How to Get Bigger Shoulders with the Lateral Raise

Lateral raises are a great shoulder-building exercise when a suitable weight is chosen

This post reveals dumbbell lateral raise weight standards to benchmark your performance

A respectable dumbbell lateral raise for the average male beginner is around 7% of body weight for a single repetition (both dumbbells combined)

Intermediates and advanced lifters should be able to lift around 37% and 60% (respectively) for 1 rep

The weight standards in this post will help you determine what is a respectable weight to be lifting based on your gender, body weight, and training experience

These lateral raise strength standards are based on my 5-year weight training experience

You may also be interested in my other post for the best dumbbell exercises for skinny guys to build muscle

How To Use These Weight StandardsBeginner Lateral Raise Weight StandardsIntermediate Lateral Raise Weight StandardsAdvanced Lateral Raise Weight StandardsHow Good Is Your Lateral Raise Vs Others?5 Reasons Why The Dumbbell Lateral Raise Is HardOther Weight Standards For Lateral Raise MusclesConclusion

How To Use These Weight Standards

Beginners have practiced the lateral raise for 1-12 months

Intermediates have practiced the lateral raise for 12-36 months

Advanced lifters have practiced the lateral raise for 4 years or more

1-rep max (1RM)- this is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for a single repetition

6-10 working reps- this is generally considered to be the ideal rep range for building muscle

Average lateral raise weight standards are revealed for common body weights

Male lateral raise standards are given

Females can use a 60% conversion (multiply the weight standard by 060)

4) Reading the charts:

Weight standards are given as lbs on the top and kg on the bottom

If you’re doing the lateral raise with dumbbells at or above the weight standard for your given training level, body weight, and gender, then you are lifting a respectable amount of weight

Beginner Lateral Raise Weight Standards

Here’s how much weight you should be lifting on the lateral raise with dumbells as a beginner:

Generally speaking, beginners should be able to lateral raise with dumbbells that weigh 5 to 10% of their body weight (both dumbbells combined) for a single repetition (1-rep max)

Intermediate Lateral Raise Weight Standards

Here’s how much weight you should be lifting on the lateral raise as an intermediate:

Generally speaking, intermediates should be able to lateral raise with dumbbells that weigh 35 to 40% of their body weight (both dumbbells combined) for a single repetition

Advanced Lateral Raise Weight Standards

Here’s how much weight you should be lifting on the lateral raise as an advanced lifter:

Generally speaking, advanced lifters should be able to lateral raise with dumbbells that weigh 50 to 70% (both dumbbells combined) of their body weight for a single repetition

How Good Is Your Lateral Raise Vs Others?

Here’s the average percentage of people who can do the dumbbell lateral raise a fraction of their own body weight:

Lateral Raise 1RM Weight (as a fraction of body weight)% Of People Who Can Do It010x96%020×84%030×67%040×49%050×33%060×21%070×13%080×7%090×4%100×2%Weights are for 2 dumbbells combined

To calculate your lateral raise as a fraction of your own body weight, simply divide the weight of your 1RM by your body weight

For example: if you weigh 150lbs and your 1RM is 100lbs, then you’re lifting 066x your body weight (50lbs ÷ 100lbs)

The above chart indicates:

This represents the lower quartile of lifters and is a respectable weight for beginners to achieve

This represents the median quartile of lifters and is a respectable weight for intermediates to achieve

25% of people can lateral raise with dumbbells 055x their body weight for 1 rep

25% of people can lateral raise with dumbbells 055x their body weight for 1 rep

25% of people can lateral raise with dumbbells 055x their body weight for 1 rep

This represents the upper quartile of lifters and is a respectable weight for advanced lifters

5 Reasons Why The Dumbbell Lateral Raise Is Hard

The lateral deltoids (primary target muscles in the lateral raise) are some of the most difficult muscles to build

Here are 5 common reasons why you may find it difficult to do the lateral raise using dumbbells, and why your strength standards are below average

These solutions can help to improve your lateral raise

Prevent internal rotation by holding the dumbbells slightly to the front to lift more weight on the lateral raise

For a better idea of what this looks like, you can hold your arm out towards the side (parallel to the ground) and rotate it towards the floor

The same discomfort occurs when you do the lateral raise with your arms too far out to your side, making the exercise difficult to perform and reducing your overall strength

Avoid the common mistake of performing the lateral raise with the dumbbells held to your side and traveling directly outwards (like a crucifix)

Instead, the dumbbells should be held slightly to your front, with your arms slightly bent at the elbows, and travel at a slight angle from your frontal plane

