How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raise with Perfect Form

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In the past, the dumbbell lateral raise used to cause me a lot of trouble. It was only when I learned from my mistakes that it became one of the most effective shoulder exercises in my arsenal.

I created this post to help you avoid any mistakes you might make with the dumbbell lateral raise.

I spent a few days doing the research and backing up my tips with some scientific studies.

Below, I am sharing with you all the knowledge that helped me perfect my form. I hope it will help you perfect yours.

How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raise?

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand. Your arms should be slightly in front of your body and ready to move in the scapular plane

Keep your thumbs facing forward.

Stand tall and keep your body stable. Avoid rocking back and forth during the whole motion. If you do, you will take away the isolation part from the muscles you want to target, the middle delts. 

Keep your hips stable. Place your both feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-distance apart. 

Finally,  tuck your tailbone down. Brace your core. Try to roll your shoulders back and keep your spine straight throughout the whole motion. 

Make sure your neck is neutral. 

  1. Now lean slightly forward. This will help you target your middle delts more effectively. 

You should keep your elbows slightly bent. 

With control, lift the dumbbells out in wide arcs until your upper arms are almost parallel to the ground. Don’t go higher or behind your back. This will help you avoid some unnecessary strain put on your shoulder joints. 

Keep your wrists facing down throughout the move with your thumbs slightly higher than your pinkies. This will help you to externally rotate your shoulders. 

When you externally rotate your shoulders, you avoid tendons and connective tissues to rub against each other and pinch between the bones.

Try to avoid using momentum. Also, think about lifting your elbows rather than the weights. 

For better results, you should feel the burning sensation in your shoulders. 

At the end of the move your body should be in a T-shape. Hold that position for a second or two and then… 

  1. Lower the dumbbells with control.

Stop at a 15 degree angle to your sides to keep tension in your delts. 

  1. Repeat for more reps. 


  • Strong and Shredded Shoulders

Along with the shoulder press, lateral raise is arguably the best exercise for shaping your delts. It’s even better than bench press or dumbbell flyes. 

Although overhead press or bench press might be a better choice for building hypertrophy in your shoulders, you should not avoid lateral raises.

In fact, if you compensate for some constraints in weight load with volume, it’s still an exercise which will help your shoulders get shredded.

  • Great Isolation Move

While Lateral Raises will work to some extent on your front and back delts, it mainly isolates the middle delts. 

When performed regularly, this exercise will give your shoulders a better,  well-rounded and broader appearance. 

  • Unilateral Move

It’s a great unilateral move. You will work with two separate dumbbells. 

This will help you improve the weaknesses on both sides and bring both sides closer together in terms of strength. 

Unilateral moves are also great in engaging your core muscles.

  • V-Shape Physique Fasilitator

If you are looking for a V shape physique, you have to start with broadening your shoulders. 

As we discussed earlier, lateral raise will do exactly that. It will bulk up your mid delts!

One interesting study suggests that if you work intensively on your mid delts until exhaustion and then move to a bench press, you will benefit much more from the bench press. 

The lateral raise is a perfect exercise to achieve this. 

  • Shoulder Joints Stabilizer

Lateral raises are a great shoulder joint stabilizer because they engage the rotator cuff muscles. 

Strong rotator cuff will reduce the risk of injuries and improve the overall health of your shoulders. 

Obviously, it’s a good idea to combine dumbbell lateral raises with other shoulder workouts for maximum benefits. 

  • Performance Enhancement

If you are a swimmer or baseball player, you will benefit a lot from lateral raises. 

In addition, you will improve your posture. 

Since dumbbell lateral raises work on the posterior chain, you will strengthen your back. This will protect you against injuries and improve your performance in other lifts. 

Common Mistakes

If you want to improve your technique, it is always a good idea to workout in front of the mirror. Many people benefit from this.

Personally, I prefer to “feel” an exercise rather than “see” it so I don’t use mirrors in my home gym. They distract my attention from my body. 

