variations, learn how to perform them correctly and understand the benefits they offer. So, let's dive in and discover how lateral raises can help you build stronger and more impressive shoulders.

Lateral Raises

Lateral Raise Variations

Lateral raises can be performed in various ways to target your medial deltoids effectively. Let's explore ten different variations of lateral raises that you can incorporate into your shoulder workout routine.

Cable Lateral Raise

When performing lateral raises with cables, you can maximize muscular fatigue by ensuring consistent tension throughout the range of motion. Unlike free weights, cables provide a smooth and even resistance curve. To perform this variation, set a cable attachment to knee height and execute the lift as you normally would.

Wall Press Lateral Raise

The wall presses lateral raise adds extra tension to both shoulders by simultaneously pressing one hand into the wall while performing a lateral raise with the other arm. This technique, known as irradiation, helps prevent cheating during the exercise. While performing this variation, maintain good posture, and focus on stability and controlled breathing.

Three-Way Lateral Raise

To target your medial deltoids from different angles, try the three-way lateral raise. By changing the direction in which you lift the dumbbells, you can ensure a more comprehensive workout for your shoulders. This variation challenges your muscles by altering the concentric and eccentric contractions with each rep.

Landmine Lateral Raise

The landmine lateral raise not only works your medial deltoids but also engages your core muscles for stability. By stabilizing the barbell fixed in a landmine position, you can also improve grip strength. Start with light weights and focus on slow and controlled movements to avoid compromising form.

Kneeling Lateral Raise

If you tend to swing during your sets, the kneeling lateral raise can help prevent unwanted body movements. By performing lateral raises from a kneeling position, you eliminate the use of momentum from the hips and ensure that your shoulders do the majority of the work.

Leaning Lateral Raise

By leaning to the side while performing lateral raises, you increase the range of motion and challenge your muscles even more. This variation requires tilting your torso towards the working arm, creating a longer and more difficult range of motion. Maintain control and perform the movement slowly to maximize time under tension.

Lateral Raise Hold

The lateral raise hold adds an isometric stimulus to your workout by pausing at the top of each repetition for up to three seconds. This variation increases the challenge and can even induce trembling, even with light weights. Although the weight used may be reduced, the hold provides an effective way to target your medial deltoids.

1.5 Rep Lateral Raise

The 1.5 rep lateral raise technique involves performing an additional half rep during each repetition. Start by lifting the weight to the top of your range of motion, then perform half of the eccentric portion, return to the top, and finally lower the weight fully. This method increases time under tension and challenges your control and strength.

Dead Stop Lateral Raise

With the dead stop lateral raise, you pause at the bottom of the lift instead of the top. Allow the weights to touch your hips or each other, fully stopping the momentum between each rep. This variation eliminates any pumping action and requires you to recreate the force needed without assistance from physics.

Y Raise

The Y raise variation primarily targets the middle deltoids and provides an excellent workout for the upper back. Set an adjustable bench to a low incline and lie prone on it. Raise your arms up and out to form a "Y" shape at the top. If you cannot raise your arms parallel to your torso, reduce the weight to maintain proper form.

How to Perform Lateral Raises

Performing lateral raises correctly is essential to maximize the benefits and prevent injuries. Follow these steps to ensure proper form and execution of lateral raises:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a pair of light dumbbells at your sides.
  • Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and maintain a tight posture throughout the exercise.
  • Keep your arms relatively straight with unlocked elbows.
  • Raise your shoulders, lifting your arms as if invisible strings were pulling them towards the ceiling.
  • Avoid elevating your shoulders towards your ears.
  • Once your arms are roughly parallel to the floor, lower them slowly under control.
  • Focus on the movement coming from your shoulders, not your upper traps or other body parts.

Remember to start with light weights and gradually increase as you become more comfortable with the exercise. Proper form and controlled movements are essential for effective lateral raises.

Optimizing Your Lateral Raise

To get the most out of your lateral raises, it's crucial to create and maintain tension in your muscles. Here are some tips to optimize your lateral raise workouts:

  • Increase tension by adding more reps or incorporating pauses at the top position.
  • Experiment with different body positions, such as tall kneeling, to challenge your muscles in new ways.
  • Manipulate the tempo by slowing down the lifting and lowering phases of each rep.
  • Perform the exercise unilaterally (one arm at a time) to engage your stabilizer muscles.
  • Add instability to your lateral raises, forcing your muscles to work harder to stabilize the movement.

When making changes to your training routine, alter one factor at a time to track what works best for your body. Aim to complete higher reps (12-20) for two to four sets when programming lateral raises. Include them towards the end of your workout, after finishing your compound exercises, to focus on isolating the shoulders.

Benefits of Lateral Raises

Lateral raises offer several benefits that make them a valuable addition to your shoulder workout routine. Here are a few reasons why you should consider incorporating lateral raises into your training:

Build Boulder Shoulders

While compound exercises like overhead presses can make your shoulders stronger, lateral raises specifically target the delts to help build size and mass. By stimulating your deltoids from different angles, you can achieve well-rounded growth and achieve those impressive boulder shoulders.

Move Laterally

Most training regimes focus on movements in the sagittal plane, neglecting lateral movement. Incorporating lateral raises helps train your body in the frontal plane, making it more resilient to injury and improving your overall movement efficiency. By training in different planes, you can enhance your strength and stability in loaded movements.

Improve Mental Focus

Lifting heavy weights can sometimes lead to ego-driven training, where the focus is solely on the numbers. However, lateral raises with lighter weights require you to tune into your body and perform each movement with intent. By practicing deliberate and controlled movements, you can develop mental discipline and improve your lifting technique.

Warming Up Your Shoulders

Although lateral raises typically involve light weights, it's important to warm up your shoulders properly to prevent injuries. While they can be a part of your warm-up routine, additional movements can help prepare your upper body for a shoulder workout. Consider incorporating the following exercises into your warm-up:

Band Pull Aparts: Perform 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions to activate your upper back muscles.

Banded Face Pulls: Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions to engage your rear delts and promote proper shoulder alignment.

Inchworm: Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions to warm up your entire body and stretch your hamstrings.

World's Greatest Stretch: Perform 3 sets of 6 repetitions per side to mobilize your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine.

Pushups to Side Plank: Do 3 sets of 6 repetitions per side to activate your core and stabilize your shoulders.

By incorporating these warm-up exercises, you can enhance shoulder mobility, activate key muscles, and prepare your body for an effective shoulder workout.


Lateral raises are a versatile exercise that can help you build stronger and more impressive shoulders. By incorporating the various lateral raise variations into your workout routine, optimizing your form, and understanding the benefits, you can achieve well-rounded shoulder development. Remember to warm up your shoulders properly before performing any exercises to ensure safety and prevent injuries. So, grab those dumbbells and start incorporating lateral raises into your training for the shoulders you've always wanted. Happy lifting!

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