Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 5 Powerful Variations

Whether it be an actor, a model, or a fitness freak, the intensity of their fitness is measured by the bulk of muscles present around their shoulder. So, kickstart your journey with dumbbell lateral raises.1

Every other person present in the gym tries to build up their shoulders by using various machines currently.

Some are busy doing push-ups, and some spend time on the bench press machine and trying out the exercise variations, but the outcome doesn’t seem appealing.

This makes us think about whether the exercise being done is correct or not. Or the weight being used is sufficient or not? Or is getting the desired shoulder just a dream?

Dumbbell Lateral Raises: 5 Powerful Variations

This article will let you know all you need to know about that bulky shoulder, the correct use of exercises, lateral raise variations, accurate weight, and most importantly, the difference between the muscle groups you target before you head forward.

Let’s introduce you to one of the best bulky shoulders and triceps exercises: dumbbell lateral raise. 

If you want to build upper-body width, this is the exercise you should be doing. 

Let’s find out why:

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By MAD_Production on Shutterstock

Which Muscle is Worked with Dumbbell Lateral Raises?

Many people set rigorous workouts irrespective of the proper knowledge about the exercise. This usually results in shoulder pain or shoulder injury, which is very difficult to recover from.

It is essential to know what muscle we emphasize and what changes shall be caused while performing dumbbell lateral raises exercise. As this article is about dumbbell lateral raise, the primary muscle group working is the deltoid.

The deltoid muscle is a triangular shape muscle present on the anterior aspect of the shoulder. This muscle is around the shoulder joint and gives a classic round contour to the upper body.

The deltoid muscle has three heads, and each head serves a different function for a particular movement to take place.

The three heads of the deltoid, along with their actions are:

1. The Anterior Deltoid or The Anterior Head

This head is present on the anterior aspect of the shoulder. This primarily focuses on the flexion and internal rotation of the shoulder, this muscle assists the pectoral muscle while performing an exercise.

2. The Medial or Lateral Deltoid

This muscle head plays a very crucial role in elevating the arm against gravity. This head helps raise the arm laterally and will be the main target while performing lateral dumbbell raise.

3. The Posterior Deltoid or Posterior Head

This head lies posteriorly and plays a role in the extension of the shoulder. Along with that, it helps in the external rotation of the shoulder joints.

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Sjale on Shutterstock

Along with the deltoid muscles, various other back muscles also assist in the lateral raises. These are:

1. The Trapezius

Trapezius2 is a significant muscle of the upper back. It is a diamond-shaped muscle with multiple insertion sites, thus making it a multi-joint muscle.

This muscle acts as an anchor for the neck and supports them throughout. While performing dumbbell lateral raise, the trapezoid also gets worked upon.

2. The Latissmus Dorsi

This muscle is the back muscle almost covering the entire back. Its insertion is on the groove of the humerus. Thus each time a dumbbell lateral raise is performed, these muscles get contracted.

3. The Supraspinatus

This muscle acts as the prime mover for the dumbbell lateral raise. This muscle is also one of the crucial stabilizing muscles.

Its insertion reinforces the shoulder joint while performing any overhead movement like the lateral raise thus, preventing it from subluxation of the joint. The laxity of the supraspinatus muscle 3leads to the dislocation of the joint.

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How to Perform Dumbbell Lateral Raises?

When it comes to performing any lateral raises with or without dumbbells, various factors help determine the accuracy of the exercise, it is also known as lateral raise extension4.

The correct way of performing dumbbell lateral raises is as follows: 

  • Step 1: Stand tall and straight with an appropriate distance between the legs.
  • Step 2: Take the weight (e.g., dumbbell or weight bags around the wrist) in both your arms if working on both the upper arms simultaneously or you can work on one arm at a time as well.
  • Step 3: The weight should be neither too heavyweight nor too light.
  • Step 4: While holding any weight, the palm should face the body, and the weights should lie parallel to the floor.
  • Step 5: Now, keep your upper arms completely straight and start to raise the arm laterally (sideways). Slowly raise the arm to the level of the shoulder. The entire range of shoulder movement should not be performed. Raise the arm till they lie parallel to the floor.
  • Step 6: While performing a lateral raise, the elbow should not be bent excessively as it decreases the effectiveness of the exercise. Elbows slightly bent are preferable.
  • Step 7- Now, slowly lower the arms back to the starting position.