You can check out my other post for more details on how to choose the ideal dumbbell weight for arm and shoulder exercises

To maximize shoulder strength- perform the lateral raise with a full ROM and avoid partial reps

Range of motion (ROM) describes how far your dumbbells travel between their lowest and highest points in the exercise

Partial reps have a place for training strength in specific portions of the movement

But full reps are ideal if you are a beginner looking to build overall strength in the lateral raise and improve your weight standards

Perform the dumbbell lateral raise with a full ROM

A good cue to know when to stop the upward phase of the lateral raise is when your arms reach parallel to the ground (avoid going past this point)

To do this effectively, it helps break the conventional muscle-building rule of lifting heavy for low reps, and instead reduce dumbbell weight and work in a higher rep range of 10 to 15 reps per set

Switch to a seated dumbbell lateral raise to prevent cheat reps and to increase deltoid strength\

Another common form mistake made by beginners is to use body momentum to help you “swing” the dumbbells up

Cheating usually happens by using leg drive and opening the hips to create an upward rocking force that helps you to lift the dumbbell

Experienced lifters can use cheat reps to facilitate strength gains

But when newbies do it incorrectly, it can result in severely reduced deltoid activation from the lateral raise

As a beginner, avoid cheat reps if your goal is to increase deltoid strength from the lateral raise

The best way to do this is to simply perform the exercise seated on a weight bench

If you’re training at home, then an affordable midrange bench like this folding Flybird weight bench does the job

Performing the lateral raise with strict form should allow you to see the first signs of strength gain within a few weeks

The ideal lateral raise dumbbell weight should challenge you for 10-15 reps

Choosing the correct dumbbell weight matters a lot in the lateral raise

This is a small exercise targeting a very specific muscle- the lateral delts

As such, it’s not a good idea to load too heavy in a low rep range (as is usually recommended for bigger compound lifts like the shoulder press)

But it’s not good to lift dumbbells that are too light either

This is one of the stimuli required for muscle growth ad strength gains

As a beginner, start by doing the lateral raise using a manageable dumbbell weight that challenges you for the recommended 10 to 15 reps per set

When your current workload starts to become easy, you can apply progressive overload adding weight to your dumbbells in small increments

Increasing weight by 1-2lb increments is sufficient to build a stronger lateral raise

Now you can rinse, repeat, and work towards building your lateral raise to the strength standards given in this post!

5) Not performing a variety of shoulder exercises

Lateral raises utilize all 3 deltoid heads to different degrees

The shoulders comprise three deltoid heads- anterior (front), lateral (middle), and posterior (rear)

The problem with only performing lateral raises is that the exercise mainly works your lateral delts

But your anterior and posterior delts play a vital role in stabilizing the movement and allowing you to perform the lateral raise more effectively

Thus, weakness in the anterior and posterior delts can make the lateral raise more difficult and lead to strength standards that are below average

Train all three delts for balanced shoulder strength development

The lateral raise should be performed alongside other shoulder exercises as part of a balanced workout program:

Shoulder ExerciseDeltoid Heads WorkedShoulder pressAnterior, lateral, posteriorReverse flyPosteriorFront raiseAnteriorIncline bench pressAnteriorPull-upPosteriorRowPosterior

It’s a ready-to-go 3-day workout program that builds full-body muscle, including the shoulders!

Other Weight Standards For Lateral Raise Muscles

The dumbbell lateral raise is an isolation-type movement that primarily works the lateral delts in the shoulders

Here are weight standards for other exercises that hit similar muscles:

Shoulder press with dumbbells– vertical compound pushing exercise that works all 3 deltoid muscles

Reverse dumbbell fly– an isolation-type movement that focuses tension on the posterior deltoids

Incline dumbbell press– a compound chest movement that not only works the pecs, but also the anterior deltoids

Pull-ups– vertical compound pulling exercise that works all back muscles including the posterior deltoids

Dumbbell rows– horizontal pulling exercise that works all back muscles including the posterior deltoids

These dumbbell lateral raise weight standards help you to determine whether or not you are lifting a respectable amount of weight for your capabilities

Beginners should be able to do 1 rep using around 7% of their body weight (both dumbbells combined)

Intermediates should be able to lift approximately 37% of their body weight, and advanced lifters around 60%

If you’re lifting at or exceeding these strength standards, then you’re doing a good and respectable job

I’ve also shared common problems and solutions to a lateral raise strength that is below average

Fortunately, the lateral raise can be a very effective way to build the shoulders without attacking the joints

Beyond joint-friendly training, if you want to look great but haven’t added lateral raises into your workouts, two words should convince you otherwise: boulder shoulders

