How to do a dumbbell lateral raise

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Strengthen Your Shoulders and Define Those Delts!

Are you looking for a delt exercise to target your shoulder muscles and get those lateral deltoids and anterior deltoids in shape? I have been a women’s fitness expert and fitness competitor for more than 15 years, and as such, shapely delts are a must! They accentuate an hourglass figure and provide an incredible V taper. In order to get those, you need to hit your shoulders in the right way. Well, look no further than the Dumbbell Lateral Raise! This is a movement that I recommend to most all of my online fitness coaching clients at some point in our training. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced weight lifter, this exercise is perfect for you.

What Muscles Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises Target?

When it comes to the Dumbbell Lateral Raise, the spotlight is on your shoulder muscles, particularly the deltoids. These are the rounded muscles that cap the tops of your arms and play a key role in shoulder stability and movement. As you lift the dumbbells out to the sides, your lateral deltoids take the lead, working hard to raise your arms until they’re parallel to the floor.

This exercise also engages other important muscles like the Serratus Anterior, Supraspinatus, Middle, and Lower Trapezius. These muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing your shoulder blades, supporting the movement, and ensuring proper shoulder joint alignment.

Upper Body Anatomy Muscles
The dumbbell lateral raise mainly engages the deltoid heads, but also involves other supporting muscles.

What are the benefits of Dumbbell Lateral Raises?

Here’s the deal: The Dumbbell Lateral Raise is an isolation exercise designed to build strength and definition in your shoulder region. But I have also found personally and fot my clients that it is super functional. Think about it, for the movement you do in your daily life, strong shoulders are crucial for safely lifting objects.

By incorporating the Dumbbell Lateral Raise into your routine, you’ll not only build strong and defined shoulders but also improve shoulder stability and reduce the risk of upper body injuries. It’s a well-rounded exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at once, giving your shoulders the attention they deserve!

Dumbbell Lateral Raise
The dumbbell lateral raise is a simple, but effective shoulder builder!

How to Perform the Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Step-by-Step Guide

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells for sure. If you would prefer to do a seated version, then an exercise bench is handy. A seated lateral raise allows better isolation and keeps you from using upper body momentum to affect the movement.

1. Gear Up: Grab a pair of dumbbells. If you’re a beginner, start with a light weight. Shoot for 10 to 12 repetitions, and do one to three sets of exercises. A recommended starting weight for women is 5-pound dumbbells. Remember, don’t go too heavy at the beginning.

2. Find Your Stance: Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, keeping your back straight and feet flat on the floor. Let your arms hang down just in front of your hips while holding the dumbbells perpendicular to your hip plane. Your palms should face each other, and ensure you have a firm grip.

3. Get Ready: Brace your abdominal muscles, raise your chest upward, and maintain a neutral spine with a tight core.

4. Lift Off: Now, lift the weights upward to the sides, but remember to keep your elbows slightly bent. This reduces stress on your joints and ensures a safer movement.

5. Pause and Feel the Burn: When your arms are approximately parallel to the floor, pause for a moment and feel the contraction in your shoulders. Squeeze those muscles!

6. Lower with Control: Time to lower the dumbbells back to the starting position slowly. Exhale as you do this and maintain a controlled motion throughout.

7. Repeat and Get Strong: Keep up the good work! Repeat the exercise for the number of sets and repetitions specified in your workout program.

Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble stabilizing your body while standing, try the seated version of the Dumbbell Lateral Raise. Using a bench with back support allows for better isolation and prevents upper body momentum from affecting your movement.

Lateral Raises with Dumbbells 1
Lateral Raises with Dumbbells

Do dumbbell lateral raises work?

If you have been wondering if dumbbell lateral raises actually work, the answer is a resounding yes! They are an effective upper body exercise for targeting the deltoid muscles, particularly the middle (lateral) part of the deltoids. Here’s how they work and their benefits:

  1. Muscle Targeting: The primary muscle worked in dumbbell lateral raises is the lateral or middle part of the deltoid muscle. This exercise can help in shaping and strengthening this area of the shoulder.
  2. Range of Motion: The movement involves lifting the dumbbells away from the body in an arc, which provides a good range of motion for the shoulder joint, enhancing mobility and flexibility.
  3. Shoulder Stability and Strength: Regularly performing this exercise can improve shoulder stability and overall shoulder strength, which is beneficial for various upper body movements and sports.
  4. Posture and Aesthetics: Strengthening the shoulder muscles can contribute to better posture and an aesthetically balanced upper body.
  5. Versatility: This exercise can be performed with different variations (like seated, standing, or incline) and is suitable for various fitness levels. It can be integrated into shoulder, upper body, or full-body workout routines.
  6. Accessibility: It requires only dumbbells, making it accessible for those who work out at home or in a gym.

