How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises


The dumbbell lateral raise is a highly effective exercise for targeting and sculpting the shoulder muscles. Shoulder exercises play a crucial role in strength training and overall fitness due to the significance of shoulder muscles in everyday movements. The shoulders are a complex joint made up of multiple muscle groups, including the deltoids, which are primarily responsible for most arm movements.

Introducing dumbbell lateral raises as an effective isolation exercise specifically targets the deltoid muscles. This exercise isolates the lateral or side head of the deltoids, helping to increase shoulder stability, strength, and overall aesthetics. Focusing on the lateral deltoid helps in achieving that coveted 'capped' shoulder look, which is visually appealing and enhances upper body strength. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the key benefits, proper form and technique, variations, and tips to maximize your gains with this exercise. Get ready to develop strong, well-defined shoulders that turn heads!

Dumbbell Lateral Raises Muscles Worked 

Dumbbell Lateral Raises Muscles Worked


Dumbbell lateral raises are an excellent isolation exercise that primarily targets the lateral head of the deltoid muscles. These muscles are located on the sides of the shoulders and are responsible for shoulder width and lateral definition. When performing lateral raises, the movement involves lifting the dumbbells out to the sides until they reach shoulder level or just slightly above. This action specifically engages the lateral deltoids.

In addition to the lateral deltoids, other muscles play a secondary but crucial role. The trapezius muscles, which are broad muscles covering the upper back and extending to the neck, get involved in stabilizing the shoulder blades. They help maintain the shoulders in the proper position during the lateral raise movement.

The serratus anterior, a muscle located on the side of the chest under the armpits, is also activated during dumbbell lateral raises. It assists in the upward movement of the arms, supporting the motion by stabilizing the shoulder blades, especially as the arms are raised.

The combined effort of these muscles not only targets the lateral deltoids for aesthetics but also contributes to overall shoulder strength, stability, and injury prevention. This exercise is valuable for building well-rounded shoulder strength and aesthetics while supporting healthy shoulder movement patterns.

How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises 


To maximize the benefits of the dumbbell lateral raise and minimize the risk of injury, it's crucial to master the proper form and technique. Follow these steps:

  • Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body, and arms extended by your sides.
  • Maintain a slight bend in your elbows and engage your core for stability throughout the exercise.
  • Keeping your back straight and without leaning forward, exhale and simultaneously raise your arms to the sides until they are parallel to the floor.
  • Pause briefly at the top of the movement and focus on contracting the shoulder muscles.
  • Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.

Benefits of Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Dumbbell lateral raises are a highly effective exercise that primarily targets the lateral deltoids, which are the muscles on the sides of your shoulders. Incorporating dumbbell lateral raises into your workout routine can offer a range of benefits.

Shoulder Muscle Development: Dumbbell lateral raises specifically target the lateral deltoids, helping to isolate and strengthen these muscles. Well-developed deltoids contribute to better shoulder stability, posture, and overall upper body strength.

Shoulder Muscle

Shoulder Width and Definition: Lateral raises can enhance the width and definition of your shoulders, creating the sought-after "V" shape that many individuals desire. They help to sculpt the outer portion of your shoulders, giving them a broader and more visually appealing appearance.

Balanced Shoulder Development: By targeting the lateral deltoids, dumbbell lateral raises can help balance out your shoulder development. This is particularly important if your front deltoids (anterior deltoids) are overdeveloped compared to your lateral and rear deltoids. Achieving a balanced shoulder development can improve your posture and reduce the risk of muscle imbalances and injuries.

Improved Shoulder Functionality: Strong lateral deltoids contribute to improved shoulder stability and mobility. This can be beneficial in various activities and sports that involve overhead movements, such as throwing, swinging, or lifting.

man dumbbell lateral raises

Postural Benefits: Developing strong lateral deltoids can help counteract the effects of rounded shoulders and poor posture. By strengthening the muscles responsible for pulling your shoulders back and down, dumbbell lateral raises can promote better posture and reduce the risk of shoulder and upper back pain.

Versatility and Convenience: Dumbbell lateral raises can be performed with a wide range of dumbbell weights, making them accessible to individuals of different fitness levels. Additionally, dumbbells are widely available and can be used in various settings, including gyms, home workouts, or outdoor training sessions.

