As a beginner, starting out in the gym you should primarily focus on getting proficient at the big compound movements (e.g., squats, deadlifts, presses, rows, etc.). Then, your top priority should be getting stronger on these. In a few short months, you can dramatically increase your size and strength levels doing this.
There will, however, come a point where progress begins to slow and certain areas of your physique require more targeted training. Isolation exercises are worth their weight in gold at this point.
A particular example of this is the shoulder. Specifically, the side delts. This muscle gets relatively little stimulus from regular pushing and pulling movements and can often be under-developed as a result. This can make you look significantly less muscular than you actually are!
Well-developed side delts, make you look broader. They help create a v-tapered physique and can contribute to you achieving the ideal aesthetic proportions. The ratio between your shoulder and waist circumference goes a long way to how aesthetic your physique is. In fact, a recent study found that, the size of a guy’s shoulders was the strongest predictor of how attractive women found him.
Long story short, you want wide, well-developed capped shoulders (aka delts).
The most common exercise to train the side delts is the DB lateral raise. Sadly, it also one of the most often butchered exercises. In this article, I’ll run you through three simple tips to get more from the exercise and help you to build bigger shoulders.
Bonus Tip:I’m gonna give you a bonus tip in advance of the real tips…use less weight and less momentum. The delts only cross one joint so, to train them optimally that’s the only thing that should be moving during a set. Everything else should be locked in stone. Hinging at the hips, raising up on your toes, shrugging up, and flailing your arms around are all pointless technique mistakes most guys make. All this movement does is train your ego and leave you with undeveloped shoulders. Avoid them at all costs. They are literally, an exercise in futility! So, lighten the load, slow things down, and focus on using your shoulders to do the work. That tip alone will help you a lot.
On to the more complex solutions to the DB lateral raise…
The shoulders are anatomically known as the deltoids. They are made of multiple sub-sections which are generally broken down into three regions:
- Anterior (front) delt
- Posterior (rear) delt
- Lateral (side) delt
The lateral delt is what we are targeting with our lateral raises. So, let’s look at how to optimise things for that…
The lateral delt, moves the shoulder so that your upper arm is abducted (taken away) from your side. The activation of the side delt is increased when the shoulder is internally rotated. The lateral delt is primarily responsible for this motion from about 30oand up. Before that your supraspinatus (one of the rotator cuff muscles) does a lot of the work. The lateral delt also works harder when movement occurs in the scapula plane. This is when the arm is lifted away to the side and in-front of the body at roughly 30o. If you lifted both arms in the scapular plane and we looked down at you from above your arms would make a V-shape out in front of your body.
With the above knowledge, we can optimise your positioning to place maximal tension through the lateral delts.
- Starting position should be arm at about 30oaway from side
- The shoulder should be slightly internally rotated to bias the workload towards the lateral delt
- We want to lift in the scapular plane – slight lean forward from the hip and lifting arms slightly out and in front of the body can achieve this
Tip #1 (I stole this from Jordan Shallow):
Flare your lats!
If you have decently developed lats and have enough control over them to flare them then doing so is an awesome way to improve your lateral raises. Flaring the lats will move your arms out to the side to help achieve that 30ofrom the body starting position. The last also function as internal rotators of the upper arm. So, by engaging them you will automatically put your arm into internal rotation. Flaring your lats immediately ticks off points 1&2 from my above bullet points. It also helps you move in the scapular plane as having your lats flared kind of puts you into a nice groove for this arm path.
An added bonus of the lat flaring tip is, that it limits your range at the bottom of the lift. Now, you might think limited range of motion is a negative, but as we have already discussed the side delt doesn’t do all the work when the arms are by your side. Also, when holding DBs there is no significant tension on the delts with your arms by your side because gravity is acting straight down through your joints and the muscles is not having to work against gravity. Having your arms out by your side slightly creates a moment arm and requires the muscle to work to maintain this position. As a result, it is under constant tension throughout the range of motion.
Not sure how to flare your lats? Go full bro, and adopt the position every young kid does when they want let people know they lift and they are fully Alpha. You know what I mean…stand as if you have a roll of carpet stuck under each arm forcing your arms out away from the body.
I can’t flare my lats. Am I doomed to crappy lateral raises forever?
Nope. Use this exercise to put yourself in the ideal starting position.
This exercise has some specific advantages over an upright lateral raise (which I cover in detail here).
Most important is that if set-up correctly the side lying version does a better job of matching up the resistance profile of the exercise with the strength profile of your side delts.
Using a bench can have advantages if used in a different manner for your side delts too. By setting a bench up at a steep incline and facing in towards it you can eliminate the momentum generated by swinging the hips in the standard DB lateral raise. That momentum steals almost all of your potential shoulder gains so it is well worth doing!
The angle of the bench also helps to put you in prime position to work in the scapular plane and the position of your legs means that you get a natural stop at the bottom of the lift at about 30ofrom the body. This means the tension on the delts is more constant than when you bring your arms all the way into your side on the standing version.
Using the knowledge of how best to target the side delts and the three tips outlined above will allow you to have far more effective DB lateral raise form. All three of the techniques will place more tension where you want it and mean that you can finally grow your delts to build the aesthetically proportioned physique you desire.