However, it’s important to perform the exercise with proper form to avoid injury and to ensure the targeted muscles are effectively engaged. It’s also crucial to balance your workouts with exercises targeting other shoulder parts and the overall upper body for balanced muscle development.

Who should avoid doing dumbbell lateral raises?

Dumbbell lateral raises, while beneficial for many, may not be suitable for everyone. Certain individuals should avoid or be cautious with this exercise, especially if they have:

  1. Shoulder Injuries or Conditions: Those with existing shoulder issues, such as impingement syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, or a history of shoulder dislocations, should avoid this exercise or consult with a healthcare provider before attempting it.
  2. Recent Surgery: Individuals who have recently undergone shoulder or upper body surgery should avoid this exercise until they have fully recovered and have been cleared by their healthcare professional.
  3. Joint Problems: People with chronic joint conditions like arthritis, particularly in the shoulder area, may find lateral raises too painful or damaging.
  4. Poor Technique or Lack of Experience: Beginners or those unfamiliar with proper weightlifting techniques should be cautious. Incorrect form can lead to strain or injury, particularly in the shoulder and neck area.
  5. Neck Pain or Issues: If you have chronic neck pain or conditions affecting the cervical spine, the strain of lifting weights laterally could exacerbate these issues.
  6. Overtraining or Muscle Imbalance: If you’ve been focusing heavily on your shoulders and neglecting other muscle groups, or if you’re experiencing signs of overtraining, it’s advisable to avoid adding more stress with lateral raises.

It’s always a good idea for individuals with any health concerns or those new to exercise to consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider before starting a new workout routine. They can provide personalized advice and alternatives that suit your specific needs and goals.

Should arms be straight or bent for lateral raises?

For lateral raises, the arms should be slightly bent rather than completely straight. This slight bend is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it helps to protect the elbow joints from strain. When the arms are completely straight, the elbows can hyperextend, leading to potential injury or discomfort. Secondly, a slight bend in the arms allows for better engagement and isolation of the deltoid muscles, which are the primary focus of this exercise. By maintaining a slight bend, you ensure that the movement is controlled and the stress is placed primarily on the shoulder muscles, rather than transferring it to the joints. This positioning not only enhances the effectiveness of the exercise but also reduces the risk of injury, making the exercise safer and more efficient.

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Research Findings and Support:

Based on the latest research in exercise physiology, it’s clear that dumbbell lateral raises are a significant exercise for targeting specific muscles in the shoulder area. The primary muscles worked in this exercise are the lateral deltoids, which are located on the side of the shoulder and are responsible for abducting, or moving the arm away from the center of the body. In addition to the lateral deltoids, synergistic muscle groups such as the anterior deltoid, the supraspinatus, and the trapezius muscles also play a role in assisting during the dumbbell lateral raise. The anterior deltoids are situated at the front of the shoulders, the supraspinatus is part of the rear deltoid and initiates the abduction movement, and the trapezius, which is responsible for shoulder elevation, extends from the neck to the base of the shoulders.

These findings are supported by an electromyographic analysis of lateral raise variations which examined muscle activation in different styles of lateral raises, highlighting the involvement of these muscle groups during the exercise​​. This research underscores the effectiveness of dumbbell lateral raises in engaging and strengthening the shoulder muscles, particularly the lateral deltoids, and their synergistic muscles, which are crucial for various upper body movements.

Scientific Research Sited:

  1. Coratella, Giuseppe, et al. “An Electromyographic Analysis of Lateral Raise Variations and Frontal Raise in Competitive Bodybuilders.” PubMed,
  2. Mercer, Lisa. “What Muscles Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises Work?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Updated 11 July 2019.
  3. Rodriguez-Ridao, David, et al. “Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 17, no. 19, 2020, p. 7339,
  4. Richardson, Emma, et al. “Role of the Kinetic Chain in Shoulder Rehabilitation: Does Incorporating the Trunk and Lower Limb into Shoulder Exercise Regimes Influence Shoulder Muscle Recruitment Patterns? Systematic Review of Electromyography Studies.” BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, vol. 6, no. 1, 2020,