How To Do Partial Side Laterals

Though similar to the standard dumbbell side lateral raise, partial side laterals are an alternative movement that isolates the lateral head of the deltoid muscle. Including partial side laterals into your workout regime may help you develop strong, impressive shoulders. 

The great thing about this exercise is that you don’t need to use heavy weight for it to be effective. Correction – you can’t use heavy weight as you abduct your arms only a few inches up, which places massive stress on the delts, making it nearly impossible to go heavy.

While there is no rule on when to train your shoulders, it is common and logical to incorporate them into an upper-body workout. 

However, I would encourage you to perform them after any compound exercise involving the shoulder, such as the shoulder press, incline dumbbell press, or push-ups. In doing so, you are “finishing them off”, so to speak, as the most challenging work has been done.

How To Do Partial Side Laterals Correctly

Performing partial side laterals is relatively easy. No large space is required; you need a set of dumbbells and enough space to raise your arms to each side partially, and you’re good to go.

  1. Stand upright, holding a dumbbell in each hand, ensuring your arms are at the sides, palms facing in. The feet should be hip-width apart and make a conscious effort to maintain correct posture. Look straight ahead, engage your core, and keep your shoulders back.
  2. Simultaneously raise your arms only a couple of inches to each side and pause momentarily. The whole point of the pause is to target the deltoids and disengage the trapezius muscle specifically.
  3. Lift the dumbbells up and out to each side no more than 6-8 inches, ensuring your arms are almost kept completely straight throughout, and breathe as you lift.
  4. Pause the lift and hold for a second at the top.
  5. Lower the weights slowly, bringing your arms back down to your sides, and breathe out as you lower the dumbbells.

The Benefits of Partial Side Laterals

Partial side laterals are an exercise that targets the deltoid muscles, more specifically the lateral head of the deltoid. Though they are not as common as the standard side lateral raise, they are one of the best exercises for directly isolating the lateral head of the delts.

The deltoid muscle group has three heads, each with its group of muscle fibers: the anterior deltoid, lateral deltoid, and posterior deltoid. They amalgamate together before inserting into the humerus (upper arm bone).

The exercise isn’t just beneficial for aesthetic reasons; it helps you develop stronger, protective shoulders, which can help resolve potential strength imbalances between your left and right sides, which is extremely common in trainers, and everyday people alike.

Furthermore, the shoulder joint is the least stable in the body and highly susceptible to injury; therefore, a strength training routine that effectively targets all three heads of the deltoid can help make the joint more healthy.

Partial side laterals check every box.

Common Mistakes

Partial side laterals aren’t rocket science, yet mistakes are common because free weights are involved.

For starters, never use too heavy dumbbells and always use solid form. Sloppy form and weight that is too heavy can lead to errors and injuries.

Using Too Much of Your Trapezius

Remember that the deltoids are what should be working during this movement, but when you use dumbbells that are too heavy, your body uses other muscles to assist you in lifting them.

The most likely muscle used is the traps (trapezius) on the upper back, and the way you can tell this is that you will become aware that you are shrugging your shoulders up at the beginning of the exercise to try and pull the dumbbells up.

Keep an eye out for any shrugging, and if you catch yourself doing it, opt for a lighter set of dumbbells.

Using Too Much Weight

You target a specific muscle group with partial side laterals because they are an isolation exercise. As such, it’s wise to choose a lighter weight than you otherwise would if you did an incline dumbbell press, for example.

Start with a lighter weight and increase as necessary. Again, too much heavy weight equals potential injuries.

Dropping Your Head Forward

You’ll likely drop your chin towards your chest if you’re using too much weight. It can also happen due to shoulder fatigue, too.

Once again, it’s essential to focus on your posture throughout the exercise. Your neck should be neutral, preventing neck strain and stimulating the deltoid’s lateral head.

Many people encounter the issue that they allow their trapezius to be in the driver’s seat, which causes their heads to drop forward.

Swinging the Dumbbells

When someone uses a pair of dumbbells too heavy, they use momentum to swing them upward.

However, this involves bouncing the knees and rocking the torso as they attempt to lift the weights to the sides.

You are not hitting the target muscle group as intended when you do this. Your aim should be to isolate the lateral head of the deltoid, yet instead, you use too much back and legs to lift the weight up.

Doing so prevents you from seeing the strength and muscle gains that you more than likely seek.

So, slow down, leave your ego at the door, and use a lighter weight to focus on form and achieve optimum results.

Final Thoughts

Partial side laterals, on the whole, are a safe movement; that said, if you encounter sharp pain, please stop the set. 

A good tip to prevent injury is not allowing your arms to go above a 90-degree angle during partial side laterals. Also, be mindful of choosing a challenging weight yet not too heavy to lift.

Remember this: the most common mistakes linked to this exercise are associated with using too much weight; however, it is an easy fix as all you need to do is select a lighter pair.

About the author

Chris Jones

I'm Chris. I have a vast interest in all things relating to health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition. I also love to improve my mindset and learn how to increase my productivity. If you'd like to say hello or ask me a question, please visit my contact page, and I'd be glad to hear from you. Alternatively, you can find me on Twitter (@liveliftlife).