Premier Private Personal Trainer & Online Coach

What Muscles Do Lateral Raises Work?

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


lateral raises muscles worked

If you’re curious about what muscles do lateral raises work, you’re in there right place.

Over the past year, I’ve changed my training style with clients after seeing many of them experiencing shoulder pain.  I’ve swapped out most overhead press movements for effective lateral raise variations.

Today you’ll learn what muscles are worked during lateral raises, how to do them properly, and I’ll answer a few of the most frequently asked questions.

What Muscles Do Lateral Raises Work When Performed Correctly?


Your shoulders are made up of 3 primary muscles, the anterior deltoid (front), medial deltoid (middle), and the posterior deltoid (rear).  A lateral raise effectively targets your middle deltoid.  This will help give your shoulders fullness and definition.

You can target different areas of your shoulders based on how you lift the dumbbell.  To focus in on your medial side deltoid, you want to make sure you are doing lateral raises correctly.

what does a dumbbell lateral raise work?

How To Do A Lateral Raise With Perfect Form


To feel the proper muscles worked for lateral raises, start with a light weight that you can do perfectly for 12 reps before you start increasing the weight.

 

  • Starting with the dumbbells at your side, put your feet into a staggered stance position so one foot is a few inches ahead of the other foot.

 

  • Hinge your upper body slightly forward by pushing your butt back.  Keep your back straight.

 

  • Keeping an overhand grip (palms facing down), lift the dumbbells up in what I like to call a wide Y formation.  The dumbbells aren’t going directly to your side.  Instead they are going in a Y position to better align your shoulders and target your medial deltoids.

 

  • Pause briefly at the top and control the weight back to the start.

To feel the proper muscles worked for lateral raises, start with a light weight that you can do perfectly for 12 reps before you start increasing the weight.

 

  • Starting with the dumbbells at your side, put your feet into a staggered stance position so one foot is a few inches ahead of the other foot.

 

  • Hinge your upper body slightly forward by pushing your butt back.  Keep your back straight.

 

  • Keeping an overhand grip (palms facing down), lift the dumbbells up in what I like to call a wide Y formation.  The dumbbells aren’t going directly to your side.  Instead they are going in a Y position to better align your shoulders and target your medial deltoids.

 

  • Pause briefly at the top and control the weight back to the start.

The 3 Best Lateral Raise Variations


There are multiple side lateral raise variations you can try muscles work best. Here are my 3 favorite:

Chest Supported Lateral Raise


You’ll be doing the same motion as your traditional lateral raise but you’ll have your chest supported on a bench.

This takes away the stability element that is required by your core during a lateral raise so you can focus on the movement.

Additionally, this variation makes it so you can’t cheat.  People tend to rock their body as they get tired during lateral raises.  You can’t do that with your chest on a bench.

Well you can but you’ll probably fall off the bench.

We don’t want that...

Iso-Alternating Chest Supported Lateral Raise


A harder variation than the previous example is this one.  Instead of lifting the weights at the same time, one will stay up and extended as you perform the lateral raise on the other side.

This adds an iso hold on each rep which will quickly fatigue your shoulders.

Also, I’ve noticed your core has to be involved so you don’t tip to one side as you do your lateral raise!

Cable / Band Lateral Raise


If you want to ditch the dumbbell lateral raises completely, opt for a band or cable.  

Instead of performing both arms at the same time, do all the prescribed reps on one side and then switch. 

There’s nothing special about this movement that will build more muscle than dumbbells.  Some people just prefer these and like how their shoulders feels.  I do a fun variation of lateral raise 21's that I learned from Joe DeFranco in the video

Frequently Asked Questions About Muscles Worked During Lateral Raises


Are Lateral Raises Worth Doing?


When you learn that the muscles being worked in lateral raises are the same muscles being worked in an overhead press except it’s a more joint friendly movement, it becomes a no brainer to add them into your workout routine.

Lateral raises are worth doing because they are a low risk, high reward exercise.  You are unlikely to hurt yourself doing a lateral raise versus what could happen with a more dangerous exercise like a barbell overhead press.

Do Lateral Raises Build Shoulders?


Lateral raises are an effective exercise that can help build shoulders.  When performed correctly and with a weight that is challenging, the medial deltoid can grow to build strong, defined, shoulders.

The main things to consider are to always to pick a weight that is challenging and to do all your reps with great form.

How Heavy Should I Lateral Raise?


The weight you use for lateral raises will depend on how strong you are and how many reps you are performing.

When first performing lateral raises, start with sets of 8 -  10 reps and find a weight that is challenging for that rep range.

If you start with 10 pounds and finish 10 reps and think to yourself, “I could have probably done 20 reps”, the weight is way too light and you need to increase it next round.

Always find a weight where you can MAYBE squeeze out 1 or 2 extra reps with perfect form.

What Do Lateral Raises Work Recap


You’ve learned that lateral raises work the medial deltoid of your shoulder.  It’s a low risk, high reward exercise that everyone should have in their program.

You can program them in an upper body workout like this one, a full body workout, or as part of a shoulder only day.  Perform 3 rounds of 8 - 10 reps and pick a weight that is hard for that given rep range.