  • Going Too Heavy 

Dumbbell Lateral Raise is an isolation move. By design, it targets a specific muscle group. 

Going too heavy might be risky to your upper body. It can recruit the wrong muscles and introduce some form errors, essentially making this a different motion. 

Contrary to the barbell press, this exercise will work both sides of your body independently (unilaterally).

I suggest you focus on high volume here rather than the load. This will help you protect your body against injuries. 

  • Pouring the Pitcher of Water  

You will hear this instruction very often. It simply means to move your thumbs lower than your pinkies. And indeed, it will shift more work to your middle delts.

At the same time, this move is an absolute rotator cuff killer. Avoid it at all costs. 

It’s an easy way to get injured and develop impingement issues over time. 

Instead, try to externally rotate your arm. Think about positioning your thumbs up and pinkies down. Do it slightly though. Overdoing it will change the muscles you target.

Additionally, try to lean forward a little bit. Remember to keep your spine straight though. You will achieve the same middle delts activation as if you were “pouring the pitcher of water”. 

When targeting middle delts, a rule of thumb is to position your arms in a way that your middle delts point directly to the ceiling. 

If you follow these tips, you will clear almost all dangers out of the lateral dumbbell raise. 

  • Using Too Much Momentum 

This goes hand in hand with going too heavy. 

In order to compensate for the heavy load, people use momentum. Jerking or swinging a weight up is a mistake in this exercise. 

First of all, you will not target the deltoid muscles effectively in this way. By bouncing or swinging you will involve more of your legs and torso, essentially taking away some of the load from your shoulders. 

As a result, hypertrophy will not be maximized. 

Secondly, if you use momentum, you take away some of the control you have over the weight. This is an easy way to cause injuries.

  • Loading Traps Muscles Too Much

There are two ways in which people shift the weight from their delts to trapezius muscles. Both are linked to using too heavy weights.  

First of all, when they drop their heads forward. In this way they would compensate for the fatigue of their shoulders. 

Secondly, when they initiate the move from shrugging their shoulders. They would usually do it when they go too quickly. Or when they focus more on the number of reps rather than the quality. 

Obviously, if your goal is shoulder hypertrophy, it’s important to avoid these mistakes. 

  • Keeping Your Elbows Straight 

Try to keep your elbows bent throughout the whole motion

If you keep your elbows straight, you put some unnecessary stress on your joints. 

  • Keeping Your Wrists Above Your Elbows

If you keep your wrists above your elbows, you start working on your front delts. 

In this exercise we want to target the lateral delts. 

Muscles Worked

  • Deltoids

Lateral raises primarily target the deltoids, specifically the middle delts. It’s probably the best isolation move to engage these muscles. 

The deltoids are located at the top of your shoulders and shape a triangle hence the name “delta”. 

They consist of three parts: front, middle and back delts. All these muscles are responsible for moving your arm in various directions. 

When you raise your arms sideways and pass a 10-15 degree angle, you engage all three delts. However, the middle delts work the most. Especially when you add some load to the move. 

You use your anterior deltoids when you walk and swing your arm back and forth. 

You also engage your front delts during the exercises such as the dumbbell bench press

The last part of the delts, the posterior deltoids are used when you want to pinch your shoulder blades. You would also engage your trapezius and rhomboids to support this move.  

  • Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff surrounds the shoulder joint. 

It plays a vital role in any arm movements, as it provides the full range of motion for your shoulders . 

It also helps to keep the shoulder joint stable. 

The main functions of the rotator cuff include abduction, medial and lateral rotation.

  • Triceps

The triceps is a muscle that runs along the back of your upper arm. 

It is an antagonistic muscle to your biceps. When you bend your arms, your biceps contract and your triceps relax. And vice versa. 

The main function of the triceps is to stabilize the arm and extend it at the elbow joint. 

In the dumbbell lateral raises you activate the triceps mostly when you slowly lower your arms back to your sides.

  • Trapezius

As I mentioned before, activating traps too much is something you want to avoid in lateral raises. 

