Have you ever wondered which raise is best for bigger shoulders? In this video I am going to show you 4 different versions of the lateral raise to help you determine which one is best for you and your shoulder training. They might look fairly similar, but it’s the details that matter.

First, it’s important to know how NOT to perform a lateral raise. In the pursuit of big shoulders, we also need to be conscious of the health of our shoulder joints as well. It would be of no surprise to me if you had heard the tip to “pour the pitcher” when performing lateral raises. That is, at the top of the movement, elevate your pinky above your thumb and put your shoulder into internal rotation. If you are doing this, I am begging you to stop!

By “pouring the pitcher,” you are putting your shoulder into internal rotation with elevation. This action creates impingement stress within the shoulder joint which can lead to longterm pain and discomfort. For healthier, bigger shoulders, we should be making sure that the thumb is higher than the pinky at the top of the range of motion. This will actually create external rotation which leads to more room for movement within the shoulder capsule.

Now that you know the proper way to perform the lateral raise to avoid shoulder problems, which way is the best for big shoulders: straight arm or bent arm? Well, it comes down to preference, but it’s important to note how you perform each one as well as understanding the strength and resistance curves.

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The straight arm lateral raise will require you to use less weight to perform properly but don’t get discouraged by this. The muscles in your body don’t know the number on weights, but instead simply know the tension that is being applied to them. When it comes to the strength and resistance curves, we know that the shoulder is strongest at the bottom range of motion of the exercise and weakest at the top. We also know that the exercise is easiest at the bottom and hardest at the top, thus the curves don’t overlap. To accommodate for this in your shoulder workout is to shorten the range of motion in the exercise. Perform the raises from the mid-point to the top-end and keep the dumbbell in that smaller range to increase the amount of tension on the middle delt. You can also perform 1.5 reps to accomplish the same thing.

What about the bent arm lateral raise? Well, this shoulder exercise allows for you to use a heavier load to create tension since the moment arm is shortened (arm bent vs. arm straight). To find this weight, take your straight arm lateral raise, cut it in half and then add it to whatever weight you were using for that exercise. For example, if your SALR weight is 20 lb, your BALR would be 30 lb (this is all dependent on limb length and other anatomical features, but maintains a general guideline).

When performing the bent arm lateral raise, something that we need to take note of is the introduction of a second lever that is now in the sagittal plane. This heavier weight will want to bring your forearm down to the ground, creating an opportunity for impingement and a greater recruitment of the front delt. Obviously, when trying to isolate the middle delt as well as keeping your shoulders healthy, this would not be ideal. So, make sure that your thumb is higher than your pinky at the top end of the exercise and try to get your elbow back, so that the dumbbell is more in line with your torso.

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Another version of the lateral raise you can add to your next shoulder workout for bigger shoulders is the cable lateral raise. The straight arm cable lateral raise will again require you to use less weight because of the increased moment arm, but the cable introduces the accommodation for the strength and resistance curves that we explored earlier. The same application goes for the bent arm version of this shoulder exercise where you can use a heavier load. Remember, you still want to avoid internal rotation with elevation, so get those thumbs higher than your pinkies!

So which lateral raise should you be doing if you want to get big shoulders? Well, I would say any of them would be good to put into your next shoulder workout as they all share the benefits of creating tension in the delts. Remember, it’s not about the amount of weight you can move, but how well you can create tension in the muscles.

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31 thoughts on “Which Raise is BEST for Bigger Shoulders (THIS ONE!)”
  1. “FAST ACTION” Q&A* – Leave your most burning question about this video or any other training, PT or nutrition question within the first 2 hours of this video’s release (AS A SEPARATE COMMENT!!) and I will pick 8 to get a detailed reply from me right here in the comments. Answers will be posted within the first 24-48 hours of you leaving the question. Good luck!

    1. @Shinji Hirako you’re not Jeff cavalier. If I had a doctor to go to, I wouldn’t have asked my question here.

    2. @Shinji Hirako don’t assume what someone else will say. You’re not them. If you are you a certified trainer, then don’t give your opinion at all. Thank you.

    3. @Shinji Hirako okay. The only thing I’ll agree with is, I do need to a chiropractor for starters. But… to add a little more clarity, these injuries happened years ago. I didn’t do proper rehab then. So they healed the way they healed and I have other posture issues that contribute to the problem. I have got back to being able to bench 225 and military press 135 again. Just feel more instability in my shoulders still than I’d like.

  2. Hi Jeff and Jesse,
    Many thanks for all your great content!
    How do high doses of antihistamines in people with allergies and chronic hives affect muscle development and overall athletic performance?

  3. Hey Jeff, both of my parents in their 60s both have chronic lower back and shoulder pain. How would you convince a parent that some kind of resistance training can help with that pain. Obviously a conversation with a dr is needed before embarking on any change in activity. Thanks.

    1. The cables have an attenuated bell curve on tension but the resistance is quite different to a dumbbell even smartbell, and latter is preferable to Athletes.

  4. What about doing db side raises on an incline bench to get a lot of tension on the first part of the movement?

    1. Jeff recommends it
      Standing upright, lean forward/backward, do all of them
      Search “World’s “FASTEST” Shoulder Workout (HIT ALL 3 HEADS!)”

  5. Thank you Jeff for another master class!
    I am glad to see that your injured biceps seems to be OK.

  6. I swear Coach has a camera somewhere at my gym watching me. Perfect timing and thank you for the master class in shoulder mechanics. Bent arm cables are exactly what I was seeking – heavier load with a good stretch.

  7. Hi Jeff, as a physiotherapist, can you explain us the steps to ensure a good muscle recovery after an injury? E.g. a tricky one would be an abs injury given that they are working all the time even. Thanks

    1. I am no physiotherapist nor doctor, but have had a fair amount of injuries and dealt with them well. Diet, rest and working/stertching the surrounding muscles. I had knee problems, stopped squatting at first, yet worked glutes and hamstrings, and when i had recovered about 60-80% i started squatting, doing split squats, step ups and running with lower volume and weight. For abs if it’s severe i’d prob rest, avoid binge eating junk out of stress. And i’d work other muscles especially excercises that isolate muscles instead of compound lifts that demand the abs. U can likely do something like a calf raise, perhaps go on a small caloric deficit to take some load off ur entire body. Do shoulder excercises like this, maybe some cable work for glutes, hams, chest, lats, delts and so on

  8. I definitely like the high pull when it comes to the side delts mainly because you can get a lot more done by not isolating yet eccentrically you can overload it

  9. I’ll add the reason for using top part only: emg charts generally show minuscule activation of delts in the bottom ~1/3 of the motion regardless of the weight used. If you still want to exercise in this range you can always slap some super heavy “pulses” as a finisher, your traps will probably hate you for it :v

  10. I can see a lot of people compensating with traps and scapular retraction on this one. Then again if you’re aware of those you’re probably not making that mistake. As always solid video!

  11. *Cable lateral raise diy solution for home gym owners* :

    Attach a pulley in inverted position to a sheet of wood and secure it down to the ground with weight/screws. Now connect this to any high pulley preferably using a carabiner so that its portable. You’ve got a lateral cable raise.

  12. Lateral raises caused my golfers elbow and tennis elbow which I’ve had for almost 4 years. For me, lateral raises are extremely difficult to execute without causing pain to your elbow.

  13. – Thumb over pinky for health shoulder
    – Wrist over shoulder when using the heavier weight grip version
    – Elbows more behind body so that front delt don’t work as much in heavier weight grip version

  14. Thanks for this shoulder work update – your best video to date. A lot of information, concise, without the fluff and chatter

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