Important Note: 

Side lateral raises can be difficult even with relatively light weights. Therefore, if you are starting this exercise, take care of your weight. 

How To: Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise

What Should be the Ideal Weight for Dumbbell Lateral Raises?

To calculate the ideal weight, one must first calculate the repetition maximum, i.e., 1RM and 10RM. These are the maximum weights one can lift for a single repetition and 10 repetitions, respectively.

Once you calculate the ideal weight, start with dumbbell lateral raises and then increase the weight gradually.

Start with lighter weights first, as too much weight can lead to shoulder muscle pain and even injury in some cases.

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

Common Mistakes 

Many people, despite having sound knowledge regarding the exercise do mistakes that can be harmful. Some standard errors are:

1. Bending the Elbow

While doing a lateral raise, the elbow joint should be straight. Many people tend to keep their arms at 90°, which is an incorrect position.

2. Raising Arms Above Shoulder Height

You should never raise your arms above the height of the shoulder as it decreases the effectiveness of the exercise, and the medial deltoid can not be worked upon.

3. Poor Posture

While doing a lateral raise, the position should be either sitting or standing. Poor posture can cause pain in the back muscles. If standing, stand tall and straight. If sitting, a slight bend is required.

A good posture and good form play a key role in performing the exercise.

4. Weights

Always start with a lighter weight, you can use lighter weights for the same. Lift heavier weights slowly only if you are comfortable with them.

Lateral Raise Variations

1. Bent-Over Lateral Raise

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By kmeds7 on Shutterstock

In this type of lateral raise along with the shoulders, the back muscles also gain strength. This exercise helps reduce excessive back fat and strengthen the back muscle.

Step 1- Sit on an inclined chair while supporting the chest. If standing, a slight bend forward and forming a 90° angle with the hip joint should do it.

Step 2- Hold the appropriate weight and follow the same steps while performing a dumbbell lateral raise.

2. Kettlebell Lateral Raise

In the kettlebell lateral raise, the weight is below the handles. The main muscles have to work extra to combat the gravitational force exerted upon them.

This particular exercise is used to increase the strength of the muscle around the shoulder with an intensity more significant than the lateral dumbbell raise.

The steps for performing this exercise are the same as the lateral dumbbell raise. The only difference is the type of weight used.

While performing this exercise, make sure that the weights don’t swing and are stable throughout. It is common for wrist movement to occur with the use of a kettlebell, this should be noted and avoided.

Lateral Raises with Kettlebells: Shoulder Training

3. Kneeling Lateral Raise

While performing a lateral raise using a dumbbell or any other type of weight, the body tends to swing forward and backward. This creates an unwanted momentum which affects the effectiveness of that exercise.

To avoid this, a variation called kneeling lateral raise is used.

Kneeling Lateral Raise

The steps to perform this exercise are as follows:

  • Step 1: Kneel and keep your spine erect. Use knee caps to prevent any unwanted stress on the knee joint.
  • Step 2: Appropriate distance between the knee is recommended.
  • Step 3: Carry on with lateral raises similar to any other one mentioned above.

You will notice that the swinging of the body is reduced. Once you gain control over this type of lateral raise, you can perform the same while standing.

4. Cable Lateral Raise

In a lateral cable raise, a cable machine that is anchored to the wall is used, which provides resistance and helps build stubborn muscles.

The position of the cable plays a crucial role and this can be used to perform an isolation exercise. To isolate the middle deltoid head and the posterior deltoid head, particular positioning of both arms is required.

Two Ways to Do Cable Lateral Raises

Usually, one arm is worked upon, and the other arm is kept stable, the cable can also be replaced with a resistance band.

5. Lateral Raise Hold

The lateral raise hold is a variation to spice up the standard lateral raise and make it challenging. It is a demanding variation and can sweat you out quickly.