If you go too heavy or lift your arms past the point where they are parallel to the ground, you will engage your traps more than your deltoids. This is not the aim of this exercise. 

However, this does not mean that you should completely ignore your traps. 

They are important muscles that help to stabilize and move your shoulder blades. 

You will find traps working in pretty much all arm and chest exercises.

  • Core

This should not come as a surprise. Your core is also involved in this exercise. 

When you perform lateral raises, you have to resist the tendency to lean back or forward, or to arch your spine. 

This requires you to engage your core muscles and keep your body in a neutral position. 

Your core muscles work as a stabilizer for your torso. 

Lateral Raise Variations 

  1. Lateral Raise with Resistance Band

One of the drawbacks of doing lateral raises with dumbbells is that they create more tension at the top of the movement and less at the bottom. 

This means that your muscles are not working as hard throughout the whole range of motion. 

A good way to overcome this problem is to use resistance bands instead of dumbbells. Resistance bands provide more consistent tension throughout the movement, making it a more balanced exercise. 

You can also combine resistance bands and dumbbells for an extra challenge, but resistance bands alone are a great option. 

To perform this exercise, you will need a resistance band with a loop or a handle. 

Stand on top of the middle of the band. Hold both ends at your sides. 

Slightly rotate your shoulders outwards so that your thumbs are pointing up and your pinkies are pointing down. 

Keep your elbows slightly bent. Then raise your arms to the sides until they are almost parallel to the ground. 

Finally slowly lower them back to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

  1. Front Raise

If you want to work on your anterior deltoids as well, a combination of front and lateral raises is a great choice. 

You can perform front raises in different ways to suit your preferences and goals. You can either lift both arms at the same time or alternate them. 

You can also change the direction of your palms as you raise your arms to target different parts of your shoulders. 

For example, you can face them forward, backward, or upwards. Another variation is to do this exercise while sitting. This can help you focus more on your upper body and less on your legs. 

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold a weight in each hand. 

Your palms should face each other and your arms should be by your sides. 

With your elbows slightly bent, lift both arms up until they are parallel to the floor.

Avoid going higher than your shoulders. Keep your thumbs facing each other and your wrists straight. 

Use your muscles and not momentum to lift the weights. 

Also, keep your core tight and your shoulders down. Pause for a second at the top. Then lower your arms back to the starting position. Repeat this for the desired number of reps.

  1. Seated Lateral Raise

When you choose the seated lateral raises, you take some stress off your legs and lower back. Also you prevent yourself from using momentum to lift the weights. This increases the isolation aspect for your shoulder muscles. 

The form is very similar to the standing version, but with some minor adjustments. 

Sit down and press your feet firmly into the floor. 

Straighten your spine, pull your shoulders back, and push your chest forward. Hold a weight in each hand. Then lift them up in a scapular motion. 

Keep your elbows slightly bent and do not raise your arms higher than parallel to the floor. 

Lower the weights slowly back to your sides. 

Make sure you don’t lean back or forward. This might be the sign that you are using momentum instead of your shoulder strength. 

What is your next move? 

Lateral Raises is a great exercise but you need more than that. Check out our latest article on best shoulder workouts to bulk up your muscles even further. 


Should I Keep My Arms Perpendicular to My Sides?

No, you should keep you hands in the scapular plane, slightly in front of your body. It’s the safest mode for your shoulders.

Can I Use Other Tools?

Yes, you can. You can work with the plates or kettlebells. However, dumbbells are probably the best equipment to do this exercise.

Why Should I Incorporate Lateral Raises into My Training?

Lateral raises are the best moves to shape your middles deltoids. They will help you form the V-shaped physique.

Also, bear in mind that the middle deltoids are the least exercised part of your shoulder. The majority of the moves engage the front delts.

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Robert is a fitness enthusiast who has been passionate about staying strong and healthy for most of his life. He loves writing about fitness topics and also manages a team of expert writers for his site, Home Athlete Zone. He has his own home gym where he works out almost every day.

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