6 Lateral Raise Variations for Big & Broad Shoulders

The lateral raise is an isolation exercise to strengthen the shoulders. (Photo via Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio)
The lateral raise is an isolation exercise to strengthen the shoulders. (Photo via Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio)

The lateral raise is a beginner-level shoulder-strengthening exercise that isolates the lateral head of the shoulders or the deltoid muscles. When performed correctly, it can help you build strong, big, and broad shoulders.

Generally performed with dumbbells, resistance bands, and cables, lateral raises primarily work the medial delts and give the shoulders a cannonball and broad look while preventing strain on the upper body.

While the standard lateral raise is associated with lifting dumbbells laterally, there are many variations that can make this exercise more versatile and unique. The variations target the fibers in the shoulder muscles in different ways for the best results.

In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the best lateral raise variations that can be incorporated in your upper body workout session to achieve big and broad shoulders.

Best Lateral Raise Variations

The following six variations can be easily included in your upper body strength training routine and done by beginners and pro-exercisers alike. Initially, start with fewer reps, especially if you are new to strength training. Let's get started:

1) Bent-over Lateral Raise

Bent-over lateral raises or rear lateral raises largely target the rear delts rather than the lateral delts. It's important not to use heavy weights in this exercise, as that can strain the muscles.

How to do this exercise:

  • Grab a dumbbell in each hand, and hinge at your hips to bend your torso till your chest gets parallel to the ground.
  • Start to move your arms out to the sides, keeping your elbows bent.
  • Continue to raise the weights till your arms get parallel to the floor and in line with your shoulder muscles.

2) Front Lateral Raise

Front lateral raises target the anterior and lateral delts, lower and upper traps, serratus anterior, biceps, and some parts of the chest. In this exercise, you need to lift the dumbbells in front of your body.

How to do this exercise:

  • With your feet at a hip distance, stand tall with dumbbells in each hand by your sides.
  • Lift the dumbbells out to your sides below shoulder height but without locking your elbows.
  • Hold at the top, and bring your arms in front of your shoulders to lower the weight down in front of your thighs.
  • Reverse the movement, and lift the dumbbells again in front of your shoulders and then out before lowering them outside your legs.

3) Cable Lateral Raise

Cable lateral raises are a great exercise if you want to take a break from dumbbell training.

While you can use both arms at the same time for this exercise, using one arm at a time can boost the intensity and also help you identify muscle imbalances.

How to do this exercise:

  • Stand next to a cable pulley machine, with your feet positioned at shoulder width.
  • Bend your knees slightly, and keep your trunk stable as you reach across your body to hold the pulley handle with your nearest arm.
  • Slowly lift your arm out to your side while keeping a slight bend in your elbow, and pause at the bottom. Continue to lift your arm till it gets in line with your shoulder.
  • Lower back down, and complete a few reps. Switch sides, and repeat.

4) Kneeling Lateral Raise

You should consider this variation if you are prone to swinging while performing the standard lateral raise variation.

How to do this exercise:

  • With a dumbbell in each hand, get into a kneeling position with your glutes and abs engaged.
  • Hold your right hand at the top of the lateral raise position, and do 3-6 lateral raises on the other side.
  • Switch sides, and repeat.

5) Side-lying Lateral Raise

The side-lying lateral raise is another great variation to boost stability and strength in the shoulders while focusing more on the side delts.

How to do the exercise:

  • Lie on an incline bench sideways, and hold a dumbbell in one hand.
  • Grip the weight tightly, with your palm facing the body, and allow the dumbbell to rest on your upper leg.
  • Maintain a slight bend in your elbow, and lift the dumbbell till it gets perpendicular to your upper body.
  • Return the dumbbell to its starting position, and switch sides.
  • Repeat.

6) Lateral Raise Machine

Using a lateral raise machine to target your shoulder muscles is a great way to achieve big gains.

How to do the exercise:

  • Sit tall at the machine while keeping your back straight and trunk stable against the seat pad.
  • Hold the handles using a neutral grip and elbows bent. Ensure that your outer arms gently push against the machine’s padding.
  • Start to push your elbows to the side so that your palms face downward. Pause at the top of the move, and return your arms to the starting position.


Including the aforementioned variations in your strength training routine can help increase size and improve the strength of your shoulders.

While the choice of weight and equipment depends on your fitness preferences, the key is to ensure that you don’t go too heavy to prevent unnecessary strains and injuries.

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Edited by Bhargav
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