Lateral Raise Exercise

Lateral Raise Exercise | Anatomical Analysis

If you’re looking to build up your shoulders, this is the exercise for you!


Which muscles will you strengthen in this exercise?

The shoulder muscle is made up of 3 heads – anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and posterior deltoid.

The primary muscle worked in the Lateral Raise exercise is the medial or middle deltoid.


This is achieved by lifting the arms to the sides. Lifting the arms to different directions will change the target muscles. For example – lifting the arms to the front will primarily work the anterior deltoids.


How to do the Lateral Raise Exercise –

1 – Choose a very manageable weight

You don’t want to overdo the weight here. It’s better to focus on good form and reps.

2 – Stand (or sit) straight with feet at shoulder width and hands down at your sides, palms facing in.

3 – Slowly lift your arms up to the sides until they are parallel to the floor.

4 – Pause and then slowly lower your arms back down to your sides.

5 – Aim for 8 to 12 reps.


Important Notes-

  1. Keep a neutral back and engaged core throughout the movement.
  2. Don’t allow momentum to do any of the work. Raise and lower the arms in a slow and controlled way. Swinging the arms up and down with momentum will likely engage different muscles, i.e., you will not gain the benefits of the lateral raise, namely built shoulders. Additionally, this mistake can increase your risk of shoulder injury.


Anatomy and Variations of the Lateral Raise

The posterior (back) and anterior (front) deltoids assist in abduction and stabilize the shoulder joint.

A scapular force couple is produced by the upper trapezius, lower trapezius and serratus anterior during upward rotation of the scapula with arm abduction.



Here we can see the rotator cuff muscle colored in brown.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles in the shoulder connecting the upper arm to the scapula. The rotator cuff provides stability to the shoulder.



See below two types of shoulder abduction:


On the Left – Shoulder abduction in the frontal plane.

This means that the arms are lifting up straight to the sides – directly in the middle of the body.

On the Right – Shoulder abduction in the scapular plane.

This is about 35 degrees forward in relation to the frontal plane – with the arms still to the side of the body, but also slightly in front of the body.

Abducting the shoulder in the scapular plane is a more natural movement and will generally allow for a greater range of motion and elevation of the arms.


Dumbbells or Resistance Band?

The lateral raise can be performed either with dumbbells or with a resistance band.

However, there is a biomechanical difference between working with weights and working with a band or cable.

The difference is in the direction of the resistance that resists the hand.

In working with a weight, the power always pulls down; therefore, maximal resistance of the weight is at the end of the movement (when the arm is 90 degrees from the body). At the beginning of the movement, when the arm is next to the body, the weight does not exert any rotational force on the arm.

In working with a cable, maximal resistance is at the beginning of the movement when the arm is close to the body (the angle between the cable and the arm is 90 degrees). At the end of the movement, resistance from the cable is low, and easiest for the exerciser.


Knowledge is Power

The shoulder is a complex and flexible joint.

We rely on our shoulders to move in many ways and support our day-to-day movements and functions.

The shoulder is also vulnerable to injury.

For these reasons, it is important to strengthen the shoulders but to do it correctly.

Small nuances in shoulder exercises can make a big difference.


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Target Muscles

+ Deltoid (Middle deltoid)


+ Supraspinatus

+ Anterior deltoid

+ Serratus anterior

+ Inferior fibers

+ Superior fibers

+ Supraspinatus


+ Erector Spinae

+ Abdominal muscles

+ Levator Scapulae

+ Wrist Extensors

+ Medial fibers

+ Superior fibers

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