You can bench and overhead press all you want, but you still won’t see a set of broad, round, fully developed shoulders in the mirror

The lateral deltoid is underdeveloped in many lifters due to the lack of direct stimulation from many compound exercises

Add lateral raises to your program, and you’ll close the gap in developing well-rounded shoulders

How to Do the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The lateral raise seems simple enough

Grab hold of some dumbbells, raise them out to the side, lower them down, and repeat

Stand up straight with your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in each hand

Lean forward slightly and allow the weights to touch each other in front of your thighs

It also elicits a greater range of motion for the shoulder to move through, compared to keeping the weights at your sides

Step 2 — Raise to Shoulder-Level

Credit: Benoit Daoust / Shutterstock

Credit: Benoit Daoust / Shutterstock

Maintain a neutral grip (palms facing your body) and keep your elbows in a softly bent position

Initiate the raise by driving out and up through your elbows until your upper arm is parallel to the floor

As the weights come up, your hands should naturally rotate to point your palms towards the ground

Focus on moving your elbows to lift the weight, not leading with your hands

Keeping your arms in this alignment will better serve shoulder health while maintaining tension on the muscle

Credit: Motortion Films / Shutterstock

Maintain tightness through your core and lower body as you lower the weights along the same path

The dumbbells should end up in the starting position touching each other in front of your thighs

Lateral Raise Mistakes to Avoid

Lateral Raise Mistakes to Avoid

While the lateral raise may seem easy enough to perform, there are some important mistakes that must be avoided to prevent any unnecessary risk of injury

Lifting the Dumbbells Above Your Head

While lifting with a large range of motion can sometimes provide greater benefits in building muscle, in this case more is not better

Credit: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

Lifting your arms too high (bringing the upper arms well-above shoulder-level) can place you at risk of an impingement in the shoulder, which is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain

As you raise the dumbbells upwards, think about the barbell

Once your upper arm “touches” the bar, lower the weights down

Lifting Too Much Weight

A lot of gym-goers can be seen using a weight that is so heavy it forces them to use momentum to complete the lateral raise

Credit: Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock

This form of “cheating” will allow you to move more weight, but it also means that you lose a lot of the tension being placed on the target muscle

This goes against the objective of the exercise, which is to maximally recruit and stimulate the lateral deltoid

Use a weight that you can lift with control for at least six reps

In order to increase the activation of the lateral delt, many lifters dramatically rotate their wrists during each rep, tipping their thumbs towards the floor and their pinkies towards the ceiling (imagine pouring a glass of juice)

Credit: Vladimir Sukhachev / Shutterstock

At first, this sounds like a great technique to implement into your training due to the increased muscle activation

Avoid it: Ensure that your palms, not your thumbs, are pointed towards the ground in the top position of each rep

Benefits of the Lateral Raise

Benefits of the Lateral Raise

The benefits of the lateral raise are largely aligned with strengthening the shoulder and improving muscle development through isolating the side shoulder (lateral deltoid) muscle

Credit: Sjale / Shutterstock

Shoulder Strength

The shoulder muscle is most commonly trained with various types of overhead pressing

However, directly training the lateral deltoid head with lateral raises, similar to directly training the front and rear heads of the shoulder, carryover to improved pressing strength

The lateral deltoid is a muscle that is not effectively or efficiently stimulated in many compound exercises, which can leave them lagging and under-developed

The lateral raise can specifically isolate this muscle allowing you to build a more balanced and aesthetic upper body

Muscles Worked by the Lateral Raise

Muscles Worked by the Lateral Raise

The shoulder joint has a very high degree of freedom, which means the shoulder muscle can perform a variety of functions

The shoulders are anatomically split into three heads — the anterior (front), the lateral (side), and the posterior (rear)

Credit: Improvisor / Shutterstock

The lateral raise trains all three heads of the deltoids, but the movement is most effective at isolating the lateral head, hence the name of the exercise itself

Lateral Deltoids

The lateral delts are most visible in the center part of the shoulder muscle

They connect your upper arm to the acromion process on top of your shoulder blade

This head of the shoulder assists in moving your arm out to the side and away from your body, which is the exact movement performed during the lateral raise

They connect your upper arm to your shoulder blade

While they primarily work to bring your arm in front of your body, they are recruited during lateral raises

Your posterior, or rear, delts are on the back section of the shoulder muscles

They attach your upper arm to a different section of your shoulder blade

The rear delts function to move your arms behind your body and help control your scapulae (shoulder blades)

