Premier Private Personal Trainer & Online Coach

14 Lateral Raise Alternatives For Defined Shoulders

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

lateral raise alternatives

Whether it’s an equipment issue or your desire to try new exercises, lateral raise alternatives are a great way to effectively train your shoulders.

Lateral raises are one of the most popular shoulder exercises for good reason.  They allow you to target specific parts of your shoulder with minimal to no wear and tear on your joints.

Today you’ll learn about the 14 most effective lateral raise alternatives to add to your training routine.

Lateral Raise Alternatives Using Dumbbells

Prone Incline Y Raises

An alternative to lateral raises that uses the same mechanics as the classic movement is performing Prone Incline Y Raises.

Set up a bench to almost 90%.  One or two notches below 90 will do the trick.

Put your knees on the bench and your chest against the upper portion of the bench and perform your lateral raise in this fashion.

Supporting your chest limits your ability to push your hips forward and arch your back to get the weight up.  

For most people, you’ll need to go slightly lighter on this lateral raise alternative.

Perform 3 sets of 12 - 15 reps.

Iso-Alternating Y Raises

Speaking of needing to go slightly lighter…you’ll need to the same with this exercise!

Setting up in the same position as your prone incline y raises, you’ll perform the same movement pattern but in an alternating fashion.

Start by raising both dumbbells up to shoulder level and then bring one dumbbell down to your side as you keep the other dumbbell elevated.  Once you get the first dumbbell back to the top, switch sides.

Perform 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps on each side.

Crescent Raises

One of the advantages of crescent raises compared to other lateral raise alternatives is that it puts your shoulders through a range of motion that normal lateral raises do not.

Most lateral raises will stop once you get to shoulder height, but that’s where crescent raises start!

Starting with your arms out to your side holding a pair of dumbbells, begin rotating the dumbbells to the ceiling until they are straight in the air and your palm are facing one another.

Perform 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps.

Sunrise Raises

Similar to crescent raises, you’ll be targeting the range of motion that normal lateral raises don’t target plus the area that it does!

Start in the normal lateral raise position and raise the dumbbells all the way over your head, as if you were mimicking a sunrise.

This movement is essentially a lateral raise + a crescent raise in one.

Because of that, you’ll need to go pretty light again!

Perform 3 sets of 15 - 20 reps.

Side Lying Lateral Raises

If you want to try a lateral raises alternative that is surprisingly difficult, try this one.

By lying on your side on a bench, you are making the angle tougher on your shoulders as you bring down the weight.

It’s just you and gravity so it’s your job to control the weight back down to the start.

Perform 3 sets of 8 - 10 reps on each side.

Lateral Raise Circles

Pair a main movement with this lateral raise alternative to really fatigue those shoulders.

Start by raising the dumbbells up to the end range of a lateral raise (or the start of a crescent raise, as described earlier).

From here, slowly start making circles in a clockwise fashion and then switch to counter clockwise.

This movement is brutal on the shoulders since you engaging your shoulders throughout the whole movement to keep it elevated.

Perform 3 sets of 20 reps (10 reps in each direction).

Shoulder Lateral Raise Triple Set

I say madness because this one is hard!

Not only are you going to do your classic lateral raise, but you’ll also be doing front raises AND bent over rear delt flys.

By doing all 3 exercises in one, you will target all 3 areas of your deltoid.

Since you’ll be doing a lot of reps, only 2 rounds is needed.

Perform 2 sets of 30 reps (10 reps at each position).

Posterior Flys

Most lateral raises alternatives will target your medial deltoid, aka the muscle right in the center of your shoulder.

To slightly tweak the angle, you can make your lateral raises target your rear delt.

That’s where posterior flys come in.

This is an amazing movement for your upper back and posture.

You’ll set up a bench at a 60 - 75% angle and raise the dumbbells to your side, while keeping your elbows locked out.

This movement pairs perfectly in a shoulder superset with another heavy, compound exercise.

Perform 3 sets of 15 - 20 reps.

Alternative To Dumbbell Lateral Raises

alternatives to lateral raises

Landmine Lateral Raises

One of my favorite, and most difficult, lateral raise variations is using the landmine attachment.

You can either put a barbell in a landmine attachment or in the corner of a wall for support.

Take an overhand grip on the end of the barbell and position the end of the bar in the middle of your body, close to your groin.

Instead of raising out like regular lateral raise, keep the barbell close to you and raise it as if you were pulling a sword out of your pocket.

Now the hard part begins.

Keeping your elbow locked out, slowly bring the bar back to the starting position.

It’s not easy!

Perform 3 sets of 6 - 8 reps on each side.

Plate Front Raises

An easy exercise to maneuver if you want to target your front deltoids is plate front raises.

Instead of holding two dumbbells, you will hold on plate with both hands.

Have the plate in front of you and raise it up to shoulder level.

Most of my clients use between a 10 - 25 pound plate when doing this exercise.

Perform 3 sets of 15 - 20 reps.

Lateral Raises Alternatives Using Bands

Band Lateral Raises

If you want to perform the classic dumbbell lateral raise but with bands, this is the movement for you.

Stand on the middle of the band for support and then bring the band handles up to shoulder level, as if they were dumbbells.

The top end range will be tougher with bands since it’s going to be pulling you back because of the resistance.

Perform 3 sets of 12 - 15 reps.

Lateral Raise 21's

Not all lateral raises have to use dumbbells.  Mix in bands and cables to give your shoulders a new challenge.

This 21 rep challenge will really test your shoulders.

Using one band (or cable), start by performing 7 reps from the top to half way, 7 reps from the bottom to half way, and then 7 full reps.   Add those 3 together and you get 21 reps!

Similar to the high rep dumbbell movement from the earlier section, only 2 rounds is needed here.  This exercise goes well at the end of a chest and shoulder workout.

Perform 2 sets of 21 reps.

X Band Lateral Raises

You can also perform lateral raises with a pull-up band.  Just make sure it’s light enough because these burn!

Start by crossing the band and creating the x.

Put your palm into the band and make a fist.

Next you’ll pull the band apart as you flare your elbows up until the band is level with your shoulders.

As an added challenge, you can hold a pair of light dumbbells too.

Perform 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps.

Incline Band Overhead Raises

The last of the lateral raises alternatives will work your front deltoids, similar to how the plate front raises did.

Using a band or cable, I prefer cable, set up a bench a couple feet away from where the band or cable connections.

Grab the band or cable with an overhand grip and raise it overhead without too much elbow bend.

Control the weight back to the start for an effective shoulder pump.

Perform 3 sets of 10 - 12 reps.

Should I Avoid Lateral Raises? (FAQ)

Lateral raises are one of the safest and most effective ways to train your shoulders.

Most shoulder injuries in the gym come from overhead pressing so by limiting those movements and focusing on lateral raises and the different alternatives listed above, you will be working out in a smart way.

Lateral Raise Alternative Recap

Now you have 14 alternatives to lateral raises using dumbbells, cables, machines, and plates.  Try them out and see which ones you enjoy and feel good on your shoulders.  From there, mix them into your training to add a fun, unique twist to your workouts.