Dumbbell Lateral Raise – Benefits, Variations & Workouts For Stronger Shoulders

This often overlooked isolation exercise can help you lift heavier weights and help CrossFitters with push-ups and handstands.

Dumbbells are compact, easy to carry, fairly inexpensive and can be utilized to work on nearly every muscle on the body. If you are looking to build stronger shoulders, then dumbbell lateral raise is an exercise to keep in mind.

The exercise can be performed by anyone regardless of level of fitness, since the weight of the dumbbell will be lower than usual due to the dumbbell lateral raise being an isolation movement that focuses solely on your shoulders (more on that later).

After reading this you will learn:

At the end, we have selected 6 workouts that incorporates dumbbell lateral raise into the training.

How To Do a Dumbbell Lateral Raise

In a stand up position, slightly bend your knees and hold a dumbbell in each hand with feet hip-distance apart. It is advisable to choose weights that are fairly easy for you to lift. For beginners, around 5 kilos is a good starting point.

Before starting the exercise, make sure you have enough space to raise your arms to each side of your body. Hold the dumbbells with palms facing your body, arms stretch down – the dumbbells should be almost touching your thighs.

Raise your arms simultaneously to each side, keeping your arms almost completely straight, until it reaches shoulder’s height. Lower the weights slowly and have dumbbells close to body. That is one rep.

Breathe in as you raise the weights and breathe out as you lower them and always keep your head straight.

Muscles Worked

The dumbbell lateral raise focuses solely on your shoulders. It is an isolation exercise, meaning it does not target many different muscles on your body to be able to perform the movement correctly. Because of that, it allows to engage specific, smaller and stubborn muscles that you would not otherwise.

The muscles worked are:

  • Lateral deltoid
  • Anterior deltoid
  • Posterior deltoid
  • Upper trap
  • Supraspinatus
  • Serratus anterior

Muscles along your ribs under your armpit (serratus anterior) contribute to the movement, though to a smaller degree.

Mistakes to Avoid

Even though the exercise is straight forward, it is easy to make a few mistakes. The biggest and easiest mistake you should avoid is to choose a heavy weight. If you can dumbbell press 18 kilos, for example, do not choose the same dumbbells to perform the dumbbell lateral raise. Heavier weights can lead to poor form and cause injuries.

It is important to activate the right muscles when doing the exercise, so do not swing the dumbbells when raising them. By swinging the dumbbells, you are probably activating your legs to create the momentum and the exercise stops focusing on your shoulders.

heavy weightsSource: Unsplash

Do not lift weights too high, as this will likely cause pain on your shoulders. This shifts the muscles worked to your upper traps and away from your deltoids, which is the primary target of the exercise.

While performing the dumbbell lateral raise, you must avoid dropping your head forward. This probably happens if you use too much weight. By keeping your head straight, chin up in the air and not tucked in, you make sure you are activating the right muscles of this exercise.

Variations of The Dumbbell Lateral Raise

If dumbbell lateral riase causes pain even with light weights, you can perform a scaption raise instead. This exercise is very similar, but you raise your arms at a 30-degree-angle instead of straight to your side. This small adjustment makes your shoulder joints less stressed.

Another option for people with discomfort doing the full range movement is to do partial side raise. This means that you perform about 50% of the movement, lifting your arms just about half way (below the nipple line). The lateral deltoids are still the main muscles worked in this variation.

Instead of lifting the dumbbells to your side, you can do it frontwards. It is called the front dumbbell raise. The preparation for the movement is exactly the same, but this time you raise your arms in front of your body. This exercise, in turn, will target different muscles on your shoulders.

Lastly, you can perform the bent-over lateral raise. To do this, hinge at the hips and bend over until your torso is parallel to the floor.

Keep your back straight with a dumbbell in each hand hanging down beneath your chest. Raise the weights to the side until your arms are parallel to the floor and slowly lower them back. This exercise shifts the focus from the lateral deltoid to the upper back and rear deltoids.

Benefits of dumbbell lateral raise

The dumbbell lateral raise will correct any imbalances you have on your shoulders. When performing a bench press with a barbell, for example, one arm might overpower the other arm when lifting. The dumbbell lateral raise does not have that problem as you utilize two dumbbells of the same weight for each arm.

