Side Lateral Raise: How To Get Powerful Delts

It’s great having a set of impressive muscular arms, but it’s no good if you have underdeveloped, slouching shoulders carrying them. The side lateral raise is a tried and tested exercise that has been around for decades upon decades, designed to build strong, broad, toned shoulders.

Despite the simplicity of the exercise, it is, without doubt, extremely effective as it isolates the side delts.

However, simplicity doesn’t necessarily relate to ease.

Not when it comes to the dumbbell lateral raise.

Although all that is required is a pair of dumbbells, the weight of the dumbbells does not need to be heavy whatsoever, as this is the trap some people fall into when they first try the exercise.

What seems lightweight for the first three reps becomes massive from rep number 4 onwards, so be conservative when selecting a weight.

And this is the beauty of the exercise. The isolation of the side delts destroys them, so you don’t need to go heavy.

Dumbbell lateral raises fit nicely into a Push” style workout, where you work the chest, shoulders, and triceps, hitting them in one go then allowing recovery to occur.

Alternatively, they work well with a dedicated “Upper body” workout.

How Important Are Lateral Raises?

Side lateral raises are essential because they specifically target the side delts.

Many people have shoulder imbalances and different strength levels between the left and right shoulders, so the isolation aspect of the exercise is tremendous for addressing those issues.

Furthermore, the joint of the shoulder is highly vulnerable, so strengthening all three heads (anterior, medial, and posterior) is essential in keeping the joint healthy.

Including side lateral raises as part of a well-designed shoulder routine can help reduce the risk of injury and pain.

side lateral raise

How To Do the Side Lateral Raise

You can perform these at home or in the gym, and very little space is necessary.

  1. Stand up straight, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with arms at both sides and palms facing inward.
  2. Ensuring your back is straight, engage your core and simultaneously raise your arms out to shoulder height, so they are parallel with the floor.
  3. When you reach the top of the movement, momentarily pause and slowly bring your arms back down in a controlled manner.
  4. Do not use your traps to “shrug” the weight up. Focus on letting your delts do the work during the lateral raise.
  5. Do 10-12 reps with perfect form.

Select a weight that makes the last couple of repetitions challenging. You shouldn’t ever be breezing through them effortlessly.

If you are new to the lateral raise, opt for lightweight dumbbells or even use a resistance band if you prefer.

Once you feel confident that your form is good, you can increase the weight a little as the last thing you want is an injury.

Keep an Eye on Form

Have you ever seen that person in the gym who is swinging the weight up with everything they’ve got to make the rep?

Don’t be that person.

Swinging and arching, using momentum to carry you, is not beneficial for strengthening or growing the side delts.

You end up using every body part but the side delts to get the weight up, and then six months later, you wonder why your shoulders look the same and haven’t changed.

However, the primary concern about using poor form during the lateral raise is the increased risk of injury.

So relax, stick to a lighter weight and enjoy the exercise.

You are much more likely to see the desired results if you do this.

Leave Your Back Out of It

Let’s be honest; side lateral raises are not the most challenging exercise in the world to perform, so why do so many people do them incorrectly?

They use too much weight, that’s why.

When you use a weight that is too heavy – especially during an exercise like this where the muscle is isolated – you end up not using the correct muscles to get the weight from A to B but instead depend on other muscles to do the work for them.

If you assess someone doing side lateral raises incorrectly, you will become aware that they notoriously rely on their upper back to complete the repetition.

A common mistake is watching someone shrug their shoulders in desperation to get the dumbbells up.

So if you notice yourself shrugging, jerking, or swinging, then find a lower weight that allows you to complete the reps safely and effectively; otherwise, you are only kidding yourself.

Don’t Bring Your Arms Too High Up.

Proper form in this exercise means that your arms should come up no higher than parallel to the floor.

If they’re going above parallel to the floor, then you’ve got a problem.

The aim is to create as much stress and tension on the delts, and you achieve this when your arms are shoulder-height and nothing above.

Relax a Little

You don’t need to stand like a soldier when performing each rep.

Learn to relax a little by creating a minor bend in the knees and ever so slightly leaning forward.

The soldier stance (as I call it) means you’re creating stress on the deltoid’s front head (anterior) and not the side (lateral) as you should be.

Fancy Some Variety?

If you do want to go heavier, then I have just the perfect alternative side lateral raise for you:

Partial dumbbell side laterals.

If you do these correctly, I guarantee that this exercise will destroy your shoulders.

Watch the legend John Meadows explain how to perform the partial side raises effectively:

  1. Hold the dumbbells with arms down your sides, palms facing inward.
  2. Brace your core and lift the dumbbells to around 45 degrees only.
  3. Lower your arms back down slowly to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  4. Repeat for the optimum number of reps.

Helpful Tips

  1. Keep a slight bend in the elbows. Never allow the arms to lockout.
  2. Refrain from hoisting or shrugging the weight, even if you are using a heavier than usual weight compared to what you would do from doing traditional side lateral raises.
  3. Engage your core throughout.

Give Kettlebells a Try

If you get bored of using a resistance band or dumbbells, give kettlebells a try to make things more interesting.

If you’re new to kettlebells and have never used them before, then you’re in for a treat.

They are much more challenging than they may seem.

They offer a completely different feel than dumbbells. The reason is that the kettlebell’s weight is unequal, which makes the exercise much more challenging as the shoulders are being made to work independently throughout, with less cheating being allowed.

A Word of Warning

It’s not often you see injuries occur from side lateral raises; however, if you experience any discomfort or pain during the exercise, I suggest you stop immediately.

Many people alter their grip and bend their elbows a little, which helps reduce the pain, but if it continues, call it a day and go and get checked out by a physician to be safe.

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).