What Muscles Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises Work?

Dumbbell lateral raise strengthens your shoulders.
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Dumbbell lateral raises are a beginner-level strength-training exercise. The arm-raising movement does not require a heavy amount of weight and is a single-joint exercise which makes it appealing to all fitness levels. Regardless of your strength training experience, your shoulders are strengthened with a lateral raise.

Lateral Raise

    The dumbbell lateral raise is performed from a standing or seated position. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight at your sides. Turn palms to face your body. If standing, position your feet hip-distance apart. If seated, keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Contract your stomach by pulling your navel toward your spine to provide core stability. Keep a slight bend in your elbow as you exhale and raise the dumbbells out to the sides. Lift until your arms are parallel with the floor. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. As your strength progresses, your range of motion also improves. Change your starting position and lean slightly forward from the waist. Position your hands in front of your legs and begin with your palms facing each other.


    The prime movers in dumbbell lateral raises are your shoulders, or the deltoids. The shoulder muscles have three heads: anterior, medial and posterior. The anterior and medial head of the deltoid rest along the front and sides of your shoulders and are activated when you raise your arms. The posterior head of the deltoid has a greater contraction when you bend forward from the hips.


    Your abdominal muscles contract to support your posture during the lateral raises. When you pull-in your navel, your transverse abdominis contracts. Your rectus abdominis, located along the front of your abdomen, tightens to support your posture. The muscles along your spine, erector spinae, also engage to provide support as you extend your weighted arms to the sides.


    The muscles in your upper back, trapezius, works to stabilize your shoulder blade during the lateral raises. Your shoulder joint position is protected by the deep rotator cuff muscles which attach to your shoulder blade. With all the focus on the shoulder, do not overlook the muscles that allow you to hold onto the dumbbells including your biceps, the tops of your upper arms, and the wrist extensor muscles in your forearms.

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