5 Dumbbell Lateral Raise Variations

Once you have mastered the basic dumbbell lateral raise, you can add variety to your shoulder workout routine by incorporating different variations and progressions.

1.Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  1. Sit upright on a weight bench or chair with your feet flat and core engaged.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm's length next to your sides with palms facing inwards. Keep a slight bend in the elbows.
  3. Keeping your torso stationary, raise the dumbbells out laterally until your arms are parallel to the floor. Focus on lifting with your shoulders, not your arms.
  4. Pause for a brief squeeze at the top of the movement when your arms are parallel to the floor.
  5. With a controlled motion, lower the dumbbells back to the starting position by retracing the arc until your arms are extended towards the floor.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Avoid swinging or using momentum.
  7. Keep your core braced throughout and don't lean back as you raise the weights.
  8. Your shoulders should do the lifting, not your arms. Think of leading the movement with your elbows.
  9. Don't raise the dumbbells above parallel to avoid impingement.
  10. Exhale as you raise the weights, inhale as you lower them.

2.Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Incline Dumbbell Lateral Raise
  1. Set an adjustable bench to about a 30-45 degree incline and lie back on it.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and extend your arms towards the ceiling, keeping a slight bend in the elbows. This is the starting position.
  3. With your palms facing inwards, raise the dumbbells out laterally until your arms are parallel with the floor.
  4. Focus on leading the movement by raising your elbows out to the sides. The dumbbells should only move in an arc.
  5. Pause and squeeze your deltoids when your arms reach parallel with the floor.
  6. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position by retracing the arc motion.
  7. Avoid swinging or using momentum. Use controlled movements.Keep your core braced and don't arch your back excessively.
  8. Make sure to raise no higher than parallel to prevent impingement.Exhale as you raise the weights, inhale as you lower them.
  9. Complete all reps on one side before switching.
  10. Use lighter weights and higher reps (10-15) to focus on the squeeze.

3.Cable Lateral Raise

Cable Lateral Raise
  1. Set up a low cable pulley on each side of a cable crossover machine. Attach D-handles or rope attachments.
  2. Grab a D-handle in each hand and stand in the center of the cables with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. With a slight bend in the elbows, extend your arms out in front of you at shoulder height to start. Engage your core.
  4. Initiate the movement by laterally raising your arms out to the sides until they are parallel with the floor.
  5. Focus on raising with your shoulder muscles, not your arms. Lead the movement with your elbows.
  6. Squeeze your deltoids at the top of the movement when your arms are parallel.
  7. With a controlled motion, bring your arms back to the starting center position.
  8. Ensure your body remains stationary and avoid leaning or swaying during the movement.
  9. Don't raise your hands above parallel to prevent impingement.
  10. Use an overhand (pronated) grip on the handles for better lat engagement.
  11. Exhale as you raise out, inhale as you return to center.
  12. Use a reasonable weight that allows 10-15 controlled reps.

4.Superset with Front Raises

Alternate between dumbbell lateral raises and dumbbell front raises, targeting both the lateral and anterior deltoids for a well-rounded shoulder workout.

5.Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise 

Leaning Dumbbell Lateral Raise


Holding a dumbbell in one hand, grasp a pole, cable machine, or anything stable with your free hand. Position both feet under the hand with which you are grasping the pole and lean out to the side holding the dumbbell, allowing the dumbbell to hang straight down. Flex your hips slightly so that you are leaning a little forward.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise Alternatives

1.Resistance Band Lateral Raise 

Resistance Band Lateral Raise

Loop a resistance band under your feet or anchor it to a sturdy structure, holding the other end in each hand. Mimic the motion of a lateral raise using the resistance band for added resistance.

Plate Lateral Raise: Hold a weight plate in each hand and raise them out to the sides. This exercise adds resistance and can be an effective alternative.

2.Front Dumbbell Raise


While this targets the front deltoids, it also engages the lateral deltoids to a certain extent. It's a good complementary exercise.

3.Dumbbell Upright Row

Dumbbell Upright Row


When performed correctly, upright rows also engage the lateral deltoids along with the traps and other muscles.