Follow the steps to perform a lateral raise hold:

  • Step 1 – Stand in a position as mentioned for a regular dumbbell lateral raise.
  • Step 2- Perform an average lateral raise using both arms.
  • Step 3- Hold the position when the shoulders lie parallel to the floor.
  • Step 4- Now, keep the right arm fixed and bring down the left arm. Continue with the lateral raises of the left arm only.
  • Step 5- Switch the arm, i.e., hold the left arm parallel to the ground and perform lateral raises with the right arm.
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Benefits of Dumbbell Lateral Raise

  1. Performing lateral raises helps with poor form. It helps strengthen the back muscles, which reinforce the spine and make it erect.
  2. It helps in muscle building and stronger shoulders.
  3. The pectoral also gets activated while performing lateral raises.
  4. The core is kept tensed to avoid any unwanted momentum and prevent the swinging of the body. It helps tone the core muscles.
  5. The shoulder blades or the scapular movements take place, thus increasing the shoulder range of motion.

Caution: Things to Watch Out For

1. Sudden and sharp shoulder pain is an indicator of the wrong position or inappropriate weight.

2. Individuals with recent shoulder injuries should consult a physical therapist before performing any lateral raises.

3. The swinging of the body should be avoided at any cost.

4. Any pain, discomfort or constant tension while performing the lateral raise should be noted and checked immediately.

Final Tips

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Don’t use too heavy weights as they may compromise your form throughout the movement, leading you to swing or bounce when doing dumbbell lateral raises. It’s important to maintain your body steady and prevent lifting with momentum.

It’s preferable to perform more reps with a modest weight than to employ an excessively heavy load. You can move with more control if you use a lightweight. 

Bend your knees a little more or elevate your body somewhat if your low back has rounded. Draw your shoulder blades back and down to help balance your body. At the apex of the movement, squeeze them together.

Make a perpendicular route with your upper arm to your torso. This allows you to execute the exercise without activating your back muscles or latissimus dorsi.

Slightly bending your knees prevents hyperextension and makes it simpler to maintain a straight back.

Well, you are all set to do dumbbell lateral raises now. Don’t keep waiting and get your upper body perfectly shaped!

Read more from us here.


1. What can I do to make lateral lifts less difficult?

The simplest side lateral raise modification is to bend your elbows before performing the exercise. This modified bent-arm lateral raise “shortens the lever,” putting the weight closer to your torso throughout the movement.

2. What is the progression of lateral raises?

This is a straightforward protocol:

  • Perform 10 lateral lifts
  • Then 10 Arnold presses with the same weight. For the presses, the weight will feel light, but that is the goal.
  • After that, do 9 lifts and 9 presses in a row. Continue in this manner, dropping one rep at a time, until you reach one rep.

3. What are the advantages of lateral dumbbell raises?

This is a shoulder-strengthening exercise that tones your shoulder muscles and a portion of your upper back. The deltoid muscles and certain trapezius fibres are targeted by the lateral raise exercise.

Rear lateral raises improve appropriate posture and make everyday and athletic motions simpler, among other things.

4. What weight to go for with a lateral raise?

With some reliable dumbbells, you can perform a typical side lateral lift. Depending on your fitness level, aim for a weight of 2 to 10 pounds each.

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  1. Andersen, Lars L., et al. “Muscle activation and perceived loading during rehabilitation exercises: comparison of dumbbells and elastic resistance.” Physical therapy 90.4 (2010): 538-549. ↩︎
  2. Johnson, G., et al. “Anatomy and actions of the trapezius muscle.” Clinical biomechanics 9.1 (1994): 44-50. ↩︎
  3. Howell, STEPHEN M., et al. “Clarification of the role of the supraspinatus muscle in shoulder function.” JBJS 68.3 (1986): 398-404. ↩︎
  4. Coratella, Giuseppe, et al. “An electromyographic analysis of lateral raise variations and frontal raise in competitive bodybuilders.” International journal of environmental research and public health 17.17 (2020): 6015. ↩︎

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Diksha Jagwani

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