A strong shoulder will lower your chances of injury in the area, as well as promote good posture and make your body more symmetrical and aligned. Bigger and rounder shoulders, allied with a strong back, is also synonym to a healthy upper body strength.

Usually compound workouts will have you utilize the rhomboids, trapezius and latissimus dorsi. By focusing on working out the lateral deltoids, you will have an extra advantage in everyday movement such as pushing, pulling and overhead movements.

For CrossFit athletes, a strong shoulder improves your stability when performing bench press, snatch and deadlift, for example, while also helping with handstands and push-ups.

Read more: 15 Unique Shoulder Exercises to Make You Look Good, Move Well and Build Strength



3 rounds without breaking of:

  • 30 Curls (2×25/15 lb)
  • 30 Strict Presses (2×25/15 lb)
  • 30 Lateral Raises (2×25/15 lb)
  • 30 Hammer Curls (2×25/15 lb)
  • 30 Upright Rows (2×25/15 lb)
  • 30 Push Presses (2×25/15 lb)
  • 30 Curls (2×25/15 lb)
  • 1 minute Rest

There is no time cap for this workout.

You are not allowed to let go of the dumbbells once you start the round. You can rest your body, but are not allowed to put the weights down or leave them on any surface. You may put the weights down only during your 1 minute rest between rounds.

Workout by Beaux Blackwood.

“(Gym)WOD #92”

5 rounds, 30 seconds each, of:

  • Dumbbell bench press, left
  • Dumbbell bench press, right
  • Bicep curl, left
  • Bicep curl, right
  • Bent over row, left
  • Bent over row, right
  • Lateral raise, left
  • Lateral raise, right

Rest 1 minute between rounds.

This workout is focused on form. The dumbbell lateral raise is performed one side at a time, which will engage your core more to keep your body stable and erect while performing the exercise.

Workout by Heather Black.

“Arm Killer”

2 rounds for reps in 40 minutes:

  • Tabata Curls (2×5/2.5 lb)
  • Tabata Strict Presses (2×5/2.5 lb)
  • Tabata Bent Over Rows (2×5/2.5 lb)
  • Tabata Side Lateral Raises (2×5/2.5 lb)
  • Tabata Front Lateral Raises (2×5/2.5 lb)

During rest, hold the weight in a static position.

With 10 tabata cycles, perform the prescribed movements in the order written. Tabata is a 20-second work and 10-second rest.

Static training will kill your arms, almost literally, as you will not have time to rest your arms at any moment.

Workout by Dan Bailey.

“Prison Friday”

Complete in any order:

  • Ring dips or fixed dips 5 times until failure
  • Barbell curls 5 times until failure
  • Dumbbell bent over rows 5 times until failure
  • 50 strict pull-ups or strict ring rows with feet on a bench
  • 10 rope climbs
  • Barbell skull crushers 5 times until failure
  • Dumbbell lateral raise 5 x 10
  • Dumbbell front raise 5 x 10

Workout by Hybrid Athletics.

”(Gym)WOD #116”

7 minute AMRAP

  • 15 curls
  • 15 fron raises
  • 15 overhead triceps extensions

7 minute AMRAP

  • 15 tricep kickbacks, each
  • 15 dumbbell bent over row, each
  • 15 shoulder press, each

7 minute AMRAP

  • 15 chest fly
  • 15 bench dips
  • 15 dumbbell lateral raise

1 minute rest between AMRAPs.

Workout by Heather Black.

“CrossFit Midtown”

3 rounds (for load)

  • 5 weighted pull-ups
  • 8 dumbbell lateral raises (1 second pause)

3 rounds for time (time cap: 16 minutes)

  • 800 meter run
  • Rest 2 minutes between rounds

Workout by CrossFit Midtown.

Improve your body and training with the DB Floor Press, DB Hammer Curl and Dumbbell Shrugs.

Image Sources

  • alora-griffiths-sAKQGX1Krs8-unsplash: Unsplash
  • Dumbbell woman in mirror: Unsplash

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