The posterior delts are significantly recruited during lateral raises, particularly while your torso is slightly bent forward during the exercise

It isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a primary mover during the lateral raise, but it’s recruited as the weight is moved during the exercise

When lateral raises are performed incorrectly (swinging the upper body or shrugging the shoulders up), the traps can “take over” and reduce deltoid activation

Who Should Do the Lateral Raise

Who Should Do the Lateral Raise

Who Should Do the Lateral Raise

The lateral raise is a good shoulder strengthening exercise and a great choice for lifters who want to maximize their lateral head muscle development

The lateral raise supports overall pressing strength by helping to build the shoulders, which are required for all variations of the bench press and overhead presses

Strength athletes looking to move significant weight in any press will build shoulder strength and overall joint health by incorporating the lateral raise

Training for Muscle

The lateral raise is one of the few exercises to target and specifically emphasize the side delt directly

When performed correctly, you can overload this section of your shoulder without relying on an excessive amount of weight, making it ideal for any lifters looking to increase shoulder size with minimal joint strain

How to Program the Lateral Raise

How to Program the Lateral Raise

To prioritize muscle growth in the side delts, the dumbbell lateral raise should be programmed earlier in the session to capitalize on energy and focus

However, the exercise can also be effective when used to completely exhaust the muscle fibers towards the end of your workout

To build a well-developed set of shoulders, a classic bodybuilding approach working for three to four sets in the six to 12 rep range will increase training volume for the side delts, which is beneficial for building muscle

Low Weight, High Repetition

Working for two to three sets in the 13 to 20 rep range (or higher) will deliver the best results when using lighter weights, but it is important to ensure you are not just going through the motions when reps get incredibly high

High-rep sets with lighter weight can increase total training volume even further

These types of “burnout sets” are ideal at the back end of your workouts to fully exhaust the muscle fibers of the side delt

Lateral Raise Variations

Lateral Raise Variations

While the lateral raise will forever be a time-tested movement, there are also a few variations that can be rotated into your workouts for additional lateral delt development

Machine Lateral Raise

The machine lateral raise can make it more comfortable for lifters to target the side delt

The main benefit is the weight being placed on your forearms or upper arms instead of being held in your hands

How To Use Side Lateral Raise MachineWatch this video on YouTube

The machine also makes it more difficult to swing the weight into position, requiring more muscle activation

Seated Lateral Raise

The seated lateral raise makes it next-to-impossible to move your torso without noticing, which ensures the tension is maintained on the side delt and reinforces strict form

Lean-Away Cable Lateral Raise

This cable variation places the muscle under a significant amount of tension throughout its entire range of motion and allows for a more constant resistance curve

The basic dumbbell exercise relies on gravity to provide resistance, which is minimal in the lower portion of the movement

The lean away approach also changes the arm angle so that less emphasis is placed on the rotator cuff, and a greater emphasis is placed on the lateral delt

Lateral Raise Alternatives

Lateral Raise Alternatives

The lateral raise is a great exercise that targets the side delt

However, there are a few alternatives that you can rotate into your programming for variety and more diverse muscle activation

Single-Arm Dumbbell Upright Row

This unusual but highly effective movement allows for greater freedom at the shoulder joint than the more traditional barbell upright row, which has a reputation for excessive joint stress

One Arm Dumbbell Upright RowWatch this video on YouTube

The single dumbbell also allows the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints to move and adjust for the exact range of motion that feels most comfortable and least stressful on the joints

This exercise may be the most effective compound movement for lateral delt development due to the significant shoulder abduction (upwards and outwards) component

To minimize the trapezius being recruited, initiate the movement by pulling the rope handle apart and out towards your shoulders, rather than straight up towards your chin

How heavy should I perform lateral raises?

You want a weight that is challenging for the intended rep range, but not so heavy that it forces you to cheat the weight up

Remember that the goal of the exercise is to stimulate the side deltoid, not to move the most weight

How many times per week can I do lateral raises?

Throwing in some lateral raises twice per week is going to be more effective than once per week for maximizing growth

Because the lateral raise doesn’t contribute significantly to overall training stress (compared to a bigger exercise like deadlift), it can be plugged into many other workouts without drastically affecting recovery

Characteristics of Shoulder Impingement in the Recreational Weight-Training Population


J, Contreras, B, Krieger, J, Grgic, J, Delcastillo, K, Belliard, R, & Alto, A

Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy but Not Strength in Trained Men Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 51(1), 94–103


Shoulder muscle forces and tendon excursions during glenohumeral abduction in the scapular plane

J, Ogborn, D, & Krieger, J


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