4.Reverse Fly

Reverse Fly


Using dumbbells, perform reverse fly by bending forward and lifting the weights out to the sides. This exercise focuses on the rear deltoids but also involves the lateral deltoids.

Experiment with these exercises to find the best alternatives that suit your preferences, comfort, and overall fitness goals. Always ensure proper form and controlled movements to effectively engage the lateral deltoids. 

Tips for Optimal Results

To optimize your dumbbell lateral raise workouts and achieve remarkable results, consider the following tips:

Start with lighter weights and focus on mastering the proper form before gradually increasing the load.

Maintain a controlled tempo throughout the exercise, emphasizing the mind-muscle connection with each repetition.

Avoid using momentum or swinging your body to lift the weights, as this reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and increases the risk of injury.

Incorporate the dumbbell lateral raise into your shoulder workout routine 2-3 times per week, allowing for adequate rest and recovery between sessions.

Combine the dumbbell lateral raise with other shoulder exercises, such as overhead presses and upright rows, to target all aspects of the shoulder muscles.

Listen to your body and adjust the range of motion and resistance based on your comfort and fitness level.


The dumbbell lateral raise is a versatile exercise that can transform your shoulders, enhance your upper body strength, and improve your overall physique. By following the proper form, exploring variations, and implementing the tips provided in this guide, you'll be well on your way to mastering this exercise and achieving impressive results. Remember, consistency and patience are key. So, grab those dumbbells and start sculpting your dream shoulders today!


Q1:What are shoulder raises good for? 

  • Building broader, more defined shoulder caps
  • Improving overhead pressing strength and stability
  • Enhancing shoulder mobility and range of motion
  • Reinforcing good posture by strengthening supporting muscles
  • Achieving more balanced upper body development

Q2:Why are shoulder raises so hard? 

  • Small muscle groups - The deltoids are relatively small muscles compared to larger ones like the chest/back. Small muscles fatigue quicker.
  • Leverage disadvantage - With arms extended outwards, there is a long lever that the delts have to work against, especially at the top portion.
  • Strict form required - Any swinging or cheating with momentum takes tension off the delts, making the exercise less effective.
  • Limited exercise - Many people neglect direct delt work, so the muscles are underdeveloped compared to others.
  • High reps - Shoulder raises are often done for higher rep ranges (10-15+) which is fatiguing on the small delts.

Q3:How heavy should shoulder raises be?

Lateral Raises:

  • Women: 5-12 lbs per dumbbell
  • Men: 10-25 lbs per dumbbell

Front Raises:

  • Women: 8-15 lbs per dumbbell
  • Men: 15-30 lbs per dumbbell

Q4: What muscles do dumbbell lateral raises target?

The primary muscle targeted by dumbbell lateral raises is the deltoid (shoulder) muscle, specifically the middle or lateral head. This exercise also engages the trapezius and rotator cuff muscles to a lesser degree.

Q5: What is the proper form for lateral raises?

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, a slight bend in the knees, and a neutral spine. Hold dumbbells at your sides with palms facing inward. Keeping arms straight but not locked out, raise the weights out to the sides until they reach shoulder height. Pause briefly then lower back to the starting position in a controlled motion.

Q6: How high should I raise the weights?

For optimal shoulder joint safety, avoid raising the weights higher than parallel to the floor. Raising them past this point can impinge the shoulder and increase injury risk.

Q7: What is a good rep range for lateral raises?

A common rep range is 10-15 reps for 2-4 sets. Higher reps with lighter weights allow you to maintain proper form. Lower reps with heavier weights increase shoulder strain.

Q8: Are lateral raises risky for shoulders?

When done with proper form and reasonable weight, lateral raises are a low-risk exercise for most people. However, those with existing shoulder issues should be cautious or avoid the movement altogether if painful.

Q9: Can I do lateral raises seated or standing?

Both are effective options. Seated can increase core engagement, while standing allows a greater range of motion. Choose the version that feels most comfortable for your body.

Q10: How often should I train lateral raises?

For most, training lateral raises 1-2 times per week allows sufficient recovery between sessions. Allow at least 2-3 days between intense delt workouts.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.