How To Do A Lateral Raise

By: Chris Freytag, CPT // April 21, 2022

A lateral raise is an upper-body move that uses dumbbells to help strengthen your shoulder muscles.  Shoulder strength is an important part of a well-rounded fitness program.

Not only do strong shoulders look amazing, but they are extremely important for everyday life. Think of how many things you lift up or push overhead.

Shoulder strength is part of functional training for a living. Learning how to do lateral raises will get you on track for stronger, sculpted shoulders.


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    Good Form

    It is crucial that you learn how to do lateral raises properly to avoid neck pain. Good form equals good results. Allow yourself to be a beginner and start with lighter weights with a good range of motion and work up to using heavier dumbbells.   

    Keep your shoulders away from your ears and avoid scrunching your neck and using your trapezius muscles instead of your shoulders. This will help you to avoid a pinched nerve or a sore neck. Maintain good posture. Relax your upper back and keep your shoulder blades pulled down. 

    Make sure to use a slow and controlled range of motion. Avoid swinging the dumbbells and using momentum, but instead be intentional and slow with the movement.

    Incorporate the lateral raise into your fitness routine or check out our workout: 7 Moves to Sculpt Your Back and Shoulders.

    Use the links below to quickly navigate this guide:

    How To Do Lateral Raises

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    Here are the steps to performing a lateral raise:

    1. Begin in a standing athletic position, feet a few inches apart and arms alongside body holding dumbbells.
    2. Keeping a slight bend in the elbow, lift your arms up to shoulder height. Your thumbs point slightly down, it should look like you are pouring out two jugs of water.  
    3. As you lower the weights, think about squeezing an orange under your armpits to engage the medial deltoids and avoid scrunching your neck.  

    What Muscles Do Lateral Raises Work?

    The lateral raise is a powerful move that strengthens and sculpts your shoulder muscles! More specifically, when doing a dumbbell lateral raise, you are targeting the top of the shoulder known as the medial deltoid. 

    To explain, you have three parts of the shoulder: 

    1. The anterior deltoids are your front shoulder muscles that help you move your arm forward. 
    2. Your rear deltoids are the back of the shoulder and used in many pulling motions. 
    3. And the medial deltoids, which you are working in the dumbbell lateral raise, help you lift overhead. 

    Benefits of Lateral Raise

    There are many reasons you should incorporate lateral raises into your workouts. Here are just a few:

    Strengthens Shoulders

    A lateral raise is a great upper body move! This exercise will strengthen your shoulder muscles focusing specifically on the medial deltoid, which is the part of the shoulder that can give it that beautiful shape and the freedom to lift your arms overhead for everyday activities. 

    Think about something as practical as reaching for something up high in a cabinet or hoisting a heavy box up on top of a shelf. 

    Strengthens Core

    A lateral raise focuses on your shoulders but for proper lifting technique, you need to pull your abs in and tighten your overall core in order to stand tall and steady.

    Improves Mental Focus

    In order to perform a truly good lateral raise, you need to focus on pulling the core in, lifting the arms without raising the shoulders, and keeping your body stable. 

    There is a lot to think about for best performance and this helps you keep your mental focus sharp.

    How Many Calories Does a Lateral Raise Burn?

    People often ask how many calories they are burning in their workouts. Most strength sessions will generally burn about 100 calories for every 10 -15 minutes if you are working at a higher intensity. 

    Bottom line – the harder you work, the more calories you burn. If you are challenging your muscles to fatigue and taking shorter breaks between reps and sets, you will get your heart rate up and burn more calories. 

    The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn throughout the day since muscle is a more metabolic tissue than body fat. 

    Lateral Raise Variations

    If you like the lateral raise and the results you get from it, here are a few more shoulder exercises you might want to try:

    Incorporating A Lateral Raise Into Your Workouts

    A lateral raise is a great exercise to practice any time on its own. However, you could also incorporate it into other workouts to mix them up. 

    Here are some ideas to make that happen.

    Use A Lateral Raise in an Upper Body Challenge

    Chris Freytag in white hat and tank doing a kickboxing punching motion for upper body day

    Love it or hate it, arm day works! Working all your upper body muscles can make for one intense training session. 

    Use this workout as your arm day challenge. You’ll sculpt and shape your upper body. 

    Arm Day Workout: Try each exercise below for the number of repetitions listed with just a few seconds in between to rest.

    Repeat the entire circuit one more time through. 

    Use Lateral Raises in Your Full Body Strength Workout

    Even though arm day is powerful, getting a full-body workout in one fell swoop is also a great idea. Not only do you make the most of your time, but you’ll also get your heart rate up. 

    Take one workout and get it all done at once. This next workout gets it all done and includes lateral raises as well as a bunch of other basic strength moves you’ll learn to love.

    Full-Body Strength Workout: Warm up for about 2-3 minutes then, do between 10-15 of each of the following moves:

    Use Lateral Raise in a HIIT Workout

    You can easily incorporate lateral raises into a HIIT workout that skyrockets the heart rate and targets the upper and lower body both! Check this out:

    HIIT Workout: Do each of the following moves for 30 seconds with no rest between moves. After completing all 4 moves, take a 30-second break and repeat. Go through the sequence 4 times.


    Repeat 3 times

    Here are more workouts you might enjoy that incorporate lateral raises:

    Like lateral training moves? Try a lateral lunge next!

    Exercise Form, Fitness, Upper Body Workouts

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    on Reply

    What is a good exercise that targets or works the area under the arm/bra area? Also, I have developed topper belly and I can't seem to get rid of it. I walk alot because I have arthritis in my knees and it hurts to do aerobics exercise and squats. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you, Maria Gresham

      on Reply

      Well - pushups would be good for that - start on your knees! Walking is great aerobic exercise and will help burn calories but remember - your diet is the most important thing when it comes to losing weight and reducing fat!!

    (This will help us personalize your experience so that you can get the best advice